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Bringing the unwashed masses the view from Hoboken. And a washcloth.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Most insightful iPhone post ever

Apple's Trojan-horse iPhone strategy.Tremendously insightful, head and shoulders above anything else I've seen on the product. The piece is a convincing argument as to how the lack of Flash on iPhone (it's not called "the" iPhone in any of Apple's communications) is really an Apple "feature". The iPhone is far more than a cool gadget craze: It's actually Apple's strategy to make itself (along with Google) central to the public Internet. Chilling news for Adobe and Microsoft, if true. And we'll know this insight is on the money if the next iteration of iPhone still does not include Flash (also for that matter: RealPlayer, Windows Media, or Java applets).

The usually sure-footed Walt Mossberg says future iPhones WILL contain a Flash plug-in. For once, my money is not on Moss.

Granted, Google is ALREADY central to most people's 'net experience. But remember, Google was not always the preeminent search engine. Yahoo was. They're on a slippery slope, and if they are wise, they will continue to look for new, solid footholds. (So far, they have shown themselves to be wise.)

From Daring Fireball.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Mary Lois is moving to Hoboken

So, is she insane or just crazy?

Responding to the lovely and graceful Mary Lois/Nightstranger, who somehow stumbled across this blog, here's my first post in about a year.

After this stranger had placed a few comments in the official Joe Concha shrine of bitterness and loathing, I visited her blog and saw that her charming cottage has been, indeed, been put up for sale.

Her friends, understandably concerned, have quite correctly admonished her that "Hoboken has the shimmer of an Iraqui bomb site". While I am not sure what that means, it's probably not something that fetches a ten from Zagat. The commenter then continues: "What is the great attraction there? Peace, tranquility? Or the buzz of squirming humanity eating at itself?" Yow!! She's seen a city council meeting!

So what's the dealie with this? She's coming here for... what? Intellectual stimulation? (Have you MET Joe Concha?) A New Orleans atmosphere? Actually, she'd be on target there, as there are many apt comparisons between the two cities, from architecture to the variety of restaurants to corrupt politics to the uh, occasional lack of dry streets. The socio-ethnic mix, though, is considerably different (unless New Orleans has attracted a whole lot more investment bankers lately).

But then, if you wanted New Orleans, you'd move to New Orleans, right Mare? Cheaper.

Maybe it's unrequited love: She loved Fairhope, and it didn't love her back. But you think things will be different here, Mary? Ask this recent arrival:

Hoboken Penguin 8-ball bunny

It appears that Mary Lois is leaving Fairhope because it's changed, and is changing. But Hoboken's in transition, as well. For example, our government is morphing from born-and-raised, hypocritical, posturing, rabblerousing machine politicians to transplanted, hypocritical, posturing, rabblerousing 'reform' machine politicians. OK, that actually proves that some things DON'T change. Bad example. What I mean to say is: Remember what Yogi said, Mary: Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

Well, everyone's looking for something. Who am I to cast asparagus on someone's hopes and dreams? As Groucho said: Home is where you hang your head. Come on down, just don't drive when the governor's on the road.

Anybody got any advice for Mary? (Geez, there's an open invitation for trouble. Hopefully, no one finds a new post on a dormant blog.)

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Class act

After not posting in months, this email showed up:

So Snitch, what happened to your pathetic online
diary? Did all four of your readers stop visiting the
site after posting three "stories" in nine months?

Realhoboken continues to be Hoboken's most popular
online magazine, however, despite your laughable
attacks on the site and me. We're in touch with what
Hoboken residents want to read, and we're proud to
represent their lifestyle and values.

Best of luck getting your book published. I'll be sure
to look for it on Amazon.com by 2016.

Cheers!

Joe Concha


You'd figure that would be enough vitriol for most folks. But, just to make sure I got the message, he dropped this comment under my 'Valentine for Deadwood fans' post:

"Well, it's a pleasure to see that this POS web rag has also finally expired.

Meanwhile, Realhoboken.com, the online magazine that you criticized every moment you could, continues to be Hoboken's hottest publication. We win, you lose, and that's hardly surprising. Good luck with your book that will never be published. "


Joe, I'm sorry you've been so preoccupied with the two posts critical of your site. But your comments have opened my eyes! Truly, you have a great online publication, and I do not.

Thanks for thinking of my book. I, of course, look forward to the outcome of your mayoral campaign.

It's always such a pleasure hearing from you. Drop in anytime.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Valentine for Deadwood fans

The best show on television ends tonight. For those who already mourn its passing, this irreverent tribute.

Real DW fans will know that I SHOULD have said 'this irreverent fucking tribute'. But this is a family blog. Sometimes.

Categories:

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Own the news community, not the news: How to save The New York Times

The New York Times searches for a futurist.

(click to jump to any section)

1) Introduction
2) The often-rumored death of print
3) Identifying print media’s real ailments
4) Faux solutions to misunderstood problems
5) Tracking the real solution
6) The new newspaper model
7) Own the news community, not the news
8) A renaissance of local coverage
9) Summary
10) Q&A


1) Introduction

The Times is seeking a seer. It’s attempting to recruit and develop a source of prescience to keep the mighty media ship from foundering on unseen shoals, or sailing off the edge of the Earth.

Specifically, the job is to identify 'threats and opportunities' to the Times' business. This double-edged sword is wielded by 'changes in technology and disruptive forces' (which usually mean the same thing these days).

Of course, the horse has already left the barn here. I was initially tempted to advise them to save their money. But the competitive media landscape has been misdiagnosed so often and so badly, that perhaps a better analyst is an investment that can yield meaningful results.

Certainly hiring a futurist is a far more discerning (read: cheaper) solution than dumping $400 on About.com. (More on that later.) Besides, as a wannabe futurist considering the problem myself, I’ve concluded that there is a way to steer the big ship into more profitable waters. [top]

2) The often-rumored death of print

The death of (periodical) print media has been ‘greatly exaggerated’ since the advent of the telegraph (which could break the news well before any paper). The funeral shroud has been aired afresh for subsequent tech developments from the phone to radio to TV to the Internet. The devilish dilemma is that all these predictions were correct - yet all of them were wrong.

Warren Buffet tells us to invest in a business with high barriers to competition. If we consider the communications business, it's plain that the term meant “anyone with a printing press” for quite a long time. As long as the demand for communications grew (as it has, consistently, since Guttenberg), anyone with the means to establish a printing business shared in the bounty.

When new technologies finally began to divide the communications cabal, the future looked cloudy. But early advances grew the market without cannibalizing the existing players. While the telegraph and telephone could break news much faster than any paper, these were relatively expensive technologies designed for one-to-one communications. They merely heralded the full story that would follow in the papers.

Radio was the first one-to-many (“mass”) media since the newspaper, and it (aside from the cost of the radio itself) was free. Many again predicted that the new technology would dwarf print. But the papers enjoyed inherent advantages of relative permanence, flexibility, and portability. A printed story could be accessed anytime, anywhere, and the articles could be as long as necessary. With radio, one had to be sitting in front of one's set during a broadcast, which vanished as soon as it aired. These complementary features (radio had immediacy, music and sound, while papers had pictures, etc.) allowed both media to prosper and co-exist in an expanding communications pie.

TV had pretty much the same weaknesses as radio, but sound, color, immediacy and animation offered additonal, compelling features that began to encroach on newspapers’ turf. The Internet offered new features such as unparalleled breadth, persistence, interactivity, and search, while matching the feature sets of print and TV except for three: simplicity, price, and easy portability. (And it was steadily eroding even those few remaining advantages.)

As the Internet’s feature advantages grew the communications pie, newspapers were unable to develop compelling new features of their own (aside from greater use of color). Instead, new content was attempted (new sections, new writers, new formats). Online, newspapers tried to become more like their Internet rivals, but the analog papers themselves could not develop any new, compelling, and unique advantages. Newspapers’ share of the communications pie shriveled, and concern over the death of papers reached new heights. [top]

3) Identifying print media’s real ailments

Let’s first cover what print’s problem is not. The decline in readership is not an unwillingness to read. In the decades before the explosion of the WWW, the media regularly offered up stories regarding how Americans no longer read (or wrote) ‘as they once did’. Blogs and the enormous number of websites out there demonstrate that this was never true. The world reads, it just demands content that meets its needs.

The demand for communications, while growing, is not growing fast enough to assure growth for all the players in the arena. This is a problem for everyone in the media game, but it is – surprisingly – most worrisome for some of the biggest players. Size and established presence no longer assure survival in today’s media world. Owning a radio station is no longer an assurance of profitability in the age of Internet and satellite radio. Mass TV audiences, for the most part, aren't what they used to be. Book publishing is doing well, but there are many more publishers splitting the take.

With media empires on the line, it’s no wonder the Times is looking for a futurist. Under these stressful circumstances, one couldn’t fault them even if they hired a tarot reader.

The press’ problem is not the public's preference of one media over another. The problem is that the channel, once controlled by a few in the press, has become an increasingly difficult place for anyone to assert their authority. There is no longer a way for the messanger to control the message, and the press’ business, since its onset, was predicated on such control..

Further, as the MySpace phenomenon reminds us, the message today comes not only from commercial sources, but from the vast community of readers as well. Today’s reader feedback is ungovernable, a far cry from the time when newspapers could dominate a handful of message channels. No longer can print media dictate reader feedback simply by determining whether to run an op-ed or letter to the editor.

This loss of control runs hard against the deeply embedded, top-down grain of media culture. This is particularly true for a paper such as the Times, which considers itself the final authority over what’s ‘fit to print’. In many cases, media’s resentment over power and authority lost to readers has spilled over into print.

Media believes it has made its peace with this cultural conflict, but it has actually only masked the symptoms. In order for newspapers to become relevant again, they need to confront this cultural change at a much more profound level. (I’ll return to this in upcoming chapters.)

Hand in hand with the loss of control over the news channel (and therefore, the news) comes a new struggle to make publishing profitable. Again, as Mr. Buffet says: Business profits are a function of demand and monopoly. If the demand is there, and the competition is not, you're Bill Gates. If either the demand goes or the competition arrives, profits dwindle. Why was AOL THE hot stock of the late 80's and early 90's? Because what little 'Internet' there was, came through them. AOL controlled the channel and the community. (They barely concerned themselves about controlling, or even creating, content.) Why did the stock go bust? Because so many alternatives for connection and community emerged that AOL's virtual monopoly vanished almost overnight. This seems self-evident in hindsight, but few (especially among those closest to the situation) saw it coming.

At the moment, the Times' can still draw a relatively large audience, for which advertisers will pay a premium. What's alarming for the paper and its stockholders is the rapid erosion of those numbers caused by the incursion of new, alternative channels. As stated earlier, it’s become increasingly difficult for media to ‘own’ a message. In an age of commoditization of news, the Times is only as relevant as the crowd it can attract. [top]

4) Faux solutions to misunderstood problems

By now, the Times is learning (if not quite acknowledging) that its $400 million purchase of About.com was a colossal misjudgement. The Times assumed that, since blogs are popular, purchasing a large blog would somehow shelter it from audience erosion.

