November 2005 Archives

Editors: support your journalists

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I've worked for lots of editors and lots of publishers. Some were supportive; some were… not. Here's a nice piece at MediaBistro on how to strike the right balance.

So Apple are coming to take the G5 back. I'm gutted. After life with an 800MHz G4 iMac, a Quad G5 was something else altogether. I'm going to be holding a small memorial service on Sunday, if that's all right.

The impending repossession has set me thinking though. Why is that hardware vendors expect their hardware back after you've reviewed it, when software vendors don't?

The benefits of meditation

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Meditation really is good for you and your brain it turns out. I have tried some meditation, but of the Hindu, not the Zen kind. Didn't do much for me, but I didn't stick with it very long. Plus concentrating on the air going in and out your nose really doesn't occupy your mind much. I just kept drifting away. Maybe I'll add it to my New Year's Resolutions.

Scientists need to stop ignoring fundamentalists and start explaining themselves, according to the president of the Royal Society. Otherwise, climate change is going to be downplayed and we're all doomed.

Seems an odd argument, given there are environmentally friendly fundamentalist Christians out there campaigning for CO2 reductions and more. The trouble is he uses the word “fundamentalist” to mean all kinds of fundamentalists, not just religious fundamentalists. His definition is so loose, it applies to anyone with a firm belief. As a result, his argument is woolly and obvious: we need to stand up for what we believe or else people who believe different things will get the upper hand.

Thanks, Lord May, for clearing that one up.

Nevertheless, he has a point. In 20 years' time, when we're all melting in heat waves, freezing in Winter and the sea level is slowly rising, what will you say to your kids if they ask you what you did to stop it happening? Do something now and don't let people who simply know how to shout loudly win the argument. If you're a CIO or IT manager, incidentally, you might like to read my article on how to make your computing facilities more environmentally friendly: save power, stop using so many resources and you'll save money as well as the planet.

Salon's among the first of the US's online left-wing magazines to pick up on the now-infamous UK memo that hinted that President Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera. It's a run-through of events at the time of the memo, so you get to see everything in context. Whether the memo is being correctly reported or not, it's clear Rummy and co have gone through the looking glass on a couple of issues.

Salon's usual take - why has the mainstream media not picked up on this until now? - is starting to annoy though: you are the mainstream media; stop acting like you're outsiders still. Why didn't you pick this up until now? It's not like you wouldn't have known within minutes via a Google News subscription, and your content deals with The Guardian and Der Spiegel surely would have helped if you had missed it.

Perhaps if Salon could refrain from the kind of preaching that gives liberals a bad name in the US and put its efforts into making its voice heard, maybe other media outlets would join in instead of ignoring otherwise important events.

Pilger on Internet news

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The ever-excellent John Pilger is bigging up Internet news organisations in his latest New Statesman feature. If you ever thought the BBC was either neutral or left-wing, you really should read some Pilger, just to learn how much it's backed the governments of the day over the years.

“Wooden tongue” writing

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It doesn't matter how hard you try to explain to management types, they all think there's some sort of virtue in their stilted jargon. The English language is a thing of beauty and subtlety; writing what you think is more likely to make people trust you than if you write empty, meaningless sentences that say nothing. These facts don't seem to sway them.

Let us all launch a united attack on “wooden tongue” writing. People must learn to be interesting.

What it takes to be a sub

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What does it take to be a sub (Americans who are mystified, I'm talking about copy editors here, not sandwiches or submarines)? Some people drift into it, some people train for it. Whatever the entry route, you need to have an appreciation for language, a knowledge of the law, an understanding of production and design, the ability to write, a pedantic need to check facts and an eye for spotting mistakes at least.

Not any more though.

My psychic powers

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My sister and I were out on the town last night. We'd decided to see Broken Flowers (I'll probably review that once I've worked out what it was all about) but before then we had pizza. We discussed many things, including QI, the quite interesting show featuring Stephen Fry and Alan Davies. We discussed Mr Davies at length then adjourned to the cinema.

Well waddaya know! Who should be there in the audience but Mr Alan Davies himself!

Clearly our combined psychic powers summoned him to us.

We're going to discuss Chris Morris the next time we meet to see if it works again. Okay, we've already seen him a few times (a Beck concert in Camden comes to mind), but it's for science, you understand.

