Thursday, March 31, 2011

Astor Place

A weekly image from my archive.
Click on the image to make it larger.

A walk around the lower east side late last year ended at Astor Place where I took this image of old and new.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Serials Solutions and HathiTrust Indexing

Serials Solutions announce full indexing of HathiTrust content. From their press release:
Serials Solutions and HathiTrust today announced an agreement to enable full-text search of the entire HathiTrust collection of digitized scholarly books from the Summon™ web-scale discovery service. Researchers and faculty at institutions with the Summon™ service will be able to use the library’s own website to search the full text of its print books and serials, and discover materials relevant to their research topics. This collaboration makes the full text of much of the library’s physical collection as easily searchable as its electronic content.

“The HathiTrust collection today includes a significant, and growing, percentage of all the books contained within research libraries,” said John Wilkin, executive director of HathiTrust and associate university librarian at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “We believe the library community needs strong platforms that make the discovery of quality content in libraries’ collections as easy and compelling as commercial web alternatives. In making the HathiTrust searchable from the Summon discovery service, we are enabling users to easily and efficiently search the full text of the entire HathiTrust collection concurrent with their exploration of a library’s other collections. We see this significant step forward in discoverability aiding HathiTrust in ensuring the accessibility and long-term preservation of this vast record of cultural heritage and collected knowledge.”

Soon researchers at any library with the Summon™ service will effectively search the full text of more than 8.4 million total volumes in the HathiTrust collection, including more than 4.6 million book titles and over 200,000 serials titles— nearly three billion pages. Once users locate the information they need using the Summon™ search box, they can access public domain materials directly from the HathiTrust, as well as be directed to the digital and physical content in the collections of their respective libraries.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Copyright's Beyond the Book looks at what's next for the Google Book Settlement

From their press release:

On March 22, Judge Chin issued his long awaited opinion in the Google Book Search settlement proceedings, rejecting the Amended Settlement Agreement (ASA) proposed by the Authors Guild, AAP and Google.

In his 48-page opinion, Judge Chin discussed the various objections before the court, including concerns regarding copyright, international law, antitrust, privacy and the class action/procedural aspects of the case – ultimately concluding that the ASA is not “fair, adequate and reasonable” as required for court approval of a settlement.

Judge Chin did, however, leave the door open for the parties to renegotiate and resubmit the settlement, urging them to consider adopting an “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” model which would ameliorate many of the concerns raised in the objections.

Through lively discussion, copyright expert Lois Wasoff and Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally will analyze this highly-anticipated decision, what it means for those affected by the proposed settlement and what is likely to happen next.

Unraveling the Rejection - The Google Book Settlement
Wednesday, March 30th at 12:00pm EST.
Click here to register for this complimentary hour-long online seminar

Sunday, March 27, 2011

MediaWeek (V4-N13): Bookclub for the Homeless, Plagiarism or "Creative Reuse", Hollywood, Gallimard, Jean Auel

Bostonia magazine tells us about a Boston lawyer who set up a book club for homeless readers (Bostonia):

For years, Resnik, a tall, unassuming civil litigation defense attorney, had been walking from his Back Bay condo to his State Street law firm, McDermott Will & LinkEmery. He made a nice living trying high-profile product liability cases, mostly representing manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and biotech products. When he had extra time, he took the long way home through the Common.

“I’d see homeless people and I’d walk by them,” Resnik says, sitting in his high-rise office, the glass windows framing a sweeping scene of the Common and Back Bay, the Charles River rolling toward the Atlantic. “Sometimes I’d give people something, sometimes I wouldn’t. I had no meaningful interactions.”

Resnik’s path took him past the spot Chris and Rob had staked out, and he returned their hellos. The exchange became routine, the door cracking a little wider each time. Little by little, Resnik ventured in, stopping to discuss the weather or sports, and eventually life on the streets. One day, he ribbed Chris about his New York Giants jacket.

“I kidded him, ‘You’re brave to be wearing that jacket on Boston Common.’ And Chris said, ‘Where I get my clothes, this isn’t a New York Giants jacket. It’s a warm jacket.”

In the same issue of Bostonia a look at plagiarism or "creative reuse" (Bostonia):

But in this age of file-sharing, mashups, Wikipedia, and music sampling, has the practice of borrowing without asking become more pervasive? More acceptable? Is Griggs right? Yes and no, says Susan Blum, an anthropologist at Notre Dame University and author of My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture (Cornell University Press, 2009).

“I think we are probably in a fuzzy place,” says Blum. “Standards are always changing and evolving. The ones we have now have not been eternal. They were born in a certain moment in time, when authorship and copyright were being established, mostly in England. So those of us who are writers, or who operate in the academic context, have a certain set of practices that we would probably all agree upon, but those are not necessarily universally shared.”

Case in point: German writer Helene Hegemann, all of 17 years old. In February 2010, she copped to lifting passages in her best-selling and award-nominated novel on Berlin club life. Instead of hanging her head, she defended the practice, arguing that she mixed the borrowed material and placed it in a different and unique context. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, only authenticity,” she said at the time.

Former longtime Boston Globe reporter and books section editor David Mehegan (GRS’11), a doctoral student at BU’s Editorial Institute, covered several plagiarism scandals at Harvard, and he worries that attitudes like Hegemann’s will soften resistance to literary theft. “She implied that in this modern age, the whole idea of authorship is antiquated,” he says. “I think there’s this idea out there that this is OK. That’s very tempting for young people.”

