Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The news is F'd-up.

So I'm reading this article on prostitution, you know, since I have that app, the "prostitution news feed," that's from Time magazine. And it's about a small town in California where some local residents have joined together to discourage prostitutes from plying their trade around the residents' homes in the neighborhoods. At at the end of the first paragraph, I see this:
"Vallejo lately has become a magnet for the sex trade for one simple reason: the city is flat broke. If Vallejo is any indication, things could get pretty crazy in other cash-strapped cities across the country. (TIME's Twitter 140: See the world's most influential tweeters.)"
WTF? What does Twitter have to do with prostitution? Wait. Let me rephrase that. What does microblogging have to do with prostitution? Who decides which links are appropriate for embedding within a news story? I read a little further and see:
"'I leave my house at 7 in the morning and sometimes see girls working on the streets that early,' says Kathy Beistel, block captain of the Kentucky Street Watch Owls. 'There's no peak time — it's all peak time.' (See photos of the history of sex on TV.)"
And then there are two more links after paragraphs that are just as inappropriately tied to the story. Is this desperation? I can't imagine that the person who has this job at Time can't find articles that are more closely related to the subject of this prostitution story. Really? Sex on TV is just like real prostitution? With dirty hookers doing it in alleyways? And their disgusting Johns? So now I have to check to see if Time does this with everything, and yes, it does. An article about the movie Sucker Punch links to "photos of movies' best loved costumes" directly after" mentioning that one character wears a "Japanese schoolgirl outfit as retailored by Victoria's Secret." At least that's a close link. But what do people think when they see these vaguely similar or completely unrelated links? Do people click on these? I'm reading about prostitution in a small town, but half way through the article I suddenly lose focus and decide to read "if sex addiction is a real disease or just an excuse" (this is an actual link found in the prostitution article)? Does the typical Time reader have an attention span that short that the editors don't think someone can finish an entire article without wanting to click away to something else??? That would be like a TV show made of snippets of other TV shows as if to give the viewer the impression that he was changing channels, so as to trick him to keep tuned to this one show. Wow. Is that genius, or what? Maybe Time is on to something.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

WTF is this?

What would I think of a book when I grow up in a world where all reading is done on an electronic device? I'm trying to imagine how I might perceive the book if I've never experienced one, if every book I ever read was on a dedicated reader or a tablet or other device. I mean, I would be able to read. I'd know what words are, but I've just never seen a story printed on paper and bound into a book.

(I think it might go a little something like this...)

I tap the cover of The Grouchy Ladybug, but nothing happens. Tap. Tap. Tap. Poke. Poke. Poke Poke PokePokePokePokePoke. I pinch and spread, pinch and spread. The ladybug doesn't talk or move or offer me a discount coupon for Doritos or say my name. The colors are bright, but I like my screen brighter. But I don't see any settings to change to increase the brightness. The picture throws off some glare and isn't as easy to read as my reader with the latest electronic ink firmware.

The text on the back doesn't resize not matter what I try. I slide my finger across the front over and over and over, but the picture never advances to a new screen. This sucks.

I pull open the front board and tear the thin covering and it goes "Shhhrrrrtt" as it rips. The covering has the same picture on it as the hard board underneath. What the hell is that about?

I finally get the board up by lifting it. It's hinged and it swings open like door which is pretty simple.

Now the sliding works. I can slide across a picture to advance the screen. But there's no control and I seem to jump ahead too far. Did you ever play Poker? With real cards like in Las Vegas? That's what you have to do to get these things to move. Like fanning a deck of cards, you have to use your index finger and thumb to separate the sheets to move them one at a time.

Again, nothing works. No tapping, spreading, swiping.

And holy crap! What is this? There are sheets that aren't even the same size. The sheets get bigger and bigger in sequence and they have tiny analog clocks up on top like that retro clock app that everyone has. There is stuff on both sides of the sheets. Some full-colored artwork on one side and text on the other.

And as I advance the pages, the text is now getting really big. How the hell did that happen? There's a picture of an elephant and the text is really big, and then next to a picture of a whale, the text is really, really huge. Like the text adjusts itself to match the art. That seems really cool. I wonder how they did that.

Okay, I finally figured this out. Flip. Flip. Forward. Reverse. The pages change as fast as I can flip with no lag between images. I'm not sure what the processor is, but it's fast.

This thing's pretty interesting, but I don't see any way to turn it off. It will probably turn itself off when the battery gets low.

The Day Google Became Evil ... and saved America.

The United States of America has a history of uniting its often uncooperative and sometimes antagonistic citizenry in profound and unthinkable ways when the country perceives an outside threat to its peace and safety.

