Saturday, March 18th, 2006

After a week where, thanks to me sticking my nose where arguably it shouldn’t have been, I have had the delight and pleasure of reading a big ol’ pile of thoughtful, intelligent and clever comments from dear friends and strangers alike…I guess that’s how this web-dude-thing is supposed to work. Special thanks to the nn.c readers who took the time to drop by (this site sits a mere ../ away on the same server as Nancy’s) and to leave some of the intelligence and wit that regularly fortifies her pages. Thanks.

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And so on to the weekend, and a collection of linkage, just to catch up. First, let’s stay on the grammar beat…if you think I’m singleminded about correct usage, how about folks who created an entire site to literally discuss the misuse of the term “literally.” It’s the work of two Atlantans who have my deepest respect. Nearly literally. One reason for florescence of this misuse is certainly clear to me, and it goes back to the adverbs the kids use these days. There’s something in the modern, lightly ironic conversational cadence that seems to require a ‘da-DUM!’ moment—often filled with a momentary pause and then a percussive “Seriously!”at the end for the greatest possible impact. The second cousin to that of course, is “Literally!” What they mean, of course, in olden times would have been expressed as “I kid you not!” (or my dear friend Deb’s somehow unique use of “I’m not kidding!” in…well, you’d have to hear it for yourself.)

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Google Video is becoming more enticing to me, despite interface issues…but that’s the thing about Googleproduct. You return the next day, and maybe they’ve moved a dropdown here, or javascripted up the menu at the top so it’s much slicker, or made any number of tiny ameliorations. I stumbled upon their collection of National Archives stuff and said to myself, “well, this is nice,” and got all nostalgic for the days when instructional films had titles in bold letters lit with apparent shafts of light, and soundtracks that sound as if the orchestra was hand-cranked, and recorded through a corrugated aluminum tube.

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Someone has assembled a collection of fiftysomething magazine covers with Steve Jobs (over the years) pictured. Why? There must have been some empty spot on the internet that needed filling. Now, we can relax. The carefully-groomed his Steveship does provide reassurance that there are ways to lose your hair and grow older in public that aren’t completely embarrassing. Oh, and this cover here, of the very first MacWorld? I have that one, and amazingly, it’s in decent shape.

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One of the reasons I struggle over doing design these days for local television news is that the concept of ‘Breaking News’ has long ago lost all meaning, and we do live in a world where local stations (and CNN, Fox, and MSNBC) cry wolf (without the Blitzer) in-freaking-cessantly. Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covers three news directors in deep rationalization mode, and the result is just sad. Meanwhile, former NBC correspondent David Hazinski calls, not too seriously, for using those little TV ratings things in the upper left hand corner for labeling local news for what it is. By the way, this Breaking News graphic, found on the always-interesting Lost Remote site? I think I did that years ago for WFTV…uh, here? [Update: fixed and apologized for, hey, no big deal.]

Notes from the grammar desk.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

I came across some guy‘s blog entry and, well, I stepped in it when I attempted to correct his grammar. Yeah, it’s one of my pet peeves—saying something is going “slow” rather than “slowly.”

So, in short, he really (really!) took offense. He wrote:

I don’t expect someone who works in television to understand aesthetics – even someone who purports to work in “design�? – so I won’t even begin to lecture you on the nuisances of postmodern/poststructuralist linguistic theory specific to your trite comment on my blog today – I’m fairly certain you wouldn’t understand. I won’t even attempt to explain to you why your archaic notions of grammar are laughable – suffice to say, adverbs (slowly) are slack, boring, ugly and ineffective compared to definitive verb progressives (slow). This is not up for grammar debate, it is a matter of personal aesthetic steeped in research and education.

But, hey, I really appreciate that you took the time to stop by and leave a disparaging remark. It’s nice to know that there is at least one person out there in the world who doesn’t have anything better going on in his life than to be slight or catty for the sake of being such. From one human being to another, man, that was a real hurtful thing to do. (yes – “real�? hurtful – not “really�? hurtful) Perhaps in the future you might think twice before 1) commenting about something you know absolutely nothing about & 2) being rude without warrant. I mean, what good does it do? Do you get a laugh out of being mean? Does it make you feel better about yourself? I feel sorry for you. Hopefully someday you’ll learn that there are better ways to feel good about yourself than trying to put other people down.

Yow. Here’s what I wrote back:

Wow…I didn’t intend to leave a disparaging remark…or if it came off that way, I apologize. I just corrected your grammar mistake.

