Monthly Archives: October 2005

How the Music Industry Encourages its Audience to Steal Music

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I’m not the stealing type. Let me be clear about that from the start. When I was in high school every one of my friends got arrested for shoplifting except for me. I can’t cope with the idea of stealing. But man, the music industry actually makes me want to steal.

Actually, let’s start with the movie folks and work back to music, because my first example of stupid pet tricks on behalf of the people with a lot of money is the one they pull in movie theatres. There are those ads about how many people it takes to put a movie together, and how mean it is to download that movie without letting these people get paid for their work. Let’s leave aside the fact that the Best Boy and the Key Grip has already been paid for that movie and won’t get paid again whether or not we download the movie; they tell us this sob story while we’re sitting in the theatre with our paid ticket in hand. Why are they guilting the people who are actually paying to be there?

And this leads into what the music people are doing. The music people want to stop people from stealing music; but since they don’t think they can reach the actual abusers (or because they think we’re ALL abusers), they punish the people who actually buy their music. And how do they do this? They don’t let you transfer music files to your ipod. They restrict how many copies you can make. They’ll make music play in formats that aren’t likely to be supported past the latest operating system, forcing users to buy new cds every time we pass through another tectonic technological shift. And in a new turn of events, they put malware on your computer. Yep, that’s right: if you legitimately pay for music, Sony will make sure you get what amounts to a virus on your system. They will add secret files to your computer so that you won’t be able to do anything sneaky with their property. They will do this without telling you it’s happening, without giving you the option to uninstall it, and doing all this in such a way that if you happen to find the files and delete them, you will accidentally cripple your own system. [This via metafilter.]

I’m not sure what upsets me more; that the music industry can’t seem to come up with a logical way to cope with the fact that is the internet, or that they’re learning from malware to figure out how to disable systems rather than changing their business model, or that these people have opted to exploit the general technical ignorance of people in order to make people have to buy more CDs for the rest of their lives. Or maybe the worst part of it is that they don’t trust anyone, not even the people who opted to lay down cash for the product. Isn’t that what they want us to do? Does this make you want to support them? Particularly when you can download those same files for free, and you will be able to burn as many CDs as you like, transfer them to your ipod, send them to your sister, and whatnot? The music industry is setting itself up for failure here. They’re making the stolen product better than the purchased one.

Makes me want to steal some music, I don’t know about you. And as I said, I’m not the stealing type. Way to go, Sony!

If you could change only one thing…

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I got this idea from Creating Passionate Users. If you could change only one thing about anything (or many anythings) what would that be?

Library Catalogues
If I could change one thing about catalogues, it would be the level to which cataloguing occurs. Someone would have made the decision years ago that the content of journals, books, and edited volumes is as significant as their titles and sought to catalogue those as well. That way, when the digitization thing started, we could have just encorporated full text instead of having to outsource the searching AND the content. But since that’s not one thing I can change, I’d like librarians everywhere to change their minds about Google. I’d like academic librarians everywhere to embrace Google scholar and do everything they can to make that the best source there is.

Reference
More service points. While I’m of two minds about the “get rid of the reference desk” idea, I’m very keen on multiple service points; mobile, digital, in your face, in your office, in the foyer, in the stacks, reference everywhere all the time.

Virtual Reference
An acknowledgment of the value of local reference as more important than 24/7 access. It’s more important to get the right person than it is to get some person. I’d also like to see v-ref stop being a reference-only tool and start being a system-wide communication option.

Blogs
Blog posts don’t have to be short. I hate this idea, everyone always says blog posts are short and unthoughtful. Why would that be so? Is there a word count limit on a blog post?

WordPress
A really, really good threaded comments function.

Canada
An extensive light rail system. Better public transit. And this is a second thing, but can we join the EU? Come on, were sort of European. Ish. (I’d wish for another two years before an election, but I know that’s a pointless plea.)

Streetsville
A cheeseshop. Is that so much to ask? Oh, and a real bakery would go a long way, you know, somewhere that sells bread. Inability to get bread caused the French revolution, you know.

Writing
More time to do it. That’s really it.

Cliches Scorned

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18,701 / 100,000
(18.7%)

Today I looked at a variety of pages cataloguing the typical cliches of the fantasy genre (which, somewhat inexplicibly, I find myself writing). These included The Grand List of Fantasy CLiches and The Not So Grand Cliche List. These are amusing, but also instructive, of course.

