Friday, December 31

Freaking Useless

Microsoft Outlook Web Access for Exchange Server 2003 is what we use for Web mail access at work. It doesn't freaking work in any browser or browser version, possibly because of the Windows XP Service Pack I had to install on my home machine.

I've already written a few memos to the IT guys, who wrote back explaining why these failures to function (inability to reply to messages, especially) are actually features, not failures. Idiots.

Give me a freaking BlackBerry, at least. I'm not going in to the office on a holiday just because you guys haven't evolved beyond the freaking Pony Express yet.


Wednesday, December 29


Headline of the year from Reuters: Hope diminishes as corpses surface. "Sinks" would have been a better verb for the first clause, or "subsides." The story is dominating Blogdex and all the others today. CEO where I work is doubling the matching contribution of my employer for donations to the relief effort. Nice move.

I've got a breakfast meeting with a reporter and the VP of corporate communications of a big old multinational bank. Then I have to get stuff done, seriously. I want to do a chart of trading volumes, year on year. Where's the data? Got a seminar to go to. Filling out my calendar for 2005. Phrase that keeps going round and round in my head: "hidden leverage."

Tuesday, December 28

Aleatorily Chosen Press Release of the Day

Hot off the BUSINESS WIRE:
The Lexiteria Corporation, sponsor of the Alpha Dictionary website, announced its Word of the Year for 2004 today. The word is tsunami, a Japanese word meaning 'harbor wave.' 'This word was probably unfamiliar to most English-speakers before Christmas,' said Robert Beard, PhD, President of The Lexiteria and former CEO of 'We cannot think of a word that became so well-known so fast in recent times.' Dr. Beard added that many English-speakers think of large waves as tidal waves but a tsunami has nothing to do with tides or harbors. They are caused by earthquakes, landslides, volcanoes, and meteorites hitting an ocean. In 1958 a landslide of about 50 million square yards of rock and earth set off a tsunami roughly 4/10 of mile high in remote Lituya Bay, Canada. 'The word tsunami hit the English-speaking world very much like the object it names,' said Wendy Middleton, MLIS, Vice President. 'In fact, it is used in just about all the languages of the world.' Because tsunami hit the world so late this year, The Lexiteria only had time to poll its staff members to override other contenders that came from its readership. Runners-up included:
  • 'spiderhole,' a new term for a presidential residence in Iraq;
  • 'Fahrenheit,' from Michael Moore's movie that raised temperatures in the Republican party;
  • 'election,' the up-coming one in Iraq that may have influenced the one in the US;
  • 'Deaniac,' a member of the 'flash crowd' that Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean created via the Internet that also disappeared in a flash, and
  • 'metrosexual,' the dandy of the new millennium."

Hey, I already knew what a freaking 'tsunami' was. And I knew how to properly punctuate words as words, too.

Golden Oldies and the Shock of the New

This Web site had saved me a lot of trouble recently. The latest version of Freaking AOL Instant Messenger is proof of the motto "new doesn't necessarily mean better." It won't install properly on this fershlugginer Windows 2000 box they gave me to work with--I curse constantly under my breath at the goddamned thing--so I'm grabbing an earlier version, without that freaking annoying advertorial pop-up, so I can communicate with Shanghai, Oz, and the Upper Upper Upper West Side and other exotic locales. However, the freaking freakers seem to have written some code into their network that declares old versions "obsolete" and forces you to update to the new and "improved" non-functioning version.

Ah, here we go, version 5.5.x.x seems to work.

You asswipes at AOLTW and MSFT are always wasting my precious time.

Here Comes Everybody

After another mercy mission to Boston over the holidays--above, bored soldiers guarding Penn Station with lethal cups of hot coffee to throw in terrorist eyes--it's back to scrambling after this sort of thing (PDF), mapping the next issue, crunching numbers, reading CVs, yada yada. Too much to do in two days. Will no one rid me of this troublesome trade-through rule?

The Mrs. has got a bad case of the gringo grippe and is locked in the study, trying to quarantine herself so I don't fall to sniffling myself. My luck, I'll probably get it from the cat.

Got a nice fedora for Xmas, below.

Thursday, December 23

Dawn of the Newsmaster

Robin Good passes along this fascinating, semi-nutty think piece on the death of the Fourth Estate from Robin Sloan and the Museum of Media History.
In the year 2014 people have access to a breadth and depth of information unimaginable in an earlier age. Everyone contributes in some way. Everyone participates to create a living, breathing mediascape. However, the Press, as you know it, has ceased to exist. The Fourth Estate's fortunes have waned. 20th Century news organizations are an after-thought, a lonely remnant of a not too distant past.

Yeah, yeah. There's two points I want to make. First, while it's great that everyone will contribute, there's still going to be a need for dedicated professionals to spend 24-7-365-70 tracking, researching, collating, writing, fact-, grammar- and spell-checking, and all the other industrial processes that keep the newstream unpolluted by bullshit incoherence and worth drinking. Fine, you'll be able to get it without flouridation, like Gen. Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, if you choose, but you're still going to need to know that it's not actually poisoned with out-and-out lies.

The good news for those professionals is that there will be more channels than ever to feed into. Smart channels that we control ourselves could make it easier for us to reach the readers most likely to care about what we put together for them, and make it easier for them to communicate their wants to us. On the other hand, I don't see why we shouldn't continue to band together into teams, hash out what our target market is, seek some venture capital, think up a snappy name, and work the synergies so we can get paid to do this stuff full time and live in reasonable financial security while we do it.

