How To Turn Off Someone Doing You A Favor
A press inquiry email list called helpareporter.com lets journalists mention story ideas to those who might might have sources or information available. It costs nothing and is generally useful. Peter Shankman, the PR person who runs it, has posted an interesting interchange with someone who signed up for the service and, apparently, took umbrage at the welcome auto response
Quite a hard-assed reaction, eh? I wondered about this willingness to "share with reporters" and went to her site
. I eventually found what a viatical settlement was, after some poking about. But, my, much of the site to me radiates irritation and unpleasantness. For example:
This website has more than 200 pages of free information. More information is available through our books, many of which can be borrowed from your local library. Please do not contact us for additional free information. We have neither the time nor the resources to allow us to respond -- and we do receive many inquiries each week. However, when there are a number of questions on the same issue, such as "Should Investors Pay Premiums?" we will publish a Special Report.
And how is she supposed to hear the questions when she's telling people not to ask her questions, just to buy the book? Jeez.
Labels: authors, insurance, journalism, PR
Definitions: Love and Marriage
Linguist Geoff Nunberg had a great piece about how political factions use dictionary definitions
in taking their stances toward gay marriage. It's a great analysis, and one that transcends the specific topic. I found of particular interest the following:
A couple of months ago, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary made some long-overdue revisions in the definitions for a bunch of gender-related words. Before then, the dictionary's definition of girlfriend in the meaning of "sweetheart" read "a man's favorite female companion," which would have precluded lesbians from having girlfriends in the romantic sense. And the old definition of love read, "That feeling of attachment which is based upon difference of sex. . . and which is the normal basis of marriage." So both words were given new definitions that would cover their use to refer to same-sex relationships.
This is hardly a matter of rampant political correctness, or of giving the words a new meaning. It isn't as if the English language has ever ruled out talking about lesbians having girlfriends, much less prevented Shakespeare from describing a romantic attachment between two men with the word love. It's just that when the definitions were written, those sorts of relationships were officially invisible.
Oh, what a great point. People use language to make themselves comfortable, and set definitions to try and form the world in the way they wished it was, and not in the way it actually is. To point to "traditional" definitions is really to point to traditional prejudices and recorded wishful thinking. What axe edges are the dictionary editors grinding? So what we get is a true example of "begging the question": people take a stance based on social norms, and then use definitions created by those norms as proof that the opinion is correct. Might as well say that infant mortality is normal and "the way things should be" because in the past there was lots of infant mortality.
Labels: definitions, dictionary, linguistics, words
An Anti-Photoshopping Rant
The San Francisco Chronicle ran an opinion piece
that has become something you can expect periodically: a rant against "Photoshopping."
I get tired of the sentimental and wistful attitudes people have toward what they think is photographic purity. Certain, the drive for visual perfection gets a bit silly, but why blame Photoshop? In the past, people used airbrushing, scraping, paintbrushes, dyes, and pencils to "fix" images.
Do I heavily use Photoshop in my work? Absolutely - because if I'm doing something digitally, that is the way I crop, balance color, adjust contrast levels, spot dust motes, create unsharp masks, and a number of other niggling issues that were formerly considered responsible darkroom work. Do you really want that photo to look literally off-color, badly composed, and speckled?
When people "rework ... every shot," is this total transformation, or the normal twiddling that an art department or photographer must do? Are critics so lacking in technical understanding that they have no idea just how limited and misleading camera technology is? Guess what, folks: no photograph is actually what the photographer saw. Why not eliminate the distortions of lenses and limited color palates of both digital capture chips and film? Why not upbraid writers for even worse transgressions: bending quotes, hyping tension, enhancing drama, and otherwise recreating what they actually saw? What bigger fantasy-making machinery is there?
Labels: magazines, Photoshop, retouching
NYT to Open API?