I am of two minds about the cliche. I realize, on one hand, that the idea is to avoid cliches at all costs, because if you’re using them your story isn’t terribly original. But on the other hand, cliches are cliches for a reason; they do something useful, they stir something in us (if well executed, of course). I’m interested in cliches, I’ll be honest. There’s nothing like a retelling of a powerful fairy tale, there’s nothing like that sense of satisfation when a story ends just the way you felt it should, and nothing quite so annoying as when a character does the exact opposite of where you felt she was going (ahem, Little Women). It seems to me that cliches, on the bright side, are that feeling; cliches scorned, that’s the real mistake.

I’m inspired by cliches, to be perfectly honest. I love to write stories that are based on something so well-worn you think there’s nothing salvagable in them. I learned long ago that it’s no the cliche that’s boring, it’s relying on it to take you all the way home that doesn’t work.

Maybe this is the difference between people who want to be surprised by a book and those who want to see the process. I don’t really care about how a book ends; I’m more interested in seeing how we get there. Likewise, I don’t care if a storyline is cliched. I just want to know if it works, if it’s satisfying. There are only so many stories, isn’t that true? We’re all writing the same story, metaphorically speaking. But only we can put ourselves in ours. So they’re all bound to be different in a million little ways.

Amazon Reviews

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A one star review of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, as posted on Amazon.com:

I bought these books to have something nice to read to my grandkids. I had to stop, however, because the books are nothing more than advertisements for “Turkish Delight,” a candy popular in the U.K. The whole point of buying books for my grandkids was to give them a break from advertising, and here (throughout) are ads for this “Turkish Delight”! How much money is this Mr. Lewis getting from the Cadbury’s chocolate company anyway? This man must be laughing to the bank.

Too funny. Just like how the New Testament is full of advertisements for those “30 pieces of silver” Cadbury is trying to sell us. Good times.

Amusing one star amazon reviews for famous books collected here.

Progress Notes

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As I’ve mentioned previously, I am taking up writing again. Writing is an all-consuming activity in my experience, and I’m not sure how real writers keep up with their lives while cranking out novels. I’m moving pretty slowly on mine, which is probably a good speed for someone as impatient as me. Having other things to do forces me to look at what I’ve done and not skimp on each part. Savour every little scene as it’s before me, that’s the ticket.

At any rate: I want to record my progress.

13,463 / 100,000
(13.5%)

My goal today was to get about halfway through chapter three, but all I did was add 1000 words to chapter two. Yes, those 13,000 odd words represents two chapters and exactly three days of otherworld time. I’m concerned about overly-lengthy chapters, but I guess that should be the last thing I worry about. I’m hoping for no more than 100,000 words. Possibly that’s undershooting this thing, who knows.

It’s funny, my friend June mentioned that it must be easier to take stuff out rather than put it in, and that made me realize that the exact opposite is true for me. I can always expand on something. Taking anything out is pure torture. I’ve been writing this thing much the way you would paint a picture; put the bones out first, and then go over and over it with different colours until it looks about the way you want it to. At this point I can’t really re-read what I’ve written without adding another layer.

I’m taking some management advice on this one: only get it to 80%. If you’re only working to produce something that’s 80% perfect, then there’s room for that 20% to come from others without causing pain and personal damage in the process. We’ll see how that goes.

I’d just like to note that there is exactly no relationship between writing and being a librarian. I know that seems odd, but really. No relationship there at all.

Joy All Over the Place

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Google’s RSS reader. You need a gmail account to use it, but there’s nothing bad about the big guys getting in on the RSS bandwagon. The more readers the better!

In other Google news, Google has created a Librarian Center for librarians teaching Google tools to students. This is a company that just never makes mistakes, isn’t it. Nothing but love from me to the big G.

Yahoo and MSN agree to IM interoperability. This means that Yahoo Messenger users will be able to get in touch with MSN users without jumping platforms. Good news! Now, if AIM would join the party, we wouldn’t need to have three accounts to talk to all the people we want to (ahem).

This one isn’t a good news technology story. This is an op-ed piece by a Luddite writing for Wired. From Dark Underbelly of Technology:

For one thing, human beings are not meant to go as fast as modern technology compels them to go. Technology might make it possible to work at warp speed, yes, but that doesn’t make it healthy. And just because the latest software makes it feasible to double your workload (or “productivity,” to you middle-management types), that shouldn’t give the boss the right to expect you will.

With cell phones, IM and all the personal-this and personal-that, we’re connected all the time, or “24/7” as the unfortunate jargon has it. Is being connected 24/7 a good thing? Isn’t it healthy to be “off the grid” now and then? If you can’t answer “yes” to that question, you may be a tech dynamo, my friend, but please stay the hell out of my cafe.

