Archive for the ‘blogging’ Category

There Goes My Literary Hipster Street Cred

January 26, 2011

It’s been entirely too long since anything new popped up here. Deciding to remedy that situation this morning, but not wanting to attempt any actual work involved in creating a real blog post, I began running old entries through the I Write Like web site, which purports to analyze writing samples and match their word content and style to those of well-known (a.k.a., real) writers, to see what would appear.

The site claims the overwhelming majority of posts I’ve run through it match David Foster Wallace most closely, with a couple of stray entries each mirroring Chuck Palahniuk and Cory Doctorow.

The kicker is that while I’ve heard of all of these guys, I’ve never actually read any of their books. Hell, I’ve never even watched the movie version of Fight Club, despite my wife’s continual attempts through the years to make me see it.

There goes my literary hipster street cred. Maybe my status as some literatus with a B.A. in English is tracing thin ice these days, too.

The problem is that while I read a lot, most of what I read for fun is stuff that’s old enough to easily fall into the realm of public domain. Maybe I should start catching up with the twentieth century now that it’s over.

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Why WikiLeaks Matters

December 9, 2010

I’ll preface this by saying that my professional background was in journalism and public relations — specifically in the field of sports. I worked closely with newspaper sports reporters for many years, especially those at our local daily papers. What I’ve seen happen there over the past 10+ years can help greatly in understanding why an organization like WikiLeaks is of vital importance to investigative journalism and with it, the survival of free speech and democracy, no matter what you may think about the documents they’re releasing right now, and also why the current assaults on it are so frightening.

When I graduated from college over 11 years ago and landed my first — and so far only — “real job” handling communications for a collegiate athletics department, few could see it happening at the time, but a combination of technological and economic factors was emerging that had already sent the newspaper industry into a terminal tailspin, one that has only intensified through the years.

At the time, we had three local newspapers. Two were dailies; one ran six days a week in the mornings, while the other ran six days a week in the evenings. Plus, there was a weekly, larger, Sunday paper. It was an unusual arrangement, in that all three newspapers were owned by the same family and operated out of the same building, yet they all competed with one another for stories. Because it has always been a family-owned operation, our local papers weren’t subject to quite as severe monetary pressures as their corporate-owned brethren, but they were heavily buffeted all the same.

Those outside the media business might not know this, but newspapers never made money by selling subscriptions and individual copies. Their revenue principally came from selling advertising space throughout the paper, as well as selling small ads in the classified section.

Classified section revenue began to dry up with the advent and growth of free websites like Craigslist. You can’t underestimate the difference that shift has made in the economic fundamentals of the newspaper industry. To see the extent of the damage, just take a look at the size of the classified section in your local paper today, and then locate a copy of that same newspaper from about 20 years ago, and see how large the classified section is there. Every column inch lost, and there are staggeringly many, is revenue lost.

The other source of revenue, regular advertising, has dried up as more people began getting their news online through a variety of sources, not just (and often not at all), their local paper’s web site, causing subscription rates to decline. A company isn’t willing to pay nearly as much for a print ad if far fewer people are ever going to see it.

The effect of this has been devastating. As the years went by, it became harder and harder for me to get stories from reporters into our local papers as their sports departments’ staffs, as well as the column inches with which they had to work, shrank as a result of less revenue. Plus, as the sports sections slowly got smaller, less original work from their own reporters and columnists appeared in the shrinking space. Regional and national stories were covered by stuff picked up from the wire services increasingly often. In local sports, it was a lot cheaper to cobble together bits and pieces from postgame press releases I’d fax and email in, as well as post on our school’s web site, rather than send a reporter to cover the game.

Things continued to get leaner for the three papers until, finally, a couple of years ago, the morning and evening papers were merged into one. That unified paper was not any larger than the separate morning and evening papers were, by the way. Half of the space devoted to coverage evaporated overnight.

The result of this long decline is that the space devoted to sports coverage in our local papers over the course of an average week today has probably contracted to about a third of what it was ten to fifteen years ago.

If you think what’s happened to our county-wide daily newspapers is bad, you should see what’s happened to our very local, small-town weekly newspaper. Actually, you can’t because it doesn’t exist anymore.