A defence of Bob Woodward

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Finally, someone's leaped to the defence of Bob Woodward. As far as I can see, all Woodward did was not volunteer information. Maybe his colleagues didn't like that, but then that's not his job. He was protecting his source. End of story.

It's been “reprieved” a few times before, but Einstein's cosmological constant has more observational support. Einstein originally added the constant to general relativity to ensure a static universe, but by changing the sign of the constant, it creates an expanding universe consistent with the proposed “dark energy”.

The results aren't exactly clinching evidence, but maybe “Einstein's greatest mistake” won't be seen as such in a few years.

Here's an interesting concept: a magazine about open source in the enterprise that's been put together using only open source software.

That's the claim anyway. Given that there's no print version, only a PDF version, I imagine they could just about put the whole thing together without needing a Mac; since The GIMP can't handle CMYK and spot colours, it would have been tricky doing image editing anyway (there are plug-ins, I know, but they're rudimentary at best. Any duotone as long as it's red and black?).

There are two problems with it:

  1. It looks rubbish. That's true of most US trade mags, but this has the design quality you'd expect of something put together with Microsoft Word. Two column layouts with a third, bastard column: fair enough. But if you put a subhead in the first column and don't calculate the leading and spacing correctly, the second column's baselines won't match up, which is exactly what's happened throughout. The designers appear only to be able to cope with pictures running over two columns, as well, turning most articles in swathes of impenetrable text. This is not a good advert for open source DTP software.
  2. The writing is awful. Most of the content is written by CTOs and techies and I fell asleep within seconds. For a magazine supposedly aimed at CIOs, there's an amazingly large amount of material covering installing from source, the size of downloads and so on. And an article covering Boolean syntax in Google metadata searches? WTF?

Most trade mags get sent through the post, so require minimal effort on the part of the reader to obtain the latest edition. O3 may be free, but people will have to want to download it to read it. That's not going to happen, based on this issue. Maybe it'll find its feet with later issues, which is the usual pattern of most mags.

I suspect that O3 is either going to have a short lifespan or it's going to have one of those slow, protracted deaths where people keep providing copy and working for nothing – the magazine keeps getting produced but the quality is so poor, no one ever reads it.

So I'm on the phone, trying to set up an interview – in French. It's going well. I can understand her, even though she starts our conversation off in German, just to throw me. She can understand me, even though she's French and normally only non-French French speakers can understand me.

Then she hits me with the double-whammy of “Your French is very good” (why, merci beaucoup!) and “You can speak in English if you want” (if my French is good, why would you say that?) then starts speaking in English. So now I'm having trouble “code switching” and can speak neither French nor English - I hate it when that happens.

But then things get worse. She asks me a question and instead of “Yes” or “Oui”, I say “Si”. Normally, I'm pretty much guaranteed to start speaking German accidentally at times like this, but I actually started speaking Spanish. How odd is that, given I'm still on “Week 4” of Instant Spanish? It wouldn't have mattered so much if it weren't for the fact “Si” means something almost completely the opposite in French.

So now I suck in four languages, including English. Brilliant.

There's no free speech in Britain

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Just in case you thought we lived in a free society, here's a little something to put a damper on that thought. The government is threatening to sue newspapers under the Official Secrets Act if they reveal the contents of a memo that reveal a disagreement between Tony Blair and George Bush over the way the Iraq war is being conducted. That seems a worthwhile use of the Act, doesn't it? That's the kind of thing we need to clamp down on or else our enemies will destroy us. So much for our so-called Freedom of Information Act, which seems to be more or less voluntary at times (Give us the information. No. Okay).

In case you're interested about some of our other free speech limitations, there are also D-Notices, our blasphemy laws and our libel laws.

Gullible people required

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If you don't live in SE London, you probably don't get this rubbish through your door:

Mr. Yousaff
International Spiritual Healer God Gifted
Born with this Knowledge
I can give help and advice no matter what your Problem is,
I can solve them with one visit. I can help you with Practical solutions concerning marriage, business and court cases and sexual problems. I can improve your life and I can bring back your lost friends, loved ones and relations, I can make your marriage better and I can give instant good luck in family Problems, I can remove from your life black magic, illness and eliminate habits like Drinking and smoking etc.
Anyone who has these problems contact
Mr. Yousoff Now

First thing this guy needs is a magic wand to fix his punctuation and capitalisation. If he can bring back the dead, a full stop shouldn't be too hard. The second thing he needs to do, of course, is decide whether he's Mr Yousaff or Mr Yousoff.