Not sure it's limited to young people....

A very interesting article from The Economist about the challenges movie production companies are facing as the distance between them and consumers gets constricted and how the decisions they are making on content distribution at creating conflicts in their traditional sales channels (Economist):

The DVD slump has also divided Hollywood. Film executives, though they eat in the same few restaurants and attend the same parties, cannot agree on the best way of reviving the home-entertainment market, or even on what has caused it to slump. But so perilous is their position that some bold experiments are under way. Chaotically, but quickly, the studios are about to bulldoze conventional wisdom about how films should be sold.

About one thing the studios are fairly sure. Piracy, which was widely viewed as the greatest danger facing the film business a few years ago, has been eclipsed as a threat. Illicit streaming and downloading are certainly rampant in countries like Russia and China. But such places never had much of a home-entertainment market. They have simply moved on from pirate DVDs to illegal streaming. Piracy there represents growth forgone rather than losses.

In developed countries, particularly America (by far the biggest home-entertainment market), people have switched from buying to borrowing. Since 2007 the number of films rented in America has grown by 10% even as spending on home entertainment has steadily declined. People still go shopping for animated films that will keep their children quiet, and for beloved blockbusters: more than 30m DVDs and Blu-ray discs of “Avatar” have been sold worldwide. For everything else they are turning to a range of innovative, legal and—best of all—cheap alternatives.

One of the new entrants that worries the studios can be seen in a shopping mall in Crenshaw, at the smart end of south-central Los Angeles. The Walmart that anchors Crenshaw Plaza carries a good selection of DVDs and Blu-ray discs. On a recent visit “Red” could be had for $15 plus sales tax and “Toy Story 3” for $19.96. A triple pack containing a DVD, a Blu-ray disc and a digital copy of “Despicable Me” was going for $24.96.

The guardian takes a look at the history of french publisher Gallimard (Guardian)

A century ago Gaston Gallimard set up the publishing house that brought Camus, Sartre and Gide to the world. An exhibition of its archive celebrates a peculiarly French success story.

The exhibition currently on show in Paris, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, celebrating the centenary of the Gallimard publishing house, puts on public show the gems of its archive. Gaston Gallimard and his colleagues were also astute: aware that an archive of such richness would go on acquiring value, early on they invited their authors to contribute to it. There is a note from Jean Paulhan on show, kindly requesting authors to "throw away nothing, tear nothing up, burn nothing". Instead they were to send manuscripts, diaries, letters, essays and poetic juvenilia to the rue Sébastien-Bottin, the elegant hôtel particulier in the seventh arrondissement where Gallimard settled his rapidly growing enterprise in 1929, and where it remains today.

In 1930, Henri Manuel was commissioned to photograph the new quarters: they are austere but chic, and there is a picture of the "authors' room", which, as Gallimard proudly explained to Valery Larbaud, "will be equipped with writing tables, telephones, good armchairs, a bar and a view of the garden". He was as good as his word and, in the images of the comité de lecture in the early years at least, the likes of Camus, Queneau and Paulhan are sunk deep in the brown leather of the fauteuils club. Roger Martin du Gard, whose handwritten plan for his huge family chronicle Les Thibault, looking like a very long menu card, is on show, captured the essence of the place, writing to Gaston in 1939: "it is a kind of family . . . where the bosses are called by their first names; a rather fantastical gathering of cultivated souls." Physical comfort was merely an extension of the moral comfort lavished on authors, once they had been admitted to the august imprint.

The smell of old books might lead to clues in saving them (Guardian):

Walk into a library or museum and you cannot fail to note a distinctive musty smell. This is made up of a cocktail of compounds given off by ancient tomes and exhibits. For some the experience is pleasant; for others, such smells are fusty. But for chemist Dr Lorraine Gibson, of Strathclyde University, these odours are the bread and butter of her research.

Profile of Jean M. Auel on the eve of the publication of what may be her last installment (Oregonian):

In the next room, the pool table is covered with stacks of advance copies of "The Land of Painted Caves," the final volume in the series that started with "The Clan of the Cave Bear." It'll be published simultaneously in 17 countries on Tuesday, and the story of Ayla, the beautiful Cro-Magnon orphan raised by Neanderthals, will come to an end.

Auel is 75 and says she hasn't really accepted that her life's work could be over as well.

Maybe after the book is published and all the publicity ends, maybe then she'll "start crying, or whatever I'm going to do." Right now, though, she's on what to her is an odd schedule that has nothing to do with jet lag from a recent trip to London. Because of obligations connected to the release of "The Land of Painted Caves" -- a book tour, lots of interviews with blogs that didn't exist when her last book, "The Shelters of Stone," was published nine years ago -- Auel has been getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. She doesn't like it.

"I'm a Night Auel, with my last name being pronounced like that," she says. All her life, even when she was raising five children, working full-time at Tektronix and taking night classes at the University of Portland, Auel has had to force herself to be active in the morning. When she became obsessed with Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons and brought armloads of books home from the Multnomah County Central Library, it was a decision to stay up late that changed her life.

From the twitter this week:

Darnton on A Digital Library Better Than Google’s -

Visually stunning. Say hello to Google's online magazine -

Cult of Mac: iPad Learning Firm Inkling Gets Multi-Million Dollar Funding from Educational Giants

Google Books Settlement filing (USGov)

Friday, March 25, 2011

United Artists Redux - Repost

Repost From not so long ago: July 20, 2010. Given the excitement over Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler.