That's why the tension between editorial on one hand and marketing and distribution on the other is not going away. It'll be the same as it ever was, even when everyone has a television studio in their living rooms and printing press in their pocket. I sit here surfing classified ads and seeing jobs for old-fashioned 'editors' getting elbowed aside by ads for 'content managers,' who give way in turn to algorithms. Will the new wave of 'newsmasters' have degrees in marketing or will they come from the liberal arts and the sciences? Will their intellectual heroes be Faith Popcorn--if that really is her name--or Daniel De Foe and Thomas Paine and Walter Lippman and Walter Cronkite and Thomas Hobbes and the Marquis de Sade?

I hate the whole mentality that reduces intelligent discourse to "content" on a par with advertising and spin and pornography and spam. I don't pay my freelancers for "content," which may be defined as any series of characters in a recognized world writing system forming grammatically comprehensible sentences or phrases. I pay them to create a special kind of written composition called "news reports" and "feature stories" and "news analysis." And I'm the rabbi that declares it kosher, not some idiot throwing a switch that routes chunks of words this way or that. My job is to keep you right with Y-h by making sure there's nothing cheesy in the meat of the story. I spend all my time thinking about how to make the fifteen minutes you have for reading in the morning as rewarding as possible.

Second, the fundamental philosophical question about the democratic media will remain: Is it our job people to tell people what they want to know--free celebrity sex diets!--or what we think they NEED to know? The social mission of the Fourth Estate always had a lot to do with "educating the public," and now we live at a time when all of this technology coexists with a movement to get the theory of evolution out of public school textbooks and to dismiss research on global warming and the health effects of nicotine addiction as "junk science."

In other words, as a wise friend of mine once said, "When any idiot can publish on the Internet, the Internet will mostly be written by idiots."

Is that true? I tend to be more optimistic than most people about the desire of most people not to dwell in ignorance, despite evidence to the contrary, like the very existence of Geraldo Rivera and the Weekly World News. There will always be a role for someone to filter down the cacophony and winnow out the idiocy. There may be a sucker born every minute, but a media activist is nothing more than a sucker who realizes they've been bitten by the snake-oil. Truth will remain the coin of the realm, even as the economics of content shift in favor of direct producers over blood-sucking distributors. Viva Tasini!

Also, on a branding note, the anti-globalization people coined the idea of a Fifth Estate and have been using it for years now--and quis custodet custodes ipsos has an even more venerable pedigree. (I always remember old Prof. Learnihan on the first day of Western Civ in college, thundering, "Ladies and gentlemen, you will never have an original thought in your life.") If they believed in intellectual property, they'd be suing. Still, the discussion ought to at least cite its antecedents.

Cavalcade of Resum� belabors the obvious with this advice:

Don't write Weblogs that anonymously criticize your employer.

Another journalist has been suspended for blogging tales out of school. The kneejerk reaction would be to decry this quashing of freedom of speech, but have to say I have some sympathy for the paper here: If your conscience can't stand the way your boss covers the news, quit and go do it right. Otherwise, the dirty laundry ought to get washed in-house. Who knows: Maybe you can make a difference in the weekly staff meeting. Your voice is your own, but your boss owns the microphone, so if she wants you to play oompah music instead of grunge, you should, or go out and buy your own set of Marshall stacks. If you believe you're being asked to play oompah music that furthers evil, you should quit and start a private crusade.

On this blog, for example, I stick to talking about what it feels like to do my job, and stick up links that might interest my brothers and sisters in arms, those other similarly situated poor bastards slogging through budgets, invoices, pitches, production schedules, PR approaches, and in my case a very, very disorganized morgue. We have to do a special issue soon, but it took me two days to find last years' version of the issue. We need a bright-eyed summer intern to slave over the sucky details.

Speaking of blogging confidential matters, I'm spending the semi-holiday reading resum�s for a position we have open. Obviously not a subject for public discussion. I will say this, though: If the ad calls for a full-time reporter to cover the lint recycling industry, please don't bother the employer with a pitch about a freelancer who covers the clown college beat. Reminds me of that test they give you in school: First instruction is to read all instructions before beginning; last instruction is to disregard all instructions except No. 1.

By the way, Nextel gave me a new replacement phone and made me happy. My customer experience was positive, on balance, and I am back walkie-talkieing the wife in the bedroom from the den. Honeybuns, kin I have some more cwo-fee, pweeze?

Wednesday, December 22

Happy Freaking Ho Ho Ho, or, Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense

Me and My Bunduda
Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
Me and Neuza looking like complete bums, or worse--sluts and rou�s, malandros and vadias--as snapped by our Brazilian guest, Sas�, the other night. It's been an eventful year, so you should pardon us for busting out the Z� Corvo once in a while. We're invited down to Chile in February, but these Scrooges I work for are going to need me to actually take work seriously for a while. My goal for the year: Transform my job into a liquid-lunch sinecure for the lazy and pretentious. In the meantime, at least the hard work is actually pretty fun. The CEO even cc'd me on an e-mail of congrats the other day! Not that I deserved it, but I feel I deserve credit for simply not screwing things up. In the meantime: Here's drinking heavily to you, unknown wanderer of the blogosphere.


Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
More from the Red Actor's 2004 year in photos series: Snapped by Neuza at the grand opening of the Brooklyn Museum renovation in the fall.


Originally uploaded by dstewartms.
I couldn't disagree more--the catsup of intellectuals and the creative class is corn salsa---but I think we can all agree that garlic is better than most things in life, and eating it makes a nice hedge against misery.