NYT is the New York Times and API, if you don't know the acronym, stands for application programming interface, or a series of tools that programmers can use to hook their own software into an already-existing pacakage. What makes this combination of six letters total is that it could spell a revolution in online media delivery. According to a story on ReadWriteWeb
, if this rumor is true, it would make the entire online version of the paper a tool just waiting to be included in so-called mashups, or the Web applications that hook into existing services to provide something more than either party could deliver on its own:
In addition to the API, New York Times CTO Marc Frons told mediabistro.com that internal developers at the paper will use the platform to organize structured data on the site. Following that, the paper plans to offer developer keys to the API allowing programmers to more easily mash up the paper's structured content -- reviews, event listings, recipes, etc. "The plan is definitely to open [the code] up," Frons said. "How far we don't know."
The API itself should be done by the time summer arrives in the US, with more significant chunks available to the public within 6 months.
For example, you might go to a site, click on two points on a map, and get every story that includes the names of both locations, or clicking on a city might bring up all restaurants that have had their recipes printed by the Times. In a way, this takes a stroll from the traditional job of newspapers. Papers did not
focus on simply delivering facts, but arranging them in the context of telling a story. When the data is all open, do the stories become less important?
Labels: computers, mashups, programming, web, Web 2.0
Nine Signs That A Science Fiction TV Series Has Been On Too Long
Here are some of the signs I've noticed that a science fiction or fantasy series has been on television too long:
- The characters have a "been there, done that" attitude, where little to nothing surprises them.
- Inside jokes become regular fare.
- You keep wondering what they're going to do to top the last set of calamities and special effects - and so do the writers.
- They recycle the old aliens that went out of fashion three seasons back.
- They have a flashback episode, where it's one scene from an older episode after another.
- You can hear the straining sounds when it comes to deciding whether to run another year or not.
- An actor previously phased out of the program shows up again under some convoluted explanation.
- The action figures came, and went, two years ago.
- Actors appear on the convention circuit.
Labels: fantasy, science fiction, television
Broadcasting Dares Seems A Bad Idea
From the truth-in-advertising department: the fraud-prevention company LifeLock has for a while run a series of ads in which CEO Todd Davis announces his real social security number and says that he's protected from identity theft. It's a powerful message. Too bad it's false.
According to an AP story, two LifeLock customers are suing
, claiming that the service doesn't work and that the company knew it, because it didn't even work for Davis:
Attorney David Paris said he found records of other people applying for or receiving driver's licenses at least 20 times using Davis' Social Security number, though some of the applications may have been rejected because data in them didn't match what the Social Security Administration had on file.
Davis acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that his stunt has led to at least 87 instances in which people have tried to steal his identity, and one succeeded: a guy in Texas who duped an online payday loan operation last year into giving him $500 using Davis' Social Security number.
And then there is his answer to AP:
"There's nothing on my actual credit report about uncollected funds, no outstanding tickets or warrants or anything," he said. "There's nothing to indicate my identity has been successfully compromised other than the one instance. I know I'm taking a slightly higher risk. But I'll take my risk for the tremendous benefit we're bringing to society and to consumers."
So much for testimonials from the interested - and the degree to which a company can actually protect your identity, which can be a lot more than trying to fill a credit application.
Labels: advertising, lawsuit, security
Someone Writes the Secret History of Star Wars
Now here's something intriguing for anyone who grew up techie. Someone has used something like 400 secondary sources to create a free e-book called The Secret History of Star Wars
. It covers 40 years and attempts to answer such questions as:
If you're a Star Wars fan, this would seem to be somethingyou couldn't pass up - trivia that is free.
Labels: e-books, movies, Star Wars
Good Discussion on Copyright Length
I've seen many discussions on a "proper" length of copyright go to extremes, but Megan McArdle's column on TheAtlantic.com takes what I think is a balanced and intelligent view of the topic
. For example:
Also, at a time when the average life expectancy is 40, a copyright term of 21 years provides more than adequate incentive. In the modern day, we're trying to persuade young writers and artists to essentially make a large capital investment in their art by irrevocably committing to a career in their art. If at 45 or 50 their most successful works no longer produce revenue, the writer who produced his or her best work at 25 has a big problem. Hedging their bets by keeping a second career going does not make them or us better off.
It seems to me that the strictest advocates of very short copyright terms tend to be tenured professors--people who already have their retirement taken care of.
A very good point. The point about professors is one that has bothered me, as well. If I'm a highly-paid professor who wants to give his books away, like a Lawrence Lessing (who still
sells his works), that's fine, but why expect that all writers should act as though they had tenure, which means essentially a lifetime lock on a job?