Amidst radical change forced on them by major advances in technology (largely out of their control), a small group of leading media producers have joined together to establish their own (insert word): broadcaster, publisher, studio, agency. Unlikely? Not now, because the functions that support these traditional media companies are increasingly becoming commoditised, enabling the creative producers (writers, authors, producers, etc.) to potentially collect more of the revenues generated from their creative output. While individual authors have gained some attention by 'going direct,' either by working through Amazon (J.A. Konrath) or direct to consumers via the iPad (Ryu Mirakami), it may be that traditional publishers have more to fear from groups of authors, editors and agents conspiring to establish their own media companies. These new companies would leverage the available low-cost 'back office' functions and the readily available supply-chain provision to dis-intermediate the traditional publishing monolith.

In 1919, United Artists was formed by D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. These four performers established United Artists to gain greater control over their own work and to produce other work they thought valuable. The four partners eventually hired an executive to run the operation who, in addition to signing new actors and producers to United Artists, also established a movie theater chain. United Artists, however, ultimately was unsuccessful as the changes in the industry largely exceeded the ability of the partners to adapt. Yet this model resonates in an age where 'infrastructure' is becoming less important than author, character and content branding.

If a similar group of content creators were to establish a new "United Artists" organization they wouldn't find it difficult to hire executives to act on their behalf to establish a new publishing organization. This new organization would be unencumbered by either the traditional publishing model or (more importantly) the cost structure of the business. These United Artists would sit atop an organization that would be largely supported by external third-party agreements with accounting firms, editorial and production services, distribution and fulfillment, etc. Important value-added services such as marketing, promotion, content rights and licensing - those functions that, by definition, worked closest to the content creators and added real value to the consumer experience would be full-time hires of United Artists.

In discussing authors 'going direct,' there are frequent suggestions that this could become an avalanche with traditional publishers seeing their best and most profitable content producers leave the fold. This belies the difficulty of an author having to do all the nasty stuff the publisher does for them if they go it alone. However, what if the author became a partner in his or her own publishing company? Then, perhaps, the model changes and the options begin to look more appealing for the content producer and potentially problematic for the traditional publisher. Could recently reported news by Variety that Steve Ross had joined joined Abrams Artist Agency to provide "consulting services to a select list of clients" be an indication that PND isn't the first to revive the United Artists idea?

See my post from last week about scale and infrastructure: The Baked Beans are Off.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

North Beach San Francisco

North Beach San Francisco 2008
A weekly image from my archive. Click on the image to make it larger.

I've visited San Francisco many times beginning in 1977 and just enjoy the architecture of the whole city. This image is from 2008 when I was visiting on business and was lucky enough to have a bright blue sky day. Even though it is a city of hills, I enjoy walking it and I also try to do a run from the Ferry building to the GG bridge at least once when I am there. The run is flat as a pancake.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Taking it on the Chin

Maybe Google tried too hard to stir the ocean with a swizzle stick. Way back in time, Google believed that indexing printed content that they had scanned represented a fair use of that content and compatible with the method they used to index web pages upon which they (and many other companies) had built search businesses. Judge Chin’s ruling that the court would not approve the Google book settlement is a set back for Google and the AAP/AG but it is not the end and, actually Google still hasn’t “lost” in the sense that their original issue has been adjudicated.

Who knows where this case will go next? One possible scenario is that the parties will agree a new settlement that removes the problematic issues that Chin identified but the core issues related to the extent of fair use and the ‘orphan’ works problem are likely to remain unaddressed both by this case and by anyone else. Congress is not going to provide a solution but in the unlikely event that they did address these issues the outcome would probably be detrimental to the public interest as has their prior work on copyright in recent decades. Remember also that the ‘orphan’ problem is not restricted to books but pretty much all media from watercolors to video. It is a complicated and expansive problem: A veritable ocean of competing and conflicting interests that is unlikely to be concluded anytime soon. One result of an approved settlement which I thought possible was had it been approved then Congress may have been more likely to act and the fact of the settlement might have established a framework Congress could use in enacting a law.

Google has moved the copyright peanut forward. Most commentators interviewed prior to 2005 would not have known or understood what an ‘orphan’ was in this context and at least many of us now conceptually understand what or who they represent. So with so many people now educated about the issue perhaps the on-going conversations can serve to move the industry(ies) in a positive direction. Unfortunately, we still don’t know the size of the potential problem in books – maybe it really doesn’t matter – and while my analysis was widely discussed and cited no one really disputed the conclusions which either means I was right on (unlikely) or no one else could be bothered to drawn different conclusions.

Over the past three years, the Book Rights Registry (run by friend of the blog Michael Healy) has been quietly building a repository of data on claimants. As many predicted, the number of claimants that have come forward is small in comparison with the number of titles that have been scanned and the database may not shed any greater light on the Orphan problem than we already know: Orphans either don’t exist, don’t care or don’t know. Whether we will ever see any data out of this collection effort isn’t clear but if it were provided the information might represent another opportunity to educate us on the ‘orphan’ community. More data will help understand the issue and help with a possible solution. The BRR could still be an effective clearing house for copyright claims and few would dispute we need that but who would pay?

