Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Future of Jeff Bezos, Part 1

Here we go again – another effort to make reading mechanical. Some might mistake the cover of the November 26th issue of Newsweek for an amazon Christmas catalog featuring the Kindle, its wished-for holiday star performer. (“The Future of Reading”)

And the thing is….I’m ready jump on board. Just as I was each time I saw a TV commercial during Apple’s big build-up for its iPhone. Once I got my hands on that device and played around with it, though, my enthusiasm quickly waned. (Or maybe it was the $500 list price that served as a buzzkiller.)

Bezos promises that the Kindle is a book-reading device that can go the distance.

It has the dimensions of a paperback.

But not the flexibility.

It’s light, weighing just 10.3 ounces.

Compared to a "shipping weight of 24 ounces for Richard Russo's "Empire Falls" in trade paper. Now that's an improvement, unless we're talking about excess packaging.

It doesn’t run hot or make intrusive beeps.

But what happens when you spill coffee on it?

It has a sharp and durable image, miming the clarity of a book.

All this for $399.

The battery lasts for 30 hours.

If you believe this, I have some land for sale.

You can change the font size.

Why does the “Product Overview” section at amazon.com not provide the dimensions of the screen?

It can store up to 200 books and hundreds more with the use of a memory card.

I find that the older I get, the fewer number of books I care to have in my possession. Fiction in particular. If I had a Kindle right now, you’d definitely find all 4 “Rabbit” books by John Updike and “Bridge of Sighs” by Richard Russo. (None of his other novels are available. Guess I’d have to lobby for those and anything by Robert McCammon, with “Gone South” at the top of the list.).

It has wireless connectivity.

This could be the tipping point. It’s got me salivating and is definitely the reason I bought one for the library so staff can experiment with it. (Not anytime soon, though, as the product is "temporarily out of stock due to customer demand".)

Like any new technology product, the Kindle is instantly being recklessly hyped.

"This is the future of book reading. It will be everywhere," trumpets Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball and Liar's Poker.

Perhaps in his little world.

Reminds me of a story from college.

It’s Wednesday, November 8, 1972, the day after the Presidential election. A friend and I are walking to Norton Union after another dry lecture in Neil Schmitz’s “Modern American Novel” class.

“I can’t believe McGovern lost,” Sue laments. “Everyone I know voted for him.”

My ears start to ring whenever I recall this remark. Some folks were awfully naive back then.

In kindness, let's call it an Anita Bryant moment.

In my little corner of the world…..

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Has CNN Lost Its Mind?

Did you see the full-page ad in today's New York Times?

*Live from Las Vegas*
They've Warmed Up.
Tonight, the Gloves Come Off.

In a desperate reach for a ratings knockout, CNN decides to promote bare-knuckle boxing. Why don't they just broadcast Fight Club instead? It would certainly be more viewable (Brad Pitt, shirtless), and lots more fun, than yet another dreary debate. What's the point of tuning in now anyway? The candidates are only here to pander. If these folks were Pinocchio, their noses would be pushing through your TV screen.

Let's put things in perspective. After the first five presidential debates, the Democrats had an average of 2.5 million viewers, while the average for the Republicans was 2.1 million. Last week, the top-rated show on network television (Without A Trace) attracted 21,685,000 viewers. Spongebob Squarepants attracts an average of 4,000,000 viewers per episode on cable, for crying out loud.

If you really want to know what goin' on, click here, here, here, and here.

Ira Levin (1929-2007)

No, this post isn't an meant to be a tribute to Levin, the author of just seven works of fiction during his career, started with his Edgar-winning debut in 1954, A Kiss Before Dying, to his retread of a swan song in 1997, Son of Rosemary. It's just to note that most readers had lost interest in Levin's books years ago.

In the library world, "turnover rate" is determined by the number of materials checked out relative to the size of the collection. For example, the Middleton Public Library's 2006 circulation was 672,273. The collection size was 98,722. That puts our 2006 turnover rate at 6.8. (That compares to a 2.6 statewide average in Wisconsin.) In other words, every item in Middleton's collection circulation an average of 7 times in 2006.

I used a variation of this formula to calculate the turnover rate for the Ira Levin books currently available in LINKcat, an online computer system shared by 41 member libraries of the South Central Library System. I added up the total years of ownership since 1994, as far back as records are available, and divided this number into the total circulation for all copies.

Here's what I learned. (The following information is current as of November 14, 2007.)

A Kiss Before Dying (original publication 1953)
Copies in LINK: 4
Years of ownership: 33
Circulation: 43
Turnover rate: 1.162
(The 1956 film version starring Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward is a gem.)

