Pointing with Pride, Part 2
While Cites & Insights should never be confused with journalism or news, sometimes I stumble into relatively fast-moving situations—as in the leading notes for January 2001. Or maybe “misleading notes”: That first issue actually covered a four-month period.
Free, free, free, gone. That’s the heart of the second and third items in Trends and Quick Takes. First, ZapMe! got zapped—parents and consumer groups hated the “free computers for schools as long as students watch lots of ads” model and the company went under. As an example of extremes, thinking forward to 2008 proclamations that Everything Will Be Free, consider the words of ZapMe’s CEO: “There’s no more free lunch. That model is dead.” Or undead, as the case may be. (Realistically? There have always been and will always be free lunches under certain circumstances, but everything can’t be ad-supported or otherwise free-at-use.)
Next? More free ISPs going under, this time free dial-up from AltaVista and Spinway. The coverage does serve as a reminder of changing prices and value: Microsoft (via MSN) and Target (via AOL) were stepping in to offer “low cost” service: $20 or $22 a month. For dialup. In 2001 dollars.
I devoted two pages to a roundup on “web appliances ad nauseum.” Remember web appliances? Sometimes called “thin clients,” they were (are) devices with screens, internet access, maybe keyboards, but no real local intelligence or storage. According to a November 2000 Computer Shopper article, IDC projected that 42 million internet appliances would ship in 2002—and internet appliance sales would surpass PC sales by 2004. Dataquest projected 20 million sales in 2000.
There were lots of them. The iOpener from Netpliance: $399 plus $22 a month for (dial-up) access, without which the iOpener was a statue. EPods: $199 plus $25 a month. Those were the neat ones. CMi had the $699 Icebox, essentially a little TV with DVD player and internet access built in. Compaq and Microsoft were pushing the $199 iPAQ Home Internet Appliance—taking a loss on each one sold. Virgin Megastores gave away 10,000 WebPlayers and offered one-year web access free, $50 per year after that. Why? Because Virgin would get commissions on all that online shopping you’d do (the WebPlayers cost Virgin about $400 each). Even Dell had a WebPC—but dropped it rapidly.
Two paragraphs from that roundup seem worth quoting today:
The case for Net appliances gets more confusing. One analyst loves them because people who won’t pay $1,000 for a computer might fall for a recurring monthly charge instead. Another says that appliances are more secure: “You don’t have to worry about leaving personal data on the machine, because it can’t hold any.” Instead, your personal data is stored by some corporation somewhere else—and we know that means it’s completely secure, with no possibility of intrusion or damage. Don’t we?
I’m bemused by the suggestion that doing all your computing attached to remote sites, with all your files stored remotely, is more secure than having your own files on your own (not always connected) PC, backed up on your own Zip files or CD-Rs. I must be missing something here, such as the contemporary definition of security.
Stephen Manes had the last word in a cluster of “post-PC” articles, and that word also looks good seven years later:
“The PC need not die for the competition to flourish. Let a thousand flowers bloom! Bring on a pocketable unit that combines a Web-connected cell phone with an organizer and a detachable wireless keyboard! Bring on digital TV and electronic picture frames and e-books! But don’t imagine that they’ll kill off the PC anytime soon.”
I wrote that feature over a couple of months—and Virgin’s WebPlayer was such a sensational idea that it was gone before I managed to finish putting the story together. Virgin sent out $25 gift certificates,since the WebPlayers were completely useless—and the company that made the devices sent out prepaid labels for voluntary return.
This was a “stuff” issue, including some truly silly stuff. One roundup of “our favorite things”—products that PC World coveted—said that one $949 15" LCD display was expensive and, a bit later, that a $949 15" LCD display was so reasonably priced that it was the LCD “for the rest of us.” The same article touted Franklin’s $130+ EbookMan as a great device. With its “generous 240-by-200-pixel screen,” how could it fail to woo booklovers?
I announced “The Crawford Files” in American Libraries. The column only lasted through November 2004, but it was a great (if brief) ride. A research firm asserted that micropayments—financial transactions, typically on the web, involving less than $10—would reach $200 billion (one thousand million, for international readers) by 2005; I was skeptical both of that projection and the assurance that technical barriers to micropriced content were about to disappear.
Sure-fire micropayment schemes have been around ever since the Internet opened to commercial transactions—but I don’t remember any of these names being involved at the time. The ones that we worked with and read about don’t seem to be around any more, possibly because nobody seems to care.