Setting aside that the settlement was by no means perfect and represented an agreement between parties of ‘questionable status’ appeasing ‘bad behavior’, if your position in this fight was that the settlement enabled a vast collection of content available for the greater good then I don’t think you’ve ‘lost’ just yet. What happens next and particularly what happens to all the scanned archives at libraries across the US will be broadly discussed in the coming weeks. Some resolution we be announced in the short term: As this decision took longer and longer to come the parties must have been thinking about alternative scenarios. One significant issue however is that two of the main protagonists in this agreement - Richard Sarnoff from Random House and Dan Clancy of Google have moved on to other things. How that will impact the proceedings hereon is hard to determine although it might not be negative.

Meanwhile, Mr. Healy and the Book Rights Registry will probably continue to wait out further resolution but how professionally satisfying this will be to him and his team would be a question. Without doubt by now the BRR was supposed to be operational and adjudicating and licensing and effecting use of a vast archive of human knowledge. It will be hurry up and wait again at the BRR and libraries across the world.

Elsevier's SciVal Strata: Evaluating Researchers

Elsevier announced the availability of SciVal Strata (an odd name) which enables a user to evaluate the performance - both actual and projected - of individual or teams of researchers. The product uses data from Scopus and the tool can be used by all members of a subscribing institution to demonstrate research excellence and to secure, allocate and measure return-on-investment of funding. Applications for the tool could include recruitment, promotion and/or collaboration and project planning.

Scopus is the largest abstract and citation database of research literature and quality web sources covering nearly 18,000 titles from more than 5,000 publishers and its' use in this context is interesting. It is yet another Elsevier example of using data mining to extract value where it might not otherwise be obvious.

More from the press release:

SciVal Strata allows researchers and decision makers throughout academic and governmental organizations to evaluate performance and demonstrate the value of research in ways that are most relevant to their career stage, field of expertise and topics of interest. Moreover, it enables users to envision alternate research groups by ‘dragging and dropping’ any researcher across the globe into hypothetical teams and gauge expected changes in performance by benchmarking ‘fantasy’ groups against existing groups. Developed in collaboration with research organizations and powered by the breadth of Scopus, SciVal Strata provides a unique context for decision-making by visualizing the performance of teams and researchers both inside and outside of an organization.

“This tool complements current methodologies used by universities and government agencies by measuring the performance of research teams and individuals in ways that were not possible before,” said Jay Katzen, Managing Director of Elsevier Academic and Government Products. “SciVal Strata can help users make more informed research decisions based on relevant benchmarks and measures, such as citations or document output. This new approach will empower users to more accurately assess research performance according to criteria most important to them and help justify funding, hiring decisions and partner opportunities.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Inside the Educational Testing Sweatshop

City Pages a newspaper in Minneapolis wrote recently about the educational testing business and in the process gave both credibility and publicity to a book written by an insider. Here are several excepts from the article (City Pages):

Today, tens of thousands of temporary scorers are employed to correct essay questions. This year, Maple Grove-based Data Recognition Corporation will take on 4,000 temporary scorers, Questar Assessment will hire 1,000, and Pearson will take on thousands more. From March through May, hundreds of thousands of standardized test essays will pour into the Twin Cities to be scored by summer.

The boom in testing has come with several notable catastrophes. The most famous happened in 2000, when NCS Pearson incorrectly failed 8,000 Minnesota students on a math test. Pearson shelled out a $7 million settlement to the students, and Gov. Jesse Ventura participated in a makeup graduation for students who were wrongly denied their diplomas. In 2010, Pearson again miss-scored two questions on Minnesota's fifth- and eighth-grade tests. Delays in its Florida scoring resulted in a $3 million fine and glitches in Wyoming led the company to offer a $5.8 million settlement.

But while a mistake on a bubble form is a black-and-white problem, few scandals have broken on the essay side of the test-scoring business.

"It requires human judgment," says Michael Rodriguez, of the University of Minnesota's educational psychology department. "There is no way to standardize that."

Now scorers from local companies are drawing back the curtain on the clandestine business of grading student essays, a process they say goes too fast; relies on cheap, inexperienced labor; and does not accurately assess student learning.

There are several examples (all negative) that show the application of the grading 'rubric' to scoring essays:

Her first project was from Arkansas, an essay written by eighth-graders on the topic, "A fun thing to do in my town."

And that's where the troubles began.

Suddenly, she was being asked to crank through 200 real essays in a day. The scanned papers popped up on the screen and her eyes flitted as fast as they could down the lines. The difference between "excellent" and "good" and "adequate" was decided in a matter of seconds, to say nothing of the responses that were simply off the reservation. How do you score a kid who rails that his town sucks? What about an exceptionally well-written essay on why the student was refusing to answer the question?

All over the room, the teachers were raising their hands and disputing the rubric. Indovino preferred to keep her head down and just score the way she was told to.

The article peters out at the end but in the comments section was the following more balanced comment from JWHyperion (maybe he works in accounting):
When it comes to essay testing, there will always be controversy, just as there will always be differing opinions in the classroom when a teacher gives you a "C" on an essay and you KNOW you should have gotten an "A". There are things called human error and human subjectivity. I agree that essay testing for a standardized test has many inherent problems. Again, however, know that in most states the teachers write these questions and create the rubrics for how they should be scored. Also, most importantly people should know that the essay portion of the state assessment does not dictate whethere a student passes or fails. A student's overall score is determined by both MC questions and the essay question with the emphasis in scoring on the MC questions. Not all states include essay questions as part of their assessment. Many use a short answer response that asks students to elaborate upon information gained from the text while bringing in their own experiences and opinions. In this case, if a student writes on a completely different topic they receive a zero just as they would on a math test if the added two numbers incorrectly.