Rosemary's Baby (1967)
Copies in LINK: 19
Years of ownership: 195
Circulation: 329
Turnover rate: 1.687
(The book was a popular read during my senior year in high school. And Ruth Gordon made the film version a lot of fun to watch.)

This Perfect Day (1970)
Copies in LINK: 6
Years of ownership: 75
Circulation: 58
Turnover rate: 0.693

The Stepford Wives (1972)
Copies in LINK: 10
Years of ownership: 33
Circulation: 151
Turnover rate: 4.576
(Anyone see the 2004 remake starring Matthew Broderick and Nicole Kidman? I experienced this misfortune. Levin's book got a second life, as a result. Full disclosure: I love Paula Prentiss and have never been able to figure out why she didn't make a huge connection with moviegoers. My wife and I agree that she and Jim Hutton make the perfect screen couple. And believe it or not, my wife has always had a thing for Jim Hutton. That's why we're a match made in heaven. See "About Me" for appropriate reference. Prentiss, of course, appeared with Katharine Ross, another personal fave, in the original, and infinitely more watchable version. )

The Boys from Brazil (1976)
Copies in LINK: 8
Years of ownership: 98
Circulation: 136
Turnover rate: 1.388

Sliver (1991)
Copies in LINK: 20
Years of ownership: 225
Circulation: 297
Turnover rate: 1.320
(The movie version, released in 1993, was nominated for 7 Razzie awards, dishonors for the worst achievements in movie-making.)

Son of Rosemary (1997)
Copies in LINK: 17
Years of ownership: 112
Circulation: 231
Turnover rate: 2.063

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lions for Lambs

Why is it that many movie reviewers seem to cover their ears and shout "la-la-la-la-la" whenever a director takes issue with U.S. government policy?

In Lions for Lambs, Robert Redford presents the studious version of one of Tom Tomorrow's best satirical swipes of 2007. http://www.salon.com/comics/tomo/2007/07/16/tomo/. The movie is a careful dissection of how the mainstream news media has operated throughout the Bush administration. ("On bended knee", just as they were when Reagan was President.) It certainly doesn't merit rave reviews -- I'd give it 2 1/2 stars our of 4 -- but deserves more thoughtful consideration that some reviewers have given it.

From his perfunctory review, Roger Ebert must have been wearing an iPod during the movie -- watching but not listening. He notes that the movie focuses attention away from the dialogue and toward the performances. Well, yeah, that's what happens when your ears are plugged.

As usual, Ebert is afraid to express any real opinions. He peppers his review with qualifiers.
...if I have this right.....
.....I dunno
.....I guess

At least Manohla Dargis does a better, more thorough job of missing the point in her New York Times review. She admits that she and her colleagues want it both ways -- urging directors to take on contemporary matters but feigning disinterest when they do so. But what should we expect from folks who spend most of their lives in darkened rooms?

Full disclosure: I was never a fan of Siskel's & Ebert's Shana-and-Jack, point-counterpoint movie debates. Their full-throated enthusiasms made them extremely inviting targets for spoofing, just like the 60 Minutes pugilists.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saturday Morning Ramblings

Gail Collins is currently the most insightful writer on the New York Times Op-Ed page. She more than makes up for the long drought of Maureen Dowd, whose columns over the past few months are all but unreadable. Today Collins hones in on Rudy Guiliani and Bernard Kerik ("Rudy and Bernie:? B.F.F.'s"). Easy targets, of course.

Today's choicest bon mots:

Loyalty is a terribly important consideration, if you're choosing a pet, but not a cabinet member.

The former mayor does, however, have a bad memory. We know this because he obtained an annulment of his 14-year-old first marriage on the grounds that he had forgotten that his wife was his second cousin.

On Kerik's fitness for heading up the Department of Homeland Security. ....a position for which he was approximately as well qualified as I am to be quarterback of the New England Patriots.

On Guiliani's loyalty to Ray Harding, who orchestrated an mayoral endorsement of Guiliani by the Liberal Party of New York. (Guiliani ended up appointing Ray's son Russell to head up the New York City Housing Development Corporation. Russell showed his gratitude by embezzling $400,000 for vacations, parties, and gifts.) We will not even go into the pornography part, except to point out that of the 15,000 sexually explicit images found on his computer, only a few were of children.

And then on a front-page story of Kerik's 16-count indictment, the reporters inform us that Kerik wore a flag pin on the label of the dark blue suit he modeled at the federal courthouse in White Plains. Puffed up and "defiant", he plans to fight the charges, though not, unfortuately, with his B. F. F. by his side.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Talking Back to the News

Next year at this time, with no need to get to work at 7:30 a.m., I'll be able to read the newspaper at a more leisurely pace. As a result, I plan to combine reading the New York Times with blogging. Most of the articles I read produce an unspoken, usually cynical, sometimes smarmy response. Now I can use my blog to transcribe these thoughts. (Or will this project turn out to be another in a long list of retirement ideas gone awry. From what I hear from friends who have already retired, the anticipated bonanza of free time never materializes in the expected large quantities. Another reason to stay tuned.)

