Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Video showed dangers of turkey fryers pre-Thanksgiving; news footage shows reality

Several years ago Whirlpool recalled millions of microwave ovens, including our Sears-branded model, for reasons not made clear. I did a bunch of digging and found that a filter tended to cause grease to accumulate, and there had been something like 17 cases of the microwave emitting smoke -- zero injuries, zero property damage.

In the last few years turkey fryers have been popular items on the market -- standalone frying baskets on stilts. Before Thanksgiving, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) distributed video demonstrating that these things are incredibly dangerous. You've got a vat of hot oil perched precariously. If it tips, you have a fire. If you put an unthawed turkey into it, it explodes. They warned that these things could burn your house down, and they provided vivid video evidence.


No doubt UL made this video available to TV networks and local stations prior to the holiday. But no one covered it. They covered "the busiest travel day of the year" and "the busiest shopping day of the year."

It turns out that in at least one city. the turkey fryer nearly destroyed a house, causing over $150,000 damage.


Question for national and local TV producers: do you really think about, and analyze, new stories, or do you just pull up last year's Thanksgiving stories and recycle them?

Question for the Consumer Product Safety Commission: do you really think through relative risk of product safety? I can't imagine how the microwave recall that affected me and millions of people saved a single life. But it seems clear that these cheap fryers pose a clear threat. How do you rank risk? Why haven't you acted on this obvious risk?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Google Print is now Google Book Search -- but the French may object

Google has renamed Google Print. It's now Google Book Search, which probably will make more sense to the public. The new home page looks like this: Click so see full size

And here's the new address:

Now look at the French version of the home page:

And here's the URL for the French site:

Google is taking a lot of heat (inappropriately in my opinion) for starting the Google Books project with mostly English language collections. The French may also grumble about using the English word for books on the French site.

Ah, well, at least they spelled "images" right.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Nice seating chart for Wharton Center -- 60 miles wrong

This month we've been to the local performing arts venue, Wharton Center, twice -- once for Ravi and Annoushka Shankar, and last night for Lyle Lovett and three other excellent singer/songwriters.

I wanted to check the seating chart for some other concerts, and, being lazy, went to Google and searched for:

wharton center seating

And I found this chart by a third party ticket broker:

Having been at Wharton Center last night, I think the chart is accurate. But maybe not: it shows Wharton Center as being in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Famously, Michigan State University is considering adding a new medical school in Grand Rapids, but the rumor that the Wharton Center will move 60 miles northwest from East Lansing is a new one.

But there's more: on another page, we move the Wharton Center from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Grand Forks, North Dakota (look at the blue title bar at the top):

Elsewhere, TickCo correctly shows Wharton Center in East Lansing. Memo to TickCo: this is why we use database-driven sites. If your Web site shows three locations for one venue, you need to embrace database management.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Northwest makes "gift" a verb and "dine" a noun

Northwest Airlines is in serious trouble: they are bankrupt, and their stock, once worth over $30 a share, is now worth about 50 cents a share.

Never mind their financial woes; they are busy assaulting the English language.

For months now I've cringed whenever NWA urges me to "gift" frequent flyer miles to some person or charity. We've had an English verb for this for centuries, and the word is "give," not "gift."

But now Northwest, in concert with its partner "Dining for Miles," adds insult to injury. This program gives (not "gifts") you frequent flyer miles when you use a registered credit card at a participating restaurant. A new promotion gives you extra credit for each -- I am not making this up -- for each "dine."

That's right. According to Northwest Airlines, "gift" is now a verb and "dine" is now a noun.

There is a reason why I own the Internet domain

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Thoughts on home, and homecoming, from Beth Williams

Beth Williams, a native of Decatur, Alabama and a Tulane librarian, wrote quite an amazing essay for the daily newspaper in my home town. Really lovely, evocative prose:

condition of Big