Tuesday, December 21

Possibly the best photo I ever took

Godiva Aliva 008
Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
Madison Avenue in the Flatiron District, last summer, as I recall. This post courtesy of Flickr.


Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
Sudden fit of nostalgia, which Brazilians call saudades: We were near Salvador, Bahia, worshipping Iemanj�.

Da-Da-Da-Da-Da-Da Boom: Tequila

The Morning News explores the savage heart of Brooklyn kitsch--words by Todd Levin, fotos by Lisa Whiteman:

Why do otherwise sane people spend thousands to turn their homes into electric Christmas acid tests?

The only really fanatical decorator here in our hood is the Jamaican guy around the corner with the huge black HMWW, who doesn't like you photographing his building. I don't even want to know.

It's great to have the girls seated around the table again, batendo papo with a bottle of Z� Cuervo Dourado in the middle, though the ritual of hospitality cuts into productivity a bit and leads to a wife hung over like a tanker truck that's about to plunge off a bridge and explode in some bad movie.

I get to inaugurate my expense account today with a lunch meeting to shoot the breeze with the copy editor, who hasn't been getting invited to the same confabs I have lately. Knowledge tranfer and caloric intake are mission-critical at this juncture, I believe. Please remit.

Amazing how much news is breaking in our little corner of the global capitalist running-dog conspiracy this time of year. Tax planning, I guess. I have to assign a 2005 Preview section today. Do I have a clue? I think so. Better stop blogging and find out.

Monday, December 20

Viva Bossa, Sas�

It's so freaking cold today you need to shove lit cigarettes in your ears just to keep your brains from solidifying. Your lung butter flash freezes as you suck in that next drag, but the smokers are out in force anyway, of course.

Our houseguest, the wild and personable Sas� from S�o Paulo, must be freaking out: She and the Foca are doing the whirlwind tour of the town today. It doesn't GET below zero in the tropics, you know.

Freaking Nextel: They list a service center at 59 Maiden Lane, but you arrive at the building and there's no sign saying there's a Nextel service center within. The doorman gets a kick out of reading my body language and telling me, "Nextel is on 21" before I ask him. It's a usability isssue.

I hate having my time wasted. Death approaches inexorably, after all. Why else would I pay a bit more for this service than for some others if not to rescue precious minutes from BS like this, to be spent on something fun like sex, television, imagining revenge or enjoying the music of Johnny Cash?

News item of the day: The famous bronze Wall Street bull sculpture (which actually lives at the forking of Broadway into Whitehall and State) is for sale to the highest bidder. Appropriate in a way, indicative of a potential tragedy of the commons in another.

I always like to suggest to tourists snapping photos with the taurine colossus that they take a photo with the more interesting end, just for a larf: The beast has boldly dangling brass dingleberries and is pointing his ass at the Museum of the American Indian.

Boston City

Took the Acela up to Boston to, in the words of the Eagles, "comfort an old friend who's feelin' down."

Had never been before. It was a nightmare! Spooky freaking suburbs dominated by those antique church steeples hovering over the landscape like Martian warships from War of the Worlds, woodlands straight out of the Blair Witch Project, gas stations manned by bored girls dreaming of riding that train to the big city and secretly dating cabbies ten years too old for them. "The cab stand is by the Dunkin Donuts. Tell Bill Samantha really wants to see him." Sure enough, it's Bill who arrives. He's a creepy hockey fan type who looks a lot like Michael Moore. The Red Line broke en route to Harvard Square, dumping me out on the Boston Commons. Fortunately there was WiFi beaming out of the Old North Church and I was able to call up a map on my Pocket PC and plot the alternative route on the Purple Line out of the Fleet Center. Creaking old commuter line, flashback to the 1950s.

Otherwise, my cellphone went on the fritz on the morning of departure, had to spend most of the weekend unconnected to the Foca, who was attending an All-American wedding in Ben Salem, Pennsylvania.

This old ditty kept running through my head all weekend:

I was born in Boston city boys, a place you all know well Brought up by honest parents, the truth to you I'll tell Brought up by honest parents and raised most tenderly Till I became a sporting lad at the age of twenty three. My character was taken and I was sent to jail My parents tried to bail me out, but found it was in vain The jury found me guilty, the clerk he wrote it down The judge he passed my sentence, I was sent to Charlestown. I see my aged father, and he standing by the bar Likewise my aged mother, and she tearing of her hair The tearing of those old grey locks, and the tears came mingled down Saying,"Johnny my son what have you done that you're bound for Charles-town." There's a girl in Boston city, boys, a place you all know well And if e'er I get my liberty, it's with her I will dwell If e'er I get my liberty, bad company I will shun The robbing of the Munster, and the drinking of the rum. You lads that are at liberty, should keep it while you can Don't roam the street by night or day, or break the laws of man For if you do you're sure to rue, and become a lad like me A-serving up your twenty-one years in the Royal Artillery

Did get some heavy reading done: A book on derivatives by the rival Risk Waters Group and Best Practices of the Business Press from the ASBPE. Of course, I then proceeded to LEAVE THE FREAKING BOOKS BEHIND ON THE FREAKING TRAIN. Either that or the Foca "put them away" somewhere you'd never guess to look. Kind of a pack rat, that Foca. Embarrassed to say it, but played a long session of Myst IV on the trip back in business class. Stuck on the animal planet.

Friday, December 17

To Blur Is Human

Nice haiku from the EconoPundit:
Invisible Hand; Mother of inflated Hope, Mistress of Despair.