For the most part, the recent history of this country has been one of success and prosperity, or at least one where the prosperous became more so, and because of that complacency spawned from prosperity, this country has never seen the need to create a National Digital Library. (Also, because Capitalism is good for America. I claim poetic license for hyperbole.)

[see: "Why We Can't Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library System" or any of the other posts lamenting this American FAIL.]

But Google saw the need. Well, if not the need for the country, then the need for Google. As Google digitized books, it increased its digital domain and lay the groundwork for new continuous streams of ad revenue.

So Google did what the rest of the country could not and went ahead with the project. And the people cheered. Until some others pointed out what was really happening.

So now, in the most recent history, the hero of American and even worldwide book digitization, has been declared a villain as the Google Settlement was struck down in federal court.

So now that Google has been declared the enemy of copyright protections and fair trade, will this suddenly spur the people to act and create a true digital library? Not one of Google's making, but one of the people, for the people and by the people?

The people and the government of this country have often acted quickly when confronted by an outside threat: I wonder if this latest ruling will inspire similar action.

Google becoming evil could be the best thing to happen to free and open access to information.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Evolution of the Digital Native

I'll cut to the chase and tell you that there has been no evolving. The digital natives are just as stupid now as they were when some egg-head social thinker invented them.

And I say "invented" because that's what we did. We invented them. Because they don't exist. Or, more accurately, they existed, but they were the same as everyone else.

Just like the automobile, where we are all "automotive natives," I bet most of us don't know how a car works. We can probably repair something that doesn't require fluid drainage or correct torque specifications, like we could all change the oil or replace a bulb or change the air filter, but most of us couldn't run a diagnostics check or check to see how many amps are being pulled by the compressor, as if I would know what that means. I never go near electricity despite being an "electrical native."

But 10-15 years ago, we saw all these people with all this electronic stuff and we assumed that they knew what they were doing. But they didn't. They knew enough to use the technology, but ask any digital native how many old phones or game consoles or computers he has and you'll learn what poor planning and how little understanding of his own needs his has. These natives buy every new thing without learning how to be satisfied with tools that fill their needs. New tools are better tools, it seems.

But as we observed the digital generation, we assumed they knew something we didn't. As outsiders, we make the assumptions because we also assume we are missing something and give the group the benefit of the doubt. But anyone who observed the group would have discovered the level of immersion into the technology was the computer equivalent of giving the car an oil change. The group used the technology just as the previous group used their new technology. The tool has many uses, but we apply it to solve the problems that occur. Some people go on to become masters of tools, just as some people became mechanics to repair our cars. But many, many others are satisfied to just use the tools for simple tasks. It is uncommon for one to gain skills outside his immediate needs or wants. Only very few of us move from user to explorer to teacher.

So we invented the digital natives because we were from a different generation. But we didn't apply what we knew about ourselves to this new group. We didn't say, "Hey, we were all born with cars and electricity and planes, but we're not all mechanical and electrical geniuses. Hell, my clock on my VCR is still blinking 00:00." We didn't do that. We assumed that this group would be different. But they're not. And it took us years to understand that.

So the evolution of the digital native is not their evolution, but ours. I think it's been a lesson that we shouldn't assume that because someone is born into a culture that they are better able to control it, master it or exploit it. You can make whatever point you want about, let's say, texting, and ask how many texts I send a day. And the answer would be zero. But that doesn't win your argument because if you asked how many notes I passed to other kids in class when I was in 7th grade, I'd say about 30, per class. And at 7 classes a day, that's over 200 of the "automotive native's" equivalent to a text, pretty much what kids the same age do today.

So technology it simply the tool that kids today use to be social. In my time, it was paper. Does my use of paper qualify me to run a paper mill? No. Just as texting doesn't make someone a computer genius. It just means they're not paying attention in class.

So we should learn from our digital native mistake. And when the next generational leap happens, say the Biomechanical Natives, who have bionic limbs, we won't go so crazy and think they have superpowers. Although on the basketball court, I could be proven wrong. Because those kids can dunk.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Search Once and Dunce.

My world has become smaller. It's the smallest it's ever been. It's smaller than me and so now it revolves around me.

I'm fascinated by the news media's new approach to journalism where they display tweets and Facebook posts as if they were newsworthy.

So now a paper like the New York Times tells me what's popular now based on the number of Likes for a particular story on Facebook. Or maybe they might attempt to pluck a gem from the murky twitterstream and raise it up for all of us to admire.

But this is not widening my view of the world. I don't care what people just like me like, as if people who have so much free time that they can share their favorite news stories on social networking sites have that much in common with me, who has, maybe 20 minutes a day to do this.

I guess this is the 21st century equivalent of the "man in the street" report. Although there is no man and there is no street.

