Archive for December, 2009

Thu 31 Dec 2009 11:00 am   //   Posted in: Labeling

I don’t know what to call this lousy decade either

What’s the proper style for referring to the years 2000 to 2009? I’ve just been fudging it, calling this decade “this decade.” When there is ambiguity as to which decade I mean—and there will be starting tomorrow—I refer to it in print as “the 00s,” spoken as “the aughts.” Linguistically correct or just close enough? I don’t know. But neither does anybody else.

This week, columnists for both The New Yorker and The New York Times decided to hang their arguments on the fact that the decade has no name.

This is important. Names define how we think. The best way to get people to take a concept seriously is to name it with precision (“climate change,” “war on terror”); the sneakiest way to fight an idea is to give it a confusing name with sinister connotations (“death panels,” “illegal immigrants”).

What are some other things without names?


Mon 28 Dec 2009 10:54 pm   //   Posted in: Transit, Travel

Why isn’t there a TSA for the trains?

Over the weekend, airport security was stepped up after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the (mercifully) incompetent underwear terrorist, tried to blow a hole in a Detroit-bound airliner. Most air travelers don’t mind odd new rules and long lines at the TSA checkpoints because they realize there’s a real threat that some nutjob might try to kill innocent people.

Yesterday I traveled from BWI Airport in Maryland to New York City carrying several bags of gifts, including two sharp kitchen knives and a big bottle of delicious Belgian beer. No one asked any questions—because I was on an Amtrak train!

Bags are never searched or screened on the train. Knives? Liquids? Guns? Drugs? Explosives? They’ll never know! No metal detectors, no dogs, no TSA. You can board an Amtrak train without ever showing anyone your ticket or ID. (Conductors check the tickets along the way.)


Tue 22 Dec 2009 8:05 pm   //   Posted in: Music

The best song of the decade

I thought about posting a list of my top 10 songs of the decade, but I only feel like writing about one.

This particular song is the antidote to cynicism. It kicks gravel in the face of everyone who would cast scorn upon somebody else for trying too hard.

Twelve weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Winner of two Grammys and an Oscar. The most successful rap song of all time. A song that never wears out. (How many other songs from 2002 have 36 million plays on YouTube?)


Mon 21 Dec 2009 1:00 pm   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

How the media broke and how we’re going to fix it

Hey media people: Didn’t this decade suck? So many good brands are out of business, so many good people are out of a job. The media crisis of last two years has been worse than simply a recession-related thinning of the herd. We’re witnessing a famine. Entire species will go extinct.

No serious person expects Denver or Seattle to ever have two daily papers again. Broadcast is suffering (can anyone justify The Jay Leno Show?). Ad agencies are in various states of chaos (BBDO Detroit!). Crowds still flock to the movies and concerts, but CD and DVD sales have evaporated (along with Tower Records and the Virgin Megastore). Online content seems like it’s in the fast lane to mediocrity.

Gone are the “Citizen Kane” days when owning a broadcast license or a printing press automatically made somebody rich and powerful. Fans of good reporting—the hard, watchdog stuff—are standing in shock as we witness the collapse of journalism.

What the hell happened?

To understand, let’s first remember that we are in the early stages some fundamental shifts in human communication. The networked computer represents a social disruption as significant as the oceangoing ship, or the airplane. Historians won’t be able to put this into perspective for some time.

But for now, I think we can look back on the last 10 years and see two important trends that accounted for the implosion of mass media.


Thu 17 Dec 2009 7:59 am   //   Posted in: Technology, Videos

“Friendster was only meant to exist temporarily”

I can’t decide who comes out looking worse in this devastating Onion video—Friendster or archeologists!

Related post: Friendster 2.0

Tue 15 Dec 2009 7:00 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, New York is different

Having the whole place to yourself


Compared to other East Coast cities, Brooklyn likes to sleep in. Seven a.m. in D.C. is rush hour. But here, most stores are just rolling open their metal doors and brewing coffee. The schools aren’t open yet. The few vehicles rumbling around are mostly delivery trucks. As we near the solstice, it’s barely light out at 7. The sun is just about to clear the horizon and touch the tops of the buildings, setting them aglow as steam rises from rooftops. Most mornings I press out into cold to walk half a mile to the gym before work. Even when I’m bundled up and hustling as I lean into the wind, my morning walks are a time of peace and solitude.

Mon 14 Dec 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Technology

It’s all going to be handheld

Since around 1999, I’ve had my computer connected to my stereo to play music. If I’m having company over and I want to program an evening’s worth of music, I create a playlist. The software and my music collection have both improved in the last decade, but the technology has remained essentially the same.

Until right now. Saturday night I had a holiday party and some friends figured out how to use their iPhones to connect wirelessly to my computer and hijack my playlist. Using DJ mode for iTunes (a feature I didn’t even know existed) they were able to make requests and queue up songs. It just worked.

Using your iPhone as a remote control for a computer might seem like a parlor trick (as if I have a parlor!), but I think it foretells bigger things. For most of your ordinary computing tasks (e-mail, reading the news, playing music), your iPhone is just as powerful—and easier—than your typical desktop or laptop computer. Theoretically, a device like an iPhone could be connected to a larger display and a keyboard and occupy the place on your desk where your computer sits now. When that starts happening, look out. Everything will be smooth scrolling, auto saving, and seamless connections to the network. Hard drives and file trees will go the way of command prompts and IRQ conflicts.

The future of computing is light, fast and collaborative, with users pulling data from the cloud rather than saving it on energy-intensive hard drives whirring away on their desks. It won’t matter where the songs are physically stored, the music will just seem to flow through your iWhatever to the speakers. Which is a little bit scary. I’m not a fan of ceding control of my stuff, and handheld computing usually means trusting companies to store our data. (Will Google, Amazon and Comcast be around forever?) But there’s probably no stopping it. It just makes too much sense.

Apple will keep improving the iPhone, Google is working on its own smart phone, and some viable e-reader/tablet thing is bound to arrive eventually. The handheld device is going to become the machine that connects us to everything. Now, if we could only come up with a name for it that didn’t sound as clinical as “handheld device” or “smart phone.” How about “computer”?

Wed 9 Dec 2009 8:18 am   //   Posted in: Art, Books

The monster at the end of this blog

I’ve been thinking about my parents. Last week I turned 30. When my mom and dad were 30, they were providing for and raising a 10-month-old and a 3-year-old (me). By contrast, my biggest responsibility is taking care of a cat.

This week I read that Sesame Workshop is publishing some free e-books for children. One of them is “The Monster at the End of This Book,” first printed in 1971. I have dim memories of this book being read to me by my mom.


Sun 6 Dec 2009 6:17 pm   //   Posted in: Videos

New adventures in hi-def

For my birthday, I got a pocket-size high-def camcorder, the Kodak Zi8. Here is my first experiment with it—a video of my Gramma and my cousin Sandy visiting New York. I haven’t figured out exactly how to get the best video yet with this thing, so some of the shots are dim, shaky and out of focus. I’m trying two different versions here to see what looks best on the blog.

The first version was uploaded to YouTube in 1080 resolution:

The second version has music and was uploaded in 720 resolution:

Wed 2 Dec 2009 6:00 pm   //   Posted in: Media

Be seeing you!

On Monday I start a new job. I’m thrilled!

Today was my last day at my old job. As most of you know, for the last four years I’ve been a combo news reporter and online editor for a trade magazine called Photo District News. I’m proud of my work at PDN. I forged some strong friendships and grew a lot personally. I’m going to miss working with an extraordinarily kind and professional team of people.

Now, elevator up!