Yes, it is 5:30 in the freaking morning. I have to get a story on this mess (PDF) ready for bed today and still have time for lunch with the publisher and other non-editorial bigwigs. I generally like to get up early, download news from my Global Domination Info Control Panel, and generally contemplate the universe before diving into the dirty details.

But not this early, sucking down Cafe Bustelo and $1/pack Indian reservation Internet cigarettes--I got to stop that this coming year--in my robe and slippers, perched on my new Aeron.

Today's sign of the times: disgraced stock-ranker Henry Blodgett's dislosure statement for Slate along with a nicely ironic little article that he did on the notion of caveat emptor:

Human beings, it turns out, are wired to make dumb investing mistakes. What's more, we are wired not to learn from them, but to make them again and again. If there is consolation, it is that it's not our fault. We are born suckers. ... we are, in fact, sweating, breathing, herding, hoarding, pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding animals who employ a looser definition of "rational" than computer chips.

I guess that it's not his fault, either, by the same token, that he's banned from the industry for life. He was just herding and hoarding and helplessly hedonistic.

Small triumph: Vindication for a controversial scoop we ran.

Thursday, December 16

Me and the Old Lady

Neuza brought home Shrek 2 from the discotique near her high-temperature yoga class last night. It is, simply put, the story of our love. I laughed, I cried, I broke wind and grumped until more snacks were forthcoming. Lots of lame pop songs gratuitously shoved onto the soundtrack--wow, someone is actually covering old Buzzcocks tunes these days, interesting--essentially the same plot and joke-repetoire as the first, but what the hell.

We went along as a couple to a press reception at the Met Life building the other night. Our first official public appearance in New York high society. Hope no one noticed us anchoring ourselves to the mini-taco tray and monopolizing it. Oh, well, what are junkets for?

Below: My Brazilian ogress does samba doida in fake fur coat and PJs.

Tuesday, December 14

Today at One State

Ever have one of those days where there's so much to do that there's no point trying to do any of it? So you start blogging instead?

That's me.

Not really. But I've crossed enough items off my evolving list to take a breather.

I got some nice publications lately from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (below).

Their Editor's Notes newsletter is lovely and has interesting stuff, including an appeal from a henchperson of outgoing Homeland Security czar eunuch Tom Ridge to the business press:

The business press is a critical factor in disseminating national security information to the public, says Tasia Scolinos, the DHS senior director for communications.

We like to think so. The most unambiguous bit of information these days seems to be the lack of unambiguous information. I read a lot about the BSA and USA PATRIOT these days. Speaking of public information, disinformation, and misinformation, I'm enjoying John Brown's Public Diplomacy Press Review--request it by sending an e-mail--another newsletter that comes into my Gmail inbox with actionable intelligence.

Jeez, what a day. Off to the Xmas media reception of a big Eurobank at Grand Central. Your chocolate brandy balls and canapes will not sway me in your favor, but you are certainly welcome to try, you European slicksters ... But first I've got to get out this coverage of a Broad Street press conference with IBM and the NYSE, covered by our correspondent in China before bopping off to Hong Kong ...

Hey, You!

Anonymous crank calls to a public space, or a Hyde Park soapbox for POTS: Agoraphone. How many stoners from my era have phoned up and started in with a Pink Floyd "Hello-hello-hello, is there anybody IN there?" I'd like to conference in this NYSE conference call Muzak I'm listening to at the moment. Peppy lite jazz. The reception over SKYPE sucks.

Sunday, December 12

Pile Theory

I'm getting left with the interim top job while we locate a new chief, so I'm taking the opportunity to gather in all the data and talk to all the folks in the operation about stuff like budget and branding and readership and schedules and the like. It's a bit nerve-wracking, but I figure if I just keep yammering at the guys upstairs about the division of labor me and the old Chief agreed on, and keep on lobbying for a chance to brief in the candidates for Godfather or Godmother, I'll be able to sell the New Normal as a good thing that won't rock the boat. Everybody on board now knows what they're doing, is good at what they're doing, and just wants to keep on doing it ... which I'm totally behind. My job: Minimize seat-of-pants flying, get some new routines going, keep the functioning old routines working, make sure everybody feels secure enough to just keep on trucking ...

Bad news: Must rely on in-house IT to build my groupware portal, says the money-man ... Sorry, guys, it's just that there's not many of you and you take foreeeever to get things done ...

So I'm using the time off (we're on a 48-issue year now) to make lists and check them twice. Oh, there's no place like the shadow of the Goldman Sachs death star building for the holidays (below) ...

Thursday, December 9

Street Corner Rhapsody of Mumbles

this is an audio post, so click to play the mumblings of the author

Just testing the live phone-blogging network. I intend to continue hanging out on that corner until something noteworthy happens, at which time I'll blog it live.

Things You Need to Know

Chicago Sun-Times:
Heat generated by the use of laptop computers might affect men's fertility, researchers reported Wednesday. Using laptops for one hour increased the temperatures of men's scrotums by about 5 degrees, according to a study at State University of New York at Stony Brook. Earlier studies found that raising scrotal temperatures by more than 2 degrees can decrease the number and quality of sperm, which in turn can reduce fertility.

Tom "Lexis-Nexis and the Olive Oil" Friedman in the NY Times:

One thing I've learned from 25 years in the newspaper business (which is just another form of intelligence gathering) is this: Whenever you add a new layer of editors on top of reporters, and don't get rid of some of the old layer of editors, all you get is trouble. You get less intelligent. The right way to improve U.S. intelligence is to get more people on the ground who speak the languages we need and who can think unconventionally.