However, my burning question is: “Does Mr Yous(a/o)ff actually make money?” If he fixes everything with just one visit, he must have higher call-out charges than the average plumber, just to break even. And are there really enough staggeringly gullible people to support him? Sure, there's a reasonable number of Africans living here, who I'm guessing are his target market (insert disclaimer about Africa not being a single country, all have different cultures, etc). But they can't all believe this stuff surely, any more than 100% of the locals round here watch Second Sight on Living or the French are a homeopathy-only nation? I could do a vox pop to find out, but that would involve stepping out into the oh-so-cold air. So maybe I won't. (Gosh, what a fantastic journalist I am. In mitigation though, I wouldn't be paid for it and I do have a lot of deadlines to meet right now - all of which will pay me.)

Even if any of them do believe, though, is a psychic sticking his badly phrased flier from the 18th century in someone's letterbox the cultural equivalent of an undertaker driving around town in his hearse, shouting into his loudhailer about two for one offers - that is, possible but not the done thing? I'm sure there's a case study for a marketing mag in there somewhere.

More Spanish flash cards

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I've added flashcards for Week 4 of Instant Spanish to the iFlash page. I am moving faster than that, honest; I just want to make sure that there aren't any typos, before I upload them.

Sunday magazine round-up

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It's Sunday, so why don't we look at what's been in some of this week's magazines?

The Economist and the New Statesman both had articles on Venezuela which came to surprisingly similar conclusions in some respects. Both magazines concluded Chávez's treatment of the foreign oil companies drilling in Venezuela was reasonably justified. Odd that, given that New Statesman's article was written by the highly left-wing John Pilger and The Economist is pretty much a standard-bearer for right-wing neo-liberal economics. I guess the one thing we can conclude is the oil companies had it coming.

New Statesman is an odd magazine that proves the rule that 90% of everything is rubbish. Apart from the Pilger piece, there were only a couple of stand-out pieces: new columnist Ziauddin Sardar's look at Hizb ut-Tahrir; and Charlotte Raven's review of Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? a book I suspect, despite my best attempts at sunniness and optimism, will be a must-have on my Christmas present list. Otherwise, pretty much everything in NS was as the book suggested. It's the first time I've ever read it through, other than to skim bits in WH Smith, so I might try their trial offer (13 issues for £4.99) and see if it grows on me.

The ever-excellent Economist also had an intriguing article on language development, which raises as many questions, if not more, than it answers. The only thing more surprising was that New Scientist didn't cover the study to perk up what was a relatively limp issue this week.

Last item of note this week was from The Guardian's Bad Science, looking at why the BBC's science coverage in the news is so embarrassingly bad. The particular story cited took my breath away in its science-fiction stupidity. How can they let this rubbish on the air?!

Oh well.

Oh dear. Why am I not surprised by any of this?

Stupidity in journalism

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There's a lot of it about today apparently.

Irresponsible journalism?

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I'm not one to throw charges of “irresponsible journalism” around and I'm in favour of freedom of speech in all its glory, but even I have qualms about an article on Slate explaining how to set fire to a Peugeot.

I doubt there'll be many rioters and rioters-to-be that will read it. But all the same...

The cost of Vegas

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Ah, there's nothing I like better than mocking an organisation that's thought about its needs enough to put together a press pack, yet hasn't bothered to update it in two years. Congratulations, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority! You've managed to create a dozen or more inaccurate articles by now that no doubt you'll have to correct, if ever you hear about them – which is unlikely.

Anyway, there are some fun nuggets of information in this particular press pack, including the fact the Venetian hotel (my favourite) cost $1.5 billion to build. That's a lot of money.

£120m for Friends Reunited

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ITV, apparently having decided its output is so high quality it can waste money on dotcom acquisitions, has decided to spend £120 million on Friends Reunited. Nutters.

Does anyone really bother with Friends Reunited any more? I haven't updated my entry in a year. Neither has anyone else at any of the schools, clubs, workplaces, etc that I went to. The bulletin boards aren't clogged up with people chatting. None of the people who failed to sign up when it was at its peak have had a change of heart recently.

It's dead. It's so 2001-2003.

If ITV really has that much money to throw around, perhaps it might like to spend more on decent programming and its ITN contract so that the latter's journalists can afford to eat food for a change.

Said entry is also pretending to be written by one of my heroes, Charlie Brooker. How can this have happened.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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