Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 9, Number 1: January 2009


Retrospective

Pointing with Pride Part 10

Here it is: The final roundup. Now that I know there was one more issue than I’ve been counting (no, that doesn’t include the phantom issue)…maybe I’ll get it right by issue 150 (if there is an issue 150). Or maybe not. (This is Whole Issue 111—the right number, I think. There is no issue that shows Whole Issue 110 in the masthead.)

August 2001: Number 10

Once in a while, somebody gets all excited about the Kindle or Sony Reader and claims it will replace print books—but most people involved with ebooks these days make no such grandiose and, frankly, absurd claims. That hasn’t always been the case…as in these segments of a long Ebook Watch section (edited slightly):

Slate’s eBook Reader

We already know that Microsoft wants to push ebooks—particularly those using Microsoft Reader technology and locked to Windows CE or Windows devices. Slate generally reads as a lightweight-but-interesting magazine of politics and culture (sort of a New Republic/National Review for people with short attention spans)—but once in a while, the Microsoft connection comes through loud and clear. That’s certainly true for Slate’s eBookClub. I’m still not sure whether Justin Driver’s new occasional column falls into that category.

The April 10 column was mentioned indirectly in an earlier roundup. “The eLitists vs. the eBook” attempts to undermine criticism of ebooks. Driver starts by drawing parallels between attacks on ebooks and early attacks on paperback books. He belittles Harold Bloom and anyone who dislikes reading from the screen: “Whippersnappers—and folks who know how to type—don’t mind reading some things on computer screens.” …While some attacks on ebooks are, admittedly, hyperbolic, most such attacks don’t fail truth tests as badly as this passage from Driver’s column:

Who exactly is attacking books? Even the most ardent of eBook enthusiasts don’t believe that electronic books will ever completely replace the printed word. eBookers mean to supplement the world of printed books, not subsume it.

Either Driver leads a life so sheltered that he ought not to be writing this column, or he’s lying. I’ve cited a few flat-out assertions that printed books will (or at least should) die; I’ve read quite a few more. Go to the eBookWeb section of this article; tell me that these true believers don’t expect eBooks to subsume the world of printed books…

EBookWeb: Pressing the Faith

Justin Driver, meet Wade Roush and Glenn Sanders—creators of eBookWeb and former editors of the defunct eBookNet. Go back, read the quoted paragraph above (“Who exactly is…”), then read this:

We’re dedicated to the proposition that someday, all text will be created and shared digitally. When that day comes, so will an explosion in learning, literacy, and creativity. … Eventually, Internet-enabled advanced display devices will allow society to move decisively beyond the archaic, environmentally unsustainable method of ink-on-paper printing, giving wing to any kind of written information that calls for freshness, interactivity, portability, or wide and inexpensive distribution.

“eBookers mean to supplement the world of printed books, not subsume it.” Not these clowns…

An “eBook Technology Basics” page [on eBookWeb] includes all the usual nonsense—books kill trees, books are heavy and expensive, while ebooks “can be stored and transmitted at virtually zero cost” and are such an obvious choice “from both an economic and environmental perspective…that one might be tempted to predict that all books will soon be published and [sic] electronically.” While the page does admit—reluctantly—that no existing ebook appliance matches the quality of paper books, it’s just a matter of time. And, to be sure, “There is plenty for both the early adopter and the average tech-friendly reader to like about the current crop of eBook gadgets.” I’m not sure what “tech-friendly reader” means. I make my living through technology, but I won’t accept grossly degraded readability simply because it represents “higher” technology…

If you’re a true believer, www.ebookweb.com is probably already on your favorites list. Otherwise, I can only recommend it for those who “still believe in the revolutionary potential of eBooks” and the eventual death of “archaic, environmentally unsustainable” print.