Editor and Publisher, via SPJ Press Notes:

Once again, newspaper reporters score poorly in the annual Gallup Poll, released today, on "honesty and ethical standards" in various professions, as judged by the American public. They rank even lower than bankers, auto mechanics, elected officials, and nursing-home operators. To put this in perspective: Newspaper reporters are even less respected than their TV counterparts. Somehow, however, they top lawyers, car salesmen, and ad directors. And they also edge business executives and congressmen. Nurses top the list as most honest and ethical.


Even aspiring Hollywood executives can bid on their big break, bidding [on e-Bay] to earn: a 2 week New York City internship with Esquire Magazine, a two week internship in New York City with Gotham Magazine or a power breakfast with Jonathon Tisch at the Regency with a signed copy of his book.

Wednesday, December 8

Media Week for the Media Geek

Poynter Online says we have been Ignoring the Elephant in Newspaperland:
Just how deep is the newspaper circulation scandal of 2004? Combined with other substantial circulation losses, how damaging will it be to the bread and butter of advertising revenues for 2004, for 2005 and by extension in years to come? Is it yet another sign of the gradual but inexorable decline of the industry and the medium in which many of us practice journalism?

The UBS Warburg Media Week conference (links to Webcast) is not exactly in our bailiwick--the Global Financial Services Conference in May is more like it--but there are certainly some parallels with the issues related to transparency we kick around all the time.

Circulation, of course, is used to calculate advertising rates, so your phantom readers are the moral equivalent of those phantom megawatts those idiots at Enron's West Coast energy trading operation were bragging about over instant messenger a few years back ... It's thanks to them that you have to archive every single e-mail and IM under the iron law of SARBOX, the new ZARDOZ ...

Money for nuthin' and your clicks for free ...

Monday, December 6

IP Freely


I'm not kidding, actually. I'm futzing around with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's database to try to get a grip on the field of software, algorithm and business method patents. Patent portfolios made up of proprietary structured contracts--the intellectual property, or IP, of the originator--are going to be the battlefield nukes of the industry we cover, some folks are saying. This guy says:

In the new world of patentable business process, the old argument of build versus buy becomes one of build, buy, or sell.

In fact, it's probably exchanges and investment houses and funds and the like that are driving a lot of the software patent lobbying in Europe and America.

One of our reporters has been doing some great computer-aided, public record-based reporting lately, so I thought I would try to look around for ways to expand that part of what we do. CCL 705/35-9 seems to be the main category to look at, hmmm. And what's the corresponding international classification?

Meanwhile, Linus Torvalds of Linux fame is crusading against EU software patents.

Sorry, mumbling.


Blogs May Be a Wealth Hazard, quips Wired News:
While some companies like Sun Microsystems and Microsoft express blog-friendliness, for employees who are unaware of their company's stance on the practice or working at firms without clear policies, the consequences of posting work-related entries or photos can be sudden and shocking. This issue could be solved, experts say, with some policy tweaking.

Policy: I will not pose nude on this blog with the logo of my employer--they are actually having a design contest for the new one, now that we have been bought--tatooed on any portion of my anatomy.

Seriously, use a little common sense. I write here about my own personal experience of doing my job, hopefully for the amusement of other people who do the same job. I'm not going to write about the peculiar personal habits of the guy in the next cubicle or how rotten my boss is--assuming that he were was, which he isn't ain't. Would I tell someone I work with to their faces that I was aroused or repulsed by their body odor, fondness for the Ramones, or political affiliation? Hell no! You stick to weather, weekend plans, and work, or how about that local sports team. The same principle applies to the blog. You're in public, be tactful: No porn surfing or psychotic behavior, save it for the privacy of your own leather-wallpapered "rumpus room" or your anonymous private-life journal.

Do I have one, you ask? Wouldn't YOU like to know!

Book Report

Sat around in my bathrobe reading Carl Hiaasen's Basket Case this weekend. I like Hiaasen, who carries on in the tradition of O'Donald, Leonard, Westlake, et al. The overall plot is kind of dumb--a Cobain-like rocker gets clean, ends up murdered for his Eagles-influenced comeback album by a double of Courtney Love as gold-digging slut--but the thing I liked about it was the blow-by-blow descriptions of a reporter at work. Starts off with the hero researching a story, doing the interviews, thinking about the angle, and writing the story. An honest-to-gosh tutorial. Very educational.

This passage, one of many, on the effects of media market consoliation, has the ring of on-the-ground truth, although he's talking more about the Gannetts of the world than my last company, a Rust Belt trade mag consortium:

Only two types of journalists choose to stay at a paper that's being gutted by Wall Street whorehoppers. One faction is comprised of editors and reporters whose skills are so marginal that they're lucky to be employed, and they know it ... they're at their best arranging and attending pointless meetings, and at their skittish, indecisive worst under the heat of a looming deadline ...

I wish I could have had the book on hand to read to the panel on "convergence" at the SPJ convention back in September. I asked the guys about that very point: What self-respecting journalist wants to attend MORE MEETINGS? Or any meetings at all, really ...

Sunday, December 5

The Spider's House

The Spiders is an astonishing e-comic from Electric Sheep. Smart mobs, SETI (Japanese teenagers join in the Search for Excellent Terrorism Intelligence), counterantifeminist guerillas in black burqas ... All very Diamond Age.

I have said it before and I will say it again: We New Yorkers just want the head of Osama bin Laden on a goddamn pike. That's the World Series victory we want for our Canyon of Heroes parade. Saddam? At best, that's the Mets finishing third instead of last for a change.

