Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Copyrighting PyramidsThis is just too insane not to believe. According to the BBC, the Egyptian government plans to pass a law requiring royalties when people make copies of museum pieces or such monuments as the Great Pyramid of Ghiza or the Sphinx.
Zahi Hawass, who chairs Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told the BBC the law would apply in all countries.I'd like to see how they are going to enforce that. Supposedly, the government would even require people doing something for private use to get permission from the Egyptian government. But apparently artists would be allowed to reproduce objects so long as they weren't exact replicas. Decent of them, eh? However, the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas wouldn't be required to pay because it isn't an exact replica and the interior is different from the actual one. And here I thought that slot machines were special prayer devices for the dead, betting that they'd actually need all that food and water buried with them.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
A Chicken in Every Pot and a Gaseous Emmission From Every Nun?In the US, we associate the phrase "a chicken in every pot, and a car in every garage" with Herbert Hoover's presidential campaign. But as I learned in reviewing a copy of Anne Willan's new cookbook, The Country Cooking of France, at least the poulty part of the saying dates back to France's King Henri IV, also known as Henri of Navarre. He wanted to make the transition into ruling as supported as possible. Being a Huguenot, he wasn't too popular on the surface, as the country has been embroiled in the Wars of Religion. So he decided to convert to Catholicism, and he also promised a chicken in every pot. He ascended to the throne in 1589 and nine years later issued the Edict of Nantes, which was probably the first real step toward religious tolerance, at least in that part of Europe, as it secured civil liberties for French Protestants. He was apparently popular among many of the people, although not with the Catholic who assassinated Henri in 1610.
The other humorous lesson in French came from a recipe for cream puff fritters. You fry pits of cream puff pastry and then top them with jam, honey, or sugar. The French name is pets de nonne, and I'll leave it to Anne Willan to explain the significance:
Toddlers learn the name and no polite translation exists. It means quite simply "nun's farts" because the fritters are so light.I'm still trying to figure out whether it says more about the pastries or the nuns.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Homage to the Bic StickSome people in the UK seem to have a bit of time on their hands - just witness the parade of amusing reviews at Amazon.co.uk of the classic cheap Bic pen. Black. Medium point. What, you were expecting blue and fine point? So was one of the reviewers.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Late Night TV Needs TalkersThe late night talk shows have a problem. They are largely returning to the air - Letterman at least having worked out a deal with the writers on strike - but Hollywood stars are reluctant to cross picket lines. As the New York Times notes:
Uncertainty over whether many of Hollywood’s biggest stars will be willing to cross picket lines and appear on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” both on NBC; CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman”; or “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on ABC has the programs’ producers in a frenzy as they try to book guests for the shows, which are scheduled to return with fresh episodes Jan. 2.My sympathy for the plight of producers is well-known, and so I make an offer to be of help. Ladies and gentlemen, I am available if you need a guess. I obviously won't be crossing a picket line, but perhaps we could do a phone interview. Unfortunately, I don't have a recent movie or well-known novel out, but the flip side is that I'm easy to find and have time on my hands - at least since we got a plumber in to deal with the leak in the heating system. But I'm willing to be as amusing as I'm capable of and am happy to talk about my blogs, magazine articles for business managers and lawyers, and my search for regional dessert recipes. Why don't you have your machine call my machine? Love ya - don't change.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Strategies for Safe Photo StorageIf you want to be sure that your digital photos don't suddenly disappear in a hard drive meltdown, you might want to check an article I wrote recently for PopPhoto.com. It discusses starting with a naming convention and then finding the right storage configuration and practices for your specific needs.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Merriam-Webster's Word of the YearThe word is out - literally. Merriam-Webster had its annual world of the year contest, the winner apparently the result of popular consensus. The winner: w00t, an expression of joy with likely origins in the gaming community. It supposedly stands for "we owned the other team." The mix of numbers and letters is deliberate, not a typo, and belongs to the hacker lexicon called l33t - leet, or elite, speak.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
ISPs More Than Traffic ConduitAccording to a story from the CBC, at least one Canadian IPS has been intercepting web traffic to customers and modifying it to display information for its own purposes. For those who don't understand how web traffic works, this is easy. Web pages are nothing more than pages of ordinary text with special control codes embedded. As your browser encounters the control codes, it adjusts the display of the text accordingly, including changing fonts and colors, altering spacing, and inserting graphics downloaded from the web. So modifying traffic requires nothing more than programs that watch what is coming in and inserting the additional text and control codes to change the display. The example in the article is of the ISP adding something at the top third of the search page that comes down from Google.
There are a number of concerns that immediately rise:
- Because an ISP is handling and redirecting all traffic to and from its customers - which is must do if Internet traffic is to actually go where it's supposed to - it can monitor everything a person looks at or wants to see. That extends to email, as well. An ISP that decides to operate without ethics leaves someone completely open to spying, even if the person is using an anonymizing service, because the traffic still comes back to his or her account.