Some media visionaries assert that what the public wants is newspapers delivered in a whole new medium. Those electronic papers we see in Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report’, for example, are hyped as a newspaper savior. The theory goes that this is because the new medium would allow papers to enjoy the same advantages of animation and instant updating (and sound?) that the ‘net enjoys.

Cool as it seems, faith in this technology as newspapers’ (and trees’) savior unravels when one considers that these devices will be able to access the rest of the ‘net as well as whatever the papers produce. In fact, with electronic paper devices, papers will lose one of their last remaining advantages – portability. We’re still left with the question of why readers will turn to the Times rather than blogs, Drudge, BoingBoing, Yahoo News, or some combination thereof.

Aping TV or the ‘net won’t solve newspapers’ declining readership problems. Neither will buying or starting blogs. What newspapers need is to regain a feature advantage over its competition, such as it once enjoyed when it competed only with radio, telephones and telegraphs. Technology, which floats all boats, won’t deliver this advantage. The papers will have to look somewhere they haven’t yet thought (or cared) to explore. [top]

5) Tracking the real solution

Of all the blog properties $400 million could buy, why did the Times choose About.com? One reason was that it resembled the Times’ corporate vision of the way blogs should behave: Orderly and top-down. In other words, a reflection of the Times’ concept of journalism – and a dated, heavy blog model.

The kind of blog showing vitality right now is not About, but MySpace, which runs counter to the Times’ corporate vision. Few corporate leaders have the stomach to acquire (and be identified with) a MySpace. Fewer still (if any) know what to do with them once they’ve got them.

What the Times must do is bluntly confront its core approach to journalism, which is failing to find purchase with new audiences. To save the paper it must re-examine its attitude toward content creation, in ways I will examine in the next two segments. This will be an extraordinary cultural struggle, and will require a good deal of internal education, prodding and regular course corrections. [top]

6) The new newspaper model

Clearly, the Times bought About because blogs were seeing explosive gains in readership, while newspapers were seeing declines. The perception (probably a correct one) was that people increasingly preferred to get text-based news from blogs and other online sources. How this purchase would result in gains for the paper’s main business, however, was never clear.

What the Times should have done before (or, rather than) signing the check was to study blogs as a guide to identify just what the public found lacking in the mainstream media. Clearly, the paper was not prepared to do this. It not really understand blogs, did not know what it was looking for, and was unprepared for substantial change. The paper hoped to buy into something it did not really understand. Indeed, at around the time of the purchase, Times executive editor Bill Keller dismissed blogs as ‘looking at the world through a pinhole’.

Whether or not Keller was right about blogs doesn’t matter. What matters is that this was all the Times understood about blogs at a time when it was paying $400 million for one (technically, a network of them). At that price, it must be some pinhole.

To understand the new path newspapers must take, one must study the contrast between the sharp growth of blogosphere readership and the sobering decline of newspaper readership. What compelling core factor is driving their fortunes in such polar-opposite directions?

I believe the key issue is central control over news: Newspaper and blog readers want to be participants. Frank Moss, head of MIT’s Media Labs, says:

“No longer will just a few write or create music. We will see 100 million people creating the content and art shared among them... The source of creative content is coming from the world. That revolution will go well outside of the written word to all forms of visual and performing arts.”

The BBC likewise noted: “Media are becoming democratised, and a global conversation is emerging.

The tools of production - used to create digital content such as blogs, podcasts, wikis, discussions, multiplayer games, mashups - are increasingly powerful and easy to use, yet decreasingly expensive.

Distribution is also becoming less expensive and easily arranged. . . . The democratisation of media is also, fundamentally, about the people we once called mere consumers. Their role is evolving from a passive one to something much more interactive, but they are blessed (or cursed, depending on one's viewpoint) with an unprecedented variety of voices and services.”


Largely unrecognized is the important difference between the user getting his/her information from the ‘net (blogs, etc.) and the user getting information from radio or TV. That is: the former wants interactivity, the latter accepts input passively. This is true even when the ‘net user and the TV watcher is the same person. A TV viewer turns on a ballgame for a passive viewing experience. When that same fan wants to interact, he goes to the ‘net for baseball info.

Until the web emerged, newspapers were the most interactive medium (letters to the editor, op-eds, etc.). Newspaper readers as a rule do not share the more passive nature of TV viewers, and they often pick up the local paper to see what their neighbors have to say. (This is similar to behavior on the ‘net, where ‘opinion’ is followed almost as closely as ‘news’.) ‘Local’ papers in particular have long addressed their readers as a ‘community’ to one degree or another, and blogs/sites create their own communities. TV/radio by contrast do not by their natures foster community interaction.

Newspapers underestimated the cumulative chafing under years of central news control over a readership which, apparently, has long desired a greater voice in news coverage. These frustrations have been widely and passionately expressed on blogs, particularly in their early days when feelings had been long pent-up. It’s telling that most media commentary on blogs concerns newspaper and other written coverage rather than TV or radio news.

Why do newspapers deliver news created from the top-down? Ask someone steeped in newspaper culture, and they may tell you that this is the natural and right way of things, that this is the model that ‘proved out’ over centuries of experience. Newspaper folk know best. But actually, the top-down shaping and dissemination of news is habit, and has never been tested against another model. The technology to deliver news using ‘Wiki’ models did not exist until recently. And in print media’s early days, few channels existed, so that a handful of powerful men made news decisions.

Many, if not most, newspapers believe that putting their content online (along with some sound and motion) constitutes a bold change in the way they deliver news. Instead of learning to adjust its failing publishing model, the Times and other papers tried to graft a ‘blog appeal’ they barely understood onto it.

Two important facts about newspapers can be learned by studying and researching blogs:

1) We can discern that such a thing as a ‘news community’ exists. This community, or communities, revolves around issues covered by newspapers, or the papers themselves. This community congregates around the various blogs covering the issues they feel passionately about. The commentary on news coverage is, to them, as important as the news itself. Put another way – the commentary is inseperable from the news.

2) Frustration with top-down news creation has been amply demonstrated via the tremendous, unforseen proliferation of blogs and Wikis. Distrust of the prevalent institutional news model far outweighs support for it in online forums.

Once we understand these lessons, the new mantra for newspapers becomes clear: [top]

7) Own the news community – not the news

The new Times will work very much as the old Times has, with reporters and editors making the usual decisions on coverage and approach. However, the online paper (and eventually, the analog paper) will resemble a Wikipedia page.

Like Wiki, all stories will be heavily annotated and ‘corrected’ by readers. Certain constraints will be instituted (time limits on responses, and readers will rank commentators, conferring certain commenting privileges on some readers, denying them from others) to keep friction to a relative minimum.

The impact of these community-built online articles won’t be fully felt in print news until that Minority Report e-paper technology becomes available. Print editions will run at least one Wiki-based article per section (one on the front page, one in Metro, etc.). Footnotes right alongside the text will summarize the first hour or two of online comments before the paper went to press. (Full interactive commentaries will only be available online.)

Each story will attract its own online commentators – ‘mini-communities’ who will shepherd the thread while the story remains news.

This social investment in articles will generate far greater interest in the Times than the author blogs or segregated commentary areas with which the paper has been experimenting. Such measures hold readers at arm’s length, perpetuating their sense of frustration. In this new model, readers will be involved directly in the shaping of stories. Blogs will, in turn, comment not just on the stories, but on the commentators crafting the message. Interest in the Times’ coverage will skyrocket as it builds its community through this bold innovation.

For those who feel the Wiki model results in amateurish, inaccurate writing, this Times article confirms that such concerns are yesterday’s news. There are proven ways of bringing a sizable community of readers into the process without plunging into chaos. Times writers and editors will still lead the news-shaping process, as they must. They will merely have a different relationship with their audience than they have known.

It’s easy to anticipate the deeply-felt objection of reporters and editors to losing their accustomed control over the news. But that control is mostly illusory today. The Times no longer controls the news. Rather, it distributes news as raw material for a world of commentators to reshape. In this new, social news model, the paper merely acknowledges this fact and incorporates the best commentary directly into the story.

In this new model, the news is free. Attempts to control news are pointless anyway. What the Times can control – and what is, after all the only monetizable aspect of the paper – is its community. It can control its community/audience/readership in the sense that it can empower and grow it.

Through this reinvention, newspapers such as the Times will finally take full advantage of their text foundation’s greatest strength, building an advantage that distinguishes them from other communications media. Radio and TV cannot be annotated so efficiently, and cannot achieve this MySpace-like sense of community. (Case in point: YouTube, a heavily trafficked video clip site, generates far less commentary, reader for reader, than a medium-sized blog.)

In this way, the Times will become much less a centrally-controlled arbiter of taste and opinion, and more a central framework to which a great community will attach itself. It will become a MySpace (MyPaper?) for the well-informed (or merely opinionated), an eBay for ideas. [top]

8) A renaissance of local coverage

Coverage of regional issues should benefit greatly from this approach. The Times covers outlying regions via reporters who are not indigenous to those areas. The coverage loses a lot in translation, because the reporters just aren’t close enough to the issues. At the same time, local papers often do a poor job in their own backyard. A Wiki approach to local issues, built on the Times’ high-profile platform, might raise the paper’s local coverage to a point where it becomes readers’ first choice for local news. Local news treated this way holds significant promise for growing a great news community around the paper. [top]

9) Summary

This is not your father’s (or your grandfather’s) paper. It’s not like any paper that’s come before. It’s not that those papers were misguided – the means to make them what they were meant to be did not exist. This new model could not have been suggested or understood ten or more years ago.

These changes will place a great stress on institutional culture and deeply-held beliefs, since they demand a real loss of control/power for many. Institutional resistance will be considerable. This increasingly apparent solution sits in a great blind spot of media’s all-seeing eye.

Hanging on to illusory control over news will certainly lead to this much-linked ‘EPIC’ scenario describing the demise of the Times and other papers. Rebuilding text-based media properties as new Town Squares could lead to a great rebirth for any papers courageous - or desperate - enough to brave the attempt. [top]

10) Questions and answers

Q) Aren’t the issues the Times covers too controversial to be handled using a Wiki model?

A) No more so than the issues Wikipedia covers, and it has learned how to handle (and even incorporate) controversy.

Q) But the Times is a major corporation. Can it afford to handle news this way?

A) The way things are going for the Times, can it afford not to? In terms of major corporations operating ‘social’ news-gathering operations, AOL has recently instituted a version of this very model which it is running under its Netscape brand. AOL is obliged to create new methods of income creation, since it has abandoned charging for connection services.

This Netscape innovation was pioneered within AOL by entrepreneur Jason Calacanis. He was blogged frequently on the fierce resistance to instituting this new model that he encountered within AOL.

Q) How can you argue that, after centuries of perfecting the form, newspapers should suddenly function in some other way?

A) I’m not making that argument. Millions of former Times readers are making that argument. I’m merely pointing it out.

Q) Reporters have years of experience at newspapers and journalistic training. Shouldn’t we leave reporting to the best-qualified people?

A) Newspaper reporters are absolutely the best-qualified people to write about newspaper reporting. On any other subject, however, they do not represent the best expertise – rather, they represent a filter between the reader and those with the real inside track. Filters, by design, keep things out, and they cannot keep undesirable elements out without affecting desirable ones as well.

Q) So you’re saying get rid of reporters and editors?

A) No, I’m saying that reporters and editors will need to make serious adjustments in their approach to this business in this new newspaper model. And they need to get behind this new newspaper model if they want to avoid its further deterioration.

Q) What exactly is the ‘new newspaper model’?

A) The new model is one in which a ‘news community’ shapes stories. From a business point of view it acknowledges that news today is a commodity, and that no good business model can be built around a commodity which is so freely available.

Things were different when there were few communications channels and news could be somewhat monopolized and controlled. Then, a business based on the selling of news was possible.

In that era, the Times controlled a sizable audience because it controlled a news channel. Today, controlling that audience is still the key to healthy profitability, but that control won’t come about because the paper finds a new way to control the news. That genie won’t go back in the bottle.

Instead, they key to maintaining a large audience is engaging and building a news community around the paper. Just as eBay uses auctions to build an auction community around its site, just as MySpace caters to the (mostly) young and disenfranchised to build their enormous teen community, the Times must learn to use the commodity of news to build an online news community that will become the new founudation of its various publications.

Not only that, but the Times should build this community before AOL or someone else cracks the code. One need not always be first with these ideas. MySpace followed the similar Friendster – they just did it better – and Google was hardly the first search engine. But while one need not always be first, the first to ‘get it right’ usually dominates a market.

The Times is well-positioned to do news ‘right’. But will it? Or will USA Today or another competitor get there first, and drain away competitors’ skills and talent with the superior resources it will command?

Q) Isn’t the Times already dealing with ‘news as commodity’ via TimesSelect?

A) TimesSelect demonstrates several of my points. It suggests that the paper is very aware of news as a commodity, and is attempting to counter this problem by charging for opinion. The theory seems to be that readers will want, say, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd and John Tierney’s opinions enough to pay for them.

TimesSelect also suggests that the paper is not institutionally ready to face the loss of control and other cultural challenges that my new model demands. The Times sees that news is a commodity, so it attempts to make its profit from a form of ‘news-related content’ that it can control.

Likewise, it discerns from blogs that users want more interaction. It attempts to offer this, while still keeping readership at arm’s length from actual news content. It does this by purchasing About.com and creating many author-based blogs. Here again, the Times shows that is just not ready to leave its comfort zone.

How has TimesSelect changed the paper’s fortunes? WHile the paper can point to some income from the effort, in terms of turning the paper’s fortunes around it has been a failure. MediaBistro gave it ‘two thumbs down’. Slate snickers that the paper made their columnists ‘second class citizens in the blogosphere’. Charles Warner guesses that “The WSJ has been extremely successful with this subscription model, but the Times is coming to it a couple of years too late”, Editor and Publisher says the paper’s goals “won't be met with TimesSelect subscription numbers in the tens of thousands”, and PressThink philosophizes “If one faction wanted to go the Wall Street Journal's pay wall route, and another wanted to remain free like the Post, then TimesSelect is not a hypothesis for how to succeed on the Web, but just a mid-point between competing theories. That alone is reason to worry.”

The purchase of About was viewed more positively (no doubt, many commentators had visions of being bought out themselves). Here again, however, there is no evidence that the purchase has had or will have any meaningful impact on the paper’s fortunes.

What’s telling about these moves is what they reveal about the Times’ inability to face the real, difficult choices it faces head-on.

And now, the paper is hiring a futurist to suggest its future course. Will the paper listen to its new hire? If past is prologue, it seems unlikely. This NY Times’ ‘Digital Timeline’ does not recount a single online initiative that has impacted the print version’s functions.

Q) If the paper becomes like Wikipedia and incorporates all these new voices, won’t that affect the paper’s unique POV in reporting news?

A) Does the Times really want to be ‘the paper of record’, or does it want to be the paper that forces its POV on the world? I suggest the latter may please some already-sympathetic voices, but it won’t change many minds.

Being the ‘paper of record’ is a noble goal, worth striving for, and worth making some institutional changes for.

Q) Just what are the Times’ editors and writers supposed to do while the rest of the world is writing their paper for them?

A) It’s not like that at all. The paper won’t be Wikipedia, which is written more-or-less entirely by volunteers.

For that matter, Wikipedia is not quite the free-for-all that’s generally been reported. There is a good deal of structure and discipline among those who make it go. Contributors earn their stripes, and it will be no different at the Times.

Reporters and editors will still initiate coverage. The difference is that a lot of the barriers of self-interest will have to come down. The public (a segment of them, anyway) will wade right into those stories and interact. They won’t be exiled to the letters page or possibly the odd op-ed anymore.

What reporters and editors will do is act as traffic cops and help guide the process. They can no longer smother alternative views because they don’t support the points they hope to make. Conflicting views will have to be incorporated into the coverage.

The new publishing model won’t tell readers what to think - instead, it will help them think, and form their own opinions. It will actively engage, not passively entertain, many thousands of participants. It will open doors to expertise which have previously been closed. It will have elements of political interaction previously unknown in newsrooms (horsetrading with the publiic to reach a consensus on issues).

It will vary from Wikipedia in that the stories will be written much more quickly than that site’s stories. Reporters raw, early drafts will go online where higher levels of the news community will have access to them. Eventually the stories will reach ‘lower’ levels, and as they become polished the general public will see and comment on them. Reporters and editors will work this process all the way through. [top]

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Where we've been

Briefly (well, fairly briefly) – where we've been lately.

Obviously, we've been too pressed to post. We apologize to the Hoboken Republicans, who had their First Annual Lincoln's Day dinner yesterday (Sunday). We wanted to mention it here, and completely lost track. Any Republicans hailing from Hoboken, of all places, are an endangered and oppressed species, and deserve whatever support they can get.

Also, a new Hoboken blog asked for a shout-out here. Matthew Fernandez Konigsberg has lived in Hoboken for 3 years and wants to train for the NYC Triathlon. He's doing this to both get himself in shape and raise money for Israeli charities. He thinks his blog will deal with not only his trials and tribulations in and out of the swimming pool, but also some politics (some about Hoboken) and his general trials in being single in NY/Hoboken. (He should take some tips from Philly 2 Hoboken while he's at it.) We don't know the blog (too busy), but we generally support local blogs.

We're working on the book proposal at this end, which turns out to be more work than the book itself. Our agent is big on marketing, and since we have a marketing background, we have a lot to say on the subject.

Some troll came by (we have a pretty good idea who, not that it matters) to tell us we're pretentious to talk about the book. Don't know why - we do have an interested agent, we do have half a book, and we will soon have a completed proposal. Nothing but fact there. Beyond that, we make no claims. We have no guarantee that the idea will sell or that it will go anywhere even if it does. Still, this is what's taking up our time, and we don't even want to be distracted by the blog. That's why we've shut down for a while.

If we do sell the book idea, we'll be back at this from a somewhat different angle (and an upgraded blog). That's why we're doing this in the first place, for the support. For a while now, we've been looking at ways we might be able to sustain this full-time. The book would be the most desireable option we've seen yet.

We also heard from a troll ordering us to stop using the editorial 'we'. While ordinarily we'd continue any activity that would annoy a troll, the fact is that this is an idea that's outlived its usefulness (we were posting with a different agenda a year ago). So, when we return to blogging we'll return to the first person.

Exactly when we come back, we can't say. The proposal seems a day or two away, but we've felt that way for weeks as we keep finding new ideas to add or refine, pushing the deadline further and further back in time. So, no more deadline projections - it's done when it's done. All we know is we want to give it our best shot. The worst-case downside is that we've wasted a month or so. The upside is a fun new project to get behind.

If some of our trusted friends want to see the proposal, drop a line and we'll send the URL. (Sorry, but we have to know you.) We'd like feedback, but we also don't want this meme passed all over the web before publishers get to see it.

So that's the story. Thanks for asking.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

All book, all the time

Half the book is complete, which should be more than enough for the proposal. Now we have to finish the marketing pitch, which is what we will focus on today in lieu of posting. Over the weekend, however, we promise the mother of all posts (really, we seriously have one coming). Pretty much all the posts in the book require some adjustment to make them suitable for a book. We noticed a post by Dawn Eden to the effect that the post material included in her upcoming book also needed to be rewritten. With the trend toward "blooks" we wonder if everyone is finding this to be true, or whether some blogs can just get slapped into print form.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Note to regular readers

Blogging will be light today, as we are focused on getting our book proposal out to our agent.

At this point, we figure the book will be around 420 pages. We need to get at least half of that ready, as a demonstration that we can deliver, and proof of what the 'final product' would look like. Pretty much every post required editing and condensing, as the 'net seems to encourage, um, expansiveness.

As of this morning, we have 180 pages edited and ready, so we need 25 or so more.

We also have a front cover ready to go. We will probably send a back cover as well, along with an introduction and a marketing plan. It's important to paint a tight, detailed picture, since this concept is pretty new to most publishers.

This all should be accomplished in a (long) day or two. After that it's the agent's task, and we can move on to other matters. (Including putting up some posts.)

It's certainly been gratifying to see so many people stopping by on a regular basis, and we feel we owe it to you to let you know what's going on here.

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O come, all ye infidels

And do the Forbidden Dance. You know you want to.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

King's funeral as political opportunity

Jimmy Carter's cynically opportunistic remarks about wiretapping at Coretta Scott King's funeral may have been excessive even for the usually-sympathetic Washington Post.

As noted here, Carter's politically-charged eulogy noting that Martin Luther King Jr. had been "the target of secret government wiretapping and other surveillance" was included in William Branigan's WaPo coverage of the funeral, but omitted from Darryl Fears' later report.

It seems that, in his sunset years, Carter is yielding to his own worst instincts. The wiretaps of King were clearly intended to smear and diminish an individual and his political movement. The widespread "eavesdropping net" authorized by Bush was aimed at no one and designed to stop no political movement. It was an attempt to anticipate future terrorist threats on the scale of 9/11 or worse.

Carter not only degraded a solemn occasion with rhetoric intended to ingratiate himself with Democrats, but he deliberately misrepresented two very different situations. His remarks actually diminish King, using him as a political pawn. Carter is a bright enough man that he cannot claim ignorance as an excuse. His performance was nothing but an excercise in vanity, and even the Post seems embarrassed for him.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Daniel Schorr's free speech problem

On Monday, NPR's Daniel Schorr explained why he's decided to look the other way re the now-infamous 'offensive cartoons'. Unfortunately, his noble-sounding explanation doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.

In the audio "Press Freedom not Always Paramount", Schorr explains that discretion is the better part of his brand of valor. Critics of his and NPRs stance are told that Schorr was holding himself back, not for his own convenience but out of his overriding concern for the Greater Good.

Schorr must have taken a good deal of heat over this, since he felt compelled to invoke Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous 1919 declaration that free speech does not protect a man falsely yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater.

The key word is 'falsely'. Anyone yelling 'fire' knows whether or not the theatergoers are actually endangered. Political criticism, as Schorr is well aware, is not so neatly defined. So, Mr. Schorr: Shall we now submit all critical discourse for approval by some higher authority, who will determine whether or not the criticism is legitimate and permitted?

Or is this merely a question of understanding who can and cannot be criticized? In that case, is there a list or web site we may consult for guidance in this regard, Mr. Schorr? [Of course, there is not, and if such a list were instituted you would certainly object to it. How we excercise our right to speech is each of our decisions to make, or it is not a right at all.]

Since this decision is ours to make, we ask ourselves if it is legitimate to criticize radical extremists using religion as an excuse for riots, threats, arson and killings (as a Tuesday NPR segment was obliged to admit), or do we now live in a Bizarro World where those most in need of public admonishment receive the least of it?

In his attempt to both excuse and ennoble himself, Schorr raises more questions than he answers. He'll never candidly address them, even to himself. Since Schorr is a fan of antique quotations, he's certainly heard that the function of the press is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". Poll after poll demonstrates that the public has lost respect for those in the media, whose elite practitioners, such as Schorr, long ago became "the comfortable".

In going over material from blogs for our book proposal, we are rediscovering that deeply held beliefs rarely originate from the media anymore. They originate largely from bloggers. Occasionally commercial media picks up and amplifies a message from the blogs, but the commercial outlets are almost never the opinion leaders. Commercial media has traded in its leadership role for comfort, and exists today largely as distributors of content. That content generally comes from politicians, spin doctors, public relations flacks, professional pundits, movie studios, pressure groups (from Code Pink to PETA), authors – and even blogs (when they come out in force).

We don't expect difficult admissions from Schorr, who merely wants to spend his remaining days occupying the same cozy media niche he now calls home. He cannot state that the easiest course for himself and NPR is to look the other way, so he attempts to label it as courage. It's awkward to acknowledge that Muslim militants added far more inflammatory cartoons to the relatively tame ones published by the Danes. This would involve confronting the extremists as the true source of the rabble-rousing (as NPR has also since been obliged to admit), rather than the far more convenient option of blaming the "irresponsible" Danish paper. And Schorr certainly can't admit he has one eye on NPR's many listeners on the extreme left, which after all recently shut down a Washington Post chat room when it heard something it didn't care for.

No, the safest course for Schorr by far is to trumpet his superior 'compassion' for these thugs and blame someone who won't retaliate. (It's not as if we've never seen this done before. In fact, we've seen it too often.)

Fotunately Schorr is no longer in a position to monopolize the information channel with his self-serving rhetoric - those days are long gone. The public has access to the pipeline, and here is an example of how it really feels.

Schorr mentions in passing that "free speech includes the right not to speak" but declines that as an excuse, calling it "the easy way out". Actually, for Schorr the easy way would at least have been the honest way. Instead, his vanity compelled him to rationalize his actions in a manner that he thought would sound like high-mindedness, rather than hypocricy.

As Senator Joe McCarthy knew (hey, if Schorr can cite Holmes...), the best censorship is the self-imposed kind. Smart bullies, like McCarthy and today's Muslim extremists, know that the world is well-stocked with journalists and other 'leaders' ready to extoll the virtues of self-censorship, in thrall to the powerful. Schorr and those like him not only can be strongarmed into submission, but they will even tell the world their acquiescence sprang from their own highly-principled ideals.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

For all those less out of touch than Schorr:

End the Boycott

More on the violence Schorr wants to blame on those excercising their free speech rights and responsibilities

Hilarious: Leave a Message in the Anonymous Muslim Man Complaint Box

Bravo! The New York Press' staff walks out in solidarity over this issue.

Moderate Muslims apologize for the extremists, who do not represent their views.

The Boston Globe finally gets it: Having missed the point originally, the paper has come to understand that we are all Danes now: "Make no mistake: This story is not going away, and neither is the Islamofascist threat. The freedom of speech we take for granted is under attack, and it will vanish if it is not bravely defended."

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The Neverending saga

Hoboken's automated you-know-what, as seen from Boston.

Boston's Lovejoy Wharf project is slated to include an automated parking system. One company under consideration is Robotic Parking. The other is rival SpaceSaver Parking Co, of Chicago.

Here's the inside politics.

A Boston Globe article says:
It probably won't hurt Robotic that David Passafaro, a friend and former chief of staff of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, is vice president and director of business development for Kavanagh's Berry company. Passafaro narrates a promotional video for Parking Solutions, extolling the virtues of the system that works ''almost like magic."

''It is among the coolest things you'll ever see," said the enthusiastic Passafaro. ''It's safe, it's clean, it's environmentally sound."
In the battle of the spin doctors, Dick Beebe, a conventional (NOT automated) concrete garage builder who has been striving to position himself as an "automated parking expert" for years, is in the very Chicago area that SpaceSaver claims as home, and on the same Automated and Mechanical Parking Association advisory board. Beebe had been hired by former HPA head Donald Pellicano as an "automated parking expert" to discredit Robotic during the time he had Robotic forced off the project. (You'll have to review the PDF report to get that whole saga.)

The Globe piece does not mention Beebe or Pellicano, and we do not know if either is in SpaceSaver's employ. It does cite the well-publicized recent mishaps at the facility. (The story quotes The New York Times, which has an ownership stake in the Globe.) Robotic's Larry Byrnes is quoted:
Byrne suggested the city was at fault, saying it was ''unrealistic to expect the Hoboken Parking Utility to provide operators with the skill level needed to properly supervise this cutting-edge technology."
According to our email conversation with Byrnes, he never intended to imply that "the city was at fault". (Indeed, a careful reading of the piece demonstrates that Byrnes never actually makes that implication - that conclusion was inserted by the story's writer or his editor.) Byrne meant that Robotic learned some lessons regarding what to expect in dealing with a municipality. (In other words - not much in terms of support or capability. Is anyone who has ever dealt with Hoboken's city government surprised by this?) HPU head John Corea, as one might expect, seems to lash back at Robotic in the story. But Corea may have been just as 'set up' as Robotic was. This controversy seems to have been borne out of the Globe's intent to create buzz around a story.

An interesting implication in this coverage is that SpaceSaver has experienced problems in the timely retrieval of cars. The company's general manager, Ken Livingston, says that in such cases "We just afford them taxi cab fare... your car's available by the time you get back."

Robotic's system, again according to the Globe: "memorizes residents' use patterns and "shuffles" vehicles during slow periods late at night, so early birds' cars will be nearest the exit in the morning. Retrieval of a vehicle takes two to three minutes, and at busy times a garage, typically with two delivery bays, can deliver 80 or so an hour."

SpaceSaver is not a US-based automated systems manufacturer. They market and distribute for Wohr Auto Parking Systems of Stuttgart, Germany. Robotic's German-born president and chief engineer Gerhard Haag manufactures the company's modular systems in Florida.

The Boston project is a very big deal, because real estate and parking in the inner Boston/Cambridge area is in some cases even tighter than in Manhattan. Until recently, Boston (like most US cities) has been resistant to automated parking systems. As Kavanagh says: "Everybody wants to be first — but nobody wants to be the first. They want a comfort level, to put away any fears about operations."

Boston city officials, despite Hoboken's well-publicized problems, seem receptive to automated parking. The Boston Transportation Department says the city has actually begun to encourage developers to consider automated parking. If that's true, whoever builds the Lovejoy garage will have the inside track in a city that desperately needs parking solutions, and is likely to become the dominant US automated parking provider. With the stakes this high, we would not be surprised to hear that SpaceSaver had contracted Beebe and/or the Robotic-hating Pellicano to whisper in some well-situated ears. Expect some dirty infighting before an automated parking contract is awarded in Boston.

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The Big Apple Blog Festival


BABF


Choice selections from New York City's blogs: The Big Apple Blog Festival for this week is up. Chug is probably seeking new hosts to take the strain off, and we're too busy with the book proposal and other projects to pitch in. This blog festial is very worthwhile. If anyone in NYC, Hoboken or Jersey City is looking to gain exposure and traffic for their blog, this is a good way to achieve it...

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Real Progress?

Real Hoboken writes a story about gunshots, rather than Jell-o shots.

Granted, it had to happen just outside Joe Concha's door to enter his conciousness, but it did and it did, and so Real Hoboken published a Real Story. From the piece:
Upon further review after a call to the Hoboken police station, it appears that a shootout did take place between 9th and 11th Street on Park Ave. at approximately 7:19 AM.

According to Police, a black Ford Explorer transporting four men approached Park Avenue and 9th Street and began firing on 20-year-old Jason Torres, a Park Avenue resident who had allegedly been involved in an altercation with the men a few hours earlier at the Spa Diner on Hudson Street.

Torres, also armed, returned fire while sprinting back to his apartment at 10th Street and Park Avenue, according to witnesses on the scene. All told, police found about 30 used shell casings around the vicinity.

Police proceeded to question Torres, who then handed over his semi-automatic handgun. After checking Torres’ apartment, police discovered a box containing 900 clear plastic bags normally used to sell marijuana.

Torres was charged with possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon, and fourth-degree possession of drug paraphernalia.

His bail was set at $40,000 cash, which wasn’t paid by any friends or family. Torres currently sits in Hudson County jail.

The Black Ford Explorer left the scene before police arrived, and the four men continue to be at-large.
Our only previous contact from Concha's web effort was some hysterical shrieking over our agreement with a local citizen/blogger who remarked on the (lackluster) quality of Real Hoboken's product.

Does this mean Real Hoboken has turned a corner? We'd welcome the emergence of legitimate, solid local news sources (such as Lawhawk's fine site), but a look around RH offers no basis for hope. A story on a local drug bust betrays a tissue-thin insight into the locals, and beyond that it's the usual junior-high-school-level fare. That's fine if you're still in junior high, where Concha and his affiliates apparently intend to remain ensconsed for as long as possible.

Even as Concha and company wallow in Neverland, some younger Hoboken voices are showing their potential.

UPDATE: This post draws traffic from the Real Hoboken site. (No, we didn't go look... no way it could be positive.) Typical of the tiny, self-possessed world the site covers, it's news if it's all about them.

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Hoax alert

If you get an email to this effect: Soon all cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies and you will start to receive sales calls…YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS… To prevent this, you can register your cell number, be advised that it's apparently a hoax. If Snopes didn't exist we'd have to invent it.

