Pride and copyright

So everyone knows that they mixed some zombies into Pride and Prejudice.  And coming soon!  Mr. Darcy is a vampireTwice.

Austen didn’t tell us what happened next, but lots of other people have.  What happens when the Darcys (or the Bingleys) have children? Solve crime? Deal with their families?

Georgiana Darcy was so nice – lots of people are interested in what happened to her.  Caroline Bingley finds her own Mr. Darcy (but he’s an American cousin?  Seriously?).  The existence of the Lydia Bennet story isn’t too surprising — and if you spent your time thinking Pride and Prejudice would just be awesomer if there was more about the De Bourghs, you’re not alone.

And as for Prada & Prejudice up there, well, wacky time travel hijinks seem to send people back to Regency England more than any other time period, don’t they?

And there’s not enough room here for the  straight-up retellings.  Same book, different take -  shift the point of view away from Elizabeth, set it in India, set it in UTAH, play the what-if game, play it again, tell the story but add in more boats.

Tell the story on Facebook, rewrite it for Twitter, tell it with Barbies, turn it into Gone with the Wind (okay, they don’t say they’re doing that, but look at those hats), move it to the next century.

Seriously, if you just want to read the same story one million times, it’s out there for you.

Note: I haven’t read most of these – link DOES NOT EQUAL endorsement!

Looking just a bit ahead on Amazon or similar and it’s pretty clear the steady stream of Austen-inspired stuff isn’t drying up any time soon.  Which is sometimes taken to mean that Austen is awesome, which she is.  There’s lots of mentions of the Austen brand and what it means for an eighteenth-century author to be so currently popular and relevant.

But that brand language is odd because it’s not like you can point to the group of Austen family descendents or the current version of her publisher who own the brand and who are systematically and strategically leveraging it for all it’s worth.  A lot of the stuff above is professionally, commercially produced, but a lot of it isn’t.  There are so many self-published components to the Austen pastiche available on Amazon, and off Amazon.  The Barbie thing?  totally not commercial.  It got me thinking the other day about how much all of this has to do with copyright and how it should work and how it doesn’t.

austenP&P is in the public domain, so anyone can do what they want with the story.  Colin Firth’s particular Darcy may be limited, but that leaves a lot of room for a lot of creativity, some more creative, some more good, some more horribly, horribly wrong.  But a lot of creativity – people building on the creativity and stories of our past.

How much of this creative energy is focusing on Austen because it can?  How awesome would it be if other stories, other artifacts were fair game as well?

adventures in e-reading

So I live on the west coast, and many library conferences are on the east coast, and I attend many library conferences which means a lot of long flights.  And I’m a fast reader.  Which all added together equals this one conference last year where I found myself carrying nine books with me on the plane.

Lest you think that was excessive, okay that was totally excessive.  But the thing is, I don’t really like to fly.  My legs are too long for the plane seats (and I’m not super-tall.  What do super-tall people do?), the air is too dry and I get headachy from the engine noise so my strategy of choice for dealing with all of that discomfort is to find something engrossing to read, and I never know exactly what it is I will find engrossing in the moment.

Plus I never know exactly how much I will get through, and I live in fear of finishing all of my books and being left!  on a plane!  without a book!

On that flight, I started and finished four of those books on the plane (one was a quick-read young adult novel and one was a totally mindless mystery that my traveling companion started and finished after I did).  The other five books included three things I read in the hotel: two comics collections in trade paperback, a novel I had started before and finished after the trip.  One book I started on the plane and didn’t have time to finish and the last one was a non-fiction book I never did pick up.

So that’s a long way of explaining why and when I decided that I needed to seriously pursue the idea of e-books.  And this video I came across today is the first thing that really kind of gets at why I have been so happy with that choice.  It’s in french, but even my lousy french is good enough to follow along.