There are of course inherent flaws in the system just as there are inherent flaws in most every system. Instead of just complaining, though, it would be nice if the detractors could use some of their effort to help come up with a solution. As my principal always said, "Don't come to me with a problem unless you have a proposed solution."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Media Week (V4-N12): Hay Festival, Reviewers, Heart of Darkness, Alice in NYC,

Ahead of the Hay Festival in the UK, The Telegraph has travel tips. PND hasn't been to the festival but the town and area boast very pretty English country side. Worth a drive. (Telegraph)

So nobody was really surprised when, 24 years ago, a recent graduate called Peter Florence decided to put on a literature festival. The first Hay Festival sold tickets from a caravan under the clock tower for events that took place in the British Legion and the back rooms of various pubs. The public proved enthusiastic. The festival moved to the school, expanded into various tents, and (still under the directorship of Florence) migrated to purpose-built sites to the west of the town, expanding as it went.

Jimmy Carter appeared and so did Bill Clinton. Authors and their agents began to lobby passionately for slots. The Italian province of Lombardy, twinned, bizarrely, with Powys, asked for Florence's advice in setting up a festival in Italy. The idea caught fire. This year, and with the support of the Telegraph, there will be Hay Festivals not only in Wales but in countries including Mexico, Spain, India and Kenya.

The original festival has continued to grow and the organisers are confident that they will comfortably top the 200,000 tickets sold last year, with events featuring Nigella Lawson, V S Naipaul, Rowan Williams, West Wing actor Rob Lowe, Philip Pullman, Paul Merton and a host of other luminaries.

Hay Festival: writers' tips and recommendations Some of the key figures appearing in Hay this year, including the comedian Marcus Brigstocke, offer their tips for what to do and see in Hay-on-Wye (Telegraph)

Are women reviewers that scarce? The Independent looks into it:

A few weeks ago, Vida, an organisation for women in the literary arts, caused a stir when it surveyed a year's reviews coverage from major US publications (as well as the UK's London Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement) and found that the reviewers and the authors reviewed were predominantly male. The LRB was a fairly typical case: in 2010, men wrote 78 per cent of the reviews and 74 per cent of the books reviewed. And a brief (and admittedly unscientific) survey of UK papers reveals a similar result.

Looking at the past week's books coverage in 10 major newspapers (excluding this one – for now), we can see that 71 books by men and 37 books by women were reviewed. Of the reviewers, 68 were men and 36 women. (One paper carried 17/20 reviews of male authors, and 18/20 male reviewers.)

You can do your own maths on the books pages here, but bear in mind that all of the reviews were commissioned before this article was (so we're not cheating), and that the results are skewed by the fact that this week's paperbacks reviewer is a woman. This week it's seven female authors/subjects to five men, and seven female reviewers to four. Last week, with a male paperbacks reviewer, and including the interview (of a woman, by a man), we could count authors at six men to seven women; reviewers at nine to four.

About the lasting power of Conrad's Heart of Darkness (Intelligent Life):

Published in 1902, “Heart of Darkness” had an immediate political impact—it was widely cited by the Congo Reform Movement—but it wasn’t an instant classic. Twenty years later, T.S. Eliot wanted to choose a quotation from it for “The Waste Land”, but his colleague Ezra Pound dissuaded him: “I doubt if Conrad is weighty enough to stand the citation.” Three years after that, Eliot chose another line from the novella as one of the epigraphs for “The Hollow Men”. (“Mistah Kurtz—he dead.”) “Heart of Darkness” had become part of the cultural landscape. In 1938 Orson Welles adapted it for a Mercury Theatre live radio production. He went on to write a screenplay in which he planned—with Wellesian gusto—to play both Marlow and Kurtz. He couldn’t get the movie made and was forced to move on to a project about a media mogul called Charles Foster Kane.

In the late 1970s, Francis Ford Coppola took “Heart of Darkness” and transplanted it to Vietnam as “Apocalypse Now”, with Martin Sheen as Captain Willard, the Marlow character, a special-operations officer, sent on a mission to “terminate…with extreme prejudice” the life of the deranged Captain Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. In this version the Mekong River becomes the Congo. The irony was hard to miss: just as Britain, once colonised by the Romans (“1,900 years ago—the other day”, writes Conrad), had become an imperial power, so had the United States, once colonised by the British, now become one too. With the success of the movie, the novella’s place on the campus syllabus was assured. “Apocalypse Now” launched a thousand sophomore essays comparing and contrasting the book and the movie.

A visual dictionary (TheAtlantic)

Alice is alive and well and apparently visiting New York (The Atlantic):

Sin City Fables looks intriguing, I'll have to hunt out a copy. The reference materials we used for the project were photos of the city from around the 1920s and '30s. I now have a wall here plastered with old photographs of Manhattan. But we weren't religious about representing any particular era, and the New York that Alice explores in the book is more of a dreamy amalgam of a timeless New York.

The reason I picked New York is that (aside from my love of the city) I was looking out across the island from the Empire State Building observation deck last summer, and had a sudden epiphany that Manhattan could be retrofitted onto the original Lewis Carroll book with supernatural accuracy. The chessboard world in Through the Looking Glass found an exact equivalent in the grid-system of the New York City streets. The Red Queen became the Statue of Liberty with very few changes to her character, and locations like Central Park and the subway system matched other key scenes. It was almost like Lewis Carroll had planned it that way.
From the twitter (@personanondata):

CNN Sending 400 To Cover Royal Wedding, 50 To Japan

Valerie Plame Wilson to Write Series of Spy Novels -

Are mid-list authors an endangered species? -

David Carr Mocks Idea of 'Journalistic Independence' at Murdoch's News Corp.