- Because so much content on the web is copyrighted - other than that that has passed into the public domain or that was placed their by its owners - I think there's an argument to be made that such sort of activity is commercial use of that content, and an infringement on the copyright.
- If you remember the Orwell novel 1984, the powers that be constantly changed history to eliminate the ability of people to independently verify what they were hearing. This opens the possibility of changing what people see on the fly at whim. If a country's government doesn't like a given story, it could force ISPs to insert changed copy to alter the implications and sense of the report. This would be censorship on a scale that few if any of us have ever imagined - other than Orwell.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
W. Thomas Smith And Journalistic PracticeThere has been significant "coverage" of the problems in the National Review blog entries from Lebanon of W. Thomas Smith. And, to be fair, I'll note that Tom is a friend of mine. However, when I look at all the charges and counter-charges, I find a number of highly disturbing things floating to the top.
First, there is no doubt that Tom Smith screwed up in some big ways - and I've said that to him personally. Blog entries must be just as seriously pursued as something for a print magazine, and you need to take all precautions because the haste can push you into making errors. So saying that something was "just" a blog entry was a poor approach. Normally, you'd have an editor at least, and possibly multiple editors and fact checkers helping to prevent mistakes from occurring. While a writer must take total responsibility for his or her work to approach it professionally, the publication also must take responsibility. Instead, the National Review web editor has apparently written everything off as being the mistake of trusting a "freelancer." But what does that mean? Do staff people gain a measure of infallibility the moment they take staff positions? Didn't the editor have a responsibility to ask about the sources of information? Has she tried pushing all responsibility off on Tom because she didn't want to raise the question of what her position in all of this was? Why didn't she ask about the sources as the posts were going up? Wasn't she acting as an editor at all?
Certainly when you have sources that are likely to be biased and that probably aren't authoritative, you cannot put together a collection of observations and state them as fact. Tom should have stated what sources he used - or even if one had to be unnamed (and I don't know if that would have been true), mention that there was such a source. But let's be realistic about the state of journalism, which is one of my concerns about all this. Many, many stories state information as "fact," even if the reporter did not see them first hand. The more grounded reporting might use terms such as alleged or supposed or claimed. But there are many stories where reporters will check with multiple sources and then use the information as though it were fact. I'd be greatly surprised if some of the Middle East-based journalists who are pointing fingers at Tom didn't do the same. In fact, by effectively saying, "I check with my sources and they said it was nonsense, so he must have made it up," they are treating what sources tell them as indisputable revealed truth. This is a disaster in the making. Is the only difference whether someone's sources are for or against Hezbollah?
Look at the chain of logic: a reporter says, "I never heard this, and neither did my sources, so it cannot be true." So how could tens of thousands have been killed in Rwanda over the three weeks before there was any media coverage? Weren't there journalists in Africa who had Rwanda as part of their beats, and shouldn't their sources have known? Or, using the same logic, did the massacres never happen for those three weeks because the journalists didn't hear about them? It's the semantic equivalent to the philosophical question of whether a tree falling in a forest, far away from everyone, actually makes a sound. Why didn't business journalists see the dot com crash coming? (I know of some that did, by the way, but most business publications at the time didn't want to hear anything negative because, well, all those experts, with their own motivations, said everything was ducky.)
More pointedly, why didn't the Middle East correspondents report that Hezbollah forces were massing near the Israeli-Lebanese border last year, before the war broke out last year? Logic tells us either a) they did know and said nothing, in which case their motives are highly suspect, or b) they didn't know and yet such a massing could happen anyway. Either the assumption that they would have to know is wrong, or their integrity is questionable, but in either case, journalists' not knowing about something is hardly proof that it couldn't have happened, no matter how "obvious" you'd think it would be. (Frankly, troops massing at a border should be a whole lot more obvious than a few thousand armed militia wandering around a city of between 1 and 2 million people, depending on the source you use.)
Finally, the mainstream press seemed to jump onto this story and make sweeping statements without having the information to back it up. I saw pieces on The Atlantic's web site, CJR's web site, and elsewhere say that Tom had been fabricating. At face value, the worst someone could accuse Tom of is being highly sloppy. But fabrication? That has carries the implicit meaning of knowingly making something up. I saw a column that Howard Kurtz wrote for the Post where apparently he used some quotes from things Tom wrote but never even stated that he has tried unsuccessfully to reach Tom for a direct comment. Is this how journalism is supposed to work?
Again, I know Tom and like him. Yet, I don't mean this as a defense of what he did, or didn't, do. Instead, I'm questioning the approach that the mainstream press has used in this story as a case in point of how much of what we read should be strongly questioned. The results were at least as sloppy as Tom's worst mistakes, and, in my opinion, far surpassed them in recklessness.
Conquering Home Library ClutterSomeone had posted on Slashdot a question about how to organize a 3,500 volume home library. After getting responses and doing research, he came up with a cmprehensive solution and wrote this article about it. From software to scanners and a procedure for adding books, it's an interesting read for readers.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Candidates and the InternetGarrett Graff was the first blogger admitted to a White House briefing and was Howard Dean's campaign manager, so if anyone starts to get the connection between politics and the Internet, he does. So it's interesting when he writes in the Washington Post that virtually all the candidates are clueless about the fundamental form of communications. Some of the mix-ups these people made - including Mitt Romney, who apparently confused YouTube and MySpace - are equivalent to a major politician in Henry Ford's day never having heard about the assembly line or someone in the 1970s being unaware of the fax machine.
But the closest analogy that comes to mind is something I once heard about the Patty Duke Show from the 1960s. Because Ms. Duke spent so much time working in the insular world of television, producers had to bring in "real" teenagers to show her the latest dances, so that she'd seem credible on the screen. I think what we're seeing is that politicians spend so much time in their own land, they never join us in this one, which is why they need translation: they literally don't speak the same language as the common people do. I've seen the same thing happen among top business leaders, who no longer mingle with the hoi polloi, otherwise known as the customers. No wonder they are so out of touch. Instead of hearing what their fellow citizens say, they have to make do with representations known as polls. No wonder they like dealing with lobbyists; they don't have to take a crash Berlitz course to converse.
Monday, December 10, 2007
MWA Says No Self-PublishingAccording to a New York Post story, a writer with a mystery named one of the best 100 by Publishers Weekly is out of the running for an award from the Mystery Writers of America because they consider it self-published. Has anyone pointed out to them that Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass? Ah, but wait, that wasn't a mystery.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Ex-Bush Official On Dealing With BlogsTexas Monthly has an interview with Dan Bartlett, former counselor to the president and someone who worked for George W. Bush since the early 1990s. He revealed some interesting attitudes toward bloggers, and the press in general. When asked about conservative bloggers and their influence, he reportedly said:
That’s what I mean by influential. I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.In other words, he doesn't seem to consider the conservative blog machine as a critical part of the press. (If that's true, I would bet that the same thing could be said for liberal bloggers.) And as far as the reputation of Fox News being in bed with the White House, he said this:
I’ll tell you, I probably got more complaints from various Fox News programs about not getting the type of access they deserved. Now, there are exceptions to that. Vice President Cheney’s done a lot with them. But I think they were treated pretty equally across the board. If you look at the major newscasters, there were some, like [Dan] Rather, that we didn’t do. You’d be hard-pressed to say that we didn’t accommodate the others.Notice two things. One is that he talked about Fox not getting "the type of access they deserved," not that they wanted. To me, the words carry the message that either Fox was getting slighted (whether other networks were or not would be impossible to say), or that their coverage should have called for better treatment - not what you want to hear about a "fair and balanced" organization. And on Iraq? "We were wrong" on the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Now there's a word I haven't heard from the White House too often.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Technique: Turn Your Camera Into a ScannerThere may be times you need copies of materials you're researching for business or school, but you don't want to carry photocopies with you afterward. Here's a trick I've used: employ your digital camera. If possible, bring a page-sized sheet of clear plastic. Put it on top of a page you need and, making sure no lights are reflecting off it, take a high resolution picture of the page. You now have the page stored as an image that you can eventually download to a computer and print out, or even email to someone.
Wikipedia Has Inner Ruling CircleOne of the fascinating things about Wikipedia has been the concept that it runs on an open system of commenting and participation. But The Register reportered that top administrators in the organization have a secret mailing list that they use "to crackdown on perceived threats to their power." And, according to the report, this double existence is hardly new:
Kelly Martin, a former member of Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, leaves no doubt that this sort of surreptitious communication has gone on for ages. "This particular list is new, but the strategy is old," Martin told us via phone, from outside Chicago. "It's certainly not consistent with the public principles of the site. But in reality, it's standard practice."If correct, then Wikipedia carries the seeds of its own ultimate destruction, or at least of what it claims to be. You cannot focus a group on internal politics and hope to keep upholding a mission of truth and public information. And when the secret talk moves to constant prowling for "enemies," then there is enormous trouble on the horizon.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Hillary Clinton and Political PosturingI heard a story on NPR this morning in which the reporter showed the junior senator from New York trying to claim successes from her husband's terms as president while, as her opponent, Barack Obama, put it, trying to distance herself from any of the failures. My question is how does one rightly take credit for what happened in an administration when the person did not hold elected office and when, so far as I know, the only official position she held was as chair of the health care task force that tanked so profoundly?
It is disturbing to see yet another example of a politician turning into a sophist and depending on petty linguistic parsing to bolster an empty position. The country needs leadership and instead gets a debating society, where talk becomes a substitute for the language of action.