It’s simple and unambiguous–the correct usage is “slowly”. There’s no such thing as a correct use of “slow” in that context. It’s “a matter of personal aesthetic steeped in research and education”? Um, no. It’s a red mark on the paper. An error. A mistake.

And yeah, “real” hurtful is, again, incorrect grammar.

I can hurl AP, NYT and countless stylebooks at you in support of that…but this seems like something you’re sensitive about and again, I’m sorry. I come from a life experience where corrections are a good thing, not a bad thing. I signed my name…I didn’t leave anonymous snark, I was trying to help.

If you think you’re being a literary pioneer or pushing the language into some sort of a new, better world by dropping perfectly good adverbs—I sincerely hope you don’t succeed. I’m all for language as an evolving thing–I’m just not so happy with a regression…and to me, that sort of usage is a regression.

You can dismiss me as “archaic” (gee, thanks…having a bad week?), but I think an open-eyed examination of good writing out there (start with a little Strunk and White—a festival of good design in its present incarnation!) might re-introduce you to the joy of correctly-used adverbs.

I apologize for the offense, but if you’re planning on writing for a living, I hope you take good usage seriously.


With best wishes, even from a TV guy.


[update: oh, there’s more. See the comments, below.]

Here’s where it gets complicated.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

This is effectively the other shoe, the impact of the iTunes ‘Music’ Store as a vehicle for distributing what once was simply broadcast content. Disney(ABC), known for being, well, cheap in their dealings with creatives, has taken what may well be an available loophole in determining compensation to writers for downloaded episodes (versus those bits you buy at Target on a silver DVD platter). A letter to Writers Guild members from their leadership says:

We are writing to confirm what you have undoubtedly already heard: Last week, the Walt Disney Company informed our Guilds (along with SAG and the DGA) that they intend to pay residuals for Apple iPod downloads at an inappropriate, discounted rate.
Needless to say, this unilateral decision by Disney was met with disappointment and righteous indignation by virtually the entire talent community. All the Guilds, jointly and individually, issued public statements asserting their anger and warning of the likely consequences.
To put a fine point on what this means, Disney is claiming that Apple is not the distributor of our content, but merely a “retailer” or “exhibitor.” Disney claims that they are the distributor and, as a result, they assert that they can use a lower formula created for Beta and VHS tapes. Disney and the other companies have refused for years to adjust this outdated formula for the DVD market and now they are trying to do the same thing with the next generation of technology. On each $1.99 download, Disney will receive $1.40 but pay us on only 20% of that amount, or 28 cents. Accordingly, our residual will be less than half a cent per download. On Monday we received the first check for an episode of LOST, which was downloaded nearly half a million times. The amount of the check was $3,688.59. Had Disney paid under the correct formula, the check would have been over $14,000.
We take this action by Disney as a call to arms. Disney purports to be a leader in technological media advances. We support those advances but not without fair compensation for the hardworking men and women who write, perform, direct, and otherwise create the very content that makes their new revenue streams possible. Rest assured, our Guilds will take all affirmative legal action within our power to see that this inequity is resolved to our benefit.

Hmpf! Took me a couple of times to go through it, but what they’re asking for is (correct me if I’m wrong) that instead of a half-cent per download from Disney’s $1.49 share of the $1.99…they want 1.8977441 cents. Or, calculated slightly differently (assume they want a full five times as much), up to four cents. Yee gads, that seems fair to me! Heck, give the creatives five cents of each one!

I would love to see a detailed look how the whole $1.99 pie gets divvied up (including what chunks the directors and actors get)…the outcome I certainly don’t want is that Disney and others take the easy way out and force up the price of individual episodes (I have the same concern in the face of greedy record companies hankering to break up the 99 cent US price point at the ITMS.) These downloads must remain at the “sure, why not” pricing threshold or this clever experiment will evaporate…or go somewhere else.

I’m really amazed how much money the media companies are willing to walk away from in a bid to install a model of entertainment “borrowing” that basically removes the idea that you can “buy” a thing and watch it or read it or listen to it wherever and whenever you want. That draconian approach is, I suppose, the perfect partner to a paranoid government and other rights-deprivations that are becoming part of our daily life.

But that’s just my five cents’ worth.

Turtle races.

Friday, March 10th, 2006

I casually mentioned in my last entry that Apple had begun selling episodes of The Daily Show (and The Colbert Report) on the iTunes Store (I tend to drop the ‘Music’ from its name these days) using a ‘multipass’ idea that is like (actual, magazine) subscriptions…you get the current episode and 15 more for $9.99.

No, please, allow me to do the math: 62.4375 cents per episode. And by the way, these downloaded shows look just fine on plain old standard-definition NTSC television, playing off of our Mac Mini—or our video iPod if we’re on the road.

My casualness was slightly misplaced. This is a big deal.

Ashlee Vance in The Register channels Don McLean and declares it “The day the bundled cable died.” In a short piece loaded with quotables, she adds:

We’ll all look back on this deal as the day that TV delivery changed in earnest.
Apple has managed to repeat its tradition not of discovering something new but of doing something obvious first.
Plenty of MP3s players existed before the iPod. Apple just made the obvious better design and the obvious better store and backed it up with the obvious better marketing. That’s not to say this is easy. It’s just obvious.
Similarly, pushing TV via the internet isn’t a new idea. Doing it well is an obvious path to a promising business.
Apple receives great praise for moving at a turtle’s pace when the rest of the industry moves at a crippled turtle’s pace.

I guess we’ll take our turtles where we can get them. She mentions CBS’s attempts at selling temporary “looks” at shows through Google. Can’t take ’em with you, can’t play ’em easily on the mini, can’t play them a month from now…I’m not interested.

It’s worth making the point directly: it’s not that folks want to keep every episode of the Daily Show forever and ever…it’s that they want complete freedom when and where they can play what they’ve paid for. There is an important distinction in there.

This marks a changepoint and a step in the right direction. And for us, it’s not the magic of Apple…we’ll pay these kinds of prices to whoever will let us download (not stream) the episodes and keep them around and play them on portable devices (well, one device in particular).

As we walked the other day, I ran the numbers with Sammy, and there’s a lot of television we could buy at these prices if you take the just-under-$50 we pay Comcast right now for analog cable.

So now when Scripps does a deal with Apple (no, hasn’t happened quite yet) and suddenly there’s a lot of Food Network available a la carte, we’ll be asking…why do we have cable, again? We get better weather from the internet, we get better news from the internet, and when breaking news happens these days we’re no longer guaranteed that CNN will be all over it (in fact, it’s more likely we’ll see more if we subscribe to their ‘Pipeline’ service).

And I sure would never like to (even indirectly) pay for Home Shopping or Fox News again.

’Oid to joy.

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

Okay, please allow me to clean off my browser with a few Wednesday linkoids before we go off to walk, dine, and see my old TBS buddy Richard Croker speak about his new book.

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First of all, this image is delightful, compelling, odd. And like so many things in this world, it may be invoking references way way beyond my obscurity threshold, but that’d be nothing new. I just like it.
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Second of all, what the hell? iTunes, specifically 6.0.4(3), is beginning to get on my last nerve. First there are the reports from Seattle where we’ve just installed a lovely Mini to play my sister-in-law’s music. It’s skipping, mysteriously, and with no apparent pattern, and with nothing else running. I want to get it fixed, but it’s a continent away. Meanwhile, here on the east coast, on my dual G5, iTunes seems to be in deep beachball mode, where what used to be quick starts and stops of our music seem to require thought, consideration, and maybe a check with Homeland Security. A visit to the iTunes Music Store is similarly painful, with scrolling in the main Store window inexplicably clunky and slow. My first attempt to provide a customer review (hey, they’re offering The Daily Show, and have apparently come up with a new option for viewing multiple episodes called a ‘multi-pass’) coughed up this entertaining dialog (pictured above) that is headed MZFinance.addUserReviewLoginRequired.message with the helpful subhead MZFinance.addUserReviewLoginRequired.explanation. Well, I’m sorry, that’s no explanation at all, mister! Actually, to my only-slightly-enlightened eyes, this looks like a place where the localizable strings didn’t localize (or maybe this is something that comes our way through the iTunes Store’s XML pipeline) but definitely isn’t much of a testament to the fit and finish of the Music Store or the app itself. Apple needs to get this right…iTunes is the oft-cited example of Mac software at its best, and lately, at least for me, it hasn’t been.
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In other, more positive news, I enjoyed this implementation of a flickr thumbnail browser that this guy came up with. Zippy, clean, ajax-y.
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Another positive sign: A Vermont Town Endorses a Move to Impeach The President (a Newsday article). Are people starting to say enough is enough? Well, some are. Read all of the reactions in the article, and you’ll get more of a sense of the non-unanimity that’s always characterized Vermont town politics (at least in my limited experience.)
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Well, just heard the mail drop in our front door (you don’t have a mail slot?), so I’ll leave you with those.