Houghton Mifflin CEO O'Callaghan Steps Down -

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kyoto 1972: Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji)

Kyoto 1972: Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji)
A weekly image from my archive. Click on the image to make it larger.

This image is from the same roll as one of the first I posted in this series. I wasn't on this trip and I've not gone beyond the hallways of Narita on my infrequent trips to Japan.

Looks very peaceful here.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Steal Stuff

I remember a conversation early on in my tenure at my last company that ended along the lines of ‘well, you know, consultants just take credit for the ideas they hear from the employees’. There is some truth to this and, having been on the employee side of that observation/accusation, I can attest it can be demotivating to hear consultants spouting your ideas and concepts to a room full of people. Consultants (me, for example) might counter that, if they’re doing their job well, they are able weave together the implications of discrete ideas and potential strategies across the organization. That, of course, isn’t always within the purview of individual employees.

Every one of the operations jobs I have undertaken in my career has either been a new position or I’ve replaced someone who was fired. I’ve never come into a job where the person who held my new position was still the with company. What I’ve found consistently is that good ideas and strategies for building or expanding the business were all in plain sight and that, with a little diligence and execution, success can come quickly. Another interesting aspect of my career is that I’ve been hired into positions where I had little to no specific experience. I have also found that skillful ‘adaptation’ and execution of the ideas already known or present in the organization can aid in building a deeper and more rapid understanding of the dynamics of the business you’ve been tasked with operating.

Early in my career at Berlitz, I was given responsibility for their direct-mail business, selling language learning materials in airline and travel magazines. I had no experience in direct mail and the manager in charge of the unit had neglected the business and was no longer employed. Direct mail is all about testing and math, and the prior manager had done a test which called for placing a four-color tri-fold insert in the American Airlines Advantage mileage statement received each month by members. The test had been done six months before I took responsibility and had been successful (it actually made money) but, through inattention, he had not expanded the program to the full membership list. My staff told me about this and we decided to go all in with a full mailing to over 12million recipients. When I inherited the business mid-year we were already running well short of budget but, thanks to the strength of this program and other improvements, we made our budget that year with room to spare.

That American Airlines program was a great start and in the following year we placed the insert four more times. We also explored other, similar mileage programs but none performed as well. With this strong performance as a foundation, we began looking at other aspects of the business for opportunities. I had a small telemarking team that took all the incoming phone orders but this team had never been properly trained (nor really paid any attention). As I began working with them it became clear they could do much more to expand sales. One aspect of language self-learning is that very few people finish the course. We even used to joke that no one ever got past the first of the twelve cassettes. (Cynical I know, but the customer generally blames themself not the product – just like health clubs). Berlitz offered a second-level product for the same price but, unsurprisingly, less than 10% of buyers purchased the second (more advanced) level course.

We now had a tremendous number of calls coming in to our little telemarketing operation due to bigger, more frequent mailings to American frequent flyers and all the other direct response ads we continued to place. As a team, we determined that if we could hook the callers into purchasing both level 1 and level 2 at the same time, we could potentially generate far more revenues per call. As we implemented this upselling activity we also put in place the first sales targets and rewards program the team had ever had. Starved of attention and recognition by prior managers, my little team of telemarketers – who worked in an office park in Delran, NJ – took to the program like ducks to water. What, in retrospect, seem like quite basic operating improvements were implemented and ultimately very successful because of a fresh perspective on and an open attitude to the potential of the business and the employees. Some of the improvements occurred simply because someone listened more attentively to the idea.

Obviously, business improvement opportunities are not always so easily identified but they can be found by anyone with an open mind about the business and, perhaps, a different view of how the ideas could be implemented. In this context, anyone in the business can be a “consultant” and “steal” ideas that, in retrospect, might appear to be in plain sight. In the second year of my tenure, our direct mail business doubled profit and contributed twice the profit per employee than any other Berlitz business unit and we did it all by working with what was already in the business.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Media Week (V4-N11): UK Copyright, The Killing, History in the UK.

The UK government has launched a wholesale review of UK copyright law (Guardian):

The review into "Intellectual Property and growth", chaired by Ian Hargreaves, the professor of digital economy at Cardiff University and a former editor of the Independent, won't just impact on the ability of musicians to be rewarded for the work they have created.The outcome could affect publishers, film companies, designers, medical researchers and every teenager who has digitally altered a picture and posted it on Facebook or created a witty YouTube mash-up.The review panel, due to report to Vince Cable and George Osborne next month, will identify the "barriers to new internet-based business models" raised by the "costs of obtaining permissions from existing rights-holders". There's no shortage of examples of these barriers to innovation.

Sofie Gråbøl of the Danish TV show The Killing (Observer):

Sitting in a small Copenhagen cafe, next to her apartment, the actress Sofie Gråbøl is trying to make sense of the cult status she has achieved in Britain thanks to BBC4's Danish thriller, The Killing. "It's amazing," she says. "I can't believe it."She plays the lead character, Sarah Lund, in the show that has become the subject of feverish dinner party debates and whodunit Twitter speculation. Although The Killing's TV audience is relatively small, at around half a million, it is devoted and vocal.Previous long-running series, such as The Sopranos and The Wire, which laid claim to a cognoscenti audience, benefited from a DVD box-set boost after broadcast. The Killing, which screens in two-episode blocks on Saturday night (episodes 15 and 16 of 20 played last night), has been able to access another kind of viewer, those who catch up by watching online on the BBC's iPlayer.