This kind of stuff is so tedious. Being annoyed by people who use technology is so last week. The people who cling to their ipods are not actually the same people yacking away on their cell phones while you’re trying to have your soy latte. And why are we so worshipful of the notebook-toting poet in the coffee shop and so disdainful of the laptop-toting novelist? Is one inherently better than the other? (I say all this with a wrist brace on, an injury less the result of typing and more of handwriting, thank-you-very-much.)

And I’ll get on board with the “tech is not productivity” crowd as soon as they start making their own clothes from fabric they wove on a loom and washing everything by hand. We’ll see just how productive and efficient they are right around then. And let’s talk about being off the grid; how about you lay off the fossil fuels once in a while, big boy? When was the last time you left the SUV at home and took public transit on your way to get your electrically-produced espresso? The folks who write these “technology is bad” columns have predetermined which technologies they like and which they don’t without being entirely forthcoming or fair. These complaints have been handled pretty well by the “Dear Abby” crowd. Let’s not get too caught up in the glitz and glare from the shiny new laptop screens. Being a jerk in public is still being a jerk in public, whether or not you’re using a device that prefers to be plugged in.

In other news, Blackboard is buying WebCT. I know the whole academic blogosphere is abuzz with this news, and my jaw dropped as much as the next person’s. And yes, this is going to have a huge impact on those of us involved with such systems, whether or not we are current subscribers. Is this going to provide us all with a better option when it comes to course management systems? Is it a response to some of the very cool things going on with Moodle? How will a goliath system effect the development of other open source CMS products (like Sakai)? While I will be directly effected by this move, I have no direct opinion about it, really. I’m not a burning fan of any current CMS, so merges and changes just make me raise my eyebrows and nod dutifully. Will it make things better? Who knows. As long as the APIs are still around, I’m happy enough.

I have I mentioned enough times yet that Meebo is fantastic? It sure is.

Picking up the Pen (again)

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This post has nothing to do with librarianship. I started keeping a blog in 2001, and while my life has always had one dominant theme or another, I’ve never had a subject-specific blog. Since librarianship is my bread and butter these days, that’s covered most of what I’ve been posting about lately.

But this is a slight diversion. I’m working on a manuscript at the moment, so I’m going to use this space to talk a bit about that as well. The process of writing is strange, sometimes enlightening, but sometimes completely crazy, and I think getting a bit meta about the process will help to keep me sane.

The story of the manuscript: I started writing this thing at the recommendation of a wise reader. I used to write a quite a lot in amateur online writing communities, and I really really enjoyed it. I like writing, what can I say. So when I started to get significant feedback from professionals in the publication industry telling me to stop writing for the web and start something I could actually publish, I took them very seriously and started working on it. I looked at the expectations of publishers, took stock of what sort of thing got published these days, and reformatted some of my ideas to fit. I did a lot world building, a lot of character sketches, and then I started writing.

I did every single thing wrong. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t. I didn’t plan enough. I didn’t pay enough attention to the thing as a whole. I wrote one version, got some feedback, and then did a serious revision. Then I sat on it for a few months, returned to it, did another serious revision, and vowed to write one more chapter of a conclusion and that would be it. I had taken all the advice I’d gotten. I had fixed the things that bothered me, and fixed the things that bothered others. I had added characters just to kill them, added drama, cut characters, revised some basic assumptions. It was all done. And then I started my library school co-op and dropped it altogether.

I really thought I was done with writing at that point. I just couldn’t take the nitpicky tedium of it by then. I had other fish to fry. When I was writing, I really wanted to be a writer. The librarian thing might work as a fallback, but I wanted to be a writer, at least in the short term. But once I got really into librarianship that seriously changed. Librarianship is the only profession I’ve ever felt really passionate about, and once I realized I actually wanted to be good at my job and change the world in my own little way (rather than just get a steady pay cheque), my writerly dreams fell by the wayside.

So now I’m 4 months deep into my new job, I’m learning a lot and enjoying myself, and suddenly I’m feeling the pull of this manuscript again. Or, at least, the idea of it. It’s not the idea of being a writer that interests me, or even the idea of publishing. I don’t want to change my profession, I don’t want to quit if the writing thing works out. It’s this story, these characters, and the simple fact that I still really enjoy writing that’s bringing me back to it.