It’s hard out there when you’re Edward R. Murrow.

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

I’m trying to think of exactly what convolution of categories and the politics of the movie business that would have earned an Academy Award, or two, or three for Good Night and Good Luck, George Clooney’s ‘little’ movie about the CBS journalist and the struggle for free speech in the McCarthy era.

You’d think in a year without a cavalcade of blockbusters, without a Titanic or a Lord of the Rings, a ‘little’ film would have a chance. But the voters—who makes up that ‘Academy’, anyway?—were distracted by bright shiny films about gay cowboys and uh…what’s Crash about anyway? I haven’t seen either of them.

I’d like to think that the fault, dear Brutus, lays mostly with an Academy that spent a lot of time Sunday night promoting and re-promoting the idea that films are meant to be experienced in big darkened rooms with mostly silent strangers and fancy surround sound systems, not in your home theatre.

As if they don’t make huge portions of their profit for every films off of DVD sales?

We have this little movie shot in vivid black-and-white, a movie that takes place almost entirely indoors. It’s a short film, barely ninety minutes. It was a terrific experience in the theatre. It’s going to be probably equally compelling on DVD.

It deserves honors. I understand that it’s an “honor simply to be nominated” for an Oscar, but maybe they ought to consider a category for Socially Significant Little Monochromatic Masterpieces…and sure, one for Shiny Ang Lee Preconception Shatterers as well.

Ready to go go go.

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

You don’t have to do everything that’s out there. Seriously. You don’t have to sign up for every social network or inhale all online pop culture, all the time. Sometimes you can just bounce from one thing-about-the-thing to another, and emerge bruised but slightly enriched.There, I used ‘seriously’ in one of several ways that People Younger than Me (PYTM) use it, and I’m really only conscious of it because of a television show I don’t watch.That’d be Grey’s Anatomy. I have nothing really against it…I’m certainly not turned off of it the way I am, say, NBC’s Las Vegas or almost any sitcom on ABC. It’s just on at a semi-inconvenient time and the overlay story (young doctors) is just not that compelling to me the way that, say, young Holmesian doctors in New Jersey led by a grumpy guy affecting an American accent would be.But one weblog writer I read regularly (originally because of the novelty that she lived just up Lanier Boulevard from our house, now just because sometimes she talks about library science stuff that interests me) enthused about the show, and then mentioned that the writers for the show were blogging, and my ongoing interest in that (see Serenity’s Joss Whedon and Battlestar Galactica’s Ron Moore) got me over there to read their thoughts, which seemed to be expressed in the arch, apparent-insecurities-showing, twenty-come-thirtysomething way that so many folks online (therefore, people in general) do now.I was impressed by the strong voice of the show’s creator, someone named Shonda Rhimes. And I say “someone named” because, well, I don’t get out much and I hadn’t come across many earlier references to Ms. Rhimes and her work, but as I pagedowned my way through the blog and, for good measure, read a Writers Guild of America magazine piece about her, I found my self enthusiastic for her success, yet still without any great desire to watch the show itself. I was, it seems, impressed with her “offstage” writing skills, in the blog, in the stuff-about-the-stuff. Hey, I’m a meta-fan.One paragraph from the show’s Frequently Asked Questions is representative—it brings me a vivid sense of the ambiance around wherever in LA the Grey’s writers are.

Why do you and the characters say “seriously” all the time?Because Krista Vernoff, one of our valued writers, says it constantly in the Writers’ Room. CONSTANTLY. Like, four hundred and fifty times a day. And it is catching. Now we all say it. Seriously. Krista says she caught the “seriously” bug from one of her friends and brought it to work and spread it to all of us. It’s an awesome word. Said correctly, it can convey sarcasm, dismay, disbelief, a sense of moral and ethical superiority and gentle chastising punishment all at once. Seriously.

