The Machine Of The World: Afterward

In August of 2004 I got a bright idea. I asked my wife, Elvira what she wanted for Christmas, figuring I had a good four months lead time to shop around. To my surprise she said she wanted, me to write her a, “Gothic fairy Tale with pictures.” I figured I’d write a short story, ten maybe twelve pages long, do a few doodles to make it look pretty. It’d take two, maybe three weekends (a month, tops), plus it would give me an excuse to fiddle around with Adobe InDesign, which I’d wanted to tinker with for a while. I could print it at home. It’d be a fun project and a personal gift. What could be better?

So I started flipping through my notebook, looking for ideas. I found a page-long summery of a dream I ‘d had a few nights before, about an undead king who kept his family up at night, murmuring into the pipes. I remembered that dream vividly, which is a fairly rare occurrence. It had a very Guy Maddin feel to it, weird, a little silly and kind of surreal.1 I could see the flicker of the silent era cinematography, sepia toned with German Expressionistic sets, like something out of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. It was decidedly Gothic.

I was still in Grad School at the time, working on my Masters Degree in Library Science, so naturally I had all the time in the world to write and illustrate a Gothic Fairy Tale. Thanksgiving rolled around and I hadn’t written more than four pages. They were (and still are) the first four pages (mostly), so it was a start but I knew there was no hope of me finishing it before Christmas. So I applied for an extension, promising Elvira the story for her birthday.2 That way, I had until July and I would be done with Grad School in early May, so I had plenty of time.

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Not-So-Balanced Libraries

Previously on The Invisible Library: After discovering that a two year old blog post of mine had been citied in a book on how to make libraries work better in the web 2.0 world, I wondered aloud about the context of such citations and the weird gray area inhabited by blogs in the academic world.

Like any good librarian, I did a little more research. Naturally, I found Walt Crawford’s website and a link to his book, Balanced Libraries, which is self published on This in no way invalidates his book, or thesis, but neither does it really inspire much confidence. Let’s be honest–and this is coming from a fellow Lulu author–self published academic work tends to have a certain… charm, shall we say. It’s good to know others are getting their work out there independently and for all I know, Walt Crawford is the unsung, Tom Paine of the library world. But seriously, Walt, $29.50 for a paperback is bad enough but $20 for the download? Downloads are free. I could understand maybe asking for donations. Charging a buck or two is acceptable, if you want to be a dick. But $20 for a PDF is madness. Like, RIAA suing tween music downloaders for their parent’s retirement fund level of madness. Cory Doctorow explains why. Bad form, Walt.

The only thing worse than not making an ebook available (especially when self publishing the book on Lulu, where that option is free and as easy as clicking a single button) is charging such a ridiculous price for it. This is one of those really easy web 2.0 ideas that often get ignored by library administrators because they either can’t or won’t change their minds about access and distribution models. If charging people for ebooks is part of your idea of creating a balanced library, I’m not impressed. And neither am I willing to spend $30 bucks for some out-to-lunch academic’s pet project.

Where Are Blogs Bred? In the Heart Or In the Head?

Last night, I was searching Amazon for something completely unrelated* and happened upon this book, Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change, by Walt Crawford. The author is trying to find the middle ground between the old school library way and the new fangled Web 2.0 way of doing things, which is commendable. What really knocked my virtual socks off though, is that he cites me as a source. Specifically, this post from Friday, December 8, 2006, in which I talk about the use of Netflix in libraries.

The book is available for search on Amazon and so I was able to read pages 114-115, where I’m quoted. Since I haven’t yet read the book or even the whole chapter, I can’t really speak about the context in which I’m cited. Once I get my hands on a copy, I’ll have a more informed opinion.

But one thing I am, is uncertain about how I feel about being cited in this or any other book. At first go, it’s a little flattering to have my opinions taken into consideration, even if, as I gather from the few pages I’ve read online, that Walt Crawford is criticizing me. That’s fine. Healthy debate is great and I’m a big boy and can handle it. But what remains uncertain at this point (because again, I haven’t read the whole book yet) is the context.

