Mooving along.

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Just finished reading a borrowed copy of Barbara Ehrenreich’s nearly decade-old book Nickel and Dimed, about the realities of the American working poor, including a section where she worked as a $7 an hour Walmart employee in Minneapolis…and was hard-pressed to find affordable rental housing that microscopic a wage could support.

So it was in that context (and when I think of Walmart, most of my thoughts are along the lines of: Walmart = evil) that I came across this surprising report that would earn a ‘breaking news’ from me, were I in charge of CNN’s Situation Room:

Giant food retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced that its store brand milk in the United States will now come exclusively from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones.

Wow. And then I read further on down the page:

Grocery chain Kroger Co., with 2,500 stores in the U.S., began last month selling only milk produced without the use of hormones like recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). Safeway Inc., with more than 1,700 stores, has switched its in-store brands to non-rBST milk, though it also sells other brands produced from cows given the hormone. And starting in January, Starbucks Corp. has only used non-rBST milk in its stores.

This was one of the main reasons we had walked away from Kroger as any regular supplier of staples like milk and eggs…milk’s not a bargain if you don’t want what’s in it…and folks for whom milk of any kind is a big-dollar purchase are certainly not in a position to choose stuff that may be better for them.

And, as a bit of a rebuke to big corporate PR firms out there, I hadn’t heard Kroger had made any kind of switch…I guess I’ll have to go down to the Wino Kroger (in Atlanta, we’ve given our Krogers various neighborhood-appropriate names, starting with the immortal Disco Kroger in Buckhead) and see for myself this is the case. After all, I don’t want Kroger visits just to be about buying Tab three times a year.

It sounds like they simply heard the drumbeat of a zillion consumers’ demands, or talied the votes-with-their-pocketbooks numbers, or something. At any rate, it’s hard not to cheer on the end result.

By the way, Ehrenreich’s blog has a bunch of thought-provoking fomentations, including her discussion of a Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet piece in the September 2007 Mother Jones where she wonders whether Hillary’s pastor problem might be worse than Barack’s. The Joyce/Harlet piece says:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship.


And one final Ehrenreich writing: Welcome to Cancerland is her examination of the “marketplace” that has sprung up around breast cancer “awareness,” and it’s written in the context of her own breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.


Friday, March 21st, 2008

Back home in Positively Atlanta, having missed by mere hours a downtown tornado that not only caused all kinds of urban mess at the city’s core, but messed up some in-recent-years-reborn neighborhoods just south of here. I’m sad for the folks with trees on their houses, in part because it seems like just the other day (but no, 1991) that a tree split this very house in half and landed us on the front page of the AJC (in color! Above the fold!)

So we’re catching up and adjusting schedules for the next sixty days or so. I can tell I’m in catchup mode because I have about a zillion browser windows open and I’m reticent to close any of them, because in the mixmaster that is my brain on limited attention spans, I keep thinking about this or that for just a few seconds.

nuance.jpgTake ‘fail,’ for example. Or perhaps FAIL, as it’s usually in all caps in the indigenous language of the Lolcats. Huh? Wha? I’m as almost as lost as you are. Start with what this guy says:

In the modern age, we’ve found a much more efficient way to express disdain, distilled into only four letters: FAIL. This usage as a standalone interjection has been around for years, since at least 2003, but its recent explosion in popularity comes from 4chan and the Lolcats memes.

Now, I know about the Lolcats thingie, but apparently 4chan is just some damn site where people post images and then blow them off in vast clouds of succinct jargon. Okay, fine. We’ve reached the point where the quality of interaction online has, in many nooks and crannies, devolved to “here, look at this” followed by “LOL” or “FAIL”. Meme or site X is new, it’s promising, but hey, it has a flaw, so it gets the big ‘FAIL’ rubberstamp and it’s off the desktop, never to be parsed again.

Wow. I’m not criticizing a critical eye (hey, had one myself for years,) but the sensitivity on that way-too-binary rubber stamp has been set way too high in most corners, and it’s kinda sad to see so many promising ideas being strangled in their respective cribs. I can only hope that a bit of greyscaled nuance makes it back into the land of “DO NOT WANT”.

