Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

He talks!

October 27th, 2013

I have a little less excuse to hide inside my moderate introversion. Yes, I do host a weekly podcast, a.k.a. an internet radio show. Yes, my yellow glasses say, “Look at me.” Yet, public speaking has never been my love or forte. I remain nervous and avoid it.

Somehow while attending my fourth or fifth BarCamp Boston, I did it yesterday. I went ahead and populated a Post-it with a topic I thought I could wing. I also figured maybe a few folk would attend.

For the gregarious and Toastmaster sorts, that is nothing. For us publicly shy types, it’s a big deal. When I went back to school to add a management degree, I found how stunted I was here. While I went to J-school, worked newspapers and magazines for decades, interviewed big shots and small, and represented my department in group meetings, there were safeguards. I had a notepad or PowerPoint to hide behind, to distract. Also, I was not the focus of attention.

bcbtest

The way these self-suggested sessions work is the crowd mills around those stuck in the WOULD YOU ATTEND? grid. Those that get four or more checkmarks are OK. The suggester is supposed to move it to an open block on the schedule board for a room and time.

Most presenters planned their sessions well in advance. Many created laptop presentations and provided lots of visuals and in some cases audio.

I think of Steve Garfield (pic below). He presented on Storify.

His session was brilliant, professional and accessible. He’d taken a few snaps with his smartphone that morning, posted some tweets and Instagrams and was ready to teach. He plugged his laptop into the overhead connection and created a Storify post in real time. He searched for and pulled in his elements, text, pix, Vine vids and such from various social-media sites. He saved to Storify and embedded it in several of his other sites.

It was a great show and I was one of those who had vaguely thought about using that site. I shall now. That what BarCamp should do.

storifysg

In a pale contrast, I was now thinking after Steve’s presentation that I should go back to the WOULD YOU ATTEND? block and remove my Post-it. When I arrived, I had five checks and felt committed. Scary stuff for an introvert.

I sat at lunch and was not sociable much to the rest of the folk. I sketched my session ideas on four index cards. I wanted to speak to such things as:

  • recap of my background, why I am at all qualified
  • traits of bad online manuals and help systems
  • two kinds of tech writers (the majority being literal sorts incapable of thinking like naive users)
  • elements of good docs
  • down-and-dirty usabilty

I fretted and even thought of removing my Post-it from the block where I’d stuck it — Mattapan Room, 155 at 2:40 pm. By then though, I figured I’d goof up, no one would show, people who drift out during, or just maybe it would be OK even without visuals and prep.

It was the latter. About 20 folk came in and nearly all stayed. I had the good fortune to have three who were interactive, commenting and questioning.

At the end, They applauded. I confessed my introversion. One of the active participants said if I hadn’t told them, they wouldn’t have known.

I’ll never be as smooth as Steve. Yet, I think I might do this again. I have to year to come up with a topic and then produce a show. Even a shy guy should be able to do that.

Thumb-thing Silly

October 7th, 2013

What this neat pop-science Boston Globe article does not address is why so many of us believe, no, know, that we are splendid multitaskers. If we were anywhere as bright and observant as we pretend, we’d see frightening reflections galore that suggest otherwise.walking thumb

Adults, teens, even wee ones stumble and career into shelves, each other, closed doors and worse while punching into a (insert irony symbol, traditionally ironymark) smartphone. More poignantly than the clown bumps and pratfalls, one aspect of device-distracted humans is texting while driving, too often, killing while doing so.

The article does deal extensively with another key aspect, how iPhones and their like are great programming tools. That is, they program their ostensible owners. In fact, they are the owner in the relationship.

I’ve dealt with and even obsessed on the whole mess here numerous times. Samples are in links to posts using multitask.

A current cliché is how smart the millennials and young folk are. Aren’t they masters of technology?

That would be a resounding, “No!” for them as a group. In fact knowing how to use the icons, menus and keys on a cellphone, being comfortable with numerous social-media and their keywords, do not translate into broader intelligence or even technology skills. Instead, as many of us note, we as a populace are being dumbed down, just as we are increasingly under the control of our devices.

By cracky, Mable, it isn’t just the kids either. In a supermarket, on the street and well, everywhere, the seemingly ubiquitous Androids, iPhones and such make humans hop. 60-year-olds as well as middle-schoolers largely cannot control themselves when their device tones or jiggles. They, the nominal owners, are dancing to the notes.

A few years ago, Boomer and older folk lamented the rudeness of folk putting their phones on the restaurant table, constantly scanning them, and unhesitatingly answering them should they command so. Of course that’s ill mannered and speaks poorly of whoever raised them. And, an alter kaker like I am tells people not to bring their phone out. I, perhaps self-righteously, tell them that in my house, if we’re having a family dinner when a cell or other phone rings, that call just goes to voice. We’re busy and in the moment.

Still, for all those people who believe they are smart enough to multitask, I wish awareness. When they respond like birds or other lower animals conditioned to push a button for food or perform some other stupid pet trick, will they please see that? Will they get a grip and realize they are in thrall to their $500 gadget?

My hope would be if a 17-year-old gains that level of awareness, it would be a teachable moment. Each enlightened lad or lass would show peers how to be in charge of the device, instead of the other way around.

That smarter lifestyle might even spread to their parents and grandparents. Honestly, humans can decide what’s really urgent.

 

Globe: Subscribe? Play our game!

August 12th, 2013

 

globA half hour plus with two subscription pros at the Boston Globe today brought home what a niggling, nettling surprise awaits new owner John Henry.

He’s a rich guy, principal owner of the Red Sox, builder of a grotesque, gauche, turreted mansion in Brookline, and bargain hunter. He’ll plunk down $70 million in cash for the paper, it’s online goodies and such.  In 1993, the New York Times paid $1.1 billion for the package.

He says he wants to keep newspapers vibrant in Boston. Here’s hoping he cleans house on customer service and subscriber interfaces. That’s something a rich guy’s minions should be able to do.

Simple made hard

I’ve been a technical communicator for decades, helped design user interfaces, and done usability testing for software, PDF files, websites and help systems. The Globe‘s subscription interfaces — human as well as digital — flunk.

A recap of recent interactions includes:

  • We were out of state for a couple of weeks and apparently I missed a previous bill.
  • Right before we left, I got a bill a couple of days after the home delivery stopped.
  • We got a bill right before we left. While it wasn’t at all easy to find the subscription options and current prices on the twisted website, I did notice that there was a senior rate. I had just entered that group and thought, “Swell, I’ll re-up at a lower rate.”
  • Not so fast. After going all over the site, I saw that this required copying a birth certificate or license and mailing it with a stamp.
  • When we returned, a subscription minion called to say they had gotten my senior paperwork, but would hold it until it cleared the check I told them I’d sent at the same time for delivery through 7/21.
  • We headed off for a week at the Cape with friends. The jolly sub lady said we’d talk again when I returned about starting again at the lower rate. I asked if I could return to paying annually as I had before. She said sure and there’d be a discount for doing so. She noted that while the NY Times continued to suck money from a credit card, her paper had stopped doing so because a card had expired, but they didn’t contact me for the new expiration date. Huh? Doesn’t everyone from ISPs to papers do that when there’s an expiry issue? Apparently not this one boner paper.
  • While we were gone, delivery restarted regardless of what jolly sub lady said.
  • In the mail pile when we returned was a Globe bill. It was for a full month in advance, at the regular, not senior, price, plus and inexplicable $29.64 for service “from 08/05/2013 to 8/04/2013″ which makes my head hurt to wonder how even an accounting program could generate that.
  • So today, I called. Sigh.
  • The first rep had a (not her fault of course) heavy subcontinent accent and was fairly unintelligible. More important, she couldn’t answer my queries or fix the problems.  Those would include, why did delivery restart when I had an agreement with subscriptions to wait until I returned; what the devil was $29.64 for an irrational billing period when we got no papers, retroactively or forward; if I’d been approved for the discounted rate, why was the bill for the standard; if I pay for a whole year, do I get a discount on top of my discount.
  • Instead, she tried to shut me up with a 12-week, new-subscriber rate. Nah.
  • Eventually, she switched me to another hold queue, this time for a subscriber advocate.
  • At this higher level, Walter was at first overwhelmed by the complexity of what his company had wrought. To his credit he persevered and nibbled away at each problem until he squashed them…all but my mentions of the utter lameness of the subscription site, both for potential subscribers and existing ones.
  • The short of it is that 1) he took off the absurd $29.64. 2) dropped the regular sub to the senior (not all that much of a discount, at $10.99 a week from $13.99 a week), 3) found there is no compounding of discounts, that it’s either senior, educational, or annual payment, 4) calculated a few ways to find that paying monthly by senior is cheaper than anything else, even annual, and 5) explained that when the Globe stops a sub on its end, it automatically restarts delivery immediately on payment and at the former rate, regardless of any commitment from even the sub folk.

Do you really want readers?

I’ll watch to see whether Henry wants subscribers. If so, he should sit on the site and try sub folk by phone. Bonk.

After my tedious but still relatively pleasant time with Walter, I checked the Globe site sub area again. Yep. It’s terrible.

Being fairly anal retentive as most tech communicators are, I also went to the NY Times, Boston Herald and Worcester Telegram versions. Each is a little sneaky. The Globe obfuscates to the point of fraud; it shows the least and demands the most to get even to the point of knowing what the cost and options are.

All of them follow the pattern of asking for your Zip Code to see whether they deliver in your area and to present an offer. That’s reasonable, but the marketing scams that accompany the following pages are sneaky and the worst among them for the Globe.

One might think that regs, particularly in a commonwealth with a strong attorney general, would mean pricing for a contract purchase would have to obvious, clear and understandable. Instead, the deal is, in this paper’s case, not to state on the signup page or in the FAQ, what the weekly, monthly or yearly rates are, nor any options, nor any discount programs, nor what the regular rates are after the teaser offer.

Instead, the Globe site presents three radio buttons, one each for:

  • 7-day delivery for only $6.99/week for the first 12 weeks
  • Thursday through Sunday for only $4.00/week for the first 12 weeks
  • Sunday delivery for only $1.99/week for the first 12 weeks

You can’t proceed until you fill in your vitals and commit to one of those three, and either asked to be billed or entered credit card info for immediate payment. Up in the right corner is a discreet button reading, INTRO OFFER 50% OFF. You can extrapolate that after your 12 weeks, the price doubles, but absolutely nowhere does it say that. Nor does it read whether that doubled price is ongoing or subject to change.

I’m sure all this is totally illegal.

The other papers’ sites are better. They tend to offer discounts for delivery for specified times, but they are clear about what the ongoing cost will be.

Henry’s challenge

Taking Henry at his word, that he wants the paper to survive and flourish as a newspaper, let’s assume he wants readers and subscribers. If so, his folk have a plain usability challenge or rather set of challenges. Specifically:

  • Put subscriptions prominently on all the site pages
  • Create both a FAQ and sub overview that lists the sub options and prices
  • ID potential customer issues and train sub support on them
  • Sweeten discounts and other incentives to get and retain long-term, recurring subscribers
  • Enable communicate across all areas that make subscription commitments and billing

None of those is hard. I’ve managed all those areas. Yet, the first and most important aspects are, first a commitment to customers, and second having employees who can think like customers. The second requires greater intelligence and sensitivity than most executives have. They can learn.

 

Fiercebook strikes

July 30th, 2013

turtlefaceLaddies and germs, Facebook bloats like a dead animal in the sun, bigger and more intense daily. Yet, if my chums are any measure, some demographics have run in terror or trepidation.

I thought it was silly. In many ways, I’m still right. Back when I first looked at FB, ain’t-my-kitten and ain’t-my-kid and ain’t-girlfriend cute pix ruled. Double bleech.

I avoided it until my wife went canoeing with other aged Girl Scouts to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.There, the daughter of one of these former Brownie chums led extended paddling/camping expos. When she returned, she announced that the only place the commentary and images of the trip appeared and would ever appear would be on Facebook.

Thence I joined and have remained…for the past six years.

Truth be told, I don’t and never have stalked or even checked up on former girlfriends or more intimate sorts. Yet, I do post my photos. I do keep tabs with a few former HS and college classmates. I do get updated by and update various relatives and friends. I have many political acquaintances on my friends lists. I plug into events, restaurants, bars and such. FB has become a casual, occasional part of life that takes from a few minutes to a half hour a day for myriad info exchanges.

Lately though, there’s been a bifurcation among my chums, like my drinking buddies. Several have announced, always self-righteously, that they closed out their FB accounts. One is an efficient sort, shifting to a new line of service business. He has fair reasoning that he was spending too much time on FB, got most of what he needed professionally from Linked In, and did a cost/benefit analysis. In truth, what I actually heard was that he lacked self-control and didn’t manage his FB interactions well. Moreover, in his new service biz, he’ll likely regret missing out on customers who expect to find him on FB.

Another is more typical, the turtle sort. He’s a fair Luddite, always convinced that with a moment’s inattention, the latest virus or malware will eat up his hard drive. FB is just another risk, like the easy, pretty girl in high school everyone suspected of carrying VD.

fiercebook

To these two and many I know or know of like them, Facebook has become FierceBook. There’s something not quite right, something risky, something d-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s about it.

An even odder aspect is that several of the guys hear others of us talking about trips, pictures, blog posts and other personal info we’d shared and enjoyed online. Even hearing about such splendid moments, they remain in their anti-FB shells.

I’m not the best self-promoter around, far from it in fact. I have a couple of good friends, one an artist and the other a musician, who share the so-so marketing bent. We could all do far, far better at pitching our wares. FB is just one of those places to do that.

I think of my friend Steve Garfield, a paragon and god on FB, twitter and his own site.  He understands how to use them all. His social media work for him, not the other way around.

I guess it’s not too surprising to hear of Boomers tucking back in their shells, increasingly convinced that something terrible will befall them on the scary internet.

Yet, many of my chums stay on and actively contribute to FB, twitter and their own blogs.

I draw my personal line at texting. I consider that lowbrow and simpleminded. I fall into tweets when I want it down and dirty. I see texting as for the immature and still impulsive.

Perhaps there’s a spectrum of social media if my thoughts and feelings hold. I am only surprised at how many I know who fear FB.

 

32 Volume Collector’s Item

March 14th, 2012

“Look it up,” may have been the most common reply to me growing up. When I was very young, my knowledgeable mother would provide answers to my ceaseless questions. In early elementary school though, she used that phrase…and that’s what I did.

She was not being selfish with her smarts nor unreasonable in that demand. She had multiple reference books, which she used often. Those included atlases half my height, a massive, 2-volume unabridged dictionary, three full sets of encyclopedia (American, Compton’s and Britannica, with update volumes), the annual almanac/book of facts (in hardcover because she and I really worked that one), and on and on.

Today I saw that Britannica is going the expedient way and announcing its final print edition. It sells through DVDs and online access in several versions. The library format is passé.

For many years, I have been amused by and come to expect incredulous queries from cosseted Ivy Leaguers who remark on my general and specific knowledge. I worked with one at Inc. Magazine a long time ago who showed that at its worst. Several times, he’d come out with the likes of, “Ball, you went to a shitty school. How come you know so much?”

The answer in many ways goes back to my mother’s look-it-up chant. The other parts include that I did look it up, that I had a better brain than my coworker, that I enjoyed school and thus paid attention in class, that I took good courses, and that I read for pleasure. Neither his Harvard nor Columbia degree made up for his insufficiencies in those many areas.

Now though there’s a different chant — “Google it.”

Sure enough, there is much more information, both fact and opinion available on the net. Is that the same? Likewise, willstudents go to the school or public library for detailed information?

Speaking to teens, 20-somethings and many older folk, I doubt it. Finding something to cut and paste, something that provides the sketch is better than being totally ignorant. Yet, so many people seem stunted by this kind of learning.

When I had either of two adult encyclopedia (having outgrown Compton’s) open, I read far beyond the catalytic topic. I’d find more just begging me to learn about it. Then, again, I’d browse the unabridged dictionary recreationally….

I’m a huge internet-for-reference user. We also have the types of tools I grew up with, including both Britannica hard cover and DVD versions and the OED.

My sons were not as eager to look it up as I was or am. I do admit that I’m a bit odd that way. They still have benefited mightily from the references we have. They’re even wont to get out our field guides to fungi or birds for identification issue. I’m pretty sure most non-paper researchers don’t bother.

That, after all was the point in my upbringing. If you are curious and you know the answer is in one of the numerous family bookcases, you may very well look it up.

Oh, Yeah, Bloggers. Why Not?

March 2nd, 2012

Creeping bloggerism continues. Here in MA, the Grand Poobahs of justice, a.k.a. the Supreme Judicial Court, ruled on their rules today to bring citizen journalists into their news media fold.

To most, that is between small and nothing. To internet writers, it’s hot stuff.

Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin was quietly, politely, as is his wont, in the scrum from the beginning. He was quick to note that he helped draft the update, upgrade to SJC rule 1:19. As innocuous as it might seem, the change by the whole SJC brought the body into this century. This likely will lead other sleepy atavistic judges in other MA courts to attention. Oh, they will think, the SJC says bloggers are journalists. How about that?

The salient point in the rule ruling is the new definition:

The “news media” shall include any authorized representative of a news organization that has registered with the Public Information Officer of the Supreme Judicial Court or any individual who is so registered. Registration shall be afforded to organizations that regularly gather, prepare, photograph, record, write, edit, report or publish news or information about maters of public interest for dissemination to the public in any medium, whether print or electronic, and to individuals who regularly perform a similar function upon certification by the organizations or individuals that they perform such a role and that they will familiarize themselves or their representatives, as the case may be with the provisions of this rule and will comply with them. 

Sure, blah, blah and sure, the Poobah proprietary continues — no stealth recording or photography, advance permission from the PIO and judge and so forth. Yet, it’s a welcome and overdue change.

I think of a certain MA Governor, a Deval Patrick, who five years ago to the month dubbed bloggers press. He held a town meeting at Boston Latin School, replete with the likes of Mayor Tom Menino speaking before him. Then he squirreled up in room 023 of the basement with a few dozen of us reportorial bloggy types. He held a full press conference, yes, press conference. He had use netroots and new media to get elected and had not forgotten.

He continued and keeps involving us in his media communication. He’s come on Left Ahead several times. In short, he acknowledged from the beginning of his first campaign that bloggers could be news media if they reported and analyzed.

Such is pragmatism and realism.

In contrast, I think of the treatment by more traditional media even recently. Many seem to resent bloggers in puerile and competitive ways. They should mature a bit.

Locally, the likes of the Boston Globe rarely mention a blog’s name, even as they quote them without attribution. (Video god Steve Garfield has been splendid in calling the Morrissey mob on that.) In my own petty concerns, I think lately of BUR’s Bianca Vasquez Toness using me, quoting me for a piece on Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley…without citing my blogs or podcast. She had been reading my stuff, but defined me as “a political blogger in Hyde Park.” Try to imagine how BUR or NPR would react to their material being quoted with the only reference being to “a  college radio station in Boston.”

Likewise and worse, during the prolonged frenzy about US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren and me bantering about right wingers calling her a hick for being from OK and an elitist for teaching at Harvard Law, most newsy types avoided attribution. Some cited Left Ahead, but not by URL. There was nationwide (and beyond) coverage but none of the major media provided the professional courtesy of linking to the source. Even in multiple Youtube excepts of Warren and me, they treated the clips like their own material.

As an amusing aside, my wife laughed at ABC News’ typo in its coverage, where “Host Mike Ball” was rendered at “Hot Mike Ball.” She may be one of the few in the world who agrees with the error, but many other outlets repeated the typo though cutting and pasting. So for a couple of days, I was hot.

I feel newsy as a blogger for having come out of journalism school, working in high-school and college papers, before daily and weekly newspaper jobs and on to magazine writing. I quote sources. Whenever possible, my newsy blog posts include links as well as identification for those cited.

There’s no reason beyond childish competitiveness and bad training that MSM folk can’t, won’t or don’t credit bloggers and podcasters.

When we have an elected official, candidate for office or any expert on the Left Ahead show or as part of a post, if it’s good enough to quote, we should be good enough to cite. I’ve heard my stuff quoted locally as well as on the networks. The likes of GBH’s Emily Rooney treat that material like it’s theirs, public domain or maybe original.

I can’t control that kind of abuse. However, in the future when Vasquez Toness or other newshounds sniff around, I’m making it plain. the SJC acknowledges that bloggers and our ilk can be news media. I expect the professional courtesy that I extend to them. If they quote me, any of my blog posts or any of my podcasts, I require a full citation with a URL. If their J-school profs, editors or program directors or their mammas for that matter didn’t teach them that, I can provide that service.


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Well, Obviously, Harrumph! is Back

February 28th, 2012

GDlogoHair on fire. Apology on tap.

After five days, this blog is back up. I regret all who got database connection errors in that period. I did too. Most hits here come from Google and other search engine operations. So, if you were clicking around for something, I hope you found it elsewhere.

Logo note: The problems and solution came from GoDaddy. I claim fair use of its surely copyrighted and/or trademarked logo.

For the curious, the outage came in a server migration. I’ll be upgrading WordPress now. I could not before for some convoluted set of reasons whereby my old GD servers could not upgrade to the MySQL versions that WP and other modern apps require.

After telling me on and on for two years they couldn’t help unless I closed the account and reopened it, they announced thaty they could when I called again last week. Yet, it did require new technologies on new servers, saving off everything, shutting it down, and waiting up to four days for the GD IT fairies to work their magic.

I was away for the weekend, so that seemed OK. Yet it turned out that wasn’t quite the case. All of the GD tech are pleasant and most know a lot. It was the small seams that caused the garment to come apart.

After GD saved the DB with five years of blog content, a tech directed me to copy the whole server content to my HD…just in case. He assured me that almost certainly, the automated migration would restore the works. I just had to call in a day to put in the order for the new 4GH server transfer.

I did call in, only to hear, curiously, that the order was in and in a couple of days, all would be as it was on the new technology. As these things tend to go, that didn’t happen. I returned to see messages by URL that there was no database connection or by IP addresss to the new server that there was no database at all.

Turns out, the latter was correct. The third nice tech apparently does this transfer regularly. She told me correctly that I needed to follow three separate intricate, but well documented procedures, which she sent me by email. I had to create, restore and configure the DB manually with GD tools online. Where were my fairies?

This was the proverbial blind men and elephant in that each tech was savvy about parts of it. I didn’t get the big picture and real set of procedures until the third tech.

Far, far worse things happen in the computer and internet worlds.

Whitney Whitewash

February 22nd, 2012

No escape hatch to hide from Whitney Houston’s corpse and claque… We were positively British in our ghoulish celebrity tracking of her death, funeral and alleged celebrations of her life and career.

Honest to God, what was the live stream of her service on the net and TV?!

Yeah, yeah, there were time when she was a very good singer and times when she was great. She had long and publicly ruined all but the remaining recordings and archives shows. Say it with me, she was addicted to alcohol and other drugs, she lived the self-indulgent melodrama of the very wealthy and famous. Few anywhere have noted that many ordinary folk are likewise swirling the drain.

A fairer view of her decline and demise comes from Maer Roshan. His piece on her addictions and fatal spiral down appeared in The Fix and replayed in Salon. The tens of thousands, likely millions, of words and glam pix of Houston were largely devoid of the real and powerful message of her addictive mind and actions. Talk about teachable moments ignored!