Sooner or later, some form of micropayment scheme needs to take hold. That need doesn’t assure that any given company will succeed, however—and providing more things to buy surely doesn’t assure that more people will buy them. For that matter, one plausible future for micropayments is for Visa and MasterCard to offer lower-overhead, cost-effective payment and processing routines, leaving no room for new entrants.
That hasn’t happened. PayPal has emerged as a reasonably good transaction system, but I wonder what percentage of its transactions is for less than $10.
You could buy a wearable computer in 2001: the Xybernaut Mobile Assistant V, a one-pound device using a “Borg-like side-of-the-eye display” (my wording). You strapped the computer to your belt buckle. And it only cost $3,995.
It’s worth pointing out where I got things wrong—e.g., “Broadband gets narrower,” a segment of Trends and Quick Takes noting the shutdown of another broadband ISP and that broadband users weren’t using the internet all that much: An average of just over 15 hours a month in July 2001. I didn’t question a projection that it would take another seven years for broadband to reach half of all U.S. internet-using households (as opposed to the three years originally projected), and even suggested it might be too optimistic. Well, it did take more than three years, but certainly not seven more years from mid-2001.
Was I wrong to say “:CueCat: RIP (and good riddance)”? Not really. Yes, some people are using old :CueCats with LibraryThing—but the company’s long-since defunct.
I hadn’t started Copyright Currents yet, but put together article summaries as “A Copyright Cluster.” Most of the section was on “DMCA and beyond”—and it’s discouraging to note just how little progress there’s been. One writer got back from a long weekend and found her internet service disconnected—because the MPAA had (falsely) accused her and her boyfriend of distributing copyright material and the ISP had little choice but to disable the account. And, of course, you know what MPAA folks had to say when the writer said she’d need her boyfriend’s permission before revealing his IP address: “If my friend were truly innocent, he wouldn’t have anything to hide.” Some lines are immortal. The Copyright Office released a long report on DMCA’s effects; you won’t be surprised to find that RIAA and MPAA were happy with the report, while ALA, EFF and others weren’t thrilled. One tiny little piece of good news has survived, more or less: the “first chunk…out of DMCA’s hide,” when a complaint against eBay based on the sale of pirated goods was dismissed on “safe harbor” basis. I suppose it’s also good news that SSSCA never made it into law:
This is a nasty little proposal that would, if passed, make it a civil offense to create or sell “any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies” approved by the U.S. Commerce Department. What’s an “interactive digital device”? Any hardware or software capable of “storing, retrieving, processing, performing, transmitting, receiving or copying information in digital form.”
If you’re looking for sunshine here, there’s not much: The act would not be retroactive (they can’t come grab the computer that’s already on your desk), this is still only a proposed law, and it would take at least a year after passage before the copy-protection requirements would be in place. Otherwise, this is about as bad as it gets.
That’s not all. If you distribute copyrighted material that has its security measures disabled or you own a network-attached computer that disables copy protection, you’re open to felony charges: five years in prison and fines up to $500,000.
If SSSCA passes, the government is in the position of mandating the circuitry of most electronic devices. That’s bizarre and more than a little scary. Jessica Litman (a law professor at Wayne State) notes that, beyond being bad copyright policy and bad information policy, “it’s terrible science policy.”
Disney thought SSSCA was “an exceedingly modest and reasonable approach.” News Company (Fox) also thought it was a great idea.
To end on an odd note, this issue mentions Sony’s Double Density CD-RW CRX200E—a $250 CD burner that could write 1.3GB on special “DD” recordable and rewritable discs. Of course, the discs could only be used with Sony drives and cost considerably more than twice as much as standard CD-R/CD-RW discs. Foolishly, in retrospect, I said “Still, the Sony isn’t all that expensive and offers much higher-capacity backup and storage for special purposes.” Fortunately, I didn’t buy one…
I’m still proud of the lead paragraphs in the lead essay (Bibs & Blather):
There’s not one ALA Annual Conference. Despite the “track” efforts (well-intentioned but, in my humble opinion, more annoying than useful), there surely aren’t seven or 27 different ALA conferences. The heading says it: If there are 17,000 library people in Atlanta in June, there will be 17,000 different conferences.