"Anatomy of a Slur" by David Brooks. (Op-Ed page)
The dependably myopic Brooks attempts a whitewash on recent history, specifically Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign speech delivered delivered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. No, he says, it wasn't a coded appeal to Southern whites but rather part of a strategy to court African-American votes. Even if you are inclined to agree with him, you have to admit the strategy. as reconstructed by Brooks, was pathetically bone-headed.

"A Football Power Warms the Hearts of a Small Kansas Town.
Maybe it's just the ground-level perspective of the accompanying front-page photo, but the four boys clearly pictured have such skinny arms and legs. They look like cross-country runners dressed up for Halloween in football gear. Are they the starters on a team that has won 51 straight games and outscored opponents 704-0 so far this season? Whatever happened to corn-fed?

"From Back of Pack, Huckabee Is Starting to Stir."
Best metaphor of the day, a quote from the former Arkansas Governor: I've always said as a hunter, 'You never put the cross hairs on a dead carcass. You only aim for something that's alive that you'd like to take home. ' (Warning: Tasteless observation followed by big groan approaching.) So from this, can we assume then that Obama, Edwards, and the other male Democratic candidates for President want to take Hillary home and mount her?

"Rising Global Demand for Oil Provoking New Energy Crisis.
I knew it; I didn't provide a big enough increase for utilities in next year's library budget. Of course, I thought the same thing last year, and the library's 2006 utility costs actually declined by $700 compared to 2005. ($43,354 vs. $44,029). And this year's expenditures are tracking at a similar rate. We may have run out of luck, though. The article notes that this new energy crisis is based on a huge demand for gasoline and oil in developing countries -- not the sudden interruption in exports from the Middle East as was the case in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Athens Journal: Running Out of Space to Park, and Places to Walk.
Planning a trip to Athens? Thinking of taking a self-guided walking tour? Best to heed the warning of Vassilis Theodorou of the ominous-sounding Hellenic Association of Road Traffic Victim Support: "Step on a sidewalk or try crossing any street here, and chances are you'll instantly feel like the prey on a safari hunt." Hey, two vacations in one!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Frankenstein Meets Vanna White

Is anyone else sick of the Wisconsin State Journal's incessant whining over the so-called Frankenstein veto? Why now? Where was the outrage prior to this year?

Do a Proquest search of the term "Frankenstein veto", the Wisconsin Newstand version, which indexes the Wisconsin State Journal from 1991 on. I ended up with 131 results. All but five of these are citations from 2007.

The citation for June 17, 2007 ("State Journal Criticized Tommy, Too") provides a laughable defense by Soctt Milford of State Journal's Frankenstein fixation.

Now, I can hardly take credit for this. I was in college in 1990 when Wisconsin voters passed a constitutional amendment limiting [Tommy Thompson]'s veto power. In a landslide, voters banned the "Vanna White" veto, which was named after the woman who turned letters on TV's "Wheel of Fortune" Vana White.

The "Vanna White" veto back then was even more absurd than the "Frankenstein" veto is today. That's why the State Journal supported the ban on the "Vanna White" veto in 1990 just as we are now supporting a ban on the "Frankenstein" veto today. The fact that a Republican was governor back then and a Democrat is in charge now has nothing to do with it. What's wrong is wrong.

The State Journal is selling bridges again.

Now do a"Thompson veto" search. I got 179 results.

Here's the kind of tsk-tsk-ing the State Journal engaged in.

DEMS SEEK REVIEW OF THOMPSON'S AUTHORITY; [Second Edition] Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wis.: Jan 5, 1996. pg. 3.D

EFFECT OF THOMPSON'S VETOES; [All Edition] State Journal staff. Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wis.: Oct 12, 1997. pg. 4.A


Yeah, I guess the State Journal really tanned Tommy's hide! Tommy Thompson......who in his first ten years of office made almost 1,700 vetoes without having the legislature override any of them. For verification, see "Governor's vetoes remold state budget Changes to go unchallenged"; [Final Edition] STEVEN WALTERS. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct 12, 1997. pg. 1

So why all the fuss at the State Journal? I'll let former Senator Brian Rude, Senate President in 1995, sum it for us: While they defend Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's use of the veto, Republicans are anxious about what will happen when a Democrat inevitably occupies the office. (My emphasis.)
("Some in GOP are concerned about governor's veto power Republicans are anxious about what will happen when a Democrat takes over the office." Richard P. Jones. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jul 9, 1995. pg. B.1.)

Scott, it's time for some Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters.