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March 2003 Archives

March 5, 2003

Like the Saturday Puzzle Isn't Hard Enough Already

Crossword aficianados know that the NYTimes crossword gets progressively harder as the week goes on. Saturday's is generally a cast iron bitch on wheels. This kind of correction, from today's paper (unlinked because the Times doesn't archive corrections as such on its site), won't help:



The crossword puzzle on Saturday provided an erroneous clue for 12 Down, seeking the answer "mare." "Mate for `my friend' Flicka" was incorrect because Flicka, in the Mary O'Hara story, was a mare; her mate would be a stallion.


 


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Pink With Envy?

USA Today reports that your $20 bills will be more colorful starting this fall.


On March 27, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving will unveil a new remake of the double-sawbuck, adding "one predominant, yet subtle, color that will appear in the background and at least one other color," along with other new security measures.


This will be the first U.S. currency to be a color other than green.



The $20 is the most commonly counterfeited bill in the USA, and close to 40% of the money seized in this country in the last fiscal year was made with laser printers, up from less than 1% in 1995.


The plan is to update currency every seven to 10 years. After the new $20 is introduced, the $50 and the $100 will come next.


In New York, it's not at all uncommon to see signs in lunch restaurants and other retail establishments saying that they won't accept $100s -- and in some cases $50s. Even with the 1996 redesign, there's too much counterfeit floating around. And if there's so much around in New York, can you imagine how much counterfeit U.S. currency there must be overseas, where people aren't as familiar with the money as Americans are?


[Later: I took a closer look at that press release linked to above. It's dated June 20, 2002. So this isn't exactly new news. The only actually new thing is the date of the unveiling; otherwise, it's USA Today that make it news today. This is instructive for students of the news media.]


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March 6, 2003

A Billion Spams A Day

AOL blocked 1 Billion pieces of spam yesterday to its 35 million users, according to the NYDaily News -- up from 780 million pieces two weeks ago:



A recent report from independent tech consultancy Ferris Research estimated 30% of inbound E-mail at U.S.-based Internet service providers is spam.


Ferris forecast this spiraling problem will cost U.S. organizations more than $10 billion in 2003 because it "consumes computing resources, email administrator and helpdesk personnel time, and reduces workers' productivity."


My own mailbox reflects this upswing. One of my accounts gets an average of 70 pieces of spam a day; between all my accounts, I probably delete about 100 a day.


Legislation won't help. Most of the spammers are (or easily could be) far beyond the reach of U.S. law, and I'm fully confident that any attempt to craft a content-based law to control spam would be perverted to restrict legitimate content.


The answer is technological. I know the wizards are working on it, and I hope to try a solution or two in the near-ish future. I'll report back.


 


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Giant Chee-to Takes Over Iowa

A petty officer stationed at Pearl Harbor opens a pack of Chee-tos, only to discover...


...the largest Chee-to in the world.



Chee-tos Development Manager Kevin Cogan's job is to ponder such mysteries. He believes that some of the cheddar seasoning in the company's machines built up and plopped out in big blob. That sneaked past inspectors.


"We call it Seasoning Accumulation," Cogan said. "If you love cheese, this is the Chee-to for you. It's beyond dangerously cheesy."


"Dangerously cheesy" indeed. Somehow, the Chee-to has found its way to the Midwest:



The folks in Algona, Iowa -- a one-movie-theater town with 5,970 residents -- can hardly wait to get their hands on the giant Chee-to. They plan to shellac it, lay it on plush velvet and put it under Plexiglas.


"This giant Chee-to could be a boon to our local economy," said Tom Straub, owner of Algona's Sister Sarah's Bar. "Anything we can do to attract visitors to our town would be good."


Me, I'd be worried (well, "worried" is way too strong a word) about shipping the thing from Hawaii to Iowa. I'm not sure that I'd trust FedEx and bubblewrap with such a delicate cargo. A courier? Well, that flight from Hawaii to Iowa's awfully long, and airline food these days isn't so good, if you get my drift....


 


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Oh, The Humanity....

Man meets Toy. One of the funniest bits of writing I've seen online in a dog's age. True? Not true? Who cares?


 


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The Globe Has Its Irish Up

Remember last month, when the Boston Globe was astonished to discover that its hometown Senator and presidential candidate, John Kerry, wasn't actually Irish? Kerry's press secretary said that the senator had corrected every instance he was aware of where people cited his supposed Irish heritage.


The Globe isn't letting the matter rest, and appears to be going through every possible statement and public appearance to see just cute Kerry's been with the facts over the years. (Think about it. The Globe's a serious, excellent newspaper, and its reporters and editors must be besides themselves with anger at not knowing Kerry's personal history.) Today, the Globe digs up a 1986 statement in the Congressional Record where Kerry says:



''For those of us who are fortunate to share an Irish ancestory..."


Kerry's staff says some staffer wrote the piece and inserted it into the record, and that the senator never saw it. Given the misspelling of "ancestry," that may be true; certainly, no copy editor ever saw the statement.


If this is what Kerry's in for from his hometown paper, he's going to have a very long election cycle.


 


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Thanks For All The Fish

The Red Herring, the last of the Venture Capital Porn magazines, has finally given it up, just short of its 10th birthday.


There was a time when the Herring, Upside, and the Industry Standard were riding high wide and handsome. More ads than they could take, more editorial pages than they could fill. They were The Elect, in their wierd technoCalvinist way, and they were more than willing to tell you so. Wearing my Publishing Wise Man hat, I was once interviewed by a gentleman from The Economist, who was wondering what was supporting these magazines, and if the success of these magazines meant that the economy beneath them had fundamentally changed.


Of course it hadn't. Kurt Andersen once said that raising money in 1998 was as easy as getting laid in 1968. He may well have been right, and possibly in a more profound way than he meant. Most of the sex in '68 probably lead to as many strong relationships as most of the funding in '98 led to strong companies. In both cases, not nearly enough of them. In both cases, we're probably paying the price today.


Then, Poof! The Standard, newest and flashiest, went first. Then Upside, the senior title of the bunch and the one with actual Adult Supervision. And now Red Herring.


Why? Because their readership sucked. The vast majority of the people reading those titles had as much involvement with the real venture market as the people reading Playboy have a real involvement with the models. Fantasy, at best. Obsession, at worst. The people who were really involved had better sources than a monthly magazine that needed a four-month lead time. The ads were bragging, the editorial was hagiographic. Though the magazines may once have had a purpose, by their end they were sponges soaking up the excess cash sloshing around the tech industry.


And Tony Perkins, the founding father, comes on and sings the same song: hey, it's only a respite. We're just one more round of funding away from being right back on our feet.


Just one more hit of crack and everything'll be fine fine fine fine fine fine fine fine fine.......


 


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Excellent Sony Interview

Speaking of Tony Perkins (see below), he's got an excellent, rare and candid interview with the CEO of Sony, Nobuyuki Idei, at his own web site.


Sony is pretty much at the center of every piece of technological change going on in the world today -- with the probable (and significant) exception of biotech. The fact that Idei seems able to keep ahead of all the relevant trends in all the relevant technologies is a marvel of personal focus. For that alone, the interview's worth reading.


Some of his opinions:



  • Sure, we'd buy PalmSource if they were selling.

  • Ericsson teamed with us because they wanted an easy way out of the cellphone busines, and we wanted their patents.

  • Nokia cares more about volume than anything else.

  • His music division is operating from a position of panic, not thought.

  • Microsoft doesn't have a clue, but IBM might make an interesting partner.

Excellent interview between a smart questioner and a smart answerer. Worth reading.


 


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March 7, 2003

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

From Reuters via CNN:



Shame television is off the air in Oklahoma after the channel aimed at humiliating men who frequented prostitutes ended up providing free advertising for city street walkers but gaining few viewers....


The scrolling and repeating mug shots of disheveled streetwalkers helped would-be customers identify prostitutes, the spokeswoman said. "It was almost a promotional thing for them. It wasn't a deterrent at all."


 


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You Mean Somebody Actually Wrote That?

Tom Glazer, who in 1963 wrote the song parody, "On Top of Spaghetti," died recently at age 88. (He did not roll off the table and out the door.)


Of course, Glazer did plenty of other things. He was an important member of the Folk Revival movement of the 1950s and '60s. But there are worse things than to be remembered with a song that kids will be singing for approximately forever.


For the ignorant or forgetful, here are the lyrics. A-one, a-two, a-three, and-a-four...


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March 9, 2003

What's the New Word?

AP story today via the NYPost about using the net to troll -- and track -- for neologisms both historical and current. Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell, has tricked up software that searches the net for abrupt shifts in lingo tied to a certain era.



The program is intended to look at data about which the searcher has no clue - say a mountain of unread e-mail or documents - and divulge a list of what topics were hot and when they started to heat up.


(A quick look at Kleinberg's publications list looks really interesting, if you care at about how people spread news/gossip. I do.)


Seems that the hosting company Verity is aiming Klenberg's software at weblogs. Why? Because it



...could ultimately help advertisers target their sales pitches.


Figures.


Another collector of neologisms is Paul McFredries, an author who's written a bunch of "Complete Idiot's Guides" and maintains the web site wordspy.



Some of the words spotted by McFedries are tech-related, e.g., "ham," which means legitimate e-mail that gets lost in spam filters because it contains some spam-like phrases. Others are free-floating jargon, such as "induhvidual," meaning one who acts foolishly.


I first saw "induhvidual" in Dilbert. This usage of "ham" is new to me; I think it's a keeper.


 


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March 11, 2003

Government By Tantrum

In India, a proposal to raise the price of fertilizer was shouted down. Literally. From the AP via the NYTimes:



Upset by a budget proposal to raise the price of fertilizer, lawmakers in India's lower house of parliament shouted their opposition for four hours on Tuesday. The tactic was so effective the finance minister withdrew the plan.


Here in the U.S., our legislators would never do that. That's what Talk Radio is for.


 


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March 13, 2003

The Princeton Review Will Probably Name It The No. 1 Party School

From the AP via CNN:



JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) -- The president of a community college was arrested Wednesday on charges of raising marijuana for sale.


 


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March 17, 2003

Nobody Tell My Wife, OK?

From Reuters, via CNN:



Most newlyweds experience a brief emotional bounce after their wedding, but they eventually return to the same outlook they had on life before they tied the knot, according to a study released Sunday.


"We found that people were no more satisfied after marriage than they were prior to marriage," the researchers said.


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Motorola vs The World

The chairman of Motorola stood up in front of the cell phone industry today and said that what people want is better voice service. The chairmen of LG and Nokia said what people want is more bells and whistles.


From CNet:



But not being able to rely on a cell phone because a network is shoddy will turn back the expected tide of new users, Galvin said.


Absolutely right. If you can't rely on a tech gadget to work, people won't use it. And games and whizbang stuff aside, the main purpose of a phone is to make phone calls. But maybe I'm just an old fart.


How could LG and Nokia disagree that service needs to get better? Probably because better phone service is mostly an infrastructure issue, and Motorola is a much bigger infrastructure player than LG or Nokia, which rely more heavily on handset sales.


If cell networks aren't built out, people won't rely on cell phones. And that's bad for the whole industry.


 


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Slow News Day

With war drums beating louder than ever, the economy in a shambles, smoking about to be banned through all of the city, this item actually made the NYTimes today:



Two 17-year-old boys, apparently following instructions penned by Abbie Hoffman, caused a flash fire in a Brooklyn apartment yesterday afternoon while trying to make a smoke bomb on the stove, the police said. One of the teenagers received second-degree burns to the upper torso.


Very little property damage. No other injury. One of the kids goes to LaGuardia High, a good school. The other -- the one who was burned -- goes to Bronx Science, a very good school. The apartment is on a good block in a good neighborhood, Park Slope. The street was crowded because of a St. Patrick's Day parade, but there was no apparent connection.


Without the oh-so-tenuous Abbie Hoffman link, seems to me that this doesn't even make the local giveaway weeklies. At least the kids didn't get the recipie off the internet....


 


 


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March 18, 2003

Reporting from a War Zone

If you want to know what it'll be like for the 500-odd reporters "embedded" with the armed forces in and around Iraq, I've got a couple of links for you.


This one, via the invaluable J.D. Lasica, extracts some interesting points from the Pentagon's ground rules for reporters. (There's also a link to the full official document.) There will undoubtedly be some gears grinding in the actual practice, but these look like pretty reasonable and enlightened rules.


As for what reporters can expect from moment-to-moment life with the troops, turn to Joe Galloway. Joe covered Vietnam for UPI and wrote the book "We Were Soldiers Once... And Young." (They turned it into a Mel Gibson movie last year.) For many years, he wrote for U.S. News & World Report; now he's the military affairs reporter for Knight Ridder.


This piece from Editor & Publisher is the memo that Knight Ridder reporters get when they're leaving for a war zone. It tells you how to survive. Here's some sage advice from Joe:



  • If things start happening suddenly and violently -- incoming mortars or a chemical warfare alert -- and you don't know what to do, watch a sergeant and do what he does and what he tells you to do. Failing that, get down and stay down until the picture becomes clearer. If someone, anyone, tells you to move out or run or dig a hole, do so with vigor.

  • Don't sit down on the ground or flop down on a tank deck or lay down ... without first taking a very good look for bugs, critters, snakes, scorpions, and the like. You will have a very painful war if you are nursing a scorpion bite on your butt.

... and something that no reporter should ever forget: engage with the people you're covering:



  • Don't be a whiner and complainer. Don't huddle in shared misery with other reporters. You are there to cover soldiers. Spend your waking hours with them, listening to them. You may be surprised to find your average infantry captain, while from a totally different culture, is often intelligent and a good companion.

 


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March 19, 2003

But Will They Send a Copy to John Ashcroft?


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI has recovered a valuable copy of the Bill of Rights that had been missing for 138 years, bureau sources said Wednesday.


 


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Or, Perhaps, Justice Scalia?

From the AP:



CLEVELAND -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia banned broadcast media from his speech Wednesday at an appearance where he received an award for supporting free speech.


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I Can Just See the 'Think Different' Billboards

Al Gore was named today to the Apple Computer Board of Directors. The vote margin was not released.


I wonder if we're going to start seeing an iPod on his hip, next to his ever-present Blackberry....


 


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March 20, 2003

Stop the Frickin' Presses!

From the British magazine Computing:



More than half of the emails sent from company systems have nothing to do with work, according to exclusive research for vnunet.com's sister title Computing...


On average, 53 per cent of emails sent during one week were not related to business. The highest instance was reported at a public sector organisation, where 70 per cent of messages were personal.


 


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Think You've Got A Bad Boss?

Only magazine-obsessed dweebs like me realize the dark secret behind titles like Car & Driver, Woman's Day, Metropolitan Home, and Boating. They're all owned by Hachette Filipacci, which is a division of the French company Lagardere, which is 2 percent owned by...


Saddam Hussein.


No, it's true. Really. And it's not such a huge secret, either.


Anyway, Aaron Gell at flak magazine has written a very funny memo from Saddam to Hachette Filipacci CEO Jack Kliger, suggesting just a few tweaks here and there....


 


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Forward in All Directions!

Big anti-war protest in San Francisco today. Tied up traffic big-time, which is always a way to gain sympathy for your cause.


One friend reports that at one point, there were 200 anarchists marching down Market Street. What I don't understand is, how do you get 200 anarchists to do anything together?


 


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MetaWarBlog

My bud Angela -- the original Web Doyenne -- has scored a gig tracking war blogs for USA Today Online. I'd be even more congratulatory if I weren't so abysmally envious of her...


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March 21, 2003

The Beeb Blogs the War

An excellent idea from the BBC. Its correspondents are flashing three-graf blurbs on what's going on where they are, and the Beeb is simply running them in reverse chronological order. More detailed communications would probably be difficult and can wait for later; this is a great way to provide a big picture out of small pieces.


They say that journalism is the first draft of history. This stuff is the first draft of journalism.


The page takes a while to load. Be patient.


 


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The New News Model Meets The Old. Film At 11.

Much gnashing of teeth tonight in Blogspace. Apparently, CNN has asked reporter Kevin Sites to quit blogging from the war zone.


Why? CNN's not saying. Of course, this is the blog crowd's prima facie evidence of big media squatting on the Golden Revolution of weblogs. Oh, and while they're at it, big media's coverage sucks, too. And Aaron Brown's an ugly windbag, besides.


Let's see if we can separate those issues.


As far as Sites's weblog. There are some thoughtful posts during the runup to war, and some pretty though unremarkable pictures of civilians that could have been taken in The Bronx. But after Tuesday night, the next post was today's announcing the shutdown.


You think that between Tuesday and Friday, Sites may have been a little busy?


Sites is an employee, and CNN is utterly with its rights to suggest that he should be concentrating on filing to the network rather than his blog. What goes on between Sites and his employer is between them, and none of us jeering from the sidelines can claim to know that dynamic.


Now let's talk about how coverage sucks. Mitch Ratcliff writes this:



I keep seeing the worst in journalism displayed during this war. I've also seen many examples of big media -- and new and old -- refusing to think and act differently up close and personal. There is an explicit assumption by the people running Web sites that reporters and reports should be the same as they've always been. They will talk about the desire to change, but get to the point where actual change is required and they back away fast.


"The worst in journalism"? There is unprecedented access to troops and battle, combined with 21st century communications and imaging technology that puts us squarely in the world of Max Headroom. If pixelated views of jeeps moving through the desert at night don't turn his crank, it might be worth remembering that he's seeing live pictures at night from a featureless landscape half a world away. Just now, I saw high-quality nighttime pictures of Baghdad (San Francisco on the Tigris) being blown to hell. Ten years ago, these were light green dots against a slightly darker-green background.


Footage from Vietnam, it's worth remembering, was never fresher than two days old. It took at least a day to fly the film back to the States, and another day to process and cut it.


Is there a lot we're not seeing? Of course. But fer chrissakes -- it's a war! It's going on right now. Stories will be coming out for decades to come. That's the way journalism and history work. Howard Kurtz writes about this in Saturday's WAPost:



NBC's Dana Lewis, who is with the 101st Airborne, said from northern Kuwait that "we know unbelievable amounts of information" but that "you can't use a lot of it." Still, he said, "we'll go back to this two or three months from now and say, 'This was the original battle plan and this is what really happened to these guys.' We'll do a reality check, which I think is valuable."


The worst in journalism? I'd nominate not the war coverage, but rather the White House press corps, which rolled over the other week and let its belly get scratched by an automaton President.


Actually, I'd say the quality of war reporting is vastly better than recent American history would have given us reason to expect.


Are anchors windbags? Well, yes -- and that's why they get paid the big bucks. It is hellishly hard to stay on camera for hour after hour, where there may not be any actual new news coming in, and not sound like any more of an idiot than is actually neccessary. This is the weakness of the medium: when broadcasting in real time, the clock is your enemy, one way or another.


Here's where Mitch and I agree:



If doing something radically new requires a form of corporate governance that supports teams of journalists (in the broadest possible sense, including bloggers and participants in events) who never meet face-to-face or have ideas that can co-exist peacefully, then we need to develop that. Or just go ahead and do it the old-fashioned way by paying a few folks upfront to edit what a lot of "freelancers" submit for publication -- again, I use the word "publication" in the broadest possible sense. Just be sure that what you produce is different in a fundamental way.


As I said earlier today, the BBC is doing interesting things in this direction. But as Mitch himself acknowledges, coverage by blog is different than coverage by TV or any other medium. It has to be -- otherwise, why bother? And there's that pesky problem of both the publisher and the writer getting paid. I wrote about it last June.


And from a purely practical perspective, it'll be interesting getting official credentials for all those independent bloggers. It's a problem that Blogcritics has been wrestling with, more or less unsuccessfully, since it started last year.


[Thanks to J.D. Lasica for getting this debate started.]


 


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March 22, 2003

We're Back After The Break

Mitch Ratcliffe, don't you sleep? Here's his response to my last.


In truth, we're agreeing more than we're disagreeing. He gets to the nub of what's wrong with televised coverage here:



The access is no better than in World War II, when Ernie Pyle (who was killed by a Japanese sniper) chronicled the important elements of the war instead, including the boredom and the intense drama, but did it reflectively, humanizing the story which is too big for anyone to sit and absorb through a bunch of soda-straw views offered by CNN. Today's coverage is just faster to land in our retinas.


Yes, there's way too much cooing over the technology and the speed. Again, we're in early days. It's a horrible thing to wish for, but I bet the gee-whiz focus will shift to the story itself if the war drags on. Even local stations know that Doppler 4000 is ultimately less important to viewers than whether it'll rain tomorrow.