You talk about the failure of public diplomacy: We needed to unleash a lightning network counterjihad on this armed Wahhabist Jerry Falwell. We needed to show every little pissant Osamawannabe that if you fuck with us, miniature airplanes piloted by Yoohooo-swilling nerds from MIT are going to fly into your cave and laser-designate you for a personalized Special Ops assault that will make you begin to doubt whether ash-Shaitan ar-Rajim isn't the one actually running the world now.

The desirable message: "Kill people and die swiftly. Period. Express your dissent peaceably--get a blog or something, join the European antiglobalization crowd--and live."

But every Aiman az-Zawahiri video that shows up on my television screen--making steam pour out of my ears like I'm freaking Yosemite Sam--says this to the world: "See? We were right! Those Americans can't tell their ass from a hole in the ground. So join the party!" And you KNOW where those fuckers want to hold the next party: Same place the Republicans threw their last do. My stomping grounds. I take this personally.

I sit here watching Musharraf on the Sunday talk shows. He shrugs off withdrawing troops from South Waziristan and says he has no idea where the Toothache Sheikh could possibly be. Here's the downside to outsourcing: that part of your operation no longer necessarily shares all your organizational priorities. For example, bringing the head of Osama bin Laden as opposed to not having to fight an Islamist insurgency or coup d'etat inside your borders.

And now what is Police Commissioner Kerik going to do as head of Homeland Security? I have a vaguely positive impression of the NYPD these days: They handled the convention fairly gently overall--with a couple of nasty incidents--and, I suspect, some collusion in the BS that got published in the tabs.

But Kerik has been sucking up to Bush like an old school West Side Highway crack whore, as in this speech last summer.

The NYPD union went for Kerry in the November elections, and Kerik did his bit as a Bushite attack machine talking head. I don't think he gives a shit about the "first responders," the "heroes." Homeland Security is a huge pork barrel, the GOP's in power, and Hillary Clinton is our Senator. The result? Bush to City: Drop Dead. The best that can be hoped for: Kerik turns out to be politically savvy enough--his bootlicking skills are good, but can he kick ass?--to shunt some of that pork to the city so nice they named it twice.

Bloomberg is actually sort of all right, kind of, if you ignore the fact that he's the corporate tenant and real estate developer's asshole buddy--and figures he can fix the schools by installing Snapple vending machines. That has some upside to it, I guess, done in moderation: I'm not a rabid East Village lefty, after all; owning a rental property is part of my personal financial plan. But I think we ought to punish his Republican ass harshly in the next mayoral election anyway. Moderate, pro-business Republicans: take your boy in hand or go extinct.

My personal, humble, angry opinion as a payer of property taxes in the five boroughs and worker in a building that had to have the ashes scraped off it back in late 2001. I have breathed the atomized flesh and blood of people I once rode the subway with. I remain a very angry man.

The Late, Great American Dollar

The Late, Great American Dollar (Always On Network):

A very old money brand, gold, and the new monetary brand, the euro, are getting stronger, as the dollar brand continues to weaken. This trend will not change unless politically painful choices are made by management to support the value of every dollar ever printed.

This article was helpful to me: It explains the history and the theory in poetry-major terms.

Saturday, December 4

The Zombie Corpse of Strategic Information

From the whining hippies at FAIR:

In an October 14 on-air interview, Marine Lt. Lyle Gilbert told CNN Pentagon reporter Jamie McIntyre that a U.S. military assault on Fallujah had begun. In fact, the offensive would not actually begin for another three weeks. The goal of the psychological operation, according to the Times, was to deceive Iraqi insurgents into revealing what they would do in the event of an actual offensive. ... Shortly before the launch of the "war on terror," an unnamed Pentagon war planner seemed to warn journalists everywhere when he told Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz: "This is the most information-intensive war you can imagine.... We're going to lie about things." (9/24/01) In February 2002, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) was "developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations" in an effort "to influence public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries." The story got widespread attention, and the Pentagon announced that the office would be eliminated. But considerably less media attention was paid when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later said that, while the OSI had been closed, its mission would be taken up by other agencies. As Rumsfeld put it, "I went down that next day and said 'Fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine-- I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.'" (FAIR Media Advisory, 11/27/02) So the revelation that a misinformation campaign bearing a striking resemblance to the description of the OSI was actually being carried out ought not to come as a total surprise.

It's hard to fathom, isn't it? The Pentagon's attitude seems to be, "We're gonna give you fair warning and we're STILL gonna get away with it, because the mass media are a bunch of trained seals. Ha ha!" And they're right in many cases. FAIR's headline is "The Return of Psyops." Return? What the hell did they think the Bush reelection campaign was?

Lots of fuss has been made over headlines in the European press--specifically the Mirror--to the effect that 54 million American voters must be stupid to have re-elected the Chimp. [Insert rant on emotional intelligence and why the evil Bob Frum is also right.]

The democracy movement in Ukraine, meanwhile, seems to understand the appeal to emotion pretty well:

The protest organizers have placed gorgeous young women in the vanguard of confrontations with troops, so the troops will be too dazzled to club them.

Friday, December 3

The Joy of Textamerica

I've got my TextAmerica working with my Motorola i860 and it's pretty darn cool, though image quality is not optimal. I prefer to look at the QA issue as an Oulipean constraint ... Above: Omar the Art Director takes last-minute dictation from Mike the Slotman as we close and ship minutes before the deadline.

Open Intelligence To Burst Paid Punditry Bubble?

Frank Scavo of the The Enterprise System Spectator:
In the late 1990s, the research firms were trumpeting the threat that the Internet poses to traditional business models. Now the research firms themselves are being threatened by the Internet.

