Archive for August, 2008

Sun 31 Aug 2008 4:07 pm   //   Posted in: Travel

Going to France

I’m leaving tonight on a week-long trip that will take me to Paris, Caen, Perpignan and Lyon. The bulk of the trip will be me attending a photo festival in Perpignan for work; the rest will be sightseeing. On this trip I’ll be in reasonably frequent contact with the Internet. I’ll try to post a couple of things in this space while I’m traveling.

Sun 31 Aug 2008 9:48 am   //   Posted in: Technology

Maybe Twitter isn’t so bad after all

(If you’re interested in the gears that power the Internet, including this blog, you’ll find this post interesting. If not, skip it.)

A few months ago I wrote that Twitter was over. Okay, I was wrong. Yesterday I decided to dust off my Twitter account and actually start using it.

That little tagline you see under the logo on this blog? It used to be something I had to input through a web browser using WordPress. Starting yesterday, it’s now displaying the most recent post from my Twitter feed. You can click on it to go directly to my Twitter page. Bam! Twitter just went from useless to useful.

I hadn’t done this before because it would have taken many hours of work for me to figure out how to get Twitter’s quirky RSS feeds to play nice with my customized blog template. (Basically, a lot of PHP, and none of it using the helpful new CURL command, since the version of PHP on my server is too old to have it.) Happily, Yahoo Pipes came along and made this much easier. I reused the same code I use to pull the temperature from the National Weather Service JFK observation feed.

And just because everybody else is doing it, I set up my Twitter posts to feed directly into my Facebook status update.

I’ve also set up a separate Twitter account for work, which I might play around with on my upcoming work trip to France.

Of course, I backed up all my code from the pre-Twitter site. I need to be ready to swap it in quickly when Twitter inevitably goes out of business.

Sat 30 Aug 2008 11:48 am   //   Posted in: Movies, Review

Walking the high wire

Saw the new documentary Man On Wire yesterday. It’s about the French tightrope-walker and his friends who sneaked onto the roofs of the World Trade Center in 1974, strung a cable between the towers, and performed a high-wire act for the surprised and delighted crowd below.

Lately I’ve been paying closer attention to the different ways of telling a story in a documentary. This movie has no narrator, just the voices of the participants retelling the events. The filmmakers interject their own comment and sense of humor using music and editing. This film uses actors to recreate scenes that were never filmed originally, which sounds sneaky but serves the story well.

Any work of nonfiction succeeds or fails based on how good the material is. In this case, it’s a brilliant and simple story with some universal themes. It’s about taking a reckless risk for art, about chasing an obsession, and about craving some intense experience in a world engineered to be safe and comfortable. It’s also about success: He did it!

Unmentioned in the film is what happened to those towers. That seems like a missing piece of the story, but on the other hand, what are they going to say about it that the audience doesn’t already know?

Fri 29 Aug 2008 1:44 pm   //   Posted in: In the news, Right now

Palin? Really?

Until now, I thought the Republicans were going to make this election about the military. Wrong. It’s about abortion.

(Related: I wrote a post on my work blog about photo coverage of Obama’s acceptance speech.)

Fri 29 Aug 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Travel, TV commericals

Making “The Little Mermaid” look cheap

This is surely one of the best commercials of United’s long-running “Rhapsody in Blue” campaign:

Do you feel better about United than you did sixty seconds ago?

Thu 28 Aug 2008 7:30 am   //   Posted in: TV, Typography

Mad Men: Back to the Futura

I enjoy the show “Mad Men” (though I’ve missed the last few episodes, so no spoilers please). One thing that’s intriguing about the show is its attention to detail, with sets meticulously reconstructed to resemble offices and homes in 1960s New York. Every hair is in place.

But Andrew Hearst on the Panopticist blog has noticed that the wheels fall off during the ending credits – which are set in Arial! He does a better job than I can explaining why this is a crime against art:

“This is obviously a small detail. But Mad Men is a show that matches small details as well as any series that’s ever been on the air. Why does such a pitch-perfect show end with such a jarring anachronism?”

Come to think of it, the ending credits of most good shows are usually boring and slap-dash. I wonder why?

Wed 27 Aug 2008 2:00 pm   //   Posted in: It's a trap!

We have hijacked your baby

Presenting the weirdest spam message ever:

Subject: We have hijacked your baby

From: “cornellis xinghao”
Date: Wed, August 27, 2008 5:06 am

Hey We have hijacked your baby but you must pay once to us $50 000. The details we will send later…

We has attached photo of your fume


Let’s break this down. First, I have no baby. Second, hijacked? Could “baby” refer to a vehicle, as in, “Let’s get this baby in the air!” or “Let’s go captain, we’re sailing this baby to Panama!”? Third, there’s that intriguing use of the word fume. Can you take a photo of something that is, by definition, a vapor?

Until I solve this riddle, guess what attachment I’m not opening?

Wed 27 Aug 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Media

Journalism reality

In the elevator at work yesterday, I had a chance run-in with somebody I knew from college. She doesn’t even work in my building; she was visiting from Virginia. This person was one of my editors at the school paper, and I got to thinking about how I learned to be a reporter.

At the student newspaper, we had a huge volunteer staff. Everything I wrote was read by five editors. When I went out and reported from the field on a late deadline, I could call back to the office and read my notes to somebody over the phone, who would type them into a story. When big news broke, it wasn’t unusual to have ten reporters on a story. There were more photographers and graphic artists on the staff than the newspaper could possibly use; most were lucky to get one assignment a week. It was, in a word, awesome.

I knew that when I graduated and worked for a professional publication, personnel would be in shorter supply. But I was prepared to work as part of a team.

Things are different now. The job of a journalist is changing, in many cases disappearing. At my job now at a business magazine, I’m basically the only online news person. I still do as much reporting as I did when I worked at a newspaper. But now most of my stories are read by only one editor before they go live; some are read by nobody. There is no online copy editor. I mostly handle my own photos and graphics. I write a blog. I shoot and edit videos. I solve computer problems. I crunch our Web stats. I make my own travel arrangements. It’s a good job, but one that requires skills far beyond what I learned in journalism school.

The reason journalists are being asked to do so much more isn’t just budgetary. It’s that there’s more demand for online content: A new, hungry beast to feed. It’s going to keep heading in this direction. Is journalism sustainable online, where no one will pay for content? I think so – Web advertising is getting ready to explode, just watch. But the new media world requires everybody to work a little harder and be a little better.

Tue 26 Aug 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Music

I want fruit, I need fruit, I love fruit

Back in Boy Scouts, my friend Patrick would amuse everyone by singing popular songs with different lyrics. He could improve almost any song by replacing the word “you” with “fruit.” Three examples:

“Take my hand
Take my whole life too
For I can’t help
Falling in love with fruit.”

“I’m the one who wants to be with fruit.
Deep inside I hope fruit feels it too.
Waited on a line of greens and blues
Just to be the next to be with fruit.”

“I’ve searched the whole world over
to find a heart so true.
Such complete intoxication.
I’m high on fruit!”

Mon 25 Aug 2008 9:21 pm   //   Posted in: Failure, Transit

Forget something?

The great thing about trains is they never get lost. Or run out of gas. Oh wait.