So what the heck does all of this have to do with WikiLeaks? It’s this: if something as popular and generally non-controversial as the newspaper sports section can be so thoroughly decimated, what do you think has happened to investigative reporting and hard news coverage? How often does your local paper send reporters to cover things like every town council, zoning committee, and school board meeting these days? The resources to do those things all too often don’t exist anymore.

It isn’t just small-town papers that have been hit in this way — our largest papers and newsmagazines have all seen significant reductions in staff and space as well. You may think that there are plenty of other news outlets to take up the slack, but that isn’t the case. Television news has never had the capacity for investigative journalism that print media had. Let’s face it: money shots of memoranda don’t make enthralling TV that attracts viewers. Popular news web sites like those of Google, Yahoo, and AOL don’t generate much, if any, content; they mostly aggregate it from — you guessed it — the ever-shrinking newspaper industry. Most bloggers don’t actually contribute any new information, they just provide their opinions on stuff — I know that’s what I do on the rare occasions like this when I’m not fulfilling this space’s usual function of making erudite-sounding fart jokes.

Paradoxically, while the number of news sources has exploded over the last decade, the number of people able to make a living doing actual reporting has diminished substantially. It’s hard to imagine an organization like The Washington Post having the wherewithal and manpower to doggedly pursue a story like Watergate all the way to its conclusion today. You can think whatever you want about the content WikiLeaks is releasing right now; that doesn’t change the fact that, at this moment, they’re just about all that we have left that’s fulfilling the kind of large-scale investigative and whistleblower role that newspapers used play to a much greater degree.

And that is precisely what makes today’s hacktivists and news organizations like WikiLeaks so vital — they are what has so far stepped in to fill the investigative journalism vacuum created by the newspaper industry’s collapse. They’re the ones who are actually providing a platform for those digging up or leaking information previously unavailable to the public, putting it out there, and letting the chips fall where they may. That’s a critically important role in any society that at least fancies itself free.

And that’s what makes the current attacks against WikiLeaks so profoundly disturbing. I know absolutely nothing about Julian Assange’s personal life; for all I know the charges against him stemming from his personal life could very well be perfectly legit. What I do know is that we’ve never seen anything even remotely like the current assault on WikiLeaks’ operational capabilities, coordinated among various governments and corporations to try to shut down servers and cut off the organization’s ability to receive donations from the public.

For all Richard Nixon’s rage at The New York Times for publishing the Pentagon Papers, he never tried to destroy their printing presses, get ink and paper vendors to withhold ink and paper, or get banks to freeze all the paper’s assets and thereby immediately shut it down. Even if he had thought of the latter examples, there hopefully wouldn’t have been a bank, ink supplier, or paper vendor back then that would have gone along with it. As reporting on the Watergate story mounted, nobody in the mainstream media called for the summary execution of Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham. And presuming such things had managed to occur back then, and that the perps had gotten away with it, what kind of world do you think we’d be living in as a result today?

But that’s exactly what’s happening today, and it’s happening without charges, without trial, without convictions, and without much of a chance of any of those things happening, because it appears no actual law has been broken by WikiLeaks’ publication of the documents it has received. WikiLeaks is a news organization, not a terrorist organization. If it becomes classified as latter, then so is every news organization that has ever published anything labeled “secret” or “confidential” — and that’s just about every news organization in existence.

I know that transparency in government and business necessarily has its limitations (for example, I wouldn’t want my income tax returns or bank statements published publicly, nor do I think would anyone else want those things happening to themselves). But that does not change the fact that what is happening to WikiLeaks right now is nothing less than a full-scale assault in broad daylight on journalism and freedom of speech by an open collusion of governments and businesses. It desperately needs to be resisted by more than just a bunch of childish, mask-wearing doofuses who think pwning a credit card’s online brochure for a few minutes constitutes “payback.” Salon.com’s Dan Gilmour explains why better than I ever could:

Media organizations with even half a clue need to recognize what is at stake at this point. It’s more than immediate self-interest, namely their own ability to do their jobs. It’s about the much more important result if they can’t. If journalism can routinely be shut down the way the government wants to do this time, we’ll have thrown out free speech in this lawless frenzy.

. . . I’m deeply ambivalent about some of what WikiLeaks does, and what this affair portends. Governments need to keep some secrets, and laws matter. So does the First Amendment, and right now it’s under an attack that could shred it.