(via if:book)

(I suggest going to YouTube itself to watch, and watching in high quality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aK75RSQBZYs)

Happy except for the ever-present issue of e-book DRM.  My french isn’t up to telling if they really talk about DRM in the video or not, but even if they don’t that sure looks like what replicating open-formats aspects of the print world would look like.  I’m also on a small group looking at the issues surrounding circulating Kindles in the library, which has given me some experience with Kindles even though I didn’t go that way myself — because I couldn’t deal with the DRM issues, that just keep coming up.

At Menucha last year my colleague Terry recommended checking out the iPod touch as an e-reader, so that’s the way I went. Of course, that doesn’t mean avoiding DRM altogether, though Fictionwise’s might be softer.  And also of course now Amazon owns Stanza, which is the Fictionwise-connected reader I have been using, so how much longer will that be true?

But beyond the DRM, the movie also reminded me of an issue I am having with the device itself.  I have also noticed since using the Kindle for this project, that I am really having trouble using it because it doesn’t have a touch screen.  I don’t know if it is because I am trained to use the touch screen on the iPod, or if that is just what we are coming to expect?  But it’s been a while now and I keep trying to make that screen work by touching.  I don’t think it’s going to get any better.

This, though, this looks like what’s fun about the Internet with books added back in.  And as a book lover, I like that picture.

Why I love the ResearchBlogs twitter feed

I haven’t figured out why there are some things I just like hearing about on Twitter – but the new posts on ResearchBlogging.org are some of those things. I used to keep the RSS feed – which is the same information – in my reader, and I just didn’t look at it the same way as I do now that I’m finding it in Twitter.

It’s a mystery.

Anyway, here’s why. Over the past few days, I’ve been able to click through to a discussion of this article about how doctors are using evidence – excellent for thinking about how people use evidence and information literacy:

How strong is your evidence (BrainBlogger)

Which led me as well to a related discussion of this article about publication bias in pharmaceutical research, which sparks more thoughts about information literacy and evaluation.  And this nice summary of research methods and how research is reported in health psychology.

And back to the twitter feed – I also clicked through to this one, which is entirely awesome and fascinating and might still be the next peer-reviewed Monday, but I don’t want to keep it under my hat here.  It’s a discussion of an article from PLoS ONE analyzing and visualizing click-throughs at scholarly journals.  Again with the information literacy implications, but it goes beyond that into impact factor, scholarly practice and epistemology and makes a stab at uncovering research behaviors that have previously been un-capturable.

And this one – which is about teaching and what some research says about how to do it.  And this, which is a reminder of how the stuff researchers find out about the brain connects to how we teach, learn and remember (and which I can understand much more easily than the original article).

Maybe it’s because there’s so much else to read in my RSS feeds that these articles, which take a little more work than many blog posts, seem like too much.  But in twitter, I can focus more?  Who knows,  but I do know that I’m reading more scholarly articles, and discussions of scholarly articles, than I was before which is a good thing.

I know what paleophidiothermometry means because of scholarly blogging

Way back when we first started talking about talking about peer review, Kate made a point that has stuck with me ever since – that we talk being accessible a lot in libraries but we usually talk about it in one sense of the word. To be fair, it is the first sense listed by the OED:

1. Capable of being used as an access; affording entrance; open, practicable. Const. to.

This meaning gets at access to information – our ability to physically get our hands (or our eyes) on the information we want or need, our ability to get past technical barriers, bad interfaces, or paywalls.  It also gets at our accessiblity in terms of open hours, our availability to answer questions and maybe even a little bit our openness in terms of friendliness.

What Kate pointed out that for our students, actually for a lot of us, the scholarly or scientific discourse is inaccessible in another way (OED’s 3rd)

c. Able to be (readily) understood or appreciated. Freq. applied to academic or creative work.

How many times do we teach students how to find scholarly articles by showing them the physical access points – the databases (or results limiting options) that will bring back articles that have been peer-reviewed, that will meet their professor’s requirement that for one, three or five “scholarly articles? while all the time we know that they will struggle with reading, understanding, and really USING these articles in their work?

How often do all of us begin poking around on a new topic to find scholarly articles that are too narrowly focused, assume too much about what we know about context and significance, full of technical terms, and just plain inaccessible to us, at least early on in our investigation?