So there you are, yet another example (like “dude”, “awesome”, and “like” itself) of the economics of 21st century usage—why use specific words to convey all those different nuances when you can employ the blunt-force trauma of one oft-wielded adverb? “Said correctly?” Seriously.I include that chunk from the show’s FAQ here for you in part to spare you—when you go to that page on the ABC site this music starts playing, and I am in general, way opposed to sites that start blasting sounds at you before you have a chance to say “oh, no, I’d like my web reading in silence, thanks.” And it’s axiomatic: the more annoying the sound, the harder they’ll make it for you to turn it off.I, unwarned, went to that page and although the loud and sudden offering of the music was annoying, it did kind of have a nice tinkly melodic line and beat that reminded me, for reasons lost in the mist of television antiquity, of the old St. Elsewhere theme. So, okay, what was I hearing? If I actually watched the show, I would have known it’s the theme song, or what passes for the theme song, or what you hear during what passes for the opening credits, but I don’t, so, some Googling of the lyrics later, such as I could make them out, brought me to the British group Psapp (which has an intrusive yet helpful audio pronouncer of their name on their site) and to the song—the aforementioned song—called “Cosy in the Rocket”. And, for the same hard-to-define reasons that I enjoy Zero 7…well, 99 cents later(iTunes store link), it’s on my iPod.And on the way, I picked up yet another British spelling I wasn’t familiar with (I don’t drink much tea), so when I write to folks in Honduras about their new logo, I’ll be sure to spell it ‘cosy.’ Seriously! But what I didn’t pick up along the way (as of yet): another television show to watch. Ironically!

Red-hot statistics.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

Wow. With Sammy hard at work upstairs dicing and slicing population densities in Mesoamerica hundreds of years ago, it’s sobering to switch to the 21st century and see fairly current data depicted so…vitally, at my fingertips.

Behold…Georgia, ablaze in people!

Big compliments to the people at Juice Analytics for putting their efforts at integrating census-y data and Google Earth out freely. Go there, get curious, and download a data overlay of your own. Density! Median age! Male/female ratio! It’s all rolled out on top of Google Earth at your command!

A research company that puts stuff like this (and, for the even geekier, python classes for geocoding addresses…free for the taking!) deserves a fine pat on the back, and I hereby pat.

The way we live now-ish, Atlanta edition.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

Friends of mine who don’t live within 100 miles of our fair perimeter sometimes have trouble getting their head around what our city’s all about. Hey, it’s easy…just have a glance at these headlines from today’s website.

Man charged with leaving child at Waffle House
Police accused a DeKalb man of leaving his 5-year-old daughter at a Waffle House in the middle of the night and then concocting a carjacking story to explain his absence.

Big hole has big price tag
It may cost the new city of Sandy Springs more than $100,000 to fix a sink hole that’s threatening to swallow Susan Thompson’s front yard.

Cherokee police probe credit card thefts at schools
Police are looking for four suspects who have stolen credit and debit cards from teachers’ handbags at Cherokee County elementary schools. The suspects walk into schools while classes are in session, and look for empty classrooms or offices and take the cards and then go to the nearest stores to make purchases.

Atlanta committee postpones vote on tree rules
A proposal to allow Atlanta homeowners to cut down one tree of any kind and size each year has stalled. Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook wants to trim the city’s tree protection ordinance, but the council’s Community Development/Human Resources committee decided Tuesday to postpone the vote for at least two weeks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out in the back yard to pick a tree and check for sinkholes.

Presumed mysterious, presumed menial.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

Michael Bierut in DesignObserver:

It was September, 1981, when design critic Ralph Caplan first unveiled the phrase. He was speaking at a Design Management Institute conference in Martha’s Vineyard. His talk was titled “Once You Know Where Management Is Coming From, Where Do You Suggest They Go?”

“I want finally to address in some detail,” Caplan said toward the end of this talk, “a role that I call ‘the designer as exotic menial.’ He is exotic because of the presumed mystery inherent in what he does, and menial because whatever he does is required only for relatively low-level objectives, to be considered only after the real business decisions are made. And although this is a horrendous misuse of the designer and of the design process, it is in my experience always done with the designer’s collusion.”

It’s 25 years later. Has anything really changed?

Well, I try not to collude with folks who hire designers as workers whose job is to “achieve low-level objectives”, but I think that my technical skills and avid interest in the how to do stuff works against me here. My geeky credentials might lead some not to suspect that I have a deeply held belief in design as the highest level of problem solving. There are projects I’ve worked on (especially from-the-ground-up designs of channels) where I worked out how nearly everything would look, feel, and interact…and then (sometimes) would hear a manager type get most of the credit.

Sometimes I’m OK with it, content to sit back and watch the finished product and say “boy, that really looks like what went on in my head,” and other times, well, designers can be a grumbly lot. But you bring design into the process too late, well, sometimes it’s too late, no matter what nice wafer-thin shiny coats of paint we can apply.