We want our news accurate, colorful, in perspective, with plenty of story and heart. And now. We want it now. Gotta be now. My first bureau chief told me early on, as I struggled with some instantly forgotten story, "It might win a Pulitzer, Danny. But if I don't have it by 6, we'll never know." As Carrie Fischer wrote, instant gratification takes too long.


I've been a journalist, too, Mitch; I spent six years with UPI and more time with other news services and weeklies and magazines and it's added up somehow to 25 years. (I've got to get a bio up on this page.) I know a little something about using technology to report and distribute the news, and I know about how news is managed. When the hostages came home from Iran, I was camped for a week at West Point interviewing returnees; for a week, my life was literally spent in footraces with Peter Arnett and Connie Chung as we sprinted for phones. A 1981 news scrum is different from a 2003 news scrum, and I doubt the difference is an improvement.


It's good that you use World War II and Ernie Pyle as benchmarks; the rules the media is operating under look much like the ones Pyle had to abide by. Pyle, of course, was a print reporter, not required to fill time at an anchor desk and not required to send an endless stream of snap reportage to a wire desk. It's also worth noting that Pyle's reputation grew over years of warfare, not in a week-long night sprint across the desert.


Speed is the natural enemy of thoughfulness and perspective, and we're in the Speed part of this war. If you want thoughtfulness and perpsective, turn off the box. There are two things that TV does well: the live shot and the Up Close And Personal package. Just you wait: it won't be long before we start bitching that we're learning too much about the soldiers and not enough about the progress of the war itself.


Can we get better from bloggers? Sure. Maybe. Why not? But let's not confuse technology with the end product. If the bloggers are good reporters, know their territories and see something interesting, their dispatches will be worth reading. If they aren't, it's just the next generation of ransom-note desktop publishing.


Mitch writes:



Unless we are engaged in another war, which we probably will be, there is little likelihood the media will ever do a reality check on the plan vs. the actual way the battle played out.


Well, it sure won't be on TV, with the possible exception of Frontline, because TV doesn't do stuff like that well. But I bet it'll be in the dozen or so newspapers who care to devote their resources to real journalism. Which means it'll be available to people who care. If that can be done through an on-line medium, have at it. It'll be an evolution.


And Mitch writes:



Maybe the most powerful thing CNN could do is make its footage available for people to use to make their own points about the war. What if every time a bomb exploded a blogger could overlay the phrase "50 people died in that explosion" over the video? That would change the way we see this war, just as it would if every explosion said "50 U.S. soldiers' lives were spared by using that bomb, just as Hiroshima was necessary to prevent 150,000+ American casualties invading the Japanese home islands."


Wonderful. Pop-Up War Videos. That'll change the world for the better. It'd be instructive to see how, say, Fox, CNN and Al-Jazeera caption the same explosion. Triangulating to the truth sometimes gets harder, not easier, because of course there is no one truth.


Mitch says:



... the journalists who are supposed to help us understand events have ceded that responsibility to the technology, a kind of panopticon function that lends absolutely no clarity for the audience. Then, the only expert voices we get are former generals, maybe a former secretary of defense who agrees the war is going well...


But a new media that collected these records of events and presented them in ways that can be navigated and explored so that, in addition to hearing and seeing the stories of a war or an election, we can participate and share our own ideas and get the ideas of others in a truly plural view of events, then that would be new. 


New, yes. But not neccessarily better. A former general knows more about warfare than I do, so he's worth listening to more than I am -- even with all his biases and history.  More voices are good, more perspective is good, and the ability to amplify thought is the single most exciting thing about the personal computer revolution. But anyone who's been to a public meeting knows that there's such a thing as too much conversation and input.


It's a beautiful Saturday morning in New York, and I've spent the last two hours typing into a 13-line box in a browser I don't like, and there's coffee to be drunk and breakfast to cook and laundry to put away and babies to play with. There's lots of ideas still buzzing -- a good thing, since this is our life's work -- but they'll still be here later.


 


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More Light on the Subject

Peter Shaplen, Ratcliffe's production partner, chimes in on the discussion, making terrific points that show exactly how television's slavery to the clock encourages the trivialization of developing news. A truly excellent post that defies adequate encapsulation here. Read it yourself, and feel your head nodding.