So, I mentioned browser windows. Probably most of these are of interest only to me, but I’ll list a few here, to give you a sense of what I’m distracted with:

  • Use Mac APIs to suck things out of the vast Google brain.
  • Parse how signed certificates will allow cool new programs to be installed on iPhones starting June-ish.
  • Len Lye, an early animator “convinced that motion could be part of the language of art.”
  • A new Panasonic camera with a very wide lens.
  • One of the guys who worked on the original OS X interface.
  • A book of vintage 1970s print logos painstakingly scanned, preserved, shared.
  • Which DTV stations appear over the air and on Clear QAM cable in our neighborhood (you can search your own.)
  • A blogger for The Atlantic says that the Barack Obama ‘race speech’ was written by Obama alone. Dozens of commenters immediately pour skepticism onto the page. Me, I believe it.

And those are just the browser tabs I’m not too embarrassed by. Have a güd Friday.

Mmmm….new data.

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Lee Gomes in today’s Wall Street Journal has a plausible explanation for why I can be so happy for so long wading through the endless streams of new information that the internet provides.

What is it about a Web site that might make it literally irresistible? Clues are offered by research conducted by Irving Biederman, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, who is interested in the evolutionary and biological basis of the human need for information… Coming across what Dr. Biederman calls new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.
It is something we seem hard-wired to do, says Dr. Biederman. When you find new information, you get an opioid hit, and we are junkies for those. You might call us ‘infovores.’

I remember having a similar feeling one of the first times I was in a no-kidding newsroom with a no-kidding clattering wire machine. It’s why I enjoy a classroom lecture where a new world is being opened up to me (that really didn’t happen that often in my so-called academic life.) It’s why in the early days of CNN, I’d go downstairs to the main newsroom and just feel comfortably at home amidst the buzz of new stories, satellite feeds, raw news on those ancient computer screens, pouring in.

Now, of course, I have an additional tap for that opiate source in my pocket.

Even this new self-awareness carries the warm buzz of a new-info hit. Mmmm.

Failed to open page.

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

sdk.jpgThis afternoon, Steve Jobs and his very best friends Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall announced an SDK (a Software Development Kit) for the iPhone.

Come and get the beta, they said, at (Click on that link if it’s still Thursday and you want to see “Failed to open page…because the server unexpectedly dropped the connection, which sometimes occurs when the server is busy. You might be able to open the page later.”)

I have never seen a site (the entire developer site, which, by the way, is way more than iPhone stuff) go down so fast and stay down so long.

I mean, “boom,” indeed. As I explained to Sammy, they either way underestimated the demand or failed to plan for it. Apple seldom fails to plan for it these days.

So, “boom.”

To say that software developers are interested in developing applications for the iPhone is..well, they are, and they will, and this growing new platform, powered by what appears to be called the “Cocoa Touch” API, is going to (continue to) change the mobile computing and online experience.

Another ballot-y Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

The weather is miserable enough in Ohio that the CNN reporter is holed up inside (C’mon! We want to see skylines behind you! That’s the function of reporters on the scene!) and in Texas, the Democrats have apparently grafted the head of a caucus on the body of a primary, and that just scares me.

Regardless, happy primary day to my former states of residence (Ohio and Vermont) and, yeah, those other two. Get out there and do voting-type products.

Meanwhile, two bloggers way more famous than I have some smart things to say about Barack Obama, and I thus commend you their way. Start with the guy who wrote Mosaic and move on to the guy who plays a PC on Apple commercials.

And for the technology-impaired: Mosaic.

Oh, and a propos of Tools You Can Use, the Google Maps Election Team (didn’t know there was one. uniforms?) has brought election returns together in one place that lets you see data from the state down to the precinct level…or so they say. I gan get it to show me counties (thanks) but not finer-grained than that. Ah, I’ll mess with it later, when I can watch Ohio’s 88 counties (I memorized them in 8th grade) light up.

We’re between weather systems here, so Sammy and I are gonna see if we can get to the library and back before we get Bonus Supplementary Rain. Also, just a note: it smells like Spring outside. Ahhh.