Ye Olde Scotland Ho, Scurvy Dogs!

September 18, 2010
Two crudely drawn stick figures in ninja costumes at "Ye Olden Ren Faire" saying, "Yarr Matey! We be Klingons!"

When Nerds Go Senile.

Speaking of dorks, my wife has our three year-old son at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire for the second time this month. The theme this time is “Scottish Weekend,” which makes no sense at all to me since International Talk Like a Pirate Day is tomorrow. “Pyrate Weekend” (yes, that’s how they deliberately misspell it) was in August for some reason.

Does knowing when Talk Like a Pirate Day falls every year and criticizing the PA Ren Faire on a blog for not synching up with it make me a dork, too?

Anyway, for now I’m at home with our one year-old daughter and focusing on activities that hopefully won’t result in her getting beaten up on a regular basis in school, like learning to shout, “Hab SoslI’ Quch!” to random passers-by, especially if they’re Scottish.

You Searched For What?!

September 15, 2010

There have been some extra weird search engine queries taking people to this site over the last week:

  • Turkey bidet toilet combo” — As much as it baffles me that someone would be scouring the Internet for this word combination, I was even more confused by my inability to recall ever having used the word “bidet” here. It turns out my memory was wrong: here it is, from November 2008. The same post begins by mentioning High School Musical. I must have a sicker mind that I previously believed.
  • Continuing with the international theme, “German Slanket” — I’m not sure what would make a Slanket German. Would it be in the colors of the German flag, or would it yell, “MACH SCHELL!” if you don’t flip through channels using your TV remote quickly enough?
  • Pennsylvania Dutch food humor” — Exhibit A: Scrapple. Exhibit B: Cup Cheese. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t actually eat any of those things; we just like seeing tourists wince at the sight of them. The funniest of all are the tourists who decide to be brave and eat them; the joke’s on you, folks.
  • Chemistry funny” — Yes, chemistry is very funny. I found balancing chemical equations to be a delightful hoot in high school.
  • Chupacabra Crossing sign poster.

    From Cafepress.com

    Chupacabra crossing signs” — I never thought of such a thing before seeing those words together just now. Now, having seen them, I’m not sure how it’s possible for my life to go on without one. I MUST HAVE A CHUPACABRA CROSSING SIGN FOR MYSELF!

  • Quotes about long winded stories” — I once knew this guy who knew this guy who knew this guy who knew this guy who knew this guy who knew this guy’s cousin who’s twice-related sister-in-law’s mother’s daughter knew this guy who knew this guy who knew this guy who once said something about Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. But to put it into proper context, we’ll have to go back to the War of the Austrian Succession . . .
  • Mechanical parrots” — Unlike the chupacabra crossing sign, these are things I could really do without.
  • The best Yugo” — Speaking of things I don’t want . . .
  • la-veterana@hotmit.liver” — This can’t possibly be a legit email address, unless the nation of hepatitis has its own domain now.

So there’s a rundown of some of the search terms that have brought some really twisted people to this site over the past week. Luckily for them, I’ve been twisted enough to have somehow created content that would send them here in the first place.

Thanks to this post, it’s only a matter of time before I start getting hits for “hepatitis” combined with something else weird, too. Now that I think about it, “nation of hepatitis” is a weird enough phrase on its own.

What would be the most utterly revolting restaurant name ever? I vote “The Hepatitis Bidet.”

xkcd’s Key to Successful Blogging

June 3, 2010
Cartoon of man giving a presentation and talking to someone in the crowd. Here's the text: "The key to making a successful blog is building a relationship with your readers." "I thought it was 'make your updates so good people will want to read them.'" "We'll discuss content generation in part three." "Awesome! I LOVE content."

From xkcd.com

Clearly, I have not followed any of the advice here. Yet people still look at this thing. Weird…

The Sublime and the Ridiculous on the Internet

June 20, 2009

First, the sublime.

Now, the ridiculous.

Technology and Free Speech

June 17, 2009

I’ve mocked things like Twitter and text messaging occasionally on this blog (in the case of Twitter, as recently as yesterday). However, these things do have the potential to do a lot of good as well as waste a lot of time.

We’re seeing examples of that potential now.