I would rather have one genius tell me what to think than one million idiots. Do we have any geniuses left? Or has genius become crowdsourced and aggregated and averaged out?

This all appears under the supposed noble objective of getting us talking, conversing, hashing out our ideas. Like we all have useful thoughts to contribute and this benefits mankind or something. And believe me, that I've added myself to the list. But I suspect this is really another way to get us to view ads.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

and a fine Fuck You, to you, too

A recent comment on another blog said that libraries should eliminate charging fines. And there are a lot of librarians who agree that fines are wrong, for whatever stupid-ass reasons they have: the economy, they're pussies, whatever.

But fines are the only thing that any library user respects. Without fines, the library is just a place where they can steal all the shit they want, without any consequences.

What is the library, but free stuff that you can own for a short period of time. You get to borrow something that you wouldn't normally buy for yourself with your own money and keep it, in most cases, for about a month, without any penalties. You know up front, exactly how long you can keep it and exactly when it's due back so that someone else may borrow it. You get it in pretty good condition and the library expects it back in similar condition so that we can lend it to the next person.

It's a fucking utopia.

And to keep this running smoothly, all the library asks is that you return what you borrowed before the time you agreed to return it and also, that you don't fuck it up too much. This is a simple request, one that all people would make with each other when borrows an item from another.

Hey Joe, can I borrow your pen?

Sure, Pete. Here you go. But please don't stick it up your ass like last time, okay?

Oops, Joe. Too late.
When someone borrows a library item and returns it late, he's pretty much saying Fuck You to every person who might want to borrow that item next.

When he leaves it on a lawn chair in the rain:
Fuck You.

When he spills coffee on it:
Fuck You.

When he tears the pages:
Fuck You.

And so the library adds a fee to when you do these things because, frankly, you are an asshole.

If you borrow something from a friend and you agree to return it next Thursday, but find yourself unable to do so, you call your friend and say that you need it longer. Because you're friends, and that's what friends do.

So when your friend says she's sorry and you can't keep it longer because she really needs that thing back because her other friend is waiting for it, what do you say? Do you tell your friend to fuck herself and you'll keep that shit as long as you want? Probably not. But if you don't return the stuff on time, you'll know that the friendship has changed.

All a library is to everyone is a place that cares for everybody's stuff. Everyone who pays local taxes contributes toward buying this stuff, and the library makes it available for everyone to borrow. You don't own it. Your neighbor doesn't own it. But each of you own about 1/100000 of each item that's in the library. If you live in a small town, you own about 1/5000 of each item in the library. And even then, you wouldn't own that much because a lot of your money goes to pay for electricity to keep the place clean from all the garbage you leave in it each day.

So what you say to the library when you return something late or damaged is that you're not a friend. You're not even a frenemy, whatever the hell that is. You are a fucking asshole. And you need to be treated like one.

So the library charges you money because you are late. Because money seems to be the only thing that you respect. You don't respect the library materials. You don't respect each other. But money terrifies the shit out of you.

Money is the only thing you respect. You respect it because you don't have any of it. You respect it because you don't understand it. You respect it because without it, you don't get any respect for anyone else.

So that's why the library charges fines. Because it's the only way we can expect to get back everyone's shit. Our shit. Because we our the caretakers of all this shit.

We understand that there is a segment of the population who will just steal stuff from the library. We understand that. But those people are thieves. And when we catch them, we will have them arrested and put in jail.

And we know that there are people who would never return anything late. They clean their fingerprints from the DVDs. They don't bend the book pages. They don't throw the CDs on the floor of their cars. And mostly, they wouldn't dare take a book into the bathroom. But if they did, and if they read a book on the toilet, they don't wipe their asses with the same hand they use to turn the pages.

We love these people. These keeping-our-library-materials-away-from-their-asses people. We would lend these people anything.

And then there's you. You kinda, sorta care as long as it's convenient. You use the library because you believe it's free. Free, like taking 50 napkins or 20 ketchups at Burger King and throwing all the excess in the trash. Free, like you eat and drink all you want, but never offer to chip in to help clean up and never hold a party at your place. Free, like someone else will pick up the check. You have no respect for what you borrow, you have no respect for the hard work of others and your word means nothing. You barely respect yourself. You suck.

When the library adds that ten cent fine to your account, it's the only legal way we can remind you that you're acting like a little shit. Some people take that little sting of negative reinforcement and learn from it. They become better neighbors who return things on time. And others complain about the hardship because they are special.

Some people express disgust when they view someone smoking a cigarette. Or when they hear that you don't recycle.

But when I hear that you owe the library money, I think, what the fuck? And any hope for the future of our friendship just goes down the toilet.