That’s a weakness of ALA if you’re an organization or control freak. To me, it’s one of the association’s greatest strengths. For many years, my ALA was just a wrapper around the Library and Information Technology Association’s programs and discussions. If you believe in focused education as the heart of a conference, the tracks may help: they can guide you to seven major themes or 27 specific themes. For thousands of vendors, Atlanta is a trade show, the “big show” for the library marketplace.
I find Midwinter a better place to catch up with people and sample new interest groups (LITA) and discussion groups (everybody else). But Annual is the big deal—the only place for programs (other than the ALA President’s Program at Midwinter), the biggest range of exhibitors, and the widest range of extracurricular activities.
We still have tracks, and I still find them more annoying than useful. On the other hand, somehow the megaconference has kept growing: While 17,000 was about right for New Orleans in 2006, the numbers for 2005 and 2007 were some 10,000 higher—and, by my reckoning, that still means a different conference for each attendee. Which I still regard as a good thing.
Andy Ihnatko, writing at Macworld, concluded that “open-source software will probably never have a direct effect on the masses”—and at the same time claimed that Windows XP would turn Microsoft’s OS and applications into “subscription services requiring online renewal every now and then.” I did mention that Ihnatko wrote for Macworld?
Filtering Follies included lots of commentary on the District Court hearing on CIPA (including the wonderful episode when Geoff Nunberg’s expert testimony was held in closed court because N2H2, makers of Bess, asserted he would expose trade secrets—even though both sides in the case opposed the motion and he did no such thing). There was also CMEPA, the Child Modeling Exploitation Prevention Act—and the wording for this proposed new felony is so astonishing it deserves to be repeated:
Whoever displays, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, the image of a child who has not attained the age of 17 years, with the intent to make a financial gain thereby, or offers, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, to provide an image of such a child with the intent to make a financial gain thereby, without a purpose of marketing a product or service other than an image of a child model, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.
As I commented at the time:
Think about posters of the Olsen Twins or Menudo, the 1972 photo of a Vietnamese girl covered by napalm, collections of cute baby pictures, “The Blue Boy,” or any image of a minor sold as an image rather than as promotion for something else. Felonies one and all?
Remember Mark Foley? He might still be a Florida congressperson had it not been for a little incident in 2006 involving suggestive emails and sexually explicit instant messages to teenage boys—or, rather, exposure of a series of incidents over a decade. Guess who introduced CMEPA?
How times change. This 20-page issue had seven sections—and I semi-apologized for its “chunky” nature, as compared with the ten sections in each of the previous two issues. These days, four essays in 20 pages might be chunky, or just typical.
Times change for other reasons. The lead essay, “Midwinter Musings,” was written shortly after Midwinter 2003 in Philadelphia. Remember Midwinter 2003? Excerpts:
Cold. So cold. Where am I? Must keep moving. Find open door. What do you mean, use the door on the opposite corner of the block? Can’t feel face…
I bundled up for Philly and although it was very cold on Friday, I managed—even walking from the exhibit reception to receptions at the Free Library and Ritz-Carlton. Saturday and Sunday were better. Late Saturday afternoon, it seemed only natural to walk 14 blocks from my hotel to the one great group dinner I joined at Midwinter—and Sunday afternoon was fairly pleasant, with sun, very little wind, and temperatures in the 30s.
Then came Monday. I really wanted to attend the LITA Town Meeting, starting at 7:30 a.m., at the Marriott—a mere four blocks from my hotel, only three of those blocks outside. TV warned us: 10 to 16 degrees, with a wind-chill factor down around zero to four Fahrenheit.
I managed. Barely. But my memories of the Monday meeting (other than the notes I took) and of lunch later with my editor at ALA Editions boil down to the first paragraph of this grumpy little essay. Cold. So cold…
Looking at the long-range conference calendar, I see that Midwinter 2005 is scheduled for Boston, 2008 Philadelphia, and 2010 back in Boston. I’ve only missed one Midwinter conference in 28 years. My guess is that record won’t be nearly as good in a few years. While it was great to see some of the people I only see twice a year, participate in the Top Technology Trends group, see the exhibits, go to one wonderful dinner, and try out a couple of LITA interest groups—well, I’m not sure it was worth it.
My guess was wrong (well, it’s not 2010 yet). I did make it to Boston in 2005 and Philadelphia in 2008. Fortunately, the weather in both cases was reasonably pleasant. And, to be sure, I know enough now to skip a 7:30 a.m. meeting when it’s 10 degrees outside.