As far as I can tell, eBookWeb briefly reappeared as ebookweb.org—then put up a message saying it was moving to a dynamic database and you’d be sent there automatically. That message is the only thing I find on the Wayback Machine after late 2001…and if you go to eBookWeb.org, you get a message saying “eBookWeb rides again!” and “For further information, contact Jon Noring” (with Noring’s name a mail link). I’ve seen lean websites before, but this is ridiculous… (www.ebookweb.com is now a linkpage)

Early Spring 2002: Number 20

Here’s an odd one, the lead portion of Trends and Quick Takes—noting that I didn’t start Walt at Random until April 1, 2005, three years after this:

To Blog or Not to Blog

OK, I’m guilty: I wrote an article about Weblogs as part of a cluster of American Libraries articles on the circle of gifts, and I rely on a dozen or so Weblogs to point to items for commentary in Cites & Insights. On the other hand, I don’t do a Weblog—and almost all the Weblogs I check regularly are atypical, according to the Blogging stories I’ve been seeing lately. That is, a majority of Weblogs appear to be online diaries of a sort; most of those I check are focused sets of library-related links, sometimes annotated, rather than extended mirrors for the creators. I have no idea what Blake Carver (or other contributors) ate for breakfast on March 12, but LISNews almost always points me to one or two worthwhile sources each week.

I was reminded of that distinction—that most Weblogs are much more personal (and self-oriented) than the ones I monitor—by a charming Wired News piece by Farhad Manjoo, posted February 18, 2002: “Blah, blah, blah and blog.” Manjoo notes the strongest indication that Weblogs are now mainstream: NPR ran a piece on them. And there have been stories all over the place. This piece says that Weblogs have now crossed a “tipping point”…with Evan Williams of Blogger saying there are “a million different kinds of weblogs.” A later estimate is that there may be half a million Weblogs in all, so Williams’ comment on variety may be hyperbolic…

Here’s what I found peculiar about the Wired News piece: comments from Dave Winer. Somehow, he seems to think that everyone should be building Weblogs—that they are social goods of some sort. He’s not the only one. “Asked if he’d like to live in a world where virtually everyone blogs, Williams chuckled and said, ‘Yeah, I think it would be a great thing. It’s not that you want to read them. But people have the desire to express themselves, and I think it’s tremendously powerful activity. If you write everyday, your writing improves, your thinking improves.’” I’m not sure I can buy that as a general proposition—and I am sure that most good writing is something more than spur of the moment jottings.

Some things never change, for example John Dvorak belittling most other people—and some people thinking everybody should be blogging.

January 2003: Number 30

October 2002 to December 2008 (when I’m writing this) is a little over six years. So this Trends & Quick Takes item giving us a sure-fire five-year projection from October 2002 should be a reality check of sorts:

Rollup Video Screens

The October 2002 EMedia includes a three-page “Industry News” piece from Mark Fritz based largely on information from Universal Display Corporation. The firm is “on the forefront of OLED technology development” and VP Janice Mahon says we’ll see all sorts of wonderful things in just five years—“a video screen so small and flexible that it rolls up inside a pen,” “glowing wallpaper that turns entire walls into illumination sources,” “flexible video screens that fit in shirt cuffs” or are embedded in car windshields—and, of course, the ever-promised video walls and refreshable daily newspapers.

Mahon admits that current OLED screens “aren’t bright enough or big enough” to compete with projection systems and current display technologies. Her guess is three to five years. Meanwhile, OLED is turning up in some small devices—and the vaunted low power consumption isn’t a whole lot better than backlit LCD.

Fritz assures us that video walls “will be here tomorrow.” Maybe, and OLED certainly has some advantages over attempts to scale LCD (for example). But there’s at least some reason to wonder about timing. In a field where “two years” means “we think we have a working prototype, and in two to ten years it might reach market,” a five-year projection suggests that the industry has no idea how to solve some fundamental problems. Watch and wait; it could be great or it might never happen.

Video screen that rolls up inside a pen, as a consumer product: I missed that one. Glowing wallpaper that turns entire walls into illumination sources: Hmm…Nope, haven’t seen it. “Flexible video screens that fit in shirt cuffs.” Not on any shirts in our local stores. Video walls and refreshable daily newspapers—well, the latter, sort of, but not in a newspaper’s form factor. Video walls? I suppose, if you have a wall painted white and aim a projector at it, but that’s not what this item was about.