I never returned to the original files of my last revision. They’re zipped up and on my hard drive, but I haven’t even opened them. When the ideas, the scenes, and the characters came back to me, I decided to simply catalogue them. What were the elements of this story that I really liked? What were the events that I wanted to write about? What were the pieces of it that made me return to thinking about this story? I picked up a nifty piece of software called Idea Knot. It lets you jot down ideas and then organize them into categories (single ideas can fit into multiple categories, if you like, it’s pretty flexible). So I just wrote down everything I liked and the things I wanted to see. I re-imagined the characters, I interrogated and challenged the decisions I made the first time. I developed new answers to old problems. I discarded characters that weren’t fundamental to the plot. I massively revised the geography, added art and religion, reconceptualized the order of events. And as the list of elements grew, I started filing them into some kind of chapter order. I made notes about elements of the story that should be clear in each chapter. I talked to some writers I know about my concerns, about constructing good characters and the pitfalls of some of my plot elements. I turned a heavily event-driven story into a heavily character-driven narrative. I found a committed beta reader (thank you Caitlin) who had already sat through versions one and two and would be a soundboard for some of the crazy directions I thought the story might take. I pasted my emails to her into my collection of notes, ideas, and character sketches. And eventually I had a fairly detailed outline for a mostly (but not entirely) different story.

Now I am (slowly, carefully, hesitatingly) starting to write again. I have a solid framework for the first three chapters, and I’m going to write them. And then I’m going to look back over my three chapters, consider my plan of attack, and look at getting a solid framework for the next three chapter that will work well with what I’ve already done. Small steps!

The last time I sat down to write I could hammer through a 6000 words like it was nothing and then just keep going the next day. This time I think I’ve gone so far in the other direction that I’m almost organizing myself into some kind of creative straightjacket. The first day I sat down I ended up with about 600 words and couldn’t believe how slowly it was coming. It wasn’t painful, it was actually just as enjoyable as before, but I was so aware of how much I want this story to really work that I’m so much more careful word by word. I’m not clinging to a darling sentences anymore; I’m less sensitive to criticism and more committed to the story itself than to the individual words. By the time I was done that first night I had 1500 words and forwarded them all on to my beta reader. We discussed it, I did some expanding and editing, and now I have 3115 words. At one time I had 96,000 heavily-revised words; it’s amazing how proud I am of this 3115.

But I’m writing this story because I want to write this story, that’s it. I’m not going to look at what’s publishable or what audiences tend to like this time around. I don’t care. Now that I’m gainfully employed (and loving my job), I’m not doing this because I’m trying to change my life, or make a name for myself, or embark on a new profession. I’m going to write this story because I want to, and I’m going to write it the way I think it should be written. If someone wants to see it after that, I have no objection. But I ain’t quitting my day job either way. But it’s wonderful to be wrapped up in a story again. It’s pure delight. And as my beta reader points out, my delight seems to be shaping up into a better story.

Finding the Right Metaphor

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If you ever wondered if blogs and blogging were controversial in academia, you’d only need to look at the extremely diverse range of opinions on the topic in higher ed publications to get the idea. The Chronicle has published a story called The Blogosphere as a Carnival of Ideas, clearly written by a blogger in defense of the medium in light of all the attacks it’s endured recently.

Properly considered, the blogosphere represents the closest equivalent to the Republic of Letters that we have today. Academic blogs, like their 18th-century equivalent, are rife with feuds, displays of spleen, crotchets, fads, and nonsenses. As in the blogosphere more generally, there is a lot of dross. However, academic blogs also provide a carnival of ideas, a lively and exciting interchange of argument and debate that makes many scholarly conversations seem drab and desiccated in comparison. Over the next 10 years, blogs and bloglike forms of exchange are likely to transform how we think of ourselves as scholars. While blogging won’t replace academic publishing, it builds a space for serious conversation around and between the more considered articles and monographs that we write.

Of course I think he’s bang on, and I’m thrilled to see such a glowing, positive article about blogging academics in light of a the rantings of a particular (ahem) soon-to-be-past ALA president. But I wouldn’t have made the leap to the Republic of Letters. While classy and romantic, and appealing because of it’s historical conotations, I would have backed away from that particular metaphor.

It’s something of a crisis of imagination; when we see something written down, we can’t help but link it to books, articles, letters, publications in general. We see the written word and link it in our minds to other written words. They are of a kind, in our minds, and we can’t seem to get past the medium. We see blogs and think of diaries, which is true, but also not; we see online discussions and think of letters to the editor, but also not. The reality is that blogs and back and forth that comes with them are not comparable to articles and monographs, or to letters, or to any other form of traditional written communication, not really; blogs and the blogosophere is more like conversation. If everything we said were recorded and transcribed for our later use, how would we classify it? Would we correct our own grammar? Would we make comparisons between our transcripts and the Republic of Letters? Would we have transmogrified ourselves into speakers of text, or would we acknowledge that this is merely conversation turned into readable form?