Way back in 2003, I was grumping about how difficult it was to get a quick read on LITA Interest Groups—who they are and what they were doing at the conference. And more:
I feel out of touch with my home division.
The LITA Website provides details of the LITA Board and Executive Committee actions. You can get a list of program names. Sometimes, there are minutes from some committees. That’s not enough, and it requires too much digging to see what’s new….
You can read the whole grump if you like. I knew that the LITA Newsletter had served well as a primary means of communication during the nine years I edited it—and I recognized that it wasn’t coming back. I had some foolish and soon-abandoned notion about a stopgap measure.
I still didn’t know the topics for most LITA IG discussions at Midwinter 2008. Even though the conference program included topics for most discussion groups in other divisions, LITA IGs weren’t represented. I was about to say “the LITA Wiki helped…a little,” but going to look at it now, I can’t honestly say that’s true. The LITA Blog helps…a little. But posts there only mention seven of the 19 active IGs. Fact is, it’s far more difficult than it should be to be aware of what’s happening in the division. Will that change? Stay tuned.
Moving on to other topics, I reported in Copyright Currents that most folks agreed there wouldn’t be any new copyright law in 2003, which had the downside that DMCRA wouldn’t pass (and still hasn’t), but the upside that CBDTPA (the successor to SSSCA), the Broadcast Flag and other extreme-copyright bills were also improbable. Of course there was “DMCA fallout. When, since DMCA passed, hasn’t there been “DMCA fallout”?
“Ebooks and etext” quoted an essay at Eastgate Systems. Consider the absolutes (emphasis added):
There is no longer room for doubt: the literature of our immediate future will be electronic. Our scientific and technical writing, our journalism, and our stories: all will be written and read on screens…
There is no longer a credible argument against electronic books, and the arguments in their favor are clear, compelling, and overwhelming… 300-dpi screens with laser-printer resolution are already available… The difference between reading on screen and reading on the page is modest—too modest to make a real difference to the future of serious writing.
Eastgate is a pioneer in hypertext publishing, around since 1982. Looking at its website now, “what’s new?” says there’s so much new that it’s had to move—and the site it’s moved to has had nothing posted since May 3, 2005. You can still get to the essay, but the date’s unclear. The “HypertextNOW” archive in which it appears has a tagline “remarks on the state of hypertext: 1996-1999,” and individual essays have no dates whatsoever. (There’s a chronological index, amusing since no dates appear.) Of course, “immediate future” could mean 4000 AD, one writer’s target for the death of print.
It felt right to devote several pages to “Thinking about Eldred v Ashcroft”—the Supreme Court decision upholding copyright term extension. Another try at overturning term extension also failed. It’s fair to note that the issue will arise again, in a big way, in about nine years…
I love upbeat stories. Truly I do. This issue began with A Scholarly Access Perspective: “Getting That Article: Good News,” I was wondering whether open access was effective access—that is, would it be easy for ordinary people to find articles in institutional repositories? The preliminary answer: Yes, or at least there were encouraging signs. I’d love to see someone do this informal research on a broader basis using the open web…and I’m guessing the answers would also be encouraging, even given problems with institutional repositories.
There was a lot more about open access (I hadn’t started using Library Access to Scholarship as a running name), including notes on the Sabo bill (which would have substantially improved access to all government-funded research; the NIH situation is much narrower and also watered down, but it’s better than nothing) and other developments in OA and “alternative publishing” in general.
Now that the high-def DVD “format war” is over, do you recall the earlier format war over DVDs? That was the writable war—the appearance of recordable DVDs in two formats, DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW. (There’s a third one, DVD-RAM, but let’s ignore that for now.) As with most format wars, there were big players on both “sides”—but this time the war was (largely) called on account of compatibility. First Sony introduced burners that could handle both + and – formats, but that didn’t count: Sony was a prime force behind the + format. This issue noted Pioneer’s DVR-A06, another dual-format drive, notable because Pioneer had long been a steadfast supporter of DVD-R. Oddly, I got the import right: This didn’t knock out DVD-R, but did marginalize producers of DVD+R drives that failed to support DVD-R.