In fact, there is one OLED TV on the market, and it is apparently a superlative device. It also costs $2,500 and has a 12" screen—only a video wall if you’re building a dollhouse.

OLED may yet be great. I hope so. So far,  it’s still a couple of years away as serious TV competition ( “a couple” means “anywhere from one to infinity”).

September 2003: Number 40

Remember the relatively recent “Bloggers’ Code” brouhaha? That wasn’t the first time that a set of standards for blogs was proposed. Here’s part of Perspective: Weblogging: A Tool, Not a Medium:

A mini-tempest has sprung up recently on a few weblogs about weblogging—specifically, whether there is or should be a set of standards for how weblogs are maintained. There’s nothing new about weblogs spending too much time on weblogging—that seems endemic to the “blogosphere.” This one’s a little different, and watching the controversy reminded me of a theme from my abandoned media book:

Most of what we think of as individual media are actually clusters of related media, and it damages our understanding of a medium to clump related media together.

The Controversy

One of the great people and divas of the weblog world has a habit of changing and deleting entries in their weblog, not just to correct spelling errors but to change the substance of the entry. This hotshot (call them Blogger A) is also known for being argumentative and draws a lot of feedback—which, of course, can be made to seem foolish when the log entry being commented on suddenly changes or disappears.

Another member of the blogerati (Blogger B) took Blogger A to task for post-facto changes—and went so far as to propose a rulebook or code of practice for weblogs. I happened upon Blogger B’s entry, thought about it, and chose not to print it out and comment on it here. A number of people seconded Blogger B’s notion and expanded on it. Various sets of policies and rulebooks appeared here and there—either policies for a single weblog or proposed policies for webloggers as a group.

More recently, Blogger C (a long-time friend) offered a distinctive essay suggesting that a rulebook for weblogs was a Really Bad Idea. Blogger C doesn’t believe it makes sense to think of all webloggers as a group—and Blogger C finds the idea of a single rulebook for bloggers artificial.

I’m sure there have been dozens (more likely hundreds or thousands) of other threads on this controversy in other weblogs. For all I know, it may have been slashdotted. One characteristic of zillions of weblogs and widespread “blogrolling,” and people gathering up hundreds or thousands of weblog entries via RSS, is that notions (memes, ideas, silliness, what have you) spread across the Internet with a speed that makes wildfire look sluggish….

If there’s a rulebook for weblogs, you get one of two undesirable results:

Ø  There’s no way to enforce the rules (because no value has been added), but those who choose to ignore them are treated by self-appointed Keepers of the Blogosphere as outsiders and malefactors, regardless of the content or quality of their weblogs.

Ø  There are ways to enforce the rules, at which point innovation in weblogs begins to cease. New weblogs are nothing but new instances of existing weblog varieties. That’s true of most new weblogs already, but you do see truly original ideas at times. That’s less likely once there’s a rulebook.

I think that’s enough reason to oppose a rulebook for weblogs. Another killer reason is related to my theme above. Weblogs are no more one medium than print serials are one medium, possibly even less so. Weblogging is a tool (or set of tools). Those tools are used to create many different media; all those media have in common is:

Ø  They’re on the internet

Ø  They consist of chunks for which the default access is reverse chronological, last in, first out.

I can’t think of any other characteristic that’s true of all weblogs, unless you begin the vile process of drawing circles to keep people out. “Well, that’s not really a weblog, because [it doesn’t have links] [the essays are too long] [it’s only updated once a week] [there’s no comment function]…”

June 2004: Issue 50

Most of this issue was devoted to open access. But I included this section in Bibs & Blather:

It May Not Be My Fight, But…

Boy, do I not want to write this section in some ways. I stand to lose readers as a result and I can’t imagine that I’ll gain any readers or friends (my few close friends already know where I stand). I could lose speaking opportunities. I should just let it be.

After all, it may not be my fight. I’m a middle-aged white man, straight, politically moderate, married to a wonderful woman for more than 26 years, with no intention of changing that status.