I’m always a little surprised when people mention that blogging is not academic publishing. Well, of course it’s not. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any academic value. There’s a lot of value in going to conferences, listening to what other people in your field have to say, and engaging them in discussion. There’s lots of value in sitting back and listening to a variety of viewpoints, going to listen to other, completely unrelated talks, and finding commonalities between the discussions. Finding links, thinking outloud, interacting with others and refining our ideas. Telling people what we think as we’re reading, getting their feedback on our thoughts. We accept that students learn best when asked to present their ideas to their peers, elaborate on them, and defend those ideas against questions and doubt. We seem to have a harder time imagining that professionals might be able to do the same thing using online technologies. Somehow, the moment we move to a keyboard, our ideas about how our communication functions completely reverts.

It’s a cardinal rule of cataloguing that a change in medium marks a completely new item, but the history of technology is also littered with imaginative failures. We are so stunned and awed by new advances in communication technology that we keep putting them in special boxes of their own. Sure, DVDs are fancy, but they’re still just movies in a new format. IM reference is nifty and cool, but it’s still just a new way to conduct reference interviews. Blogs likes the ones we’re keeping, the ones we prize in our fields, need to find their metaphor. I hope it’s not the Republic of Letters, though I’m sure it would indeed be a wonderful thing to resurrect. The blogosphere’s focus on connection, communication, feedback, and community-creation speaks more to what we get from verbal dialogue than any number of letters to the editor.

Hyperlocal Reference

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Virtual Reference is one of those things that I think is a fantastic idea that’s not being turned into a fantastic service. A good idea taken not quite in the right direction. And the more I think about reference (I think about reference an awful lot, I must admit), the more I like the idea of virtual reference.

At the moment reference too often means “the reference desk”. One of the things I discover more and more is that reference itself has nothing to do with any desk; it’s an expert service that can be provided pretty much anywhere. We’re most used to providing that service through a desk, but in order to really bring reference service into the present, we need to think outside the box about what the service is and how many different ways we can be providing it. For me, this goes hand in hand with the idea of integrating librarians into the curriculum; why are we waiting for those boiling-point questions to reach the desk? How can we present in other ways on campus (and off it) to answer questions at the point of need?

Virtual reference is one answer to that question. Rather than be at the desk, we can be behind an “ask us” link, there in case anyone needs help. They don’t have to come into the library, they don’t have to even know where the library is. This is the first service that pushes outside of the desk to bring reference service to users in alternative ways.

But to date the idea of virtual reference has been very much akin to the way we think about the OPAC or databases or webpage resources generally; they’re best if they’re available all the time. That the best thing about these things is their ease of use and the fact that anyone can use them any time they feel like it. So we end up with these systems are designed to be useable any time, because apparently that’s what the web means. Constantly on.

What we’re missing in this rush to be available constantly is one of the key elements that make a library a good library; it belongs to a particular place. Librarians spend an awful lot of time and effort making sure their collections reflect their users needs; they conduct user needs assessments to make sure every element of their services reflects a demonstrated need in their communities. A library is a reflection of the community it serves; if you want detailed legal information, you’re going to find better sources in a law library than in an arts & social sciences library. If you need detailed scientific information, go to a science library, right? This is why there are so many different kinds of librarians and different kinds of libraries. If you were looking for detailed information about the history of Guelph, Ontario, you wouldn’t necessarily go to the public library in Victoria, BC. You would go to the Guelph Public Library, or the local archives in Guelph. Right?

So why is it when we moved into virtual reference services we thought these local services were no longer significant? Why is this something we feel we can just outsource? Where does this idea come from that reference questions are so generic they can be answered by any librarian anywhere in the world?

Once I had a specific question about a publication by a faculty member at a school Boston. I noticed they had a virtual reference service at their library, so I got in the queue and asked them. But I wasn’t talking to a librarian in Boston. I was talking to a librarian in California, because they were sharing their virtual reference service in order to keep it open 24/7. This librarian in California didn’t have any extra resources to help her answer my question. She was in the same boat I was.

Why are we so sure our services can be so easily transplanted? Maybe it’s time to start thinking about shorter hours and local service, rather than flashy open-all-the-time service that’s much less institution-specific. Taking stock of our own value, and respecting the value that our own staff and our own collections can bring to our local patrons, might be the first step to making virtual reference the kind of service I know it can be.