The longest section was, once again, Copyright Currents, discussing peer-to-peer (with yet another misnamed act, the “Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Pornography Act,” the summary of which mentions neither children nor pornography but would prohibit distribution of peer-to-peer software except with a whole bunch of hurdles), the RIAA subpoenas (including RIAA’s improbable claim that it can distinguish MP3 files that were downloaded over the internet from those locally ripped from CDs)—and a campaign by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that troubled me, much as some other EFF stances trouble me. The campaign? “File-sharing: It’s music to our ears.” The way I read the campaign (then and now), EFF seemed to be saying massive copyright infringement was something to celebrate—and, sigh, was suggesting the “compulsory license” that some would now like to impose on internet users, whether we download music or not. EFF said “If we all band together and stand up for our rights, we can change the law.” As I said then and would say now, “The right to override copyright holders’ preferences at will does not exist in any legal or moral scheme that comes to mind.” (As I also said then, and would say now, “there are times when the copyright situation—particularly as regards movies and music—makes me want to say ‘A curse on all your houses!’ and ignore the whole thing.” Maybe that’s one reason I haven’t devoted much space recently to copyright?)
Swimming in dangerous waters, I devoted Bibs & Blather to “Top Technology Trends Musings,” six years after I started serving on the panel and a year before I gave it up. I was responding to discussions on LITA-L and elsewhere—e.g., “who certifies the trends?” and “why isn’t Trend X on the current list?”—and noted that I’d almost resigned from the group already. I was persuaded to reconsider, but that lasted one year before a grating personal situation made the LITS clause kick in.
I also offered a composite alphabetic list of all the trends (49 of them) identified through Midwinter 2004, based on the committee’s summaries. It’s an interesting list to review at this remove. That exercise might also be worth redoing four years later.
I was considering print-on-demand way back in 2004, when it was more difficult to do. At the time, I said it might make sense to do paperback versions of Cites & Insights at $35 to $40 “if I could project sales of at least 50 to 100 copies for each volume mounted,” while “thematic 5x8 volumes, running 160 to 250 pages and costing $25 to $30,” consisting of reformatted C&I material augmented by other publications, would make sense if I could project 200 copies. How times change! Bound C&I volumes cost $29.50 each (and the two volumes are considerably thicker than anything through 2004 would have been), and I could justify doing them even if the only sale was to myself. (So far, I count four sales of one volume, two of the other.) Reformatted material in thematic volumes? Still a possibility, although the volumes would be 6x9, not 5x8—and yes, if I could project 200-copy sales, they’d definitely be worth doing.
A six-page section on ebooks, etext and PoD appeared mostly because “it’s been half a year since the last roundup”—since there weren’t any startling new developments. J. Knight was doing some great essays in the field—and I got around to addressing the special issue of Journal of Digital Information on hypertext, where the issue itself was hypertextual. It was also, in my opinion, a mess:
The editors “hope that this issue can serve as a landmark in the way hypertext criticism is perceived by authors, theorists and the general public alike.” They apparently believe the issue is a big success from which “the picture becomes clearer than it has ever been before.” I tried to read the issue more than a year ago. I gave it several tries over several different days. And my conclusion was and is that, if this makes “the picture” clearer, then it must have been wholly obscure before. I was never able to make sense of the issue except as a set of gimmicks. Of course, I’m working at a disadvantage. The editor’s introduction tells us that in the last decade or so, “hypertext fiction and electronic literature has developed immensely.” How many hypertext novels or short stories or whatever have you read? How many are you aware of?
Maybe these unaltered sentences from the first and last paragraph of one “node” in the special issue will help you understand why I had trouble—and why it’s difficult to satirize hypertextual criticism:
From the point-of-view of this net.art practitioner-plus-reviewer, it seems evident that various web/net/code artists are more likely to be accepted into an academic reification circuit/traditional art market if they produce works that reflect a traditional craft-worker positioning.
In relation to Translucidity functioning in terms of/as an apparatus/application, the dominant visuality of the work overloads [and overcodes] the weighting of the actual content.
The node was by Australian Mez Breeze and carried this title: “Inappropriate Formating][: Craft-Orientation vs. Networked Content[s].” Thanks to blogs, I am now convinced that my difficulties in understanding Breeze have nothing to do with rapid divergence between American and Australian strains of the English language: I understand Australian libloggers just fine, and generally find them a thoughtful, literate, comprehensible bunch.