I got the brush-off this week after proposing an informal swap with a research provider I think does some interesting stuff in our area. Let me read some of your research, talk to some of your sources, and I'll feature the findings in the paper, with proper citation.

Harsh words often get traded between trade and business journalists on the one hand and PR people and research analysts on the other. Personally, I respect folks who work in both professions and understand the job they're trying to do. But their bosses can be thickheaded. In the analysts' case, instead of letting me make fair use of their research product, promoting it at the same time--free publicity!--they would rather charge me for it. A fee in the hand is worth a large number of potential fees getting exposed to your brand, I guess.

Of course it's a little more complex than that: Analysts are kind of bespoke publishers whose content-peddling model kind of overlaps with our content-peddling model, in a funny sort of way, and might even compete with products from our corporate parent. Of course, I'm not supposed to care about that--and I don't. Naturally, I'll use research from the parent because it's available, but as far as I'm concerned, in my editorial independence, it's an open marketplace of ideas, and if there's better data or interpretation out there, I'm gonna say so.

Still, the paper and the Web are the windows through which potential customers shop the market. It's really more like the relationship between book publishers and newspaper critics and feature writers. If I find Phillip Roth's new novel timely and interesting and cite it to make a point in a feature article, that's as good as a positive review, don't you think? The advantage is that if I think it sucks, I just won't use it, instead of saying that it sucks. And no one can assume that I left it out just because I thought it sucked.

I have been wanting to expand our library of quote-robots, I think I've mentioned. The more the merrier. Also, there needs to be some competition involved, because some of the folks we hit up for things like guest commentaries tend to take their access to print for granted. They'll just cut and paste some paras from a pre-packaged product and send it along, instead of producing some original thinking to spec, something that actually applies to our quirky little take on the odd little niche we occupy.

I have to hand it to the analyst-bloggers, actually: I get a lot of ideas from them; they point me to the things that are important that I should know about. Just to give one example, I've been thinking we should try to keep abreast of securities law and litigation as part of fulfilling our motto to cover "what makes markets." Ain't the GOP always whining about the damn trial lawyers? And there are some great bloggers on just that subject, including The 10b-5 Daily, SECURITIESLAWBlog, and Securities Litigation Watch. The day will come when even SIN will not blush to cite guys like these, who are simply sharing their thoughts about the daily intelligence stream--and, sure, advertising their smarts in the process. And the folks who want to charge you $800 sight unseen for prose that belabors the obvious will gnash their teeth because the emperor will have to go back to wearing some clothes.

Words You Can't Say on the Internet

Boing Boing tests the robot censors at Microsoft's new MSN Spaces blog-hosting site:
  1. More good news. "World of Poop" is just fine. And the rather racy "Butt Sex is Awesome" made it through, as did the overtly naughty "Dick, Balls, Boobies, Goddammit." The test blog titled "My Craptacular Life" was free to do its bloggy thing, unhindered by prudish vocabulary cops. Even "Internet Explorer is Crappy" was welcomed with open arms. Now that's free speech!
  2. Uh-oh. My attempt to create an MSN Spaces blog called "Pornography and The Law" is met with rude red text advising me to can the profanity. So, if I were a law student who wanted to start a blog about the history of obscenity law in the United States, I'd be shit out of luck.
  3. Very bad news for fans of Russian literature. The blog title "Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov" is deemed inappropriate, as are any titles I try to create with the 1955 book's name.
  4. You may recall our previously-approved blog title, "Butt Sex is Awesome." That name was fine, but MSN Spaces puts the kibosh on "Anal Health for People who Think Buttsex is Awesome."
The conclusion? A mixed bag of results that manages to do what most attempts to automate censorship do -- make fools of the censors.

The content filter where I work is equally stupid. I am trying to research anti-money laundering and straight-through processing in the gambling industry, for example, but the robot won't let me visit sites with the G-word in their title or meta keywords. Idiocy. Is this an information-gathering organization or what? It's like filtering out the word "jihad" on the CIA's internal network.

Wednesday, December 1

MSNBC Deserves a Citizen Kaning

MSNBC issues this invitation:
Be part of the dialogue of the issues affecting Americans. Tell us YOUR story by being a Citizen Journalist

Sort of has the same ring as the rhetoric of the old Homefront of WWII, doesn't it? Or an invitation to join the Buck Rogers Space Rangers, like on oldtime radio.

If "citizen" is to be used interchangeably with "amateur," then is a professional something other than a citizen?

There's even a credo:

As a Citizen Journalist, we expect the same from you as we do the entire MSNBC staff: Submissions must be accurate and objective. In order to uphold the journalistic integrity [sic], you must remove any personal biases from the story.

As though the words "accurate" and "objective" required no further definition. "uphold the journalistic integrity"? Was this copy written by a cartoon French waiter? Was it copyedited by anybody?

And what's this preachy "thou shalt not be biased"? I can't think of any codes of ethics that put the matter quite so bluntly. More typical is the Finnish Union of Journalists, which holds that "a journalist must aim at truthful, essential and unbiased information." There's some techniques you use to try to do this, the same way that scientific trials of medicines use double blinds and placebos. You have someone else double-check your facts, you use multiple sources for each fact, and all that time-consuming mumbo-jumbo that makes the actual job a bit more tedious than it seems in the movies and on TV.

(Besides, how on earth can I tell you MY story and be unbiased at the same time? My biases are what make it mine, right?)