Among his salient observations, Roshan wrote:

Even though decades of research proves addiction is a condition with complicated genetic and chemical roots, far too many journalists continue to see it as a sort of moral weakness. Their failure to actively report on the issue represents both a lack of initiative and funding. After all, covering Whitney’s last moments is a lot easier (and less expensive) than going up against the wrath of formidable lawyers and lobbyists employed by corrupt pharmaceutical behemoths. It’s also a lot more comfortable than venturing into the ravaged small towns of Iowa and Montana to witness firsthand the devastation wrought by poverty and crystal meth.

He notes the reasonable estimate of 22 million addicted Americans. Sure, everyone who dies youngish is a sad story. Sure, we overly identify with good looking celebs. Sure, de mortuis nil nisi bonum. Yet rather than attending the prolonged play at the Theatre of the Magnificent Dead, we could dig into how someone with so much and so many advantages could succumb. There are lessons and possible prevention for us lesser mortals.

Dreck Rolling Downhill

December 29th, 2011

In this season of annual-updated, photo-illustrated family letters, let us praise the continuing migration of the most relentless of beasts — the cute and personal LITE. Many under 30 escaped some migratory stages, but the herd of pseudo-candid will continue to seek new homes.

Today, I came across a witty and insightful “Oh No! Blogging is REALLY, REALLY dead this time!!!!!! : D ” post on gapingvoid.com.  To my point, it includes:

We for­get JUST how utterly time-consuming blog­ging used to be, back when it was the only game in town. I remem­ber the early blog­ging days, don’t you? Remem­ber how kee­ping up with the blo­gosphere pro­perly took ten hours a day? Nowa­days, the only peo­ple who are left blog­ging are the peo­ple who REALLY want to, who ACTUALLY have something to say. Ever­yone else is uploa­ding cat pho­tos on Face­book. I think this is a good thing.

Yes, mimeographed (look it up) annual holiday letters preceded photocopied ones. They came before the dreaded desktop publishing (young’uns may need to look that up as well).

DTP all too clearly proved the poverty of the typical intellect, imagination and artistry. Putting layout, illustration and typography options at the disposal of the masses produced millions of newsletters and personal epistles in what is known derisively in journalism circles as circus layout (alluding to Ringling Bros. posters). It seems everyone felt their most trivial thoughts were brilliant and worthy of circulation when there was enough variations on fonts and type sizes. How could everyone else not realized how handsome and clever were their children, pets, houses, and on and on?

Along came the World Wide Web, which most folk use synonymously with the internet. A decade latter, it was blogs. They were the new habitat of the cute and cluttered herd.

Along came variations and most notably Facebook, as gapingvoid’s Huge MacLeod noted. There’s a home for all-too-easy display of cute kids and kittens, leading to a herd migration from blogs. Now those who need to show their beloved beings, or every meal they eat (seemingly in purple and black tones of unappetizing low quality), do so nearly instantaneously on FB.

Certainly a very positive outcome of this migration is that finding and keeping up with relevant and meaningful blogs has gotten easier. Many of the regularly updated ones are far more likely to feature news and views, and not furry, drooling or pasted-smile loved ones.

All hail the migration!

Pushing Our Buttons

October 18th, 2011

Ah, them technologies. They are so tricksy.

Of course, I saw the viral vid of the 1-year-old tot frustrated by a Marie Claire maggy that didn’t swipe or flip like an iPad app.

By the bye, Marie Claire does have an iPad app. Would be the fun in trying to ridicule a pre-speaker gawking at sexy models in fancy clothes on screen?

Just a couple days ago, the FT’s Lucy Kellaway included lessons learned from the Blackberry blackout. One was the those in real power positions were the least concerned, while their minions stabbed and stared at unresponsive keypads and screenlets. Among her possible explanations for this inverse power/anxiety relationship were

  • (T)he more important you are the more you can afford to ignore other people’s emails. If there is something that you really have to know about, someone will track you down and let you know.
  • More likely though, if you are the sort of person endlessly looking at stupid messages on a small screen, you aren’t the sort of person to get to the top anyway.

There’s confluence. Both taut tot and meeting minions have been successfully programmed.

Among the many online reactions to the little one trying to swipe magazine pages, two typical comments appear. One is that this child fits perfectly in a digital world where old technologies are irrelevant. The other is how lame the parents are who don’t teach the kid the range of the available, like reading to her.

That as well as Kellaway’s observations both illustrate a nefarious affect of human brains. Truth be told, we are animals who are easily trained. We can fight against and even have a measure of power over that pathetic trait, but it’s hard.

Observe just how we deal with phones, old or new style. One rings, buzzes or gets musical and we respond. In the car, on the street, in a restaurant or at home, we think we are communicating, in fact that we must do so. Everywhere around you, glance to see how simultaneously absurd and amusing this is. People walking abreast, each talking to someone else. A parent chatting or texting while pushing a stroller, oblivious to both their miniature person and their environment. Someone ignores the person across the table or even in the bed to text or talk. A mall shopper walks into someone else or a post while describing what’s going to be for lunch.

As impossible as it seems to us, we can only control that training if we first look at the context and content. As difficult as it may be for our conditioned egos, if we examine a day or even an hour of phone, email and text messages, we’d have to admit they are junk, stupid junk. We are spending the only lives we get responding as instantly as possible to nothing in particular.

Here, even with two youths in the house, we have beaten that particular problem. For example, we have dinner together. If the land-line-like cable phone or a cell rings during the family meal, it rings to completion. Except years ago when I knew my distant mother was very ill, I would never interrupt the important for the surely trivial. The mantra is that IT CAN WAIT.

Yet, I know I have been programmed in many other ways. There’s that insidious mouse for a big one.

rotaryI was a computer user when that mean using an intermediary. There was data, usually stored on paper tape. You’d go to a programmer, almost invariable a middle-aged man. He’d type commands to produce a deck of punch cards or revised tape, which you fed into a computer for calculations or other results. I developed and ran the nationwide directory of construction equipment, manufacturers and dealers like that.

When I got my first personal computer in 1980, it required programming just to use the dedicated keypad for either word processing or numerical functions. There was no mouse, no GUI, and no World Wide Web — the internet as we know it. In the next decade plus, accessing data, graphics, and other humans on the net meant typing precise commands onto a dotted white on some dull color.

That was not better than colors, high-pixel-count images, and graphical interfaces. It was often faster though. Those much less capable PCs booted for use in a couple of seconds, a trait only tablets and the most advanced ones are just beginning to do now. A command-line interface was and remains vastly faster than mousing or even fingering around a page or displaying a keyboard that does not allow touch typing.

So, the mouse has gotten me and I know it. Pre-GUI, I used the kick-ass word processor XyWrite. Even with pull-down menus and such later, I worked for many years as a technical writer with FrameMaker as my text and layout platform. Both hummed with commands and keyboard shortcuts. There’s no way a sad little mouse user could begin to locate, open and climb down to the right spot in a menu before the shortcut person was four operations ahead.

Therein lies that intersection and the paths to the future. Those with flexible tools and those who understand how to get the power out of them have great advantages. Those who let themselves take the easiest path of being programmed by their technologies are like H.G.Wells’ gentle Eloi, They are subject to the realities of their devices and helpless in the larger world.

Honest to God, saying, “I wasn’t even born then,” is the hallmark of the ignorant and ineffectual. We needn’t all know how to drive a team of oxen, but our world is full of technologies from many ages. Not knowing how to read the still common analog clocks is neither cute nor a mark of a futurist. Nor is not being able to read and write cursive.

Delusion that only the most advanced technologies are necessary in this whiz-bang modern world is itself programming, programming for failure. The minds of even the most programmed of us can understand how things work and can draw on the devices of the last century and even before. There’s room enough in our brains for more than pop things and culture.

Those with broad general knowledge and diverse skills have great advantages. We drastically shortchange our abilities if we hold something and say, “This is all I need to know.”