I did get one thing wrong (probably a lot more than that, but I understand why I got this one wrong). I disputed Brewster Kahle’s claim that you could produce an on-demand book for “as little as $1.00 each.” My comment at the time: “Given laser printing, I’d expect toner and paper costs alone to exceed that figure, except for booklets.” Not necessarily. The most obvious approach to really cheap on-demand books, in the U.S. at least, uses a fixed page size of 5.5x8.5 inches (just a little smaller than trade paperback)—thus printing four book pages on each sheet of letter paper. Figure decent copy paper at about $2 a ream (0.4 cents a sheet) and toner costs, for some very low-cost systems, at about 1.5 cents for 5% coverage on an 8.5x11” sheet. So four pages cost about 3.4 cents: Excluding cover and binding costs, that means you could do a 116-page book for a buck. That’s not a big book, but it’s more than a pamphlet.
“Go away—not now, but soon.” Even as we’re learning to live within limits, this is good advice—and short enough to repeat in full:
Have you planned a vacation this year? Great. If not, why not? It’s been three years since I admonished readers to “get outta town!” (Cites & Insights 2:4). Then, as now, I know too many people treat vacations as disposable extras, niceties when nothing more important is happening. I don’t believe that’s true. Vacations are vital to healthy, balanced lives. Planning a vacation can be part of the fun, if you do it right.
Make It Real
Real vacations mean vacating—leaving home, leaving work behind, ideally leaving your technology behind as well. Taking a few days to get stuff done around the house (or lie around reading and taking walks) is great, but it’s not what a vacation should be.
To me, a true vacation means:
Ø Being away for at least a week.
Ø Being somewhere and doing something that discourages thoughts of work.
Ø “Turning off”: ignoring your blog and your aggregator, letting email stack up, setting aside IM. Ideally, you’ll leave your notebooks, PDAs, and maybe (gasp) cell phones at home, although that may be too much to ask.
Follow Your Heart
Some people get the greatest pleasure from repetitive vacations—going the same place every year. I believe that’s great as part of a vacation plan, but there’s a lot of merit to travel and discovery. Maybe one week at your regular inn or ranch or amusement park or ski resort, and another week doing something new?
As I noted two years ago:
I don’t believe there’s a Cites & Insights reader who lives more than two hours from an area worth exploring, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere. Most of us fail to explore our extended back yards; maybe this is a year to be a traveler near home. Is there a “wine country” nearby? (You might be surprised!) State and national parks you never paid attention to? Historic towns—or, for that matter, the big city you’ve never approached as an outsider?
That’s still true. If you live in any of the 50 United States, I guarantee there’s a commercial winery somewhere in your state—even though some of them don’t make wine from grapes, and others bring in grapes from other states (Alaska doesn’t grow a whole lot of wine grapes, for example).
I won’t suggest what sort of vacation you should take. My wife and I have been exploring the world by cruise ship, as time and money permit, and we love it—even if we now occasionally revisit the same areas because they’re so wonderful (for example French Polynesia, Alaska, and soon Costa Rica). But we’ve also enjoyed driving vacations and, at times, vacations connected to conferences. “Chicagoland” has many interesting areas in addition to the delights of Chicago itself, for example—and San Antonio in winter can be a great place to visit.
I’m delighted to correct one comment from 2002: “Sad to say, one of America’s great neotraditional vacation possibilities is almost gone.” That was the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and its three authentic steam-driven sternwheelers, cruising America’s heartland rivers. The parent company was overextended and went into bankruptcy; as I wrote that essay, only the Delta Queen was still operating.
Fortunately, another company purchased the three Queens and the name itself, re-forming the Delta Queen Steamboat Company as an operating entity. All three boats are running again. We haven’t been on them under the new management, but I can vouch for the charm and genuine hokey Americana of the Queens—and how interesting the heartland rivers can be. The one-week cruise from St. Louis to St. Paul (or vice-versa) includes great stops and a fascinating part of the Mississippi, including more than two dozen locks and dams. We loved it. You might even find the new “split week” American Queen vacations interesting: They combine a three or four night New Orleans roundtrip cruise on the American Queen, the grandest and newest of the Delta Queen boats, with three or four nights in New Orleans itself.
Plan a cruise. Plan a train trip (while you still can). Look into places of interest within a few hours of your home. You don’t have to break the bank. You do have to break your daily habits and thought patterns. Enjoy the differences you’ll find if you look for them (which does mean getting away from McDonald’s and finding local color). You don’t have to go to Nuku Hiva for a touch of the exotic (although we did love it). Paducah has its exotic side as well.
Get away. It will do you good.