Noted on Musing Minds, which suggests you register anyway. That's fine in their case, since they were apparently sent a legit link to the Do Not Call Registry. But if they had been sent a link to a bogus site, chances they'd be sending off their cell number to telemarketers - or worse.

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Real Franken

If Franken is considering a run for Senate in 2008, as he's fond of claiming, he's likely to have to field a real question once in a while. If this interview with a college reporter is any indication, he has a long way to go in handling press relations.

Franken no doubt understands that a political campaign would bring increased scrutiny, but in these days well before any official run, he still expects slow-pitch softball questions intended to allow for entertaining answers. His media deal works this way: Ask Franken a question, get a Bush joke for your story, and everyone wins. This symbiotic coverage has been the general rule ever since he evolved into a 'political' comedian/commentator.

That's why the questions in this interview rattled him. The last thing he expected was a brushback fastball from a college paper (of all places), and he responded testily to the unexpected heat.

That's not a good approach to the press, Al. If you pull this with commercial media, they'll shift right into blood-in-the-water mode. Lose your equilibrium and attack your questioners, and even your best buds will decide there's a much better story to be had by launching a Franken feeding frenzy than in playing another round of pin the tail on the Republican with you. In such a situation, you'd be reminded quickly what your friendly press relations were actually based on.

No one can say we didn't warn him. We still believe he'll back down from an actual run. As local pretend-pol Joe Concha learned, it's much easier to talk up a run for office than actually pursue it.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Posting today

Posting won't come until later today. We are attempting to put together this book proposal with as much material completed as possible. So far, 65 pages out of a 400+ page book have been assembled & edited.

Probably we'll submit about half the book, plus a marketing plan. We already have a title (not "Best Posts" which is too dry) and a designed cover (we'll even submit a back cover). We're just trying to get this out there so we can see what (if anything) comes of it, rather than have the project hanging around forever. Besides, blog posts just want to get published ASAP. That's their nature - get out while they're young.

Anyway, begging your indulgence.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

While submitting some posts to the Muslim correctness office for approval

...we came across this image archive.

Scroll to the bottom and you'll see that images far more hateful are now being inspired by Muslims' torching of foreign embassies and demands for 'understanding'. This archive is getting a good deal of press.

As the Muslim's intimidation tactics escalate, so does the backlash. Tim Cavanaugh says:
Muslim activists are finding out why getting into a negative-publicity fight is as inadvisable as wrestling with a pig: You get dirty and the pig enjoys it.
It's seeming increasingly likely that the sad-sack commercial media may be sufficiently embarrassed by the blogospheric outrage that they finally decide to remove their heads from between their legs.

Who's next on the Muslim hit parade? Could it be... Google?

Our original post on this fiasco.

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Blogs becoming books

In our 'Best Posts' compilation we noted that we're compiling blog posts as a book. It's come to our attention that blogs are becoming books at an increasing rate.

Besides the blogs we noted previously (including Post Secret, Seth Godin and Overheard in New York), we've since noticed that Riverbend (aka Baghdad Burning) had gone book, and that a "Lulu Blooker Prize" had been established (in three categories) for blogs-turned-books ("blooks"). (via Blogger Buzz)

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Scary businesses, respectable facades

Walk the back streets of Hoboken and see its past, before it's swallowed up in newness. Ghosts linger in those forlorn factory buildings. Real cobblestone (not the Disneyland stuff they installed on Washington Street) grounds you in history. A message here demands an audience.

We came from a northeastern city littered with bleak, abandoned factory buildings, so we felt right at home when we first arrived here in the early 80's. Hoboken was still Palookaville then, still part of that beat, despondent, hopeless Jersey that Springsteen urged his fans to get out of, 'while we're young'. We remember when the Lipton Tea Building was inhabited by struggling, fly-by-night, semi-legal or illegal businesses. You had to know what you were doing and where you were going in there, since many of the operators weren't the type to advertise their presence.

Some of the factories' ghosts have been exorcized through the years. Walk around the side of the High School field near Tenth, and you'll see factories still weighed down by murky pasts sitting alongside their unburdened, facelifted condo cousins. Inevitably more ghosts will yield to changing times, but not without a fight. Would-be condo owners were forced to abandon the now-infamous "mercury" building on Grand when the building's conversion turned loose buried secrets to assert themselves in Hoboken's present.

Pondering these weathered shells, it's hard to envision a time when they meant employment and hope rather than despair and broken promises. They serve as reminders of hard realities and shady dealings from an earlier era, just as Enron's "crooked E" symbolizes white-collar crime today.

The middle class earned an honest keep off the goods they produced at the My-T-Fine, Lipton, Maxwell House, and Hostess plants. Yet those companies eventually abandoned them and their town, leaving broken lives in their wake. In keeping with their valueless philosophy, many of the structures later housed sweatshops and other grey-market ventures. That's the legacy haunting these factories even today.

Still, we prefer these delapitated structures to today's sleek corporate workplaces. Our outmoded factory buildings are grim but honest, outward-facing expressions of the troubling realities that today are kept hidden behind corporate doors. Hoboken's fortresslike Maxwell House plant has been laid flat, its former site now wrapped in a brightly-hued vinyl banner depicting the eternally smiling, young and well-off enjoying their lives' entitlements. It's a vision of honestly-earned corporate reward that we accept as real, despite knowing its duplicity.

This is no idle reminiscence. It was born of a piece in Saturday's Times: FDA Shuts a Human-Tissue Broker in New Jersey. The article concerned Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, which had been dealing in misrepresented human remains. They would (for example) offer tissue purportedly from a heart attack victim that was actually from a patient who had died of a liver dysfunction. Moreover, they often appropriated these remains illegally.

You don't need a medical degree to grasp the unsavory implications. But there's more: Area funeral parlors are implicated in this widespread scheme. Alistair Cooke's body was one of the many carved up and sold piecemeal (without his family's knowledge). A Brooklyn grandmother's leg bones were replaced with metal pipes; a South Jersey man and dozens of others learned that the bones surgeons fused into their spines may be tainted.

The story of "how a former college football star and marquee Manhattan surgeon ended up soliciting funeral homes for cadavers is a remarkable tale, even by New Jersey standards", says Tom Troncone on North Jersey.com.

And it all took place, day after day, behind the most respectable of facades.

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We're back. Or are we?

Blogspot sites seem to be back online. Then again, we thought that after Friday night's blackout as well. We'll see. It's beyond our control, we gotta say.

Here's some additional information on the outage from Bloggers' Blog.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Gospel according to Lego

The Brick Testament is the Bible illustrated by Lego toys. There's books, even.

Why? Because apparently no one cared enough to stop him.

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Sigmund, Carl & Alfred put Gerard on the couch

We rather liked this recent analysis of Gerard Vanderleun, who we've been reading a good deal lately.

Probably we are all given to read people we agree with, or wish to emulate. What strikes us about the interview is this:
Are Americans literate? Which three books does every American need to read?

Americans are much more literate than the Elites would have us believe. Case in point, the Barnes and Noble / Borders mega-bookstores that proliferate around the nation. Add in the crowd reading and typing away at Starbucks and its ilk. Add in the huge explosion of blogs and web essay sites. We have more college educated adults in the population than ever, even if there are very deep problems with college education.

Three books? Well, that would be tough, but just off the top of my head I'd say: The King James Bible (Whether or not you believe.) The Works of William Shakespeare (Otherwise you know nothing of reading and writing.) Moby Dick (The great American novel has been written and this is it. Prophetic vision of America that proves more true with every passing year.)
Where is our common ground with Mr. Vanderleun? He speaks our against an elitist view of America as the 'great unwashed' (which we employ, with irony, in our masthead). This also reminds us of a Ben Wattenburg remark we heard some time ago, of Americans being a people always reinventing themselves, always finding a new hope, a new means of improvement. We'd heard from the literati for years that Americans had become illiterate. Apparently, the literati weren't giving them what they wanted to read, because they are obviously doing so now.

We also appreciate the reasons for the reading choices cited. One needs to understand something of Christian theology because it provides the underpinnings for much of the philosophy and motivation of the most powerful nation on Earth. One needs to know Shakespeare because he knew how to sell an idea. One needs to know Moby Dick because, having grown up in New Bedford, we had to practically memorize it. And we'll we damned if we're the only ones.

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We're concerned that you're not getting enough irony

Best headline of 2006 so far: "Angry Muslim Terrorists Protest Cartoon Stereotypes of Angry Muslim Terrorists".

Our original post has been updated.

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Try to get the big picture here, folks

It's not just that you're getting a tattoo. It's not even where the tattoo is, or how big it is.

It's that it's.... this.

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All your black hole questions answered

Ted Bunn thoughtfully addresses all your black hole questions. Isn't he swell? Amazing how much time we'll spend on matters that will have absolutely no impact on our lives.

We admit, black holes are cool. Mainly, black holes fill a gaping void in our lexicon of concepts. Where do our tax dollars go? Black hole. Where does your teenager put all that pizza? Black hole. Your job? Black hole. The Internet? Hole.

Thirty-three million Google references can't be wrong.

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Blogspot spotty

Blogger's blogspot sites went down yesterday afternoon, and were up and down sporadically during the evening. Nothing seems to be mislaid or damaged around here today, though the service does seem a bit slow.

We've certainly heard tales of sites on other hosting services getting hosed. Blogspot isn't capable of the fanciest tricks, but it certainly has been reliable in terms of data.

And free. Did we mention free?

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Your cowardly press in action

We had our own up-close and personal look at the craven cowardice of those who inhabit our media institutions years ago (much longer version here). We also remember Salmon Rushdie's abandonment in his hour of need. Another vividy-hued instance is playing out right now.

• “Fear has its use but cowardice has none.” - Mahatma Gandhi

You've surely heard about the jihad being called over a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons deemed 'offensive to Muslims'. Pressure is being applied on the Danish government to ban the cartoons, and it's taking hold, because the rest of the world is backing down.

Did the free-speech-loving American press rush to the rescue of their Danish news brethren? HA. Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News laments:
Are we brave enough to do this?
You might have read about the international row over a Danish newspaper's publishing cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. Some Muslims have waged violent protests (in Gaza, gunmen stormed EU offices over the stupid cartoons!) and bomb threats against the Danish paper and Danish interests, and are boycotting Danish goods. Today across Europe, major newspaper[s] stood in solidarity with the Danish newspaper (which, sadly, apologized yesterday for having caused offense) in defending its right to free speech against the Islamofascist threat by publishing cartoon caricatures of Mohammed themselves.

I wish American newspapers, including this one, had the courage to do the same thing. To do so implies no approval of the message. In fact, I wish media were more respectful of religion, as a general matter. Rather, it is to assert, in the face of violent threats to suppress speech, that no religious group has the right to expect no criticism, and in turn to react violently when that criticism has been published in a peaceable way. Free speech is a basic value, and it is under severe attack in the West by some Muslims...
Unfortunately, the EU papers weren't as brave as Daher reported/hoped. France Soir fired its managing editor for reprinting the cartoons. (Now they can claim they printed the cartoons and stood for something while also appeasing the militants, a sleazy win-win for everyone but the sacrificial-lamb editor.)

