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

Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 12: November 2005

Bibs & Blather

A Mess of Verbiage

What determines whether a brief essay will appear as a secondary editorial in Bibs & Blather or as a Quicker Take in Trends & Quick Takes?

Originally, Trends & Quick Takes was about trends—items on various trends I saw happening or being predicted, where the discussion couldn’t justify a Perspective and didn’t fit an established category.

I’m not much of a trendspotter, and admitted as much when I finally resigned from the LITA Top Tech Trends group, but I still put trends in that section when I do spot them. Meanwhile, the catchall term “quick takes” and the more recent “quicker takes” heading allowed me to add stuff that might really belong in Walt at Random.

There isn’t much difference between Quick Takes/Quicker Takes and those portions of Bibs & Blather that don’t comment on C&I itself. This time around, I’m putting the stuff under this heading for a good reason: C&I 5.11 had a Trends & Quick Takes and not a Bibs & Blather.

Got Feedback?

Feedback is always welcome at wcc[@] and waltcrawford[@], but there’s also a new address with a twist: citesandinsights@gmail. com.

Here’s the twist: Anything sent to citesandinsights is presumed to be submitted for publication, signed, under the Creative Commons BY-NC license.

I almost always check with correspondents before incorporating feedback into C&I. That will not be the case with the new mailbox.

Sending something to citesandinsights@gmail. com doesn’t assure it will be published—but it does mean I’ll  publish it without checking back with you.

If you’re sending a question or something where you hope to get a response, I’d suggest one of the other addresses, since I’ll probably check once a week or so.

Startling Screenshots

The September 2005 EContent “content news” section includes a two-page item, “Alacra sets up shop with the Alacra Store.” Alacra will be offering a way to buy a single report from one of the business databases Alacra vends. It may be a good idea; I don’t know.

What startled me was the illustration, a report ready to be purchased. The report is titled “What’s so cool about Google Maps?” and is a “Quick Take” from Forrester Research. The description: “Google Maps elicits a visceral response in many new users: ‘I’m never using MapQuest again.’ However, customers’ perceptions that Google Maps is more accurate than MapQuest or Yahoo! Maps are flat-out incorrect: All three online mapping sites get data from…”

The “quick take” might be interesting, although pretty minor—after all, how actionable is the promised information? Lately, in looking for directions, I’ve found AAA Maps and MSN Maps useful, but I usually check three sources…

What earned this item a place here is just below the title of the report: “Price: $349.00

Which, I guess, is actually pretty cheap for a report from a firm like Forrester.

Can there be $349 worth of stuff to say about Google Maps in a Quick Take? (Anyone who wants to send me $349 will get a custom-made, signed, one-off Quick Take, guaranteed to be at least as long as the ones that appear in C&I. I’m not going to hold my breath.) Maybe that’s why I’ll never be a highly paid researcher: I don’t understand pricing and value.

Derivative Music

This belongs as part of a grander essay, but for now… I was reading Michelle Manafy’s “edit this” in the July/August 2005 EContent, “DRM’s demon days,” about a remix album, DRM, and related issues. In discussing what Lawrence Lessig calls “our cut and paste culture,” Manafy says:

Upside: creative and intellectual output that stands high on the shoulders of others, greater than the sum of its parts. Downside: derivative drivel and outright thievery.

True enough—and I was reminded of some of the upside in the history of music, before hyper-restrictive copyright interpretations made it possible for even a tiny sample of a piece to be considered protected.

Case in point: a plagiarist called Johann Sebastian Bach—who built works on themes from other people and whose works served as inspiration for new pieces by others (and himself). Case in point: Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis—probably safe enough since there’s a 343-year gap between the original and the “derivative work,” but nonetheless a derivative work. And, to be sure, thousands of mediocre compositions whose only thematic worth comes directly from earlier pieces (and then there are the brilliant pastiches of Peter Schickele).

In my youth, I was an avid collector of music from the Baroque and the 20th century, with special emphasis on two great composers who, to some extent, represented the peak of their eras: Bach and Stravinsky. Which leads me to my final example of the value of derivative works—a piece I consider stunning but which is (apparently) relatively little-known: Stravinsky’s transcription and orchestration of Bach’s Variations on ‘Vom Himmel Hoch.’ It’s Stravinsky’s take on one of Bach’s most memorable pieces, which in turn is based on a German Christmas carol. It’s distinctly Stravinsky, distinctly Bach—and derivative.

Pennies per Megabyte

I was touched by that phrase, part of a lengthy Business 2.0 article on future trends that I don’t feel the need to comment on in general. It’s part of a slightly unnerving section—the idea that, given RFIDs, GPS cell phones, and the like, “a store’s retail system could detect that you’re in the soap aisle, check out your brand preferences, and look up your cell-phone number. Then it might send you an SMS message informing you that Lever 2000 just went on sale.”

Never mind that curious future: Consider “pennies per megabyte.” That must mean at least two cents per megabyte, which translates to $20 per gigabyte. I suppose it’s possible to spend $20 per gigabyte for server-class storage, but RAID technology encourages the use of big cheap consumer hard disks—which, as I write this, go for anywhere from $0.50 to $1 per gigabyte, with even external drives going for less than $1 per gigabyte. In other words, it’s megabytes per penny—10 to 20 of them—and it’s been that way for a while now. (Yes, it’s astonishing. It’s also true. Not only can you now equip a desktop PC with a terabyte of storage, it wouldn’t cost much to do so.)

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 12, Whole Issue 68, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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