We had an unexpected three-year lapse in cruises and a two-year lapse in vacations—but we’re off again in the very near future. Regarding Delta Queen—well, the original is about to leave service (Congress hasn’t renewed its Safety of Life at Sea exemption and it has a wooden superstructure), but the American Queen and Mississippi Queen still operate. Fortunately, you can still plan a train trip…if you’re not on a schedule.
Otherwise? I grumped about website and blog printability, which has gotten better to the extent that people are migrating to WordPress—and worse to the extent that some WordPress templates now put the sidebar material above the actual blog in a printout, which is Just. Plain. Dumb. I’ve pretty much given up any hope of convincing bloggers that their longer posts should be printable. Again, LITS. (Life Is Too Short. Did I need to spell it out?)
Ah, “Google and Gorman.” A long discussion of Google, bloggers, Michael Gorman and semi-literacy. I was also wrong in that essay (which I heartily recommend at this three-year remove): I quoted Sturgeon’s Law as “90% of everything is crap.” Turns out he wrote, “90% of everything is crud.” I suppose this represents the coarsening of the American mind, or maybe one of those rare cases in which a spade deserved to be called a bloody shovel.
I may have been wrong on that, but I won’t apologize for regarding Molly Wood’s News.com comment on IE7 as “disturbing and unsupportable.” Woods basically said Firefox was doomed because of IE7, including this flat statement: If IE7 has tabs (which it does), Firefox “will be destroyed as surely as the Hungarian uprising of 1956 was crushed by Russia.” I, for one, still use Firefox as my primary browser—even though IE7 works just fine.
I believe this issue is well worth rereading today, particularly given the current stances of some of the people quoted in the 32-page issue. Quoting highlights or summarizing key points seems hopeless, however. You’ll just have to go look at it yourself.
If you haven’t already, that is. As of April 24, the PDF version has been downloaded 17,992 times—and it appears that 15,931 people have accessed the single HTML essay. That’s just under 34,000 “readers,” ignoring pass-along readership and copies mounted on other sites.
You surely know the name of the essay and issue: Perspective: Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0”
The biggest part of this issue is also hard to summarize and, I believe, stands as a contribution to the literature: A two-part Open Access Perspective on pioneer OA journals. In May 2001, I wrote Getting Past the Arc of Enthusiasm, looking at the track record of the very early open access journals—specifically, the 104 items in ARL’s 1995 Director of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists that appeared to be free refereed scholarly electronic journals—what we’d now call “gold OA” journals. (The term “open access” wasn’t used much if at all in 1995.)
The first section updated that earlier article with five more years’ experience. Briefly, of the 51 OA journals that began no later than 1995 and were still publishing in 2000, most (40) were still publishing when checked in 2006. The second section looked at another 189 entries in DOAJ that had first-issue dates of 1995 or earlier—and found quite a few more journals that were legitimately OA as early as 1995 and lasted at least a decade.
Under the heading Old Media/New Media, I looked at “Books, Bookstores and Ebooks.” The first paragraph noted some of the contradictions in following the area:
Print books are doomed. Print books will live forever. Independent bookstores, and all physical bookstores, are doomed, and that’s inherently bad for readers. Ebooks barely register as a rounding error, at $12 million worldwide in 2005 out of $80 billion or more in book revenue—less than one-fiftieth of one percent. Ebooks are a small but worthwhile market at $179 million U.S. in 2004—one-half of one percent of the $34 billion U.S. book market.
That same paragraph stands up fairly well today—except that the actual numbers have shifted. I think the most impressive item in the discussion was Book Industry Study Group’s estimate that, in 2005, some 63,000 “small presses” generated $14.2 billion in book sales—meaning that AAP’s numbers for the size of the book market were much too low, since they include only large publishers. But that was a tiny piece of a seven-page section. The section also included a mild fisking of a nonsensical article that used one highly local situation (the closing of Cody’s Telegraph Avenue store in Berkeley) to sound the death knell for all booksellers.
My favorite products in the “peculiar” part of Interesting & Peculiar Products were the Iomega ScreenPlay and InPhase Tapestry:
Ø I loved the $220 ScreenPlay—a “little box with a 60GB hard disk and a little remote control” designed to play video and other stuff on a TV—because it “encourages you to slow down, relax, contemplate a little instead of rushing into your video.” How so? It took PC Magazine’s reviewer 14 minutes to boot up to a navigational screen on the TV and at least five minutes to for any of the navigational icons to get anywhere. The Zen of not yet watching TV: How could that not be worth $220?