But here it is. And, come to think of it, maybe it is my fight.

I’m happily married. I’m heterosexual. We were married in a church.

And for the life of me, I cannot see any way to interpret the marriage of two adults who love one another as doing anything other than strengthening marriage, as long as the two adults are both competent to make that commitment. Those marriages do nothing to weaken my marriage in particular, and (I believe) a lot to strengthen marriage in general.

Before you blow your stack, note that I would have no problem with “marriage” being something that’s done entirely by religious organizations—as long as government replaces it with some other form of commitment that has the 1,100+ perquisites that currently exist for married couples, and only for married couples. Get government entirely out of marriage (that is, the rite and agreement with that particular name), and I have no problem. Of course, neither do same-sex couples: Any number of ministers in Metropolitan churches, Unitarian Universalist congregations, and other faiths will be only too happy to wed two men or two women who are committed to one another. Would my wife and I still have a church wedding? Hard to say.

“It’s for the children.” Hogwash.

I don’t remember any questionnaire when we went to get a marriage license, asking us whether we intended to have children. We don’t have them, and won’t. Should our marriage be annulled?

My father remarried at age 89 to a wonderful 91-year-old woman. I suspect there was never any possibility of those two having children—and that wasn’t a bar to their getting married.

“For the children” means that any person who’s infertile, either by choice or by chance, should be barred from marriage.

“The Bible says…” Well, for one thing, freedom of religion only works if there’s also freedom from religion, and the government currently provides all those perquisites to married couples. Thus, marriage has to be considered a secular union. Don’t push Biblical attitudes toward right and wrong too far. There’s at least one passage in the Bible that appears to praise drunken incest (Genesis 19:30-38), and certainly more than one case of polygamy without condemnation.

I also take into account that the case I’m most personally acquainted with: Two wholly-committed people were able to get married in San Francisco before the courts temporarily stopped a peaceful and loving process. That couple includes one woman who’s a military veteran and considerably more religious and conservative than I’ll ever be, and another woman who’s a minister and presumably understands the Bible fairly well.

Was Gavin Newsom legally right? I don’t know. (I know he surprised a lot of people, given that he’s a happily married businessman who’s relatively conservative by SF standards. But then, it took Richard Nixon to open U.S. relations with China.) Was he morally right? I believe so. I won’t comment on “Ax Handle Romney” or other players in this ongoing drama (if you don’t get the reference, you’re younger than I am). I was fascinated by an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, filed from South Boston, that suggests people there aren’t terribly concerned about Massachusetts’ legalization of gay marriage—and that some “family” groups are getting desperate because “two years might not be long enough to show that gay marriage undermines marriage.” For once, I agree with the “family” people: I suspect two centuries of gay marriage won’t be long enough to show that it undermines the institution of marriage!

Semi-reformed slutty “virgins” getting “married” for two days to have a good ol’ time with an old boyfriend may weaken the institution of marriage. People on their 6th and 7th marriage may weaken the institution. Fifty percent divorce rates may weaken the institution. Or, in all those cases, it may not. Everyone who cheats on their spouse weakens the institution, as does every man who believes his spouse is some sort of slave and lesser being.

Loving couples where both are men or both are women? Couples who have been together for decades (four of them, in the first San Francisco ceremony)? These couples strengthen marriage as an institution. They also strengthen society and help to undo a long-standing wrong.

If you find that so disagreeable that you’ll never read Cites & Insights (or anything else I write) again—well, that’s your privilege. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

The state of civilization in Massachusetts? Still just fine, as far as I can tell. Connecticut? Doing OK. My views on this subject? Haven’t changed.

March 2005: Actual Issue 61

The best piece in this issue is Perspective: The Dangling Conversation. I can see no way to offer a meaningful excerpt. Go read it. I’ll wait.

December 2005: Actual Issue 71

Two big chunks on the Open Content Alliance and Google Library Project—and yes, I do need to put together comments on Google Book Search and the deal Google made with publishers to end their lawsuit. But that’s another story for another issue…

August 2006: Actual Issue 81

Except for a brief Bibs & Blather (the central portion of which feels sad now), this entire issue is one Perspective: Looking at Liblogs: The Great Middle.

