Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

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.”

FB TMI

September 23rd, 2011

As a chum posted on FB, “If I want strangers to read the story of my life, I’ll write a fricken autobiography.”

That should be the road sign marking the bifurcation of Facebook. As in yesterday’s rant about the most recent blunders of pop companies, I remain astonished at the paternalism or we-know-best-ism of those companies.

At it’s f8 event (chronicled in tedious detail in the FT), the big honking chief FACES, like founder Mark Zuckerberg, intend to crush competition with technology and cachet. The ALL NEW IMPROVED version has an annoying constantly updating news feed sub-window, but really one thrust in two features.fk

First, there’s more media, either to ingest or to regurgitate. More videos, more pictures, for you, from you, from Friends. OK, for the target audience that’s smart enough. FB users have largely come up reading little. They are the 21st Century equivalent of tabloid customers — why read, when you can get a flavor of something by looking at a picture? It may be a small-brain marketing ploy, but it is timely and profitable.

Second is that timeline. The FACES at the announcement can’t withhold their joy at their cleverness here. They are enabling a logorrheic (small and few words, but in many, many places though) display of personal trivia. Each FB account can be self-absorbed in a way few have seen outside mental institutions.

Those who think the foursquare (a.k.a. rob-me-now) application is egotistic and inane may have palpitations now. FB is automating this self-absorption, which seems for the moment largely limited to the 20 something and 30 something users. For a long time (in net speak), you could bore people with personal trivia, but you had to do it piecemeal. On FB or Twitter or Tumblr or foursquare and a few others, you could put in:

  • Where you were headed
  • Where you arrived
  • Whom you were with
  • What you ordered
  • What you ate
  • What movie you saw
  • And on and on and on

This level of detailed sharing supposedly is gregarious. It supposedly influences others. It supposedly is avant-garde. It is certainly increasingly popular. The new FB timeline jacks that up by letting you automate such inputs and lay out a garden slug like trail of all your activities.

Not too long ago, and still in some groups, folk ridiculed bloggers for the ain’t-my-kid (or kitten)-cute posts. People would photograph adored beings or every meal. Those sad little blogs would have look-at-me-and-mine content exclusively. Even close family members quickly lose patience with those.

Now it looks like FB will force a true bifurcation, largely along  generational lines. Those who believe that each act and choice is as worthy of comment as any other should love this timeline concept. Berners-Lee knows, the FACES will love it; those who leave their slug trails for all to see and follow will provide a level of salable marketing data unknown today. We may soon see, should we have the stomach for it, when people pet their cats, have their bowel movements, or choose a peach instead of apple at Whole Foods.

This is only different in degree from how most of us use cellphones. We don’t seem to realize how stupid we are and how much of our lives and thoughts we waste by constantly speaking drivel. Walk a store or mall, ride a subway, or sit in a waiting room anywhere to overhear it. She is about to go into a pizza parlor. He thought last night’s The Office sucked. Often these cell phonies walk into each other or posts, sometimes they drive that way too. Broadcasting trivia is the feel-good-right-now stupidity of the era. The FB timeline capitalizes on that emotional need brilliantly and viciously.

I suspect when this settles, user graphs will show a steep drop-off by age. Many of us don’t and won’t care about minuscule choices of others any more than the status of your FarmVille cow.

Asocial Mania

September 22nd, 2011

Thinking have I been, young Jedi, of NetFlix, FaceBook, and Google+, yes.

Perhaps the new mocumentary on them will be Clumsiness of the Geeks. Each has innovated spectacularly, innovated in figuratively spitting on and literally in pissing off customers.

Logo Note: I claim fair use for the satirical bastardizations of the accompanying art.

nfEach has recently, heavy-handedly overreached and offended large segments of their loyal bases with paternalism. As arrogant as the corporations have acted, it’s likely that the machers at each look at the other two and think how happy they are they are not as stupid. Well, they are. Each has been playing the troll under the bridge and each has been amazed when it finds that it has more bluster than savvy.

Briefly and for the worst of each:

  • NetFlix jacked prices way up, simultaneously breaking the beloved stream/mailer package.
  • FaceBook had puerile reaction (credit for quick, if stupid, moves) to Google+ innovations. Its response was to play daddy, telling the kids what games they could play, the rules, what clothes they’d wear, and how they had to arrange their desks and rooms. FB is still suddenly imposing scrolling news feeds, arbitrary lists of contacts and more, totally altering the interface and experience with neither warning nor option.
  • Google+ surely has more tricks it will spring, but the worst has been declaring that it has made a moral judgment of what users’ names can be. Even those who legally have a single name can’t use that. Nothing that smacks of what the children in charge think is a nefarious pseudonym can use its service. It is the nym edict.

Predictably people are upset. Those who dislike change are unhappy at each. Those who dislike people who dislike change are scolding like magpies at anyone who dares complain. NetFlix has lost at least 600,000 customers.

fkAmusingly enough though, management at each has maintained its arrogance. NetFlix’ CEO did kinda, sorta say sorry, in the we-did-the-right-thing-too-bad-you-don’t-like-it way. FB and Google both blow the freebie whistle — You don’t pay for the damned service. Like it or lump it.

The ties to these are:

  1. All three acted and continued to act with great arrogance and disregard for their customers
  2. Pleasing customers is easy and they have worked really, really hard to annoy and anger theirs

I came from business journalism, management, and technical writing spheres. A recurring truth set in each is that there are no secrets, no magic to pleasing customers. There are basic guidelines and rules that work though.

gpFirst and most important is to find out what your customers want. You can ask them and you may or may not get useful and insightful and applicable information. You can back that up with observations, whether it’s focus groups or usability testing or any of dozens of methods.

Where you want to arrive is the mystical, maybe mythical, state of thinking like a customer. This is where you grok your user. You know intrinsically what customers want. It’s damned hard.

Over my long technical writing career, I came to realize as a team member, a doc manager, and as head of the area technical society that the vast majority of tech writers can’t do that. They are literal, as in Emerson’s foolish consistency literal. That makes them great proofreaders and wonderful at avoiding spelling errors and inconsistencies. It makes them sucky innovators and writers.

This is why most software manuals infuriate users. The manual and particularly help (especially Microsoft products) may be complete and technically accurate, but they do not reflect human thinking or reasonable expectations. Instead as a doc manager and writer, I taught my peers and underlings to do as I did. I worked with the support staff and spoke directly to customers to learn how they used the products and what the expected problems were. When a user presses the F1 key for help in Windows, they definitely do not want to see a page about what the menu choices are. They want solutions to problems they have on that screen, GD it. What I told my direct reports is that a customer want us to make them smart, fast.

Think like a customer. Don’t use your insider knowledge to write a smug manual that restates the obvious. Likewise, make the help or manual index useful by including the concepts, not just the software-unique lingo. Think like a customer.

We can end that rant except to note that none of these three clumsy companies has been thinking like a customer. The paid company, NetFlix, figured to make more money by splitting its offerings and hiking prices for both. That was fair in a patronizing, paternalistic, capitalist sense of doing that abruptly with no warning and no option. Honk. Thanks for playing. You lose this round.

Google+ can pretend that being in an extended beta gave it some sort of immunity from customer consideration. Instead, the big shots in Mountain View come across like Puritans. They decreed that those with a single legal name are immoral and not worthy. Honk. You wear the SCHMUCK badge until further notice.

FaceBook is the less excusable. The youngsters there behave like 19th Century patriarchs. We decide what you will see, so, and say. They have gone from asocial to antisocial.

All three are allegedly technology leaders. All three are allegedly youth oriented. All three are allegedly modern companies. All three need stern lectures. They are too dumb to get it on their own.

Who Gives a Damn About Libraries?

April 16th, 2011

Even on libraries…

We can forget just how gutless Brits can be. That is my genetic and cultural heritage — deference and melancholy. I have a more personal experience with loving libraries.

To the point, about two weeks ago, an acclaimed young English author, Zadie Smith, made an emotional appeal, with intellectual undertones, on BBC 4, calling for maintaining local public libraries even with demands for austerity. I would link to her nearly five minute speech, but the Beeb has been chastened for running it without its usual snarky challenges it makes to interviewees. Instead of its typical iron maiden sort of guest torture, the Today segment let her speak and paid heavy penalties. Rather than say it was her opinion, the Beeb biggies folded and groveled.

You’re in luck though in that at least two of the rebutters are online and available even after they removed Smith’s originals. I did find her remarks on YouTube though. A puerile poster there accompanies her speech with crude graphics calling her a socialist, “shit writer” and so forth. If you want to keep a little objectivity, you can minimize the window during audio play. If you’re hardcore right wing, you can hear like-minded critics of her position here and here. Moreover, the English press was all over her and the Beeb for calling for continued public funding for public libraries; more such links are here.

The Brits seem to have stopped demands for rights with Magna Carta and really don’t relate much to our whole First Amendment/free speech thingummy. Also unlike U.S. libraries with citywide funding in most cases, most English public libraries are under controls of local councils, nearly autonomous hyperlocal groups that seem to operate like U.S. home owners associations, with all the power and none of the wit of big-picture people.

Likewise, most American seem content to fund public libraries and accept that local access to books and other educational resources is necessary, wise, and, well, American. In contrast, conservative Brits who have spoken up take the position that as fewer go to libraries regularly, that means these deserve less or no funding. Also, they say familiar winger stuff like saying, “If I don’t use this service, my tax-funded government should not pay for libraries.”

For the moment, set aside the arguments about schools, highways, rail, and mass transit. Do you think it is unfair that services for the commonweal require funding from those who at a given time in their lives or locations may not use all the service? Those who understand the basics of democracies and nations should, but not all do.

Libraries I’ve Known

Maybe because I’ve been around awhile or perhaps because I grew up in homes with many hundreds of books, I believe in libraries. As we always got many magazines and several daily papers, my family in my childhood through adulthood read at home, in school and in libraries. I always had at least two sets of encyclopedias available, along with big atlases, unabridged dictionaries, almanacs, and many other reference books. From an early age I was sure to hear the same response whenever I asked by widely and deeply knowledgeable mother something — “Look it up!”

Sometimes, we didn’t have the books with the right answers in house. From an early age, I trotted to the library. School libraries were pretty limited, so it was to the public ones.

Danvillelibrary

I  was eight when I truly got into libraries as lifestyle. In Danville, Virginia, the public library was in a mansion built by a Civil War era officer and tobacco magnate, Maj. William T. Sutherlin. His home became the last capital of the Confederacy where the decision to surrender occurred. I was vaguely aware of the history, but much more attuned to the huge number of books.

It surely was a grand home and it was a wonderful library. The kids’ and young adults’ books were in the basement, which was cheerful with numerous windows up high.

There I discovered and devoured whole ranges of books we did not have at home. I remember reading everything that was in whole or part of Norse mythology and of dinosaurs. Apparently too I read virtually everything, checking out the maximum (eight at a time as I remember it). The chief youth librarian there pulled me aside and presented me with an adult card after I had gone through her goods. That let me upstairs into an even wider world. I kept at it until we moved when I was just short of 13. Bless her.

We lived for a couple of years next in the middle of Virginia, Chester. It had a pathetic library. I read everything we had at home, turned to randomly going through encyclopedia articles and our many history books, and spent more time and money visiting bookstores in nearby Richmond and in Washington when we saw relatives near there.

PlainfieldfrontThen the summer of my 15th birthday, we moved to Plainfield, New Jersey. It had a 1912 Carnegie library, one of many the steel magnate funded for the betterment of the common folk. Bless him too.

While the city had good book stores, as well as cheap and easy bus access to Manhattan where I visited constantly, the library was both a community center and educational resource. While it was replaced with a bigger, glassed, community-hospital looking place a few years after I graduated high school, my friends and I haunted and loved this one.

It abutted the big public park with the high school. We ate, debated, sang, necked and studied in the park and did everything short of eating and drinking in the library. My friends were often astonished at the number and variety of books in my apartment and for those without such absurd amounts of reference material, the library was key to decent grades and being able to converse with your chums.

There must have been classmates who didn’t read. I honestly don’t recall any. After all, this was also the Sputnik/space-race era. We were getting pushed from the President to teachers to parents to get smart, get smarter, and take America to the stars. Ta da.

[Of course, there were neither personal computers nor even the earliest forms of the internet (not even ARPAnet, bulletin boards, nor telnet command-line connections before browsers existed). Seeing that, kiddies should probably look up archie and particularly gopher. Information was available online before the World Wide Web GUIs, but you actually had to know how to get to it.]

View Across the Pond

For all reactionary craziness and vitriol toward Smith and secondarily the BBC, I didn’t really dig into this until the Financial Times’ Christopher Caldwell waved his right-of-center wand over the proceedings. In today’s FT, his column attempts a Newtonian objective distance for observation.

He agrees that Smith clearly and accurately sees libraries as cultural levelers, gateways for those who take advantage of them. Yet he criticizes her for not understanding the economics and politics behind the 400-plus libraries at risk of closure there. He writes that the snooty upper class sorts are not the problem here, rather that libraries “are imperiled for different reason: because (local councils) have better things to do with the money.”

He finds the grand public libraries both there and here as atavistic, belonging to “a brief transitional period at the end of the 19th century  — after the rise of democracy but before the rise of the welfare state.” He adds that in such tight times as now, governments decide what’s really necessary.

In that, he mentions an article by Eleanor Jo Rodger in American Libraries. He really doesn’t get too deeply into that, but I suggest reading it. Her primary theme is librarians need to define which of their services are necessities and which are amenities. From there, they can make the case and get steady supporters for the essentials they deliver.

Caldwell is certainly not anti-library. He does brush aside advocates’ personal and emotional calls. Instead, he cites the goals of the founders of the library systems as seeing “that a certain amount of intellectual infrastructure is necessary to the maintenance of a free society.” They aren’t to produce erudite gentlefolk, rather to help provide the public with “a basic toolkit of literary communication that leaves them uncowed by accounts built out of words, sentences and paragraphs.”

He concludes that the political reality is that defending such amenities as DVD checkouts and internet access “may work better than defending necessities.”

I suspect pitching necessities as well will be necessary. There are plenty of Americans, even more than usual in hard times, who are eager to forgo egalitarianism. The have-nots don’t get a lot of support in rough times, and little enough in good ones. Simply appealing to the American ideals of giving everyone a chance at the dream is seldom effective.

I am a book guy, one who has spent and still spends far more than my share of time in libraries. I am not a homeless fellow using a library to stay safe and warm. I’m not someone who needs to be there to access a computer and the internet. I’m not a teen who gets homework help there. Yet each of our groups and others uses and benefits from our branch libraries. That seems as American as it gets.

Cross-post, yet again: As this is both political and personal, I also put it on Marry in Massachusetts.

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About The Daily…

February 3rd, 2011

I have seen Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily…and it is OK. The big brains melded with the 79-year-old’s for a long time may have done their best. Yawn.

Last night, I installed the iPad app for The Daily and loaded the first issue. I gave it a solid workout. I confess though it doesn’t take long (the point, eh?) and my index finger wasn’t even tired.

Fortunately for us all, lots of folk were doing the same. If you want substance, Salon runs a good set of links for the yeah, bleeh, and no-way crowds here. Knowing those are collected, I avoided them to keep my indifference simmering low.

The aged caliph of media, to his credit, tries to stay relevant and influential. He’s most famous for making most of his billions on tabloid and other lowest-common-denominator journalism. This go is similar, but with an effort to incorporate this century’s technologies. Clearly, he wants to be known as the guy who figured out how to make some money from online news.

Here I grabbed a page from their promo instead of the first issue. This does not get into the sometimes confusing navigation. Rather it is typical of The Daily I saw last evening and you can watch in the promo.

Let me be plain. This is a magazine. It has short, graphic heavy articles, none with anything you can’t find elsewhere. It is what we in the print biz call toilet reading for the low time and intellect demands.

That written, The Daily delivers this stuff pretty well, for an online magazine. You can amuse yourself quickly, but you sure won’t be the center of attention among your coworkers or friends discussing the surface-level info here.

The initial load of a day’s issue takes a couple of minutes on an iPad. You’d think they could have loaded the contents and such more or less instantaneously, keeping your interest. Instead, it begins loading automatically and then updates on occasion throughout the day.

You can swipe through an issue in typical iPad/iPhone style. Good. You can touch a category (like news, sports, gossip, and even games/puzzles) to go to that sub-content. Good. You can go to the ToC and touch a headline to go to the article. Good.

Yet swiping through a whole issue or section doesn’t let you settle a piece easily. Pages flash or drop you into an article with the least inattention. Instead, electronically flipping the pages gives you an accurate sense of how short and LITE the articles are.

There’s lots of little navigation tricks — touch this to go here, this to return to the front and so forth. They take a little accommodation but do use the iPad features.

The app is free through Apple. The first two weeks of issues are as well. Afterward, it costs 99¢ a week or $39.99 a year. Now there’s model to scare the pay-wall types, like the Boston Globe! Basically as low as 11¢ a day, readers can ask, is it worth a dime or so?

The counterpart surely is that the content may be free to Murdoch. That is, there aren’t going to be offices of supporting journalists gathering expensive news and images to support this. There is so little stuff here and nothing unique, his folk surely cannibalize all from material they already produce. The reformatting is pretty much just cutting material.

It appears as though The Daily intends to make a little from subscriptions and much more from its ads. Its overhead is likely low enough that a few tens of thousands of subs will cover all costs, keeping the profits coming and growing. It won’t a high percent of newspaper readers sick of the ever-increasing price hikes and ever-decreasing content (quality and quantity) to say $40 a year is a lot better than $250.

Those who switch will continue the dumbing down of readers. They likely will be no dumber in the end than anyone who turns to TV news as the primary or sole source.

The Daily is pretty easy to use, gives the illusion of content, and comes in affordable. It should make it.

It is not anyone’s manifestation of a breakthrough though. Its profound effect will come as the many laggard pay-wall types try to imitate or better this effort.

Cross-post note: This appears at Marry in Massachusetts


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With Greed from Iran

January 29th, 2011

Wowsers, kiddies, it’s been almost four years since I strummed the glories of my spammer’s accidental poetry. Now for my next act, I got around to checking the meaning of the spam I’m too ignorant to read.

Starting about two months ago, I began to get an ever increasing amount of Arabic spam to one of my email addresses. I plugged several into Google Translate and learned a bit.

First, over half of them are not Arabic, rather Persian, most popular in Iran. More significant, none, zero, nilch, nyet, nada relate to the stereotypes of English-language versions. From early email days in old browsers, I have long gotten used to invitations to double my penis length, to pay a few thousand dollars to reap millions in a dead man’s fortune, and from the beginning of the housing collapse, sure, cheap ways to refinance.

So, I’ve been looking at those undecipherable (to me) strings, like

جورج کلونی دوست ندارد رئیس جمهور شود !؟
جورج کلونی دوست ندارد رئیس جمهور شود !؟

and not getting it. That was my first task for Google. As I don’t click on unknown and unknowable (read perilous) links,I still don’t know that one was offering. It is in Persian and translates literally into, “Geoerge Clooney does not like to be president?” The link in the nondescriptive message from one  mohammad ali hasankhani with a gmail account had a condensed URL and I didn’t brave it.

However, letting Google translate several other, I limned a pattern. They are sports oriented and maybe just trying to sell some worthless medical product or more likely charge a fee for a sports video or instructional booklet. Granted, a click to the links may send you someplace phishing for your credit card info, but at least these seem relative wholesome in contrast to what I regularly see  in English in my spam bucket.

One promises exercises to make you taller:

Collection of sports movements for increasing height

In the first step regardless of your age level, growth will begin Qdtan! ! ! ! ! Maybe have a little surprise, but 100% regardless of your age, this growth will occur in your height. For further should be said, more than 95% of people without news have bent and your spine curved in the back part of their Darndv the bezel and also sinking more than is normal.

Persian with sales pitch and shortened link from “Amir Ghazaee”

Another promises pool prowess:

Billiard

This unique collection of the principles and professional billiards learn pool training pool world by top professors and applied a set of rare beauty, secrets find a pool professional to teach you. all tips, trick and All the intricacy of fun playing pool with all the film one hour to learn. different ways of tapping method to cut the ball and everything you need to know to enjoy billiards ..

For more information, click and buy

Persian with sales pitch and shortened link from”Mani Rahnama”

Still another eluded Google’s Arabic powers, but seemed to be selling videos of what we call soccer here:

Sutee Hay House Khandh worldly affairs Voetbal

Goofs your friends are a set of football world to see? Scoring itself, Goofs and goalkeeper … In this CD in a series of world football Goofs collected

Include:

Scoring automatically by defenders and goalkeepers

Nzdn striker scored in a few step away gates and even the empty gates

But besides these reactions Goofs stunning diving goalkeeper and their golden

The beautiful flowers by the attackers will also be displayed

Click to view

Arabic with sales pitch and shortened link

After decades of primarily sexual oriented spam, I find some small joy in seeing what appears to be a more naive type of hustler. Maybe their net censors would never pass along  lewd pitches. Maybe they just have different hot buttons. Taller in the body instead of longer in the middle seems so, well, 1950s, a simpler time.

Artist and Geek Rumble

January 3rd, 2011

herbsOur visiting artist, Savannah, a.k.a. Marion Etheredge, figuratively slapped me upside my head quite a few times this weekend. It was about creating videos, newish to me and new to her.

Like speaking another language while in a foreign town, being made to see through the eyes and in the brain of a real artist is broadening. I flashed on the British cryptic puzzles of which I am so fond and such a habitué. My wife claims they are impossibly illogical, while I contend that one must first shift mental gears to be open to the ambiguity of the clues.

Savannah has recently begun expanding from the still camera in her smart phone to its video. If you don’t make video, that may seem trivial, but I’ve been attending Boston Media Makers for quite awhile and learned that many of the hotshot video makers and vbloggers started with the low-level functionality in inexpensive digital cameras and phones. Longest journeys and first steps, and like that.

She’s been visiting from South Carolina. That included a Sunday session of BMM. She also was deeply curious about the equipment and hardware I’ve been using. She knows that I am doing a series of short videos for a food website that’s about to go live.

So, she sat with me while I combined a group of clips on how to dry fresh herbs from my garden. She wanted to know how I planned it and particularly how I edited the mess into a 3 or so minute clip for the web.

She’s a Mac sort and as it turns out, I recently discovered the marvelous free online video editing site JayCut. That was the right thing to show her, even though I am new to it. JayCut is much more similar to the Apple built-in video software iMovie than the clunkier Microsoft variation MovieMaker.

Not the least advantage in JayCut is conversion from QuickTime. My video camera saves in QT and MovieMaker doesn’t do Apple. I’ve been having to use QT Pro or other conversion utilities before playing with clips in MovieMaker. Then even with my high-powered desktop, MovieMaker grunts and grinds to save edited files. JayCut does its work on its own servers, faster and without complaining about QT files.

jccut

On the downside, JayCut is very Apple-like in doing a terrible job in explaining itself. It arrogantly assumes that its icons are so intuitive and simple that it doesn’t need to explain anything. For a couple of examples, consider the cutting process, involving the scissors icon. In many audio and other editing programs, deleting a segment means clicking something like this, dragging it to the end of the section to delete, releasing the mouse button and hitting a delete key. Through trial and several errors, we discovered that this tool in this package takes clicking the scissors, picking a starting point, releasing the button, clicking the icon again, clicking an end point and releasing the button to create a standalone segment. Then clicking the arrow icon and dragging the segment to the upper bar deletes it.

jcdragNext to close up the generated space in the file, you can mouse over the arrow embedded at a segment beginning. Popup text tells you go grab the arrow and change the beginning of the segment. In JayCut reality, if you want to close the gap, you need to select the arrow icon above, move the cursor to the middle of the segment and drag and drop it from there. Moving the beginning arrow invariably goofs up the segment, possibly re-inserting deleted material.

The sparse help function shows next to nothing and illustrated neither of these. Having worked in software companies for many years, I’m sure the attitude of developers there is that if customers are too stupid to figure these out, they have no reason to use the program and service. In this case, I did figure the quirks out, and of course, with the free service, I lost no money, just some time and patience. In my Windows world as well, the speed benefits of JayCut, plus the ability to save the result in many different formats made it well worth my while to solve these little puzzles.

So to the artist, she thinks differently about video, like, well, a painter and sculptor. I come in as a journalist, general writer, and technical communicator.

The biggest difference was that aural and visual details were huge to her. To me, content is king, queen and court.

My inclination has gotten lots of reinforcement from the many BMM meetings I’ve attended. I strongly recommend them to anyone in new media. Attendants love nothing more than helping others solve or even better avoid problems with hardware, software, techniques and more.

recursivesg.jpgI came in very humble with this group of experienced film and video heads. Starting with founder Steve Garfield, they really know their stuff. As a blogger and podcaster, and not a video person, I was and remain awed by their experience and expertise. I gleaned tips on the right camera to begin with (Kodak Zi8 in my case), and such obvious to them but new to me basics as you need to grab the viewer in the first 15 seconds of a clip and you damned well better have great stuff if you intend to go more than two and one-half minutes.

Wowsers to that, but then it is pretty similar to what I learned in journalism school and practiced for years in newspapers and magazines. There, the short lead paragraph had to be compelling enough or the readers would be on the next article. Likewise,  you had better assume that nearly no one would read the whole piece — hence the inverted pyramid style of writing with the best stuff up front.

Chair to chair, Savannah’s concerns and style were markedly different from mine. For one example, she was appalled to hear the rustle of my feet on dry leaves as I moved for two or so seconds to the perennial herb bed. Likewise, she thought I should enlist my wife or someone else to hold and direct the camera, which I had on a tripod, so that my hands tying the herb stems would be the absolute center of the screen instead of the lower area.

Editing the clips with her, I felt the values were solid and those details OK improvements but nonessential. The audio and visual were clear and understandable. The procedure was accurate. The sound was at a good level. Someone seeing and hearing this little clip would know what to do and how. Content was solid.

I suspect she would be much happier with the output if the production values and appearance were prettier and artsy perfect, even if the message and steps were not quite accurate or were hard to follow. Yet, she is a remarkable artist with a keen eye. I can keep her attitude handy for future shoots. In fact, my wife has agreed to be pressed into service making sure the focal point of a clip appears central in the frame.

In the end of our session, I had debugged the editing steps and she left with confidence that she could follow my procedure from rough storyboarding through shooting a series of clips in the right order to stripping out the unnecessary and distracting (like popping into the scene).

We are crafts folk each in our own way, but she and I learned from the process. That was a fine and useful way to pass a couple of hours. The artist and the geek rubbed elbows and each come away better for it.

Tags: harrumphharrumphervideoBoston Media MakersJayCutiMovieMovieMakerartistSavannahediting

Twits Who Tweet

December 13th, 2010

…no, not the twits who brag or play hipster at 140 characters…twits who spam.

I’ve been getting sex spams on Twitter. Several other regular users told me they do as well. They also treat it the same as I do, that is, ignore them.

Twittertwit

Here’s a typical one, but rated PG. Some are more explicit.

The tweet to me reads that it’s from some woman, usually a first name. Clicking on the name to see who the devil it is brings up a profile along the lines of this one.

I assume the link to a video blog would do one or more of the following to a clicker:

  • Pitch porn for purchase
  • Upload a Trojan program
  • Advertise some service like phone sex

Alas for the purveyor of videos and the like, I don’t do emailed or tweeted links. I don’t even follow “this is hilarious” video links from relatives and friends. I’d much rather miss out on the joke then risk goofing up my computers.

Twitter’s on the case though. I went through older tweets to get one for an example for this post. Those more than a few days into the ether die an ignominious death by censorship. suspendThe spammers lose that profile, which they must churn about by the dozens, along with disposable email addresses to match. Leastwise more of these alleged hyper-friendly young women keep appearing.

I admit I was not surprised to start getting spam on Twitter too. My cellphone gets calls for auto-repair insurance and such. My blogs get multiple daily attempts to insert veiled ads in comments; that virtually always fails as a result of my filters and keen utilities like Akismet.

The patterns puzzle me though. Different servers get different spammer hits. Russian spammers seem determined to hit Left Ahead! for one. Here, it’s almost all domestic spam, and so forth.

As social as social media users should be, I’d like to think that tweeters would never risk clicking on a link to an unknown video, even next to a thumbnail of an attractive, barely clothed woman.

For me, all spammers on the net as well as my phones should curl up and die. I don’t want to hear that they are just capitalists trying to make a dollar…or Euro…or ruble.