Ø InPhase was touting its holographic storage device, initially planned for 300GB “later this year” (2006) on a 12cm disc—just as it had demonstrated Tapestry in 2002 with a product assured by 2004. That was good enough for PC Magazine to say DVD was “at the end of its life.” Ah, DVD: Remember back before 2005, when DVDs were still available? So how did the 2006 (or was that 2004?) delivery date work out? Apparently, in 2007 it was still promised for “this year,” and a prototype was supposedly demonstrated in April 2008. The new target date for evaluation drives is May 2008, which I suppose could be considered very late 2006. The new claim is full production in August 2008. (No, I really don’t doubt that some holographic-storage company will release a production product at some point. I do doubt it will sweep away other media by “2012 to 2017,” as the June 2002 article proposed.)
Let us not forget old movies. This issue included “SciFi Classics 50 Movie Pack, Part 2.” Not one of these “classics” earned a truly great score ($1.75 or $2), but one—They Came From Beyond Space—was worth $1.50 and is quite a good flick if you can overlook the plot. Ten more earned decent reviews ($1 or $1.25)—and only one was so poor it came in at less than $0.75. That was Phantom From Space, part of W. Lee Wilder’s œuvre, and viewed with appropriate levels of suitable mind-numbing drugs, even that one might not cause you to run screaming from the room.
“Pew Internet & American Life owes me an apology.”
True in July 2007, when that was the first paragraph of “Pew Do You Trust?”—an essay on Pew’s clear abandonment of observation in favor of advocacy with the choice of “Lackluster Veteran” to label 18 million Americans who know their communications and computing technology but don’t necessarily love it. I call them “balanced users” or “experienced skeptics.” True today (and Lee Rainie still uses the label in speeches.) I’m still waiting for that apology…and I’m still lackluster.
The longest essay was ©1: Term and Extent: “PermaCopyright and Other Extremes.” I looked at “true outlying cases” such as Mark Helprin’s claim that copyright for “great ideas” should live forever and denunciation of the U.S. Constitution for abridging his rights as a Creator. The essay, an op-ed in the New York Times, was ludicrous, giving me a range of other reactions to note—and the chance to criticize some of those reactions. One of the best counters was Jonathan Lethem’s “The ecstasy of influence” in the February 2007 Harper’s—where Lethem talks about the extent to which nearly all creative work is at least partly derived from previous works in a 34-page essay that is, itself, almost entirely derived from other works. The 34-page essay is followed by 14 pages of attributions. (I referenced the “Peter Schickele works on P.D.Q. Bach albums”—wonderfully original and hilarious works composed, or remixed, entirely of quotations from other compositions.) I included “an immodest proposal,” suggesting that there should be infinite copyright for certain truly original works—with a reduction in the length of copyright for everything else to, say, 28 years. All you’d need to do for PermaCopyright is to create a wholly original work and, of course, pay a reasonable annual fee to maintain PermaCopyright, just as homeowners pay property taxes. “After all, why should intellectual property be treated more advantageously than real property?” There’s a lot more. I’ll recommend this essay for rereading, even if it is less than a year old.
In Making it Work, I quoted other people about balance—the need to back off, in some cases, in order to maintain sanity. It’s an issue that hasn’t gone away and isn’t likely to, as is the next segment, on balancing the old and the new.
Most of the Library Access to Scholarship segment was about money, always a hot topic. Maybe I should close this Retrospective by noting one of several iPod accessories discussed in Interesting & Peculiar Products, with the note that I really do think this one is “interesting” rather than “peculiar,” if you have the budget and the right room for it:
The May 2007 Sound & Vision reviews a device that puts your iPod in classic company: Rock-Ola’s iPod Bubbler. It’s just what the first and last words might suggest: A classic jukebox with eight lighted bubble tubes and four rotating color cylinders. As with most modern replica jukeboxes, it holds 100 CDs (still giving you that great record-changing action). But it also has an iPod dock and remote. I won’t argue with the price for a device like this (which has five speakers): $6,000.
I think I’d rather pay $6,000 for a classic (replica) Rock-Ola jukebox with 100-CD changer and iPod dock than $3,000 for a Ferrari-licensed table radio (and CD/DVD player), although neither is likely to happen any time soon.
That’s it for the Terrible Twos. Up next time, the Threes.
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