You can deliver a better "how to" briefing on how to go about doing the same job you do, can't you, MSNBC? How about publishing the MSNBC code of professional ethics and letting us amateurs have a read? What? Don't have one? Well, tell us what your position is on the Tirana Declaration, then. Is it all right if we lead with a teaser like "Underage. Overexposed. Online" like I saw on one cable network promo for a report on teenagers on the Internet? How about if I only interview professional lobbyists, pundits, and experts for hire instead of people with current practical knowledge of a given subject. Can we tell 'em in the green room to sex up the rhetoric so can have a real rhetorical slugfest like the WWF crowd likes?

MSNBC comes up with a half-assed attempt to cash in on what it perceives as a hot topic. I call BS. If they were really interested, they wouldn't have downsized the guy who wrote their Weblogs Central Web log--which was pretty good. This might work, though, if you made a real effort to educate the public, with some real incentives to try to do good work: whip up some nice tutorials, hand out some free digicams, audio recorders, and stuff to the masses, put a more literate intern and maybe some real staffers on the project, program a half-hour of America's Most Informative Home Videos and get Alex Trebec to host it ...

News of the Neighborhood

This morning's mini-hurricane flies on by and brings in clear skies and supersonic winds. Now we're sitting here on the 25th floor, sighting off a neighboring midrise International-style office block and trying to decide whether the building is visibly swaying in the wind or not. Yes, things that seem solid and permanent are actually rather fragile.

Speaking of which: Firefighters Lose Another 9/11 Hero ... This Time in Iraq is the Post's take on a story that made the cover of both meathead tabloids today.

A hero firefighter who risked his life rescuing his fellow New Yorkers at the World Trade Center has died fighting his country's enemies in Iraq. Army National Guard Sgt. Chris Engeldrum -- a Gulf War veteran and former city cop -- was killed by terrorists who detonated a car bomb as he rode in a convoy outside Baghdad on Monday. Another FDNY firefighter was injured in the cowardly ambush.

The Post seems to feel that if you don't characterize the ambush as "cowardly" the reader will assume that you thought it was brilliantly sneaky and tactically effective. They don't feel the need to refrain from editorializing in their news stories over there, especially in the cause of God, country, and the Heroes.

As a New Yorker, I would have preferred to see this guy coming home alive with Osama bin Laden's head in a box: We could enshirine it on the tip of the antenna of the new 1,776-foot Freedom Tower going up at Ground Zero, like Cromwell's head on a pike.

There was a similar story in yesterday's Observer about a 29-year-old Wall Street research analyst, an ex-Brown wrestler, who went off to join the Marines and came back in a flag-draped coffin from Fallujah. He joined the Marines after getting downsized in the wake of the research scandals. The ostrich-egg-colored paper ain't running it on their site, though.

(Wrong war. Wrong time. Wrong enemy. The streets today are littered with abandoned umbrellas blown inside out.)

The timing of which items, to coincide with Tom Ridge's resignation--good riddance to bad rubbish--brings up a lot of old feelings of bitter wrath from this summer's alertorama for the critical financial infrastructure.

Someone gave me my own mug today. It's an Accenture mug. I am happy. I feel that I truly belong to the Evil Empire of the Infidel now. I have a permanent cup for drinking poisonous stimulating alkaloids out of. Mmmmm, alkaloids ....

Wiki-Assisted Humint in the News

Mitch Ratcliffe of Correspondences has a sensible take on the launch of Wikinews, a stab at replicating the successes--and problems--of Wikipedia in newsgathering.
Reporting, like writing history, is a subjective experience even under the best of conditions. A reader depending on a single source of news never gets all the facts, they must explore many sources to assemble even part of the picture. There is, too often these days, a tendency among news outlets to quote one another so that there is a perception conveyed that there is a single version of events, when such a thing seldom exists. If you look at the transcript of an event, even a government transcript, they may be edited differently. For example, the "record" of a Bush campaign speech posted at, with applause and "boos" aimed at the opponent inserted, will read very differently than an "objective" transcript without those audience reactions noted; moreover, if the opposition releases a transcript of the same event, it may insert different reactions, such as the interruption by a heckler. Which is the correct or full record? None of them.

That's absolutely true, and it holds true at the editorial level as well: selecting and prioritizing stories has a subjective component, too. Editors are just fallible people trying to figure out what other people need and want to know and would be willing to pay for, and filtering raw data accordingly. We strive to give as full a picture as possible so you'll turn to our rag first, but it's an ideal, not really an achievable goal--even though we do use some advanced techniques and a lot of elbow grease to try to get to know our readers. Really, in the fifteen minutes you have to absorb news, you don't want everything, you want the important part. And some parts will be more important to some people than they will to others. Still, the more input into the system, the closer we can get to all the news that's fit to print.

That's why I set up a blog as a model for collective brainstorming for our little operation. No one uses, it of course: We are small enough to just yell things across the room, and journos are a bunch of Luddites, but I find it very useful and try to leverage it to expand my own consciousness of what's going on, anyhow.

It's interesting to compare the Wikinews model to the fabulously successful Ohmynews of Korea, where a small staff of professional editors assemble and collate reporting from citizen-reporters with the help of some nifty technology. See also the Pegasus project ...

This must be a hot topic: E&P is weighing in on it. On the other hand, what's the difference between a "source" and a "citizen journalist," really? In one case, the newspaper tries to report accurately what the source says. In the other, the C-J writes it herself and makes it available. The same knowledge transfer takes place, it's just that in the latter case, the C-J can't complain they've misquoted themselves ... Then again, a skilled interviewer can help a source report things they don't know that they know ...