 


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March 24, 2003

Adam Osborne Dies

A lot of people have forgotten about Adam Osborne, which is a shame because he's one of the most important people in the history of computerdom.


He didn't make the first portable PC; that came from Kaypro. But there was something completely sexy about the Osborne 1, a CP/M-based machine that looked like a Korean War-era radio crammed into a sewing machine enclosure. The Osborne came with a complete suite of software from WordStar, and the computer's tiny screen wasn't even wide enough to display a full-width document.


But for less than $2000, it was a real honest-to-god computer that could actually do things, a true geek lust object. And what's more, you could take it with you. Good lord, I spent a lot of time at my local Prodigy computer store in the early 80s, trying to imagine how I could possibly scrape together the money on my pitiful UPI salary.


The company grew like a dot-com, until Adam made one titanic error: he announced an IBM compatible model, but it didn't ship for months. Sales of the old model instantly dropped to near zero, and his company just vanished.


Osborne -- a columnist, book publisher, computer entrepreneur, software publisher -- was a wild man in an industry that badly needed them at the time. He faded from the scene in the late 80s, and the word was that he fell quite ill. Adam passed away the other day in India.


 


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March 26, 2003

Apple Bafflegab

So I had a spare couple of minutes today, and I stepped into Apple's luxe storefront in SoHo to check out the new 17-inch Powerbook. Apparently, words south of Houston Street don't mean the same thing as they do elsewhere.


When you walk into the store, you're likely to see a sign that says "17-inch Powerbook. In stock now." Given the highly restricted supply of the machines (the Apple web site cites a 3-to-5 week delivery interval), this was something of a surprise.


I cruised over the Powerbook table, which was full of 12-inchers and 15-inchers. No 17s. I found a salescritter and asked if they had any on display. He led me over to the front window, where there was a 17-inch model on a turntable.


"Would you like to buy one?" he asked prematurely, as he reached to take the computer off its pedestal and put it on a nearby counter. "Well, I'd certainly like to take a look at it first," I said, lowering the immense screen to its latched position.


The salesman moved the screen away from my hand. "Doesn't that hinge have a great feel to it?"


"Can't tell. Let me take a look, will you?" I pressed the power switch a couple of times. Nothing. I latched the screen and picked up the unit and turned it over, finding that there was no battery installed. It was impossible to tell the unit's true weight, or what the screen looked like in action, two important points for a machine that makes a big deal out of its portablility and screen real estate. I did notice that the closed lid did not meet the bottom of the unit uniformly across the width of the unit.


"So would you like one?" the salesman asked again.


"Are they in stock?"


"Yes they are. I'd be happy to put you on the list."


"So they're not in stock."


"Yes they are. We have a list of 300 people waiting to get theirs."


"There's a waiting list? So they aren't in stock."


"Yes, they're in stock," he said. "But they go out to people who have already ordered them."


"Oh. How long would I have to wait before I can come get my 'in stock' laptop?"


He shrugged. "No way of telling. Probably a couple or three weeks."


At Apple, "in stock" does not appear to mean Give Us Money And We Give You Goods. I kind of wonder what "in stock" means to the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs...


 


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March 27, 2003

Victory! Now, On To Maury!

Ed points out the following at the Borowitz Report:



 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon today that the U.S. has succeeded in removing Connie Chung from the airwaves, a primary objective of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

ãTo those critics who would say that this campaign isnât moving quickly enough, let me say this: itâs only been a week and weâve already gotten Connie Chungâs show cancelled,ä Rumsfeld said. ãGoodness gracious, Iâd say weâre on track.ä


 


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The Aerial War

When the World Trade Center was destroyed, so was New York's main broadcast antenna. (In fact, six broadcast techs died in the collapse.) Ever since, people have been looking for a new place to build a mast.


The NYDailyNews reports today that Univision is close to a deal to occupy a new antenna atop 4 Times Square, the Conde Nast building, at Broadway and 42nd Street. It would reach 1,142 feet above street level and be the first new antenna in midtown since the Empire State's antenna went up in 1938. (Yes, the antenna was added several years after the building was finished; before that, it was a dirigible mooring dock. Watch the end of 1933's King Kong if you think I'm kidding.)