I’m not Iranian; I can’t speak one way or another about any given side in the current election crisis. Plus, we in the United States already have entirely too much to answer for when it comes to meddling in the internal affairs of that country.

However, as another blogger said, “I am very pro freedom of speech. Whether we agree or disagree with any given Iranian citizen, they ought to have the right to express their views.”

Here are some ways to help keep that expression going if you know how to do that newfangled techie stuff.

Also, here’s a list of sites to get some halfway decent news from that part of the world.

Today’s Sign of The Apocalypse

June 10, 2009

Forsooth, concrete evidence the Rapture is nigh:

The Cats With Blogs Web Site.

The Cats With Blogs Web Site.

Verily, cometh the hour of the Rapture, I claim dibs upon all can openers in thy house and in the house of thy neighbor. My familiars insist I doth.

Creamy, Yummy, Marshmallowy White Space

May 21, 2009

I feel as though I should write something here, since it’s been several days.

So, here goes. Something to write . . . something to write . . . while gaping into the maw of a screen full of beautiful white space. Creamy, yummy, marshmallowy white space. Such a shame to mar it with text — so would say a graphic designer. But, on the Internet, content is content is content, and these black lines and sqiggles called letters are what I string together best. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to see me attempt to draw a picture on here. Or even a diagram.

That’s a funny word, diagram. It sounds kind of like diadem, which is another funny word. But, if you lost a monarch’s diadem and offered a diagram as a replacement for it, the monarch in question would most likely not be amused.

Monarchs were generally not very amused throughout history, except for queen Victoria. She was endlessly facinated by CD jewel cases and moonwalk castles. I wonder if you could put a moonwalk castle on the moon. You could get some insane air on one of those there. Or could you? There isn’t any air there, after all.

Why is it that “airy” is a synonym for light, breezy and well ventilated? The air here is really humid, sticky and heavy feeling right about now. It feels like somebody managed to open the mouth of every gaseous molecule within five miles of here, stick a fire hose in it, and turn the hose on at full blast.

For all you kids out there stumbling across this while avoiding working on reports or research papers, it will aid you greatly to know that scientists have recently discovered that the molecules making up our atmosphere do in fact have mouths. If anyone questions this basic truth of science, you can simply tell them it has to be true because you saw it on the Internet, and you can refer them to this site, a well known tome of knowledge in its author’s mind, as evidence. But really, do you actually need evidence when you already possess certainty? Of course not. I’m certain of it, and so are you, because you’re a bright kid.

Gaseous molecules do have mouths, and their mouths are essential to our sense of smell. What happens is that the molecules go on all-night drinking binges and forget to brush their teeth (previously known as “quarks”) before they pass out in a vodka-and-Jäger induced stupor (because Jägermeister will mess you up, even if you’re an inanimate covalent bond). The stench produced by these passed out molecules which snore loudly with their mouths open is what we interpret as scent, and it produces the winds which drive the Earth’s weather patterns.

What does this have to do with anything? Everything.

In closing, staplers are generally made of metal, although many now have plastic parts as well. A few lucky ones even contain genuine rubber.

Meditate on that, and ye shall reach the eighth and penultimate astral plane, also known as the Spruce Moose, also known as “Billy” to his friends and “Rufus” to his co-workers.

Jon Stewart vs. CNBC

March 13, 2009

While it’s sad that Jon Stewart, who is supposed to be a comedian by trade, is one of the most probing and responsible journalists we have these days, I’m sure glad we have him.

For those who haven’t seen last night’s full-show grilling of CNBC’s Jim Cramer (who was pretty much serving the role of proxy for the entire spectrum of financial news media) by Stewart on The Daily Show yet, here’s a link to the extended, uncut version of the show via National Public Radio’s web site. (WARNING: This version includes everything, including the f-bombs.)

For those who want the edited, TV-friendly version, here it is on Hulu.

Thanks to last night’s Daily Show, journalists with large audiences and professional legitimacy are finally beginning to discuss issues that before weren’t getting mentioned much. (Although I’d like to take this opportunity to be an egotistical jerk and toot my own horn for having brought some of these things up before. Of course, I have no audience and no journalistic credibility, so it really makes no difference whether I brought it up or not. Patting my own back from time to time just feels kinda nice, in a solipsistic and intellectually wanky sort of way.)


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