ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

A Few Handfuls of Flung Mud —

I put in the hours; I spend a lot of time doing stuff for the various textfiles.com projects, documentary research/work, and assistance (behind the scenes) of a number of other altruistic endeavors. I get to shoot a few arrows once in a while. Here they are, all presented in one convenient package instead of blown across a pile of weblog entries. Maybe I’ll make this a yearly thing.

Librarians: I Generally Don’t Like Them

I was pretty stunned when I went down to the Princeton Public Library to give a talk about the BBS Documentary. I met something I rarely encounter: a happy, self-effacing librarian. His name was Robert Keith, and he was great to interact with and talk to, and totally on top of everything. As he proudly toured his excellent library for me, I was taken aback at how nice the whole place was, how much they thought about what was good for the patrons (again, this was the public library, not the University library), and how much they worked to make it a place you’d want to go to again and again.

This is not my usual experience with librarians.

In high school, my librarians would clip out photos or articles they thought inappropriate for students; nothing like opening a magazine and finding actual physical gaps in your reading material. I’ve watched libraries dump piles and piles of paperbacks, manuals and hardcover books to make room for, among other things, CDs. There’s a book by Nicholson Baker called Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper which makes any reasonable person want to take a Duraflame log and smack the involved parties across the face.

I find a lot of librarians really want to be gatekeepers; deciding what’s important, granting people access to their “incredible skillsets” and otherwise playing paternalistic/maternalistic control games over the information in their empire.

I read a few weblogs that piss me off, just so I can remember that not everyone is Andy Baio. One of these is Jenny Levine’s The Shifted Librarian, which is right up there in terms of self-important gatekeepers who want to hand out the world in dribs and drabs as they proudly “discover” stunning “new” technology like RSS. Out of my fuckin’ way, please, I have stuff to do. As an extra bonus, she links on her front page to Why You Should Fall To Your Knees and Worship a Librarian, a self-important essay of proportions my tiny mind can barely comprehend.

Here’s what I do: I collect, I assemble, I give away. Repeat. Forever.

Watermarking: Because You Own a Scanner

There are a huge collection of folks out there who dance on the razor’s edge of intellectual property. They do it for a variety of reasons, but some of them do it to “save” the history. So explain to me why the hell a place that would scan in old material would feel the need to watermark up the stuff they scan in? Vintagecomputing.com isn’t the only one to do it, they’re just the most recent (the editor started his weblog late last year). What the fuck? Why does your ability to operate a scanner and get your hands on old stuff suddenly entitle you to spray your flash-in-the-pan site’s logo across all the graphics? Is it to drive hits? (That is, make money off your site.) Is it ego? (People should know that when the chips were down and someone had to plug a scanner into a USB port, you were the man in charge.) Or is it just because you think that’s what has to be done? Either way, stop that shit. Save history, don’t try to become it by waving your site’s scrotum over someone else’s artwork/effort.

Amateur Time-Management Coaches

Few thematic responses drive me more crazy in message bases than “[Person who did project] has way too much free time.” I see a lot of amazing stuff out there, both online and off, where someone dedicated a few hours across a few months to a project. The same amount of time you might dedicate to, say, getting a basement clean or writing out Christmas cards. Whether it’s porting the game of Doom everywhere or building a church out of legos or draw something incredible using MS paint…. well, why the hell shouldn’t people chose to do that? Is it some sort of crime?

When I worked as a temp, I was often given jobs that just skirted the edge of requiring meat to complete the task; I had one job where I was to answer any call that came through a certain phone, write down the number of the person calling, and then call an assigned on-duty lawyer. (This was so a legal team could be off for the holidays and still seem like they were right there, on the ball.) I did this for 5 days; I sat at a desk and waited for a phone call. Two came in across that 40-hour time period. Two. This was before one could assume there was Internet of some sort at every desk.

How much better that time would have been spent if I could have built a car-flinging trebuchet?

I don’t expect people to stop this lame “criticism” any time soon, but there you go. It drives me nuts.


Well, that’s a load off my chest. How about you?


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5 Comments

  1. Anonymous of the Visual Novels says:

    Hey, my mum is a librarian. :(

    Don’t categorize all people of one type as assholes. If you’ve never met a software executive, a blogger, or a BBS operator who is also a self-important asshole, then I guess maybe you could call librarians assholes based on your sample, but I think you’re biased because of those high-school teachers (who were just old women who got paid to sit around in a library).

  2. Jason Scott says:

    And my step-mother is a librarian!

    Doesn’t mean I have to like them all, now does it?

    And why can’t I call most software executives, bloggers or BBS operators self-important assholes too?

  3. paul says:

    I think the reason why the picture watermarking got started was because people would sometimes link directly to a picture on someone else’s site (and server) rather than posting it on their own — either out of ignorance or laziness. And so if that other person’s site got popular then you got the bandwidth bill.

    Given the kind of bandwidth I get for my $15 a month hosting package, I don’t expect to ever see that kind of problem nowadays(unless I get into really specialized pr0n).

    I’m not necessarily excusing the folks who do that now, just plopping in a bit of perspective.

    There are assholes everywhere. I’ve got one myself.

  4. Lazlo says:

    It’s several things, I think.

    1) Fear that someone else will take the images and profit from them somehow (financially or existentially) while your little site flutters sadly in the wind. Kind of a “thieves assuming everyone else is a thief” thing.

    2) Misplaced sense of having “created” something by putting a sheet of paper on a plate of glass and pushing a button. Because, you know, nobody *else* could have pushed that button.

    3) Thinking that this bit of brilliance could potentially drive traffic to your site, if only everyone knew where it was! Sadly, this actually works sometimes (*cough* Eric Bauman *cough*).

  5. Ed says:

    I agree with your librarian rant. I was interested in the Double Fold book, so I ordered one off abebooks.com. It arrived today, and it turned out to be an ex-library copy from the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library. The irony kills me.