And it’s not the articles’ fault.  The authors of peer reviewed articles have an audience to consider, and it’s not us.  Which is why I love the idea of these same authors writing for a different audience – and academic or science blogging is a great way to do that.  I know I’ve made this point here before, and I’ll probably do it again, but I thought this post today at Dracovenator (by Adam Yates, an Australian palaeontologist) was such a great example of it that I wanted to put it out there.

I only clicked on the link today (out of ResearchBlogging’s Twitter feed) because the title of the post was SO inaccessible to me.  I was just delighted by the post though – look how accessible it is, on every level.  Quick explanations of technical terms, a short summary of the research, an explanation of the context.  That context piece is one of my favorite parts, actually.  But then also a critique of the research.

And you can tell from the first line of the post that this isn’t a dumbed-down explanation written for the uninformed – the author assumes we’ve all heard about the study. I think there is so much positive potential in scholars and experts simply showing how they interact with the work in their field, how they understand it, how they read it, and how they talk about it.

words that mean pretty

This blog will never die.  It will never die because of this post.  Written in, I think, in about 15 minutes this post was just a quick thing to share a new tool that I was (and still am) really excited about.  And I’m not the only one.

So I never expected that this post would have more legs than any other post I’ve ever made – it doesn’t have the highest hit count, but of all of the posts on this blog it is the tortoise-est one.  Every day it picks up one or two or three views.

Unfortunately, those views come from people who are looking for something else.  Well, I shouldn’t say “unfortunately.”  I suspect a decent number of those people have never seen Wordle, and think it’s pretty cool.  So it’s cool by extension that they see that post here.  But they come here looking for (and this is almost always the exact wording of the search, it’s weird) – “words that mean pretty.” So, they want synonyms for the word pretty.  I’m thinking that they know what pretty means, and that they want some other words that mean that same thing.

So there are a couple of information literacy issues here, right?  The first, and probably most obvious, is that entering keywords into a search engine is not the best way to answer this particular question.  There are better tools out there.

Information Literacy issue #1

Using Google, the Wordle post comes up #8 on the result list for the words that mean pretty search right now.  So I assume that this is where most of the hits are coming from.  It doesn’t appear on Yahoo  (though there is a result about “how do I increase my dog’s understanding of words” which I find really intriguing).  Anyway, sometimes it’s a little higher on the Google list, sometimes a little lower.  Always on the first page.  The reason why people click on it is clear – most of the other results are obviously not relevant.  We have:

#1 – this one seems like it might be relevant, but it is actually a dictionary page for the word perhaps, not the word pretty.

#2 – this is a Yelp San Francisco query looking for non-english words that mean pretty.

#3-5 are random blog posts that use phrases like ‘words fail me” coupled with “pretty boring,” or “pretty words mean nothing.”

#6 is a link to the lyrics to Dirty Pretty Words.

#7 – we finally get a result that might work.  It’s a WikiAnswers question that just says -  “words that have pretty much the same meaning.”  But the description says “other words for pretty, same meaning as pretty” and so forth.  But when you click through to the page, you don’t see those questions. Instead, you find out that the initial question was looking for a definition of the word “synonym.”  Still, asking the question on WikiAnswers would probably work.

And then my post at #8.  Not that I really have to convince anyone who reads this blog that a search engine isn’t the place to find synonyms and antonyms.  So the first information literacy issue is a tool issue – there are things called thesauri and they can be really useful!  Check them out.

Information Literacy issue the second

Which connects to the more subtle information literacy issue here.  Which goes beyond how search engines aren’t a great starting point when you’re trying to find or generate synonyms – to finding and generating synonyms is a pretty fundamental part of effective keyword searching in search engines.  If you understand how keyword searching works, you know that the search  words that mean pretty will bring back anything with the disconnected terms words, mean and pretty. Which as the result list above indicates, is a whole lot of stuff you’re not interested in, including a random blog post about Wordle.   So when you get that result list, if you know how keyword searching works, you can troubleshoot that search and say “hey, I think I need a more specific term to get at the concept words that mean.”  If you’re really savvy at that point you might get the word “synonyms” from the WikiAnswers result and re-search using the terms synonyms and pretty.  That search works – you get result after result listing other words that mean the same thing as “pretty” does.