The teaching of History in UK schools is coming under fire (Telegraph):

The report said: “Some pupils found it difficult to place the historical episodes they had studied within any coherent, long-term narrative. “They knew about particular events, characters and periods but did not have an overview. Their chronological understanding was often underdeveloped and so they found it difficult to link developments together.” Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, said: “Pupils need to experience history as a coherent subject which develops their knowledge, thinking and understanding, especially their chronological understanding, and I hope the current review of the national curriculum will recognise the importance of this.” In primary schools where history teaching was rated “satisfactory”, inspectors said there was “an unbalanced curriculum with too much attention paid to particular topics at the expense of others” and many teachers lacked specialist knowledge of the subject. The report also criticised changes introduced by the previous government which allow schools to ditch history as a self-contained subject and instead incorporate it in a general humanities course alongside geography and arts subjects.

NPR interview with Nathan Myhrvold who has written a very large cookbook (NPR)
Along with his two co-authors, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet, Myhrvold created a self-published, highly produced, six-volume cookbook entitled, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. "Food, like anything else in the physical world, obeys the laws of physics," explains Mhyrvold. "The fact is when you whisk together some oil and lemon juice and make mayonnaise, you're using the principles of physics and chemistry there, too. I think that understanding how those principles affect cooking helps you cook better." That scientific approach to food is part of the modernist movement, which strives to understand science in the kitchen and to use new technologies and techniques to change how people eat and appreciate food.

From the twitter:

"Will Indie Bookstores Seize the Day?"

Northshire Bookstore in VT finds niche by offering full service to self-publishers -

Another interesting collection of articles from OCLC Research and

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Genesis of My Career

Monty's News Agents, Bourke Street Melbourne 2000
A weekly image from my archive. Click on the image to make it larger.

My first media job was working for Rupert Murdoch when I was about 14. The job required that I pick up my allotment of newspapers - The Herald - from this newsagents each day after school and walk up to my corner where I sold the newspapers to passing commuters. My corner was just up the block right outside the famous Windsor Hotel bar which was both good and bad. Good in the sense that on most days I could count on selling a fair number of newspapers to the clientele; however, bad because on some days - generally Friday's - the (much the same) clientele were dead set on pounding as many beers down them before the six o'clock closing time. On these days the bar was virtually impassable; thus, I learned not to bother entering if I couldn't see the bar from the door.

This image is from 2000 was taken on my first trip back to Melbourne since we left in 1977 and it was nice to see the newsagent still in the same spot. The bar is now gone and I was unimpressed that it has been replaced by a Hard Rock cafe.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Media Week (V4-N10): Spy Magazine, Hiaasen, Casino Royale, Curious George and Ryan Giggs

The Atlantic looks at the afterlife of Spy Magazine:
Leaving that aside, you can peruse the Spy catalog here. (Andersen has said the initial chunk uploaded represented about half of the archive, with the rest en route.)

As the Toback feature and so many other Spy features attest, the magazine at its best seemed committed to expending the energy necessary to get a particular story, however unhinged the initial idea may have sounded. Indeed, the amount of work that went into the Toback feature, starting with the reporting (and the attendant fact-checking and legal vetting) and extending to the elaborate design construction, gives one a headache even to think about.

But it was a typical effort for Spy. In an age where folks' minds were supposedly in the process of being dumbed down by MTV and the decline of the press generally, the articles contained reams of information, impossibly clever and insidery jokes (some of them implacably enigmatic to this day), dollops of utter absurdism, and an obvious literary effort descended in various parts from Menken, Waugh, and Liebling, but also the orotund cleverness of William F. Buckley and the almost indigestible malevolence of the National Lampoon.
Profile of Carl Hiaasen in the Observer:
With bestsellers going back to 1986, and a worldwide following, the trademark Hiaasen brand is firmly established – sharp, dry comic thrillers, with colourful comeuppances. And here's your 13th, Star Island, so can we assume that life in Florida still presents a few… targets?
Was there an original lost script for the Bond film Casino Royale? The Telegraph has the story:

The fact that Ben Hecht contributed to the script of Casino Royale has been known for decades, and is mentioned in passing in many books. But perhaps because the film Feldman eventually released in 1967 was a near-incoherent spoof, nobody has followed up to find out precisely what his contribution entailed. My interest was piqued when I came across an article in a May 1966 issue of Time, which mentioned that the screenplay of Casino Royale had started many years earlier "as a literal adaptation of the novel", and that Hecht had had "three bashes at it". I decided to go looking for it.

To my amazement, I found that Hecht not only contributed to Casino Royale, but produced several complete drafts, and that much of the material survived. It was stored in folders with the rest of his papers in the Newberry Library in Chicago, where it had been sitting since 1979. And, outside of the people involved in trying to make the film, it seemed nobody had read it. Here was a lost chapter, not just in the world of the Bond films, but in cinema history: before the spoof, Ben Hecht adapted Ian Fleming’s first novel as a straight Bond adventure.

The folders contain material from five screenplays, four of which are by Hecht. An early near-complete script from 1957 is a faithful adaptation of the novel in many ways but for one crucial element: James Bond isn’t in it. Instead of the suave but ruthless British agent, the hero is Lucky Fortunato, a rich, wisecracking American gangster who is an expert poker player. Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr, who travelled around Europe with Gregory Ratoff, says he didn’t write it, but it seems likely Feldman sent this script to Hecht as a starting point to see what he could do with it.