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One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Barack Obama had a rally where 75,000 people attended, some of them in rowboats, as that was the only way to get within earshot of the massive crowd.* Meanwhile, John McCain has a rally with George W. as his guest speaker and ticket sales are so poor, it has to be moved out of the Phoenix Convention Center to a smaller, private venue.† Did I mention the rally is in his home state?

Tell me again, which candidate isn’t electable?

*Who, as you all know, showed up only to hear those super massive rock stars, The Decemberists, and were so stoned afterwards that they couldn’t find their cars and so stuck around to hear what the nice black man had to say.

† The dining room at the local IHOP. Free refills are on W!

No Time For Plot, Doctor Jones

We saw Indiana Jones and the [place] of the [spooky noun] Friday night and were amused enough not to get up and leave so I guess it was alright. I had medium expectations going in and they were met. I stopped expecting artistry from Lucus and Spielberg ages ago and now settle for passable craft form them and their plug and play lackeys. All was in order. The Koepp Scriptwriting software turned out a by-the-numbers story with no surprises that weren’t on the “so dumb I can’t believe they did that” end of the spectrum. The characters were slightly more than two dimensional (ranging between 2.2 and 2.8) and the egregious CG effects were kept to the animal kingdom, so no real foul can be called.

Spielberg has mastered the skill of keeping you engaged in a movie just long enough to make it to the credits. Maybe this has always been his gift. Not genius or even exceptional craftsmanship, but just good enough cinema-making skills to make an entertaining way to waste a few hours. There are worse skill sets to have. Though it is kind of sad that the trailer for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor looks more like an Indiana Jones movie than the actual Indiana Jones movie we saw.

But there’s no way for Spielberg to deliver on that sort of expectation. He, Lucus and Ford spent the last 18 years twiddling their thumbs and in the meantime, the movies changed. The audience changed. Some of that was Spielberg and Lucus’ doing but how sad is it that they were beaten at the game they invented?

I would have liked a better Indiana Jones movie but got the Crystal Skull instead. It wasn’t socks for Christmas but neither was it the BB gun I wanted. “That’s OK,” says Steven Spielberg. “A better movie would have just put your eye out anyway.”

Kate Blanchett clearly had fun with her Lulu wig and Russian accent. And hay, swords! Shia The Beef got to be in a movie with Harrison Ford. His Erdos-Bacon number just went up. Seeing Karen Allen again was great. Wish there had been more for her to do than drive a truck off a cliff but hay, I’m sure John Hurt wanted to be more than just a walking, babbling treasure map. No Joy, John. This is a Koepp script and there simply is no room for that much characterization.

There’s much to be said about the plot holes, the silly aliens and magic of magnetic crystal skulls, CG ants that look like killer M&Ms and those silly, silly monkeys. But why bother? See the movie. Enjoy your two hours and then try not to be bitter as you leave the theater. It is after all, only a movie.


* He could be a world class pianist and Soviet History specialist put in charge of managing the foreign policy of the world’s only empire, fighting a pitched battle against an asymmetrical foe that is neither Soviet (or even Russian!) and wouldn’t know an F from a G sharp. Steven Spielberg is no Condi Rice, that’s for sure. George Lucus may be the cinematic equivalent of Donald Rumsfeld though. The case is still pending.

Jane Espenson Is: The 5th Beetle

Just a reminder that real Life is still stranger than fiction:

Remember how I was just in Vancouver? Well, instead of checking luggage, I had a box of clothes FedExed up there and then back down here when I left. It avoids the hassles of baggage claim and I totally recommend this plan. When you’re ready to head home, you just scoop your unlaundered clothes into a box and ship it off, neat as you please.

Except that they do some sort of operation at the border in which the shipping labels are removed and sometimes switched. Fun!

This means that when a box arrived at my home yesterday, it didn’t contain my clothes. It contained someone else’s clothes. Luckily, this person was savvier than I about the hazards of international shipping labels, and had included a piece of paper with his name and (business) address. I have the property of a “Mr. R. Starkey.” Those of you who know stuff about stuff are now freaking out. A little checking re: the address and the business name has verified: I have Ringo Starr’s clothes. Okay, now everyone can freak out. Please notice that according to any system of logic, this makes me the fifth Beatle.

Some things just couldn’t work in fiction because they are too real.