Check out the "stupid cartoons" to see (as Dreher suggested) just how pathetic this whole affair is. Had major papers such as the Pulitzer-laden Times shown some backbone and run the cartoons, other papers might have found strength and done the same. No calls are being made for the reinstatement of the editors fired for doing the right thing and speaking their minds. They and Denmark are being left to twist in the wind, an example for any daring to follow.

• The past is prologue

Of greater significance is the past message which has emboldened Muslim terrorists now verbally promising a "new 9/11". That is the message sent by the media's abandonment of Salmon Rushdie by the media over The Satanic Verses. Had his colleagues stood solidly behind him, not only could Rushdie have avoided painful years in exile, but extremists would be far less certain of how their threats would be received by the press. The Rushdie affair demonstrated that the press would not only back down, but would back up extremist demands. (Otherwise, it just looks too much like capitulation.)

Sure enough, once again the media finds itself apologizing for 'offended sensibilities' while leaving colleagues who crossed the wrong group to fend for themselves.

As long as violence is effective in repressing speech, we can expect futher violence. Following the Soir sacking, a Jordanian editor was fired for writing:
What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?
How is the press spinning this? Aside from a tiny minority including Dreher, the New York Sun and Nightline (which both bucked the trend and showed the cartoons), the media is portraying their groveling as "respect for (Islamic) religion".

The Instapundit opines: "...The lesson here is that if you want to be listened to, you should blow things up. That's a very bad incentive structure, but it's the one the allegedly responsible parties have created."

• We're not afraid. We're being responsible. And free speech needs to be 'flexible'.

But mistake none of this for cowardice. This is nothing less than noble restraint born out of a deep respect for Islam.

A commentary on "liberal" NPR implicitly justifies militant threats by claiming that since the drawings were "meant to be offensive", rights to free speech did not apply. The title of this audio report suggests its message: "Understanding Muslim Anger Over Cartoons".

In reality, it is precisely when groups are most "offended" that free speech rights are most urgently (and unambiguously) needed. NPR commentators cited "censorship" [audio link] when, for example, Rudy Giuliani pulled public funding for feces-smeared Christian art in NYC museums. Not one complaint of Muslim censorship was cited in conjunction with these cartoons. Muslim radical groups making death threats require our "understanding", not criticism, and sometimes free speech is just not OK. NPR aptly demonstrates what we've said so often - the left is not liberal.

Considering the press' history on this subject, it's to be expected that The Boston Globe takes the side of the thugs. Commentary on this here. Glenn Reynolds: "The funny thing is that the Globe views fundamentalist Christians as a god-besotted threat to liberty, but makes excuses for people like this."

What's that old saw about the Holocaust... "First they came for the Communists...?"

• Odds and ends

An April 13th episode of Will & Grace will mock the crucifiction of Christ. Since no one will threaten to place a bomb under an editor's car, there'll be no need to show any 'respect' there. Mark Steyn remarks:
NBC is celebrating Easter this year with a special edition of the gay sitcom "Will & Grace," in which a Christian conservative cooking-show host, played by the popular singing slattern Britney Spears, offers seasonal recipes -- "Cruci-fixin's." On the other hand, the same network, in its coverage of the global riots over the Danish cartoons, has declined to show any of the offending artwork out of "respect" for the Muslim faith.

Which means out of respect for their ability to locate the executive vice president's home in the suburbs and firebomb his garage.
This piece makes many great points and really should be read in its entirety.

From Glenn Reynolds, again: "Once again, the message is that if you blow things up, or even look as if you might, we'll be nice to you. And once again, I note that this is a very unwise message to send." Noting a double standard being observed (from official sources, yet) in Britain.

This collection of images of Mohammed notes the following:
When a delegation of Danish imams went to the Middle East to discuss the issue of the cartoons with senior officials and prominent Islamic scholars, the imams openly distributed a booklet that showed not only the original 12 cartoons, but three fraudulent anti-Mohammed depictions that were much more offensive than the ones published in Denmark. It is now thought that these three bonus images are what ignited the outrage in the Muslim world. The newspaper Ekstra Bladet obtained a copy of the booklet and presented the three offensive images on its Web site (though not in an easy-to-find place).
The cartoons in question are also shown, alongside far more hateful drawings shown as a response to the Muslim furor. If you are interested in this subject, these must be seen (scroll down near the bottom of the linked page).

Austin Bay makes a great point - for many, this is really a cynical use of religion to mask secular tyranny.

Volokh examines the Globe's previous stands on speech offensive to other religious groups and finds - surprise - inconsistency.

Malkin has much more, and all the cartoons as well, if you want to see exactly why the US and world media is in full flight. She is at her best in such situations, having more resilience and fortitude than the entirety of the New York Times. (Not that it's all that great a compliment.)

More Toonrage notes from Mudville Gazette.

An overview of the story appears here.

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Greatest. Bio. Ever.

Personal web sites are pretty much obliged to offer biographical information. Usually this is handled as a chore. Seth Fisher saw it as a creative opportunity.

From the site:
Welcome friends to the digital domicile of Seth Fisher, protector of mankind, friend to small animals, and perpetual artist in training. Floweringnose is the translation of Seth's cerebral network into a freely accessible electronic database. Just as bacon and tomatoes unwittingly cooperate to become a delicious BLT, Seth's art is the communion of a multitude of disparate ideas and interests into tasty artistic morsels... Seth in his alternate slug form rests before defending the planet from the merciless tangerine lizard from space... With Life as his constant guide, Seth roams with minimal inertia from one adventure to the next. Seth lives in Nagoya, Japan with his adorable wife and constant companion Hisako who encourages him in mad quests for excellence and occasionally corrects his Japanese. His interests range from spinning in circles looking for the inner Buddha, to pondering humans' behavior then laughing hysterically, to harvesting perfectly usable electronics found abandoned in Tokyo alleys and attaching them to his computer... Whether it's making a sandwich, making a homepage or making love, every project is a work of art. Once in 1988 while lying in bed peeling a kiwi fruit with a sharp knife and watching Mel Brooks "History of the World, Part I" Seth fumbled for the remote and stabbed himself in the fleshy part of the arm just opposite the elbow barely missing the central artery. Unable to locate a bandage, Seth pressed pause then skillfully patched his wound with cotton balls and masking tape, which he insisted on using for the next five days while the damage healed. Seth's quick thinking that day avoided the trauma of a doctor's stitches and insured that he will always be able to remember that cool autumn evening when he feels the lump of scar tissue in his arm. The canvas is Seth, the paintbrush is life and the easel is everything else... Seth expresses universal love to the dust particles and particulate matter with a bear hug embrace.

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Mush

That's what Hoboken's built on: "stuff" mushed into landfill.

It's not just us - much of Jersey along the Hudson was built that way. So were parts of Manhattan.

If you saw a map of early Hoboken (sorry, we don't have one handy) you'd understand why this practice was common around here. The hudson does not flow in a neat straight line. In earlier days it meandered well into Hoboken, and much of the land was separated into tiny islands or peninsulas by rivulets of (often stagnating) water. Much of the town, in other words, was Marshland (insert your own joke about last year's election here). This was highly impractical, mainly because industry wanted to be as close to the water as possible, for shipping reasons.

To complicate matters, we're below sea level. Officially, Hoboken's a flood zone. So when new buildings are put up, they're not sitting on granite as they are in Manhattan. Piles have to be driven down to reach the bedrock, otherwise they'd eventually sink.

Judy Marciano pauses to photograph the process. You have to appreciate a real estate broker who knows her business from the ground up.

Also: Hoboken gets a slick-looking new car wash.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

That's what we're talkin' about

Off the bloggersuperhighway transversed by the usual eighteen-wheeled airhorn-blasting behemoths, Jamie Morrison at The Nonist maps out the road less traveled: His own Bloggers Choice Awards. Jamie asks his readers to follow suit - write your own post listing the blogs you find worthwhile, regardless of traffic. Let us know about them, too.

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The 'Best Posts of the Year' are up

The 'Best Posts of 2005' are up. Here's a guide.

This link takes you to the posts, which may be all you need or want. We tended to group the very best categories (the ones we thought the most readers would be most interested in) up front, and within each category the best posts are toward the top.

As you'll see, underneath the post categories is a good deal of expository material - a FAQ and so on. You'll notice we are preparing a pitch to publishers (our next great task in this project). One blogger reminded us that it's February, and no one will buy a '2005' collection now. Here's our response.

Also, information for those who want to help us gather posts for 2006 and beyond. The more people who understand that there is at least one place to submit 'best posts', the better a compilation we can assemble next time. If we gain the support of an ongoing publication, we can assure everyone that there will be a next time... otherwise, that's an awful lot of work with no compensation. You know how that goes.

If you have, right this minute, a 2006 post that should be considered (or even a great 2005 post we absolutely missed), add a comment to this post.

We're going to get a few other things done today, so we'll either refrain or post lightly.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

How we're promoting the 'Best Posts of the Year' project

The Best Posts of the Year compilation will be posted late today. If you find it worthwhile, you can help it happen again next year - while helping yourself. Meanwhile, there's news in this progress report.

• Our pitch to literary agents gains some traction.

We held back posting this year's Best Posts compilation because we decided to first pitch the concept to literary agents. We got a few thoughtful responses, and one potential green light from a well-established agency. We'll see how that plays out.

Let's emphasize that this is not the same as saying that the compilation is about to be publiished. Even if we come to terms with the agent, it does not guarantee the project a publisher. Nor does it mean that all the bloggers involved have yet agreed to participate. It simply means there is interest and that we are moving forward. We want to report our progress to all of you who have shown interest and supported this project so far.

A published book obviously is of benefit to the ongoing project. But published or not, we need your support to enable this project's success and continuation into next year. At this writing, we can only report that we are working toward a publication deal for the first installment. But there's no point holding off any longer, waiting to find out.

• We encountered many rejections.

The most commonly offered reason for passing on the project was: "Publishers (and readers) won't pay for content already available for free on the web". We strongly disagree. If this were true, then current blogpost-compilation books by Post Secret, Seth Godin and Overheard in New York (among others) were big miscalculations on the part of their publishers. We believe that that these publishers are showing foresight by tapping into a new source of literary creativity, at the front of the acceptance curve.

• The three main fallacies of the 'people won't pay' rationale:

1) The core assumption is that the book-reading audience and the blog-reading audience are one and the same. Not true! Some blog readers rarely read books, while many book readers rarely read blogs.

2) The primary value of this compilation is the research involved. Few people would ever find all these posts on their own. And if they did, most people would prefer to read this amount of material in books form rather than on a computer screen.

3) The unparallelled success and staying power of Readers' Digest demonstrates that there is a substantial audience for a 'guided tour' through the literary jungle. This goes double for the blogosphere, which is far bigger and wilder than the commercial printed media ever managed. Readers don't have time to assess the best of millions of choices on their own. They want help from someone who knows the lay of the land.

• What the agents really meant when they passed:

"I've never handled anything like this, and I don't know what to make of it." (Which is understandable. Books like this are unfamiliar territory.)

• What agents and publishers will say when someone picks up and runs with the idea:

"I'd be interested in something like it, but they have that market all sown up."

• What agents and publishers will say if it becomes as successful as the 'For Dummies' franchise:

"You know anyone who can crank out a knockoff?" (Although we do not expect success on the scale of the 'Dummies' franchise!)

• What agents and publishers don't yet grasp about the "Best Posts" compilation:

Because the bloggers involved care about it, they will help promote the idea to their readers. Very few books can reach the grassroots reader the way this compilation can. We cannot recall a previous publication in which every contributor had both the interest and ability to contribute to the marketing effort so vital to a publication's success.

• Why an accompanying annual printed publication is needed:

Publishing this book creates a focus for resources and interest that is vital to this project's long-term goals. The book also enables an outreach beyond the blogosphere, into a braoder readership. Blog posts, at their best, are "outsider literature" which deserves a place alongside traditional "commercial" literature.

Finding these posts required a substantial effort. This collection cannot be found by a simple Google search. Most of these posts would not be found on the blogs winning the various "Best Weblog" competitions, which are (mostly) in reality traffic-driving contests. In order to contnue finding such posts, and to find more and better ones in the future, this effort must be sustained.

• How you can help this project, and yourself:

When the "Best of" post goes up, it will include options through which bloggers can "sponsor" the effort, driving traffic to a central information location. In return, "sponsors" receive a share of the traffic that this project will generate going forward. We will take out periodic blogads for this project, and should the publication effort bear fruit it will generate publicity for the project. This likewise will build project-specific site traffic which will trickle down to sponsors.

This will be explained in detail once the post is up. Meanwhile, if you have no yet done so, you might consider placing one of the banners/buttons below in a post or sidebar. For those who have this banner in their sidebar already, the URL of the completed post has not changed. You're all set.

Thank you all for your interest and support. We are moving ahead. Copy and paste any of the codes below into a post or sidebar to help us announce this project.

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Code for 300 x 61, animated/large:

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Tough love from Philip Greenspun

Disenchanted by life? The healthiest approach is also the hardest - accepting the truth about ourselves, at industrial strength. Greenspun gives us both barrels, and we're still picking out the buckshot.

• The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

In an engaging and thoughtful rant concerning the potential and pitfalls of early retirement, we learn that our blame of work as the cause for our lack of accomplishment is a self-serving delusion. Greenspun notes that one reason retirement is so depressing for so many is that your job can no longer be blamed for holding you back.

• Why staying productive and engaged at a non-profit won't work out.

Perhaps you could retire young because you're more capable than other people. You might think a non-profit might be eager to engage your sevices. (You might be wrong.)

Greenspun relates his own experience in this area, concluding:
Non-profit organizations exist to provide their staff with great jobs and the fun of making decisions and spending money. The folks who work at a non-profit organization are very interested in drawing a salary higher than their skills and working hours would command at a for-profit enterprise subject to competition. They are not especially interested in efficiency or accomplishment. If you've come from the commercial world... working with or in the typical non-profit will drive you to insanity.

Once word gets around town that you are retired, non-profit orgs will start rattling your cage... the assumption will be that you are past it, a doddering old fool incapable of doing more than writing a check. If you believe in their mission, it doesn't make sense to write them a check. Donating money to charity is great for busy people with jobs and the obscenely wealthy who are maintaining their social status with displays of spending surplus cash. As an early retiree, however, your comparative wealth is mostly in the time that you can choose to spare. If the non-profit organization can't come up with a way to use your brains, skills, and time, tell them to get their cash from the time-starved working rich and the multi-billionaires.

Most important, do not retire in the expectation that it will be easy to find rewarding non-profit volunteer work.
• Teaching might be the answer

Again quoting Greenspun:
Volunteering as a teacher has proven very rewarding for many early retirees... The traditional lecture course provides a venue in which people are forced to listen to the teacher... Talking to young people is an activity that matters. If you are talking to someone over the age of 40 about life decisions, chances are that you are simply wasting breath and killing time. Input that you provide [to young people] could be critical to their future happiness.
The piece goes on to cover early-retirement issues concerning investing, where to live, time management, general happiness, portrayals of early retirement in movies and literature, and preparation for that final, ultimate trip.

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Entering McCallville

A shout-out from McCall Nation, where it's all McCall, all the time.

Tris emails us to extend his dominion:

Jersey City Vibe, a local website in what Tris calls the Land of Silence, is simulcasting this year’s music poll results. Well, not exactly simulcasting; they’ve got the Albums list up, and will probably do singles soon. Come for the Critics Poll, stay for the debate about whether or not Bob Troy should step down as chief of police.

Brad Krumholz, a Critics Poll voter since 1988, is now (among other things) a radio personality in Upstate New York. From 10 ‘til midnight on Wednesday night, he will be broadcasting a Critics Poll special on WJFF. He’ll be talking about the albums that won, and airing tracks from them. You can stream the show from here.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Iraq blogger gains new recognition

Michael Yon gets more well-deserved recognition, this time from USA Today. Michael also has one of the best-designed sites we've seen, and has inspired a good number of Chris Muir cartoons.

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Psych Web

Psychology-related information for students and teachers of psychology. The site is supervised by a Psych professor from Georgia Southern University.

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Not your Daddy's VC

We've been speculating about different possibilities for bootsrapping the new online local blog. Mark Evans speculates on the new Venture Capitalist.

Basically, we see micro-investments and technical support from comparatively silent partners for one or more of several possible models enabling (paid) local online reporting. This would take the form of blogs or blog networks to replace dying local newspapers. Mark also envisions smaller investments with technical and other support coming from the new breed of VC's, who would take much smaller stakes in new companies than they did in the past.

Related: Blogger ad networks, and development money
A flood of startup money may enable a flood of pro bloggers

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How Jobs saved Apple, and what that means to Disney

Based on what happened when Steve walked into a dying Apple in 1997, Business Week speculates on Disney's fate.

The story goes that, when Steve Jobs walked back into Apple HQ, he asked, "O.K., tell me what's wrong with this place." When he got only corporatespeak mumbling in response, he finally interjected, "The products SUCK!"

Fast forward to 2006. Apply same to Disney. Company fixed.

Gee, how hard was that?

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Chewbacca's blog

Yes, Chewbacca has a blog. Includes candid moments with Madonna, Ron Jeremy, and the Three Tenors. See him in David Byrne's Big Suit. And don't miss his witty skewering of Bill O'Reilly.

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Sputnik lives!

Retro-cool images of Venus-bound Russian spacecraft. (circa 1961-85) Lots more on Don P. Mitchells's übergeek-and-proud-of-it web site and blog. More wonder per square inch than the Rose Planetarium. (And don't miss the Nikola Tesla piece.)

Assembled with the precision and detail of a professional researcher (which Don, now retired, once was).

Oh, and here's what Don considers the 'authentic' sound of Sputnik.

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Not your Daddy's Pong

Pong with a twist.

In fact, as you play the game, you'll encounter a myriad of inspired twists, such as:

• More control over angle and speed than Pong ever had.
• The ability to enlarge the paddle.

But better you should see for yourself.

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Birth of a Centrist

Senator Obama's remarks against the proposed Alito filibuster marks a turnover in power among Democrats.

What does it mean when a junior Senator takes a stand against party leadership from Kennedy, Dean and Kerry?

It means there's a new sherriff in town.

While Kennedy and Kerry have reached the wits-end desperation point of appealing to extreme-left demagogue Kos and his rabid followers, Obama smells the blood in the water and wisely (opportunistically if you like) stands firmly against it as a 'futile' move. This move, gutsy by most political standards, offers him centrist street cred far superior to Hillary's empty and woefully misguided faux-centrist posturing. (Although we believe Senator Clinton is a centrist at her core, her transparent manipulations to court all sides are wooing no one. On Alito, for example, she's rushed back from the center to embrace the left.)

It's worth noting Obama's more outspoken allies here (Harry Reid of Nevada and New York's Charles Schumer), as they will likely be his allies again. Even Hillary will have to come to him for support.

If the Democrats are going to make a serious run to gain seats this year, look for the Kerrys and Kennedys to move to the back of the bus. This will not, of course, appeal to the Kossacks, who demand that the Party come to them.

Also: Do the math - Every time Kerry and/or Kennedy get a lot of national media exposure, Bush's numbers go up.

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New Jersey Carnival link analysis

In an anlysis unique among the Carnivals we've seen, Ken Adams analyzes results of all 36 previous NJ Carnivals.

Ken explains what he did and how he did it, and lists the most-linked blogs in order.

Ken charts the blogs on a curve, noting the majority (82) that were linked (and possibly appeared) just one time. He also notes other trivia such as hosting services and domain names.

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Journalist with an agenda

Nelson Schwartz builds a spurious case for $262 a barrel oil.

Here's a story from a big, brand-name commercial media company telling us oil will hit $262 a barrel. Pretty grim!

What's the case for this? Well, Schwartz invokes George Soros. So Soros predicted that oil prices would soar to this level?

Well, no. But he does say "the supply-demand balance... is very tight".

Schwartz then cites Bill Browder, whose Moscow-based Hermitage fund has been doing quite well for a decade. So Browder predicted this?

Well, no. But he does suggest that an Iranian oil embargo or any number of other crises could double current prices to over $100. He was not asked for how long, or how the market typically deals with surging energy or commodity costs.

Schwartz closes this immaculately-reasoned piece by taking a swipe at the president for not stemming a surge in oil demand which is largely a result of the sharp industrial uptick in China.

More: What will really happen when oil demand drives prices up.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Blogs of the people

Encouraging observations re the 'smaller' blogger.

We've decided Steve Pavlina is an interesting guy. Knows his own mind, firm in his convictions. Unpretentious yet successful. We bet dogs like him, too.

Steve has cracked the Technorati Top 100 with a blog that breaks most of the 'rules', as we know them:

• He has no blogroll.
• He doesn't feature the topic of the day from Memorandum. Or Michele Malkin. Or Koz. Or Instapundit.
• He doesn't write about web development, the computer biz, IT, or software. (Although he does have some games elsewhere on the site.)
• He doesn't post every single day, nor more than once a day.
• His posts are not brief. Many of them are considerably detailed.
• He has no pictures of naked women.
• No politics.
• No celebrities, either.
• No tech gadgets to fawn over.
• No movie or TV reviews.
• He doesn't do trackback parties or Carnivals, as far as we can tell.
• He does not get links from Drudge, Hugh Hewitt, Daily Kos, Pajamas Media, Huffington Post, Wonkette, or any of the usual suspects.
• He is not appearing on the radio or CNBC (although he is doing some Podcasts).