The little monkey Curious George (Intelligent Life):

The Curious George stories were an international hit, allowing for a few cultural variations. In Britain his name is given as Zozo; the publishers thought it would be disrespectful to have a mischievous monkey named after the sitting king. Whatever the case, children around the world were taken with George’s unwitting mischief, and charmed by the cheerful, brightly coloured illustrations. But his story of travel, migration and cultural collision has a paradigmatically American dimension.

Against the backdrop of the Reys’ own dramatic travels, these children’s stories assume a poignant cast. The Reys became American citizens in 1946, and stayed in New York the rest of their lives. They never talked much about their narrow escape, and even today the story is not widely known. This is perhaps because, despite the direct biographical parallels, the Curious George stories give so little indication of their dark historical backdrop. The outlook is resolutely cheerful. George explores his new world fearlessly, and his confidence is justified. Strangers are kind to him. Authority figures are corrective, not punitive. The inevitable misunderstandings are quickly sorted out and forgiven. He is just a fictional monkey. But those would be good standards to help any newcomer feel at home.

And in sports, we should all wish we can last as long as Giggs and Tendulkar (IntelligentLife):

In sport, old age starts in the mid-30s. This is when the eyes slow, the waistline thickens, the knees rebel against all that twisting and turning, and the hotels and airports begin to pall. In the major outdoor sports, only a golfer or a goalie can expect to stay at the top of his game through his 30s. But somehow two 37-year-olds are among today’s leading sportsmen, trading not on reputation but on recent form. Ryan Giggs, recently voted Manchester United’s greatest player of all ahead of George Best, has again been one of the most influential figures in club football, steering United back to the top of the Premiership. Sachin Tendulkar, already installed as one of cricket’s all-time greats, was the best batsman of 2010, keeping India at the top of the Test rankings with a string of centuries. Both men were born in 1973, and have stayed at the top for 20 years while careers in general have been getting shorter. How have they done it?

From the twitter:

So, why do we call it Gotham anyway?

BBC's global iPlayer iPad app to cost less than $10 a month

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Before The Lion King

42nd Street - Before the Lion King, April 1993
A weekly image from my archive. Click on the image to make it larger.

Hard to believe it has been almost 20 years since I took this photo on a coolish April morning in 1993. For a few weeks that year, there was an art installation where artists placed messages and artwork on the front of the old theaters that lined 42nd street between 7th and 8th. Today this block looks completely different and the there's no remnant of the old sleaziness and edginess that pervaded Times Square in the years before The Lion King showed up at The Amsterdam Theater.

Here's the whole set from that morning.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cengage and their MindTap Personal Learning Environment

Personal Learning Environments gain credibility as Cengage launch MindTap.

Cengage has taken a first step in development of an entirely new approach to delivering educational content with the launch of MindTap which they say goes "well beyond an eBook, a homework solution or digital supplement, a resource center website, a course delivery platform or a Learning Management System."

On this platform, students and faculty can interact with textbook eContent, select materials they find useful, access and use applications developed by them, the publisher or third parties and engage others in the process of learning. Specifically, the platform:
  • Engages students through highly interactive content including assignable and gradable learning activities
  • Offers instructors choice in content, adaptable learning paths, additive learning tools, and multi-platform/device support
  • Mashes up and orchestrates rich content, learning activities, and apps delivered in one cohesive context to drive higher levels of engagement and outcomes
All education publishers have or are developing electronic content and are delivering that content in multiple ways. Additionally, publishers are attempting to integrate their content to make the compilation of products as flexible as possible for both educators and students. What might be unique to the MindTap platform is the (radical) idea that external (to the publisher) developers could build applications that use the content in different ways. Publishers with more advanced experience in electronic publishing particularly in professional publishing have provided APIs to third party developers in numerous examples but this may be the first example in educational publishing where a large established company has taken this step. Readers here will recall that Elsevier recently launched SciVerse which allows for the same type of collaboration from their user community as the MindTap product presumably intends to do.

Interestingly, and whether intended or not, the company seems purposeful in drawing a distinction between their platform which they say is 'agnostic' and LMS platforms such as Blackboard. Whether this is a skirmish or prelude to war is hard to tell; however, in a recent profile of Blackboard and their development plans publishers may have some concern that Blackboard is looking to play on a much larger playing field.
MindApps create learning paths that integrate content and learning activity applications that map directly to an instructor's syllabus or curriculum. Unlike other products which are affiliated with a single Learning Management System (LMS), MindTap is LMS agnostic and designed to work with any supported LMS the instructor chooses to use. Students can navigate through a customized dashboard of readings, assignments, and other course information. This powerful combination of personalized content and on-the-go access encourages interactivity, increases student engagement and improves learning outcomes.
Quoted in the press release, William Rieders, executive vice president of New Media for Cengage Learning states:
"Many eBook and other technology platforms currently exist, but none of them have addressed the main needs of students and professors holistically. Digital platforms, until now, have simply recreated the experience of the print textbook in a digital format, leaving students dissatisfied and instructors limited in their ability to teach. MindTap takes classroom engagement to an entirely new level. It is an optimal blend of sound pedagogy, authoritative content and advanced technology."
What will be interesting is how the other publishers react - as I am confident they have their own platforms in development - and how the product will be accepted in the schools and by students. To date, students have been lukewarm about content delivered electronically.