Perhaps the problem is that the extensions of copyright have been at the behest of corporations. Maybe companies should actually have shorter
terms of copyright than individuals, because they are generally in a better position to profit from the works, which is the reason copyright is in place at all - as an incentive. How much more incentive do the corporations need?
Yes, if corporations were under greater restrictions, they'd try some end-around, like forcing people to license works to them in perpetuity. However, the copyright statutes allow for any copyright holder to end a license 35 years after the copyright date. So there would still be a limit, based on the copyright owner or his or her estate taking action.
Life for Kenyan Writers
I came across this article about ecnomic reality for a Kenyan writer
, and pass it on. Interestingly, except for the value of the currency and the extreme book piracy, it doesn't seem all that different from what I've seen in the US.
Labels: Africa, authors, books, publishing
Profitable Day for Rancid Rhyming
An auction showed that bad poetry can financially top popular contemporary fiction. While a rare set of Harry Potter books insribed by the author went for $12,000, a collection of 35 self-published poems by William Topaz McGonagall, who has the reputation of being the worst poet in the English language, sold for $15,600
, according to this story by the Associated Press.
Labels: books, poetry
Book Launch 2.0
This post's title is actually the title of a Youtube video
by author Dennis Cass
about the pain of an author trying to promote a book in a Web 2.0 world. It's very funny in a low-key way, and I'm tempted to buy his book as a show of support. Actually, if I were really with it online, I'd probably find a way to download the book for free, helping to make all his marketing work for naught. No wonder writers drink.
Labels: authors, books, humor, marketing
Hacking a Canon Point-and-Shoot
I wouldn't see myself doing this, but have to admire the determination and ingenuity of the people responsible. Lifehacker.com has an article on how to load low-level software (a firmware enhancement, if you know the term) into a Canon point-and-shoot
, often achieving many of the following:
- added information on the display screen
- RAW image support, and not just JPEG
- exposure times of over a minute and shutter speeds over 1/25,000 sec
- automatic exposure bracketing
I am surprised and impressed by the claims - though I'm not quite ready to test them on one of the point-and-shoots members of my family own.
Labels: cameras, DIY, point-and-shoot
Running on Fumes: Presidential Politics and Gasoline Prices
I've been shaking my head over the latest round of blather in the presidential race, as two of the three major candidates are falling all over themselves in their desire to use gas prices as an "issue" to show themselves sympathetic to the needs of working people. Instead, let's say that they're being disingenuous at best and cynically manipulative at worst.
Both McCain and Clinton are on the "let's have a moratorium on Federal gasoline taxes" bandwagon. But what does it really mean? The tax is 18 cents a gallon. Say that you use a tank of gas a week, and let's further suppose that means 20 gallons. So your weekly savings would be $3.60, or $43.20 over the entire summer. I won't sneeze at having a extra pair of twenties in my wallet; however, if that is economic relief, then all my problems should be cured by giving up going out for coffee one day a week - oh, wait, I already
brew my own.
At least Obama, for all his problems, isn't toeing the same path, and Clinton's bashing of him as not sympathetic to "regular folk" makes me want to take a shower after I hear her talk. I've found that if people are willing to bend words and thought completely out of shape on a regular basis to get something, they don't tend to stop after the acquisition. What's the next suggestion, end the federal deficit by having people donate empty bottles and cans so the government can get the deposit refunds?
Labels: critical thinking, Politics
Winning Photography Contests
I indirectly came across this blog entry from an ex-stock photographer who writes the blog Photocritic
.org and who found himself as a judge on a photography contest. How to win photography competitions
offers a set of suggestions for how to tell a story and make your entry stand out from competition in the process. It's a bit long, thoughtful, and worth the read if you're thinking of submitting images.
Labels: contest, technique
A Screenwriter and Happiness
Cory Turner from NPR went to film school, met the girl of his dreams, wrote a script, found out that it was going to be produced but almost lost the girl. His commentary is almost like a mini romantic comedy
. It probably wasn't so neat and tidy in real life, but just think of the movie it might make.
Labels: movies, screenwriting, scripts, writers