But here’s the thing – a lot of people don’t know how keyword searching works, in search engines or elsewhere.  Or they maybe kind of know, but they don’t really think about it.  And they don’t know how to troubleshoot that first failed search, or to find synonyms that will work better.  So I went looking – what would work better?  Because, as it happens, I’m working on a new keyword assignment – that I started talking about a few days ago, and that Sara talked about here – for beginning composition that will try to get at some of these issues about keywords and how they connect to critical reading, writing, thinking, as well as searching.

So, if you are wondering where you can find some information about other words that mean pretty – check these out:

Lexipedia: Where Words Have Meaning:  This one is interesting – it is based on the WordNet project at Princeton, and it creates, fairly quickly, cool webs of related words –  synonyms, antonyms,  fuzzynyms and more.   The webs are color coded so that you can glance at them and know that synonyms are olive green and antonyms are dark red.   The site looks a little bit messy, and it is hard to find.  While it has the domain “lexipedia.com” – a search on “lexipedia” brings back a lot of references to another project, about Wikipedia and handhelds.  Still, this one works pretty fast, provides a lot of terms that might be useful, and I like the glanceability of it.

Similar to this is Visuwords – an online graphical dictionary.  This one is prettier, but the resulting display isn’t as complete, and I’m not sure as a tool for finding additional terms and synonyms it would be more useful

And for the more textually oriented, there’s Definr, that also uses the WordNet project data.  Interestingly, it’s main selling point seems to be speed.  And it does define words really, really fast.  Not surprisingly, given the source data, it also provides some synonyms and related terms.

Both definr and lexipedia are user interfaces on top of the data generated by WordNet at Princeton.  This project, which groups words into “sets of cognitive synonyms” has about a million related projects listed on its website.  And the idea of cognitive synonyms is interesting, right?  For thinking about connecting terms to concepts and troubleshooting searches?

And now, as a bonus librarian answer – according to the OED, the first definition of the word pretty (adj.) is “cunning,” “crafty” (originally), and “clever,” “skillful” or “able” (later).  It was first used in this way in 1450.  “Aesthetically pleasing” is the second meaning, and it was first used this way about 10 years earlier.

“Sitting pretty” dates back to 1915, in Lincoln, Nebraska and “pretty please” dates back to 1891.

I keep remembering this one day in the library…

… because I just read that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died.

I was in high school, I went up to the Portland State University library to do some work and really couldn’t get into/ didn’t want to do the work I had gone there to do.  Instead of doing the obvious thing, which would have been leaving the library and going into the city since I was from Canby and it was a school day and I was not at school but in Portland, I picked One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich up off a reshelving cart and started to look through it.  Two and a half hours later, I was done and you know even though I still had the work to do, and even though I could have read that book in Canby, I never felt like I wasted that day

So this is a library experience that’s not about me being a librarian, and it’s not about how I think libraries should be.  Plus it’s a library experience that might not resonate in its specifics to people younger than me. It was the 80′s, there was a Cold War, reading Solzhenitsyn probably doesn’t feel the same now as it did then.

It’s a library experience that’s just about libraries – that they are and that these spaces that put people together with ideas exist.

what do comics and documentary filmmaking have to do with libraries?

Nothing, really? Except maybe…

I spent the weekend working on a project Shaun is just starting – a documentary that takes a geographic look at why Portland has become such a central place for comics creators and publishers. He’s had to push his production schedule way up because the Stumptown Comics Fest, which has been in September, moved to April. So he doesn’t have the student crew he is planning to have yet (if you know a talented student filmmaker at OSU or WOU who would like some independent study credit – email me) and none of his volunteer crew was available on short notice to spend the weekend in Portland.