I believe it was a landmark study. It also set the groundwork for the real landmark study of liblogs, The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008: A Lateral Look. Naturally, I hope many of you will buy that book!

June 2007: Actual Issue 91

Just the first part of a section I’m reasonably proud of…On Being Wrong:

Have you ever been wrong?

That’s a silly question. Of course you have. So have I. We all have. You’ve been misinformed. You’ve miscalculated. You’ve learned better. However you want to say it, you’ve been wrong.

Admitting error

Here’s a tougher question:

Have you ever admitted being wrong? You can think about that question on several levels:

Ø  Admitting it to yourself.

Ø  Admitting it privately.

Ø  Admitting it publicly.

Ø  Admitting it when it matters—when you were wrong about something more important than the likelihood of rain or the 17th digit of pi.

I’d like to think the answer’s also Yes there on all counts. It is for me. But I suspect the answer for some people is No, at least on the third and fourth counts.

I posted “Never being wrong” on November 16, 2005, lamenting John Dvorak’s refusal to admit that he was wrong in calling Creative Commons “eye-rolling dumb” and “dangerous.” Quoting my post:

Well…someone called him on it, explained how difficult it is to voluntarily reduce your copyright rights (particularly without abandoning them altogether), and so on. And here I quote Donna Wentworth’s October 28 post at Copyfight:

So will Dvorak write another column admitting that he was wrong? Not so fast. Explains Dvorak: “My column was never wrong, my column was questioning….I was saying ‘I don’t get it, will somebody explain it to me, please?’…Sometimes you’ve got to go public with your bafflement, which I do…”

Isn’t that wonderful? You can attack something outright, call it nonsense, belittle it, and so on–and as long as you include at least one question somewhere–”What is this all about anyway?” should do as an all-purpose question–you never have to admit you’re wrong. You were “questioning.”

Right. Before, I was beginning to regard Dvorak as frequently nonsensical and getting tired. Now, I regard him as a hypocritical jerk, too full of himself and his bafflegab to even admit that he was flat-out wrong, damaging Creative Commons to an audience of more than a million people.

That post was cited in a May 3, 2007 post by Anil Dilawri, who noted something strange after Microsoft posted better-than-expected earnings:

An analyst admitted that they were wrong. WRONG! Not only did the analyst admit it, he mentioned that he was wrong in the title of his research report…

...I, for one, have seen many analysts over the years “be wrong,” and in many cases “be very wrong,” and in a few cases “be disgracefully wrong.” Never have I seen an analyst admit it, say it, and own it.

Dilawri notes the nature of financial analysts—they never admit they’ve miscalculated, never use the term “we were wrong,” come up with feeble excuses “that usually blame something (or someone) other than their analysis.” It’s an interesting post that prompted me to write about being wrong.

Failure to admit error: Egotism or cowardice?

I’ve read comments about people who never admit to being wrong. The usual idea is that it’s a sign of extreme egotism. That’s probably true, although I’d suggest it’s a warped sort of egotism. If you’re so unsure of yourself that you can’t admit to error lest it diminish your stature, you’re in bad shape.

Something else may be happening when someone’s incapable of admitting error publicly: Cowardice. Failure to take responsibility for your own thinking and your own errors. That’s evidenced by finding all sorts of reasons you weren’t really wrong, something else was wrong. In the worst cases of ego and cowardice, people with power try to remake the world rather than admit error, no matter how much money and how many lives are lost as a result.

There’s nothing wrong with being wrong from time to time. That’s one way we learn—by making mistakes. It’s better if you’re wrong on issues that aren’t matters of life and death. There is something very wrong with never being wrong or being incapable of publicly admitting you were wrong…

February 2008: Actual Issue 100

No comment required: Too recent.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 9, Number 1, Whole Issue 111, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Editorial Director of the PALINET Leadership Network.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.

Opinions herein may not represent those of PALINET or YBP Library Services.

Comments should be sent to waltcrawford@gmail.com. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2009 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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