Other broadcasters want to put a 2,000-foot tower on Governor's Island, perfectly situated in New York Harbor, but the city is saying No. The group is instead looking at a site in Bayonne, N.J. And the 1,776-foot spire in the plans for the new Trade Center won't be built for another decade, in all probability.


 


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Is This Ominous?

I was just looking at the logs for this web site, and noticed asomething interesting. Someone from within the "af.mil" domain -- that's the US Air Force -- peeked in not long ago as a result of an MSN search. Our seeker had entered a search for the string "pictures of Bagdhad."


With that misspelling, there's just one result on the entire Internet. I've fixed the typo, but the question remains: why is some flyboy cruising the Net for pix of Baghdad? Isn't that what the CIA is for?


 


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March 31, 2003

Bomb Scare and Evacuation

I live on a mostly residential block on the neighborhood's main commercial street. My building is nearly at the end of the street that runs into the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which overlooks lower Manhattan.


A couple of years ago, a bomb went off in the building two doors down. It was built and set off by a former building superintendent who had a romantic thing for one of the residents, who had that day graduated from the Police Academy (and whose husband was and is now the super).


At 10:30am, my babysitter called, saying she couldn't get past the barricade at the corner. Say what? I told her to grab a cup of coffee at the Starbucks on the next blook, put on some shoes, grabbed my keys, and stepped out the front door. I saw barricades at both ends of the block. A cop across the street yelled at me to get back inside; they thought there was a bomb in a car parked in front of the building two doors down.


After a half hour or so, she called again asking if I knew anything else. I went outside the apartment door and ran into some neighbors and their kids. They said a plainclothes cop had come to their door and told them to evacuate. I collared a cop on the street and asked what the deal was; he said the suspected bomb wasn't in front of the neighboring building but was more or less across the street and maybe five car lengths to the left in a Fire Zone at the corner. Someone saw a gun and some PVC pipes with wires sticking out of them, and he said it'd be a good idea to scram.


I called my wife, called the babysitter to tell her I'd be out shortly, and started packing. Woke the kids, changed and dressed them. Grabbed some food for them, tossed them in the stroller, and scrammed. During all this, I heard a large-ish crash out in the street, but I didn't see anything odd out the window.


The street was pretty empty; I'd been counting on there being a cop to direct me. I headed away from where I'd been told the suspected bomb was (a good idea, it seemed to me). At the next corner, behind the barricade I saw some guys in uniform gesturing, but it was really too far to see what the gesture was. One uniform started toward me, and we met up two doors down -- in front of the apartment building where I'd first been told the device was.


The cop -- wearing an Inspector's badge (Inspector is a *very* high rank in the NYPD; they command precincts and higher) suggested that I get into that building before something untoward happened. I said a task force sergeant had told me to leave my building, and he said he thought that had not been an excellent suggestion. So there I was, in the lobby of a building not my own with my twins. Indeed, I should have stayed put.


The suspected explosive was in a car owned by the super of the building I'd taken refuge in, the one where the bomb went off two years ago. The car was parked in a fire zone roughly 50 feet from my front window.


Over the next hour or so, several other strays came by, unaware of what was happening and similarly brought off the street by Inspector O'Brien. Turns out that O'Brien is the Brooklyn commander of the Counter Terrorism Task Force. Nice guy. The radiation detector on his belt kept going off, but he says all kinds of things do that, including the bricks in a lot of buildings.


The loud crash I heard was the bomb squad busting into the car. A similar explosion a little later was the same. I'd hate to have to explain it to the car insurance people.


Eventually, the Bomb Squad got the thing out of the car -- it was five 18-inch lengths of PVC pipe filled with gasoline and drywall nails, with wires running in (no detonator, no means for detonation) -- and they let people who were on the block either get off the block or go home. Pedestrians were allowed back at about 3p, but the block wasn't opened for cars until after sundown.


Here's how the NYDailyNews, the NYPost, and the NYTimes covered it. Read carefully, and you'll see some provocative details. One thing not brought out especially well: the 911 calls came from pay phones roughly a half-mile from the car; there's a working phone literally across the street from where the car was parked.


So how was your Monday?


 


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About March 2003

This page contains all entries posted to Over the Edge in March 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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