The library is here for everyone, not just you.

Return your shit on time, or pay the fucking fine. I'm putting that on a tee-shirt.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What Makes a Professional.

I just had an epiphany while resetting an old man's default browser to IE. He said the tech guy installed Google Earth for him but also installed Chrome and told it to be the default browser. The old guy was lost because Chrome didn't look the same and he couldn't find his favorites.

So I reset everything and explained that techies prefer Chrome. And then I had to explain what Chrome is. And then I explained again that techies hate Microsoft and prefer Google, but I didn't get into why because this old man seemed confused by the fact that there's more than one browser on his computer. And since old people get angry when they get confused, I left him to check his email and look at old lady porn.

But what I realized is that librarians are not professionals.

Librarians get along with everyone. We try to play nice. We make rules to accommodate everyone. We include everyone in the discussion. We call anyone who works in a library a librarian. We think all librarians are great and that they offer worthwhile contributions to the profession. We would never fill a sock with D batteries and beat a patron over the head for talking too loudly on his phone.

But real professionals argue with each other. When I watch those one-hour dramatic presentations on television, all the lawyers and doctors and computer guys and detectives all hate each other. The criticize other lawyers or doctors or computer guys or detectives and say how they suck at their jobs and how they're alcoholics or criminals or whores.

And that's what makes a profession. Infighting.

So long as librarians continue to play fair with each other, we will never be recognized as a profession. We need to argue. We need to prove that we have something in our profession that we will so strongly about that we could actually kill someone over it.

And if one of you assholes disagrees with me, we can take this outside. Right after I remove my sock and fill it with Rayovacs.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The ebook impasse?

If you're a librarian, you don't need me to explain the current uproar within the library lending ebook community now that one publisher has drawn a line in the lending-model sand.

Some library folks have rightly declared shenanigans. And someone from the other side has responded. And the general view in libraryland toward this new pricing model is Fuck You. And the publishers seem to be saying, "Right back at 'cha."

And this is all our fault. We gave money for a shitty product. We always buy shitty products. As consumers, we don't have many choices. We often have to pick from elephant shit or cow shit or pig shit. And the conversations within the committess sound like this:

"This elephant shit is very dense which could make it more durable."
"But this pig shit is so spreadable."

But ultimately we're always left with shit.

Regarding ebooks, some say that accepting DRM limitations from the start was a bad move and that we should have demanded unlimited access and open formats.

And others refer back to even the dawn of ILS software, automation, cataloging, MARC records, etc., where libraries became dependent on outside vendors to provide content and services, pointing out that this dependence forced libraries into a weakened bargaining position and limited future choices.

And again, this is because librarians are weak negotiators. Many of us work for the public sector where salary negotions are often nonexistent. We take what we are offered.

But on the purchasing end, librarians sometimes manage huge piles of cash, the purse strings, major ducats. And if we suck at negotiations, we need to remember that money talks.

People are very good at spending other people's money. And so the question arises as to whether libraries even need to be spending it on ebooks. We buy them because our patrons want them. But other than that, what is the reason that we purchase shit that we don't own?

Our library leases a lot of material. We lease building space; we lease books. We lease financial products; we lease databases. And hopefully, someone with some expertise did the cost analysis to determine whether these leases are affordable. But I doubt it. Even with other products, I think we take what we can get without weilding any of the power one would think would come with all the money we spend.

So what should we do? Is ebook lending one-sided, benefiting the publisher much more than the customer? In some ways, yes. But when you look at the pricing for libraries compared to the basic consumer model, then no.

The basic consumer downloads an ebook for $10 and reads it and maybe gets to lend it to six more people. But libraries pay that same $10 and get to lend that ebook to 26 people. To a simple-minded person, that looks like a good deal.

And that's because the basic consumer created this situation. The individual consumer told publishers that this pricing is fair. So, should be pissed off at publishers who are just taking their cues from the idiot consumer? And then we invite those same consumers into our libraries so they can demand that we accept the same lousy purchasing agreements?

But libraries have historical been allowed to lend materials as often as we want, virtually without limits. Unless the borrower drops the book in the toilet and we have to get a new one. But tell me, should we required to accept what amounts to a digital toilet dunking with our ebooks?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Missing pages

It's widely known that authors have their works edited prior to publication. But I was a little surprised to discover that this has even happened to authors of childrens books.

The Empty Pot by Demi is one such book. This is a charming story about a boy named Ping who discovers the power of honesty.

But in the published version of the book, the other children lie, but are never punished for their wrongs. That's because the page with that part of the story was deleted prior to publication.

But here now, for the first time, is that missing page, that I totally made up. And isn't real. And doesn't violate any copyrights because it is a parody.