So it was just him and me filming 24-Hour-Comics-Day. That really means it was just him, with me to do the stuff that required more than 2 hands – holding the mike was a big part of my day. The 24 hours in question extended from 10 am Saturday morning to 10 am Sunday morning, and the artists and writers who participated spent this time around a table at Cosmic Monkey comics in northeast Portland. Their task was to produce a 24-page comic in 24 hours from start to finish.

Around 20 people signed up for the event, about 20 showed up and about 20 were there much of the time — but as Leigh Walton (who liveblogged the whole event – check it out) said, they weren’t always the same 20 people. When we walked back in on Sunday morning there weren’t 20 people there, but there were more than 10 and some of the people who were gone were gone because they were done already.

(No, we didn’t stay the whole night. The camera did.)

The people there ranged from first-timers who may or may not have ever put together a comic of this length, to established names like Jim Valentino (creator of Normalman), Neal Skorpen (doing his fifth 24 hour event) and David Chelsea (participating in his TENTH 24 hour event). And people were doing the event for all kinds of reasons – which is one of the more interesting things about these timed, creative contests I think.

When we do things like the 48 hour film project or the IDC, it’s usually to see how good of a film we can make in that period of time, yes. And when we talk to people about how we’ve just done a short film in 2 days or a documentary in 5, that marathon-like aspect of it is what people focus on — the idea that you do these things like people run a marathon, to see if you CAN do these things. If you have what it takes, the strength, the speed the stamina, or whatever. And there’s a “best time” variation on that — even if you know you CAN create a comic in 24 hours or make a movie in 48, there’s still – how good of a thing can you make in that time?

But with these creative contests – there are so many more reasons why people do these things. When we do the film contests part of it is pulling a community together in our smallish part of the state that’s interested in this kind of creativity – the Willamette Valley Film Collective idea. And that community aspect also came through loud and clear this past weekend — Shaun was thinking about how doing film as his scholarship is interesting because unlike writing books or articles, you can’t make a movie all by yourself. At the very least, you need your wife to hold the mike. And the artists and writers in the room were on the opposite side of things – what they do, they do by themselves a lot and having the chance to do it in a room with other people was part of the draw.

But another reason why people do these things – has nothing to do with marathons at all. Some people sign up for NaNoWriMo, 48 Hour Film, Script Frenzy, International Documentary Challenge or Madison’s Mercury Theater Blitz not to see if they can create a play or novel or movie in that time period – but to see if they can create a play or comic or movie or novel at all. Whether because they need the deadline, or the community of people doing the same thing fuels the competitive drive, or because they haven’t been able to manage doing it a little at a time and they need the excuse to just drop everything and put some sustained effort towards creating — they think “this is how I can finally get it done.”

So what has this to do with libraries? Well, probably nothing. But after I went to Picture Poetry to read the live blog of the event, I stuck around a bit reading Leigh Walton’s posts about Portland and comics and publishing — and I was struck by this older entry which starts off with the observation that “the distribution and retail network for comics is broken like whoa.”

The post itself is mainly a long excerpt from another person who is explaining why he shops online for comics instead of supporting his local shops — and if you read it, doesn’t it sound a lot like people talking about libraries? I mean, there’s the overwhelming difference that if you choose between an online shop and a brick and mortar shop you’re choosing where to spend your money, while if you choose Amazon over your library you’re choosing TO spend money — but other than that, a lot of what they’re saying sounds exactly like what we say in libraries — even down to the “let’s put a coffee shop in to be more welcoming.”

Which gets me thinking about the community aspect of things – and the role that the community plays in supporting people who just want to see if they can do stuff, produce stuff, create stuff, and more that the 24 hour comics drawpocalypse represented. In other words, I think I’m saying if we’re just a place to consume information, whether that information takes the form of comic books or academic books, I’m not sure we can compete with the Amazons and what have you. I mean, I’d rather do the consuming part at home on my couch, all things being equal. But all things aren’t equal, because we’re about more than consumption. One of the reasons that people get out and go to their local yarn store is for Stitch and Bitch night, one of the reasons people go out to the comic store is to draw a comic in 24 hours — libraries are also spaces where people don’t just consume, but also create, and create together with other creators — how can we build more into that aspect of what we are.