There's nothing wrong with having/doing any of the above (we get the occasional Instalink ourselves). But the fact that he doesn't do any of them suggests that there might be more than one way to build a blog's readership.

We looked at who links to Steve, according to Technorati. We did actually see one "Top 100" link, from Lifehacker (and that was for a post on attracting blog traffic). But this was a very recent link, and does not explain his growth unil now. In fact, after Lifehacker, the blog with the most "authority" linking him was ours. And we're a long way from the blogging stratosphere.

After that, there were over 1,100 blogs hosting one or two links to Steve. None of them received a reciprocal blogroll link (since he doesn't have one). That suggests all those bloggers felt he had something of value that they wanted to share with their own readers.

Aside from Lifehacker (linked by well over 5,00 blogs), none of these supporting blogs would be mistaken for a BoingBoing in traffic size. The next down after ours was linked by 273 blogs, and the numbers dwindled from there. There may be links that Technorati (which can be erratic) has dropped, but the message is clear: Steve seems to have built a truly grassroots blog. A blogger for the little guy. His is a blog of the people, and they are carrying him aloft.

And he's not the only one.

Post Secret, a blog we noted back in May (and at least one commenter harrumphed at, but we won't say who), has been embedded in the Technorati Top Three for ages now. They're not trolling for the big bloggers' approval, they just keep posting postcards. (And they're making a book.)

Overheard in New York is sort of an aural Post Secret. No blogroll, etc. Just stuff overheard. In New York. (It's now a book as well.)

Stuff on my Cat has pictures of cats. With stuff. On them. (The book seems inevitable.)

There are more, but you get the idea. These blogs' traffic are strictly grassroots. No Instalanches or other artificial ingredients are involved (although some of them got linked by Yahoo and other media after they'd achieved some success).

Not all the good ideas are taken. The 'net's not locked down yet, not by a long shot. Like Steve says, do something of real service for someone who is in your shoes, or reach down and lift up someone who needs it. See what happens.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Some bloggers have decided you don't have to be a Wizbang or have tons of traffic to host a Weblog Awards. And you don't need permission, either. Integral Practice has posted theirs. So has Vincent Horn. And Bloggin' Outloud is looking for your help in choosing theirs. Anyone looking to be of service to other 'small' bloggers could start with Lyn Perry's 'Outloud' site.

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Let a thousand reactors bloom

The Joy-Joy Snap-together Nuclear reactor.

When the subject is Nuclear Power, perhaps you don't want to describe the need as driven by "explosive" growth. Time to fess up: It's only an illustration for Wired Magazine.

(See more futuristic visions from Kenn Brown and Chris Wren.)

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Send a free fax

Right here.

How long before the fax machine is a complete relic?

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Jack Shafer on the state of the newspaper biz

You already know it's going downhill, fast. Jack views it historically.

Excerpted and edited rom the Slate piece:
Newspaper technology remained stable in the 70 years before the post-WWII era, with the "massive, noisy mechanical contraption called a Linotype machine." that had more than 10,000 moving parts and took as much skill to operate as a nuclear power plant dominating newspaper production. Then post-war inflation and the end of wage freezes sent publishers searching for ways to cut costs.

In 1953, Prescott Low of the Patriot Ledger bet on a newfangled photocomposition device—the Photon—that set type on film instead of lead, did it six times faster, and did it tons cheaper. By 1956, the Patriot Ledger had fully integrated the Photon into its operation. This allowed Low to replace skilled workers with the unskilled, who could set more type in less time at much less cost, eventually displacing "a method of production that newspapers had been using for nearly a hundred years."

Strong trade unions kept photocomposition machines out of many pressrooms, fearing correctly that they would destroy jobs. Schermer's only alternative to photocomposition machines was bankruptcy, so he outwitted the unions with a negotiation strategy that got the machines into his newspaper on his terms, not theirs'. Other publishers imitated Schermer, and by the early 1980s many had routed the unions and become hugely profitable.

This is where blogs come in. The union-destroying technology Neiva describes continued to evolve, reducing newspaper costs. Ultimately, the technology trickled down to individual desktops in the form of affordable personal computers. When the Web arrived in the mid-1990s, big media organizations and other well-funded entities were the only ones that could afford to build high-traffic, fancy Web sites.

The prices of hardware, software, and bandwidth have fallen so dramatically in the last six years that the Web has experienced a "second coming". The price of one gigabyte of hard-disk storage has dropped from about $9 in October 2000 (nominal terms) to about 45 cents (retail) or less today. And it's not just a matter of falling prices but of who is catching the technology as it falls: Individuals and institutions that couldn't afford the spiffy technologies only moneyed corporations could afford previously.

Like the long-gone typesetters, today's newspaper guild members believe that their job is somehow their "property," and that no amateur can step in to perform their difficult and arduous tasks. If you loosely define journalism as words and graphics about current events deliverable on tight deadline to a mass audience, the price of entry into the craft has dropped to a few hundred dollars.

Michael Kinsley argued against Web populists replacing professional writers, saying that when he goes to a restaurant, he wants the chef to cook his entree, not the guy at the next table. I'm not laughing anymore: When there are millions of aspiring chefs willing to make your dinner for free, a least a hundred of them are likely to deal a good meal. Mainstream publishers no longer have a lock on the means of production, making the future of reading and viewing anybody's game.

The newspaper guild (again, reporters, editors, publishers) can't compete by adding a few blogs here, blogging up coverage over there, and setting up "comment" sections. If newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters don't produce spectacular news coverage no blogger can match, they have no right to survive.

But instead of improving their product by deploying technology bloggers can't afford (yet), newspapers are devolving. Many are cutting staff. Daily newspapers are growing smaller and uglier. Comic strips have gotten so tiny you need a magnifying glass to read them. I'm fine with newspapers cutting back on stock tables, but they aren't adding something new to the package.


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For when you just have to have a Tiki fix

Just tune into TikiBar TV.

That was the Volcano episode. Like it? Here's more. You'll probably also want to check out Ask a Ninja.

Other alternates to TV from TADSpot.

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Tech pranks for dummies

Even with merely rudimentary technical skills, you too can become a tech prankster around the office.

The MS Word Voodoo curse
The Untimate Snow Job
Freeze Frame
Baloney Phone
Office-Wide Memo Mayhem


These work much better than the old tech tricks, such as X-ray specs (though we keep hoping), and are a great improvement over the whoopee cushion insofar as they inspire fear and revulsion, rather than just revulsion.

Good luck. And remember to always keep that resume up-to-date.

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The best companies to work for

A very nice Yahoo/Fortune roundup of articles assessing the best workplaces.

One reporter goes undercover and works at several of these companies. Another article examines how tough jobs make for great workplaces.

The top 100.

Side note: You probably have seen the aggressive PR campaign being mounted by unions and the Democratic Party to force unionization on WalMart. The unions are desperate to reverse their fortunes, after having helped sink the US auto industry, while Democrats long for a return to the good old days (ah, the Teamsters and longshoremen) when unions could strongarm elections in their favor. But time after time, stories like these appear in which thousands line up for a handful of WalMart jobs.

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Help! We're being repressed!

Eric at Classical Values comments on our post 'Unable to comment'.

Those familiar with the WaPo comments flap alluded to in our recent post may recall a lengthy accusation to the effect that Glenn Reynolds had attempted to repress or censor the New York Transit Workers' strike - merely by linking to their blog. In our years in marketing, we had never heard of any attempt at censorship which employed free publicity as its weapon of choice. Diabolical! No wonder the USSR crumbled, with their backwards-looking repression technique of denying dissenters access to media.

Eric lets the air out of some overinflated tires:
FINAL THOUGHTS ON LIBERTARIAN FASCISM: Stifling dissent by linking to it? Trampling free speech by quoting it?
He also shares an instance in which he, too, was cruelly 'stifled' via a link from Kommisar Glenn, netting him over 20,000 visitors in a single day. We can only hope to endure repression of this nature.

More on the WaPo flap: Getting to know you

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Anachronisms

Iconic images and ideas, time-shifted.

One of the better Worth contests we've seen.

Also: Check out this collection of modern, steam-powered toys! (Includes videos of the machines in action.)

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Instant (blog) Karma

"Snapshirts" examines word usage on your site and returns its karmic text cloud. We ran a few experiments.









Overall, not bad. But we don't think this algorithm really does these sites justice. We'll be watching for Version 2.

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The art & science of random selection

A college professor assigns his students this homework: Either flip a coin 200 times and record the results, or merely fake 200 results. The following day he runs his eye over the homework data, and easily spots nearly all those who faked their tosses.

From a 1998 New York Tiimes story on Dr. Theodore P. Hill, who explains that "Most people don't know the real odds of such an exercise, so they can't fake data convincingly." Real-world implications include algorithms that enable government to spot tax evaders. Not that this would be a concern to any of our upright readers. Be sure to scroll down and check out the implications of his formula for the Dow.

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Sideways

Turning your apartment into a guaranteed conversation piece.

This is something we've seen in movies but never knew anyone to attempt. Seems to us that the owners should rent it out for parties (especially since it is probably impossible to live in day-to-day).

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Abramoff didn't offer, but would Dems have refused?

With the WaPo blog flap and all the other noise insisting that Jack Abramoff did not give to Democrats, voters will ask themselves one question at election time: "Do I believe the implication that Democrats would NOT have accepted bribes (uh, donations) had they been offered?"

Here in Jersey, we already know the answer.

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A note on the "Best Posts of 2005"

We've held up the "Best Posts of 2005" compilation in hopes of finding an agent interested in pitching it to publishers as a book. While many of the agents were gracious in declining, a few of them told us that "no publisher wants to pay for something (or thinks the public will) that is available for free on the web". We didn't really argue (after all, they were looking for a reason to decline, and that just happened to be it), but the fact is, that's a bad reason. These posts are all over the 'net. Some of them may be taken off the net. The value of the book is in the compiling, the work of researching and finding and making the material accessible.

As it happens, this forthcoming book pretty much proves our point.

The "Best Posts" compliation will be up in a few days. Meanwhile, if you have an "in" at a publisher, pass along this link. Thank you for your patience.

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More Apple IP theft

The company that said "Don't steal music" has no problem stealing videos.

As we mentioned last October, Apple's fabulous Eminem iPod video ad was ripped off from a 2002 Lugz footwear ad. Now, they've appropriated a Postal Service video for their Macintosh ads.

Compare: The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" with Apple's "Intel inside" ad.

Now watch them side by side to see the stunning similarities.

The ad agency in both cases of intellectual plagiarism was TBWA\Chiat\Day. We're well past "reasonable doubt" territory here. It's time for Apple to find a new agency.

The issue is being doggedly pursued by Cult of Mac.

The good news (and the reason Apple/TBWA and the directors of the video won't get sued) is that "Such Great Heights" has ridden the publicity to the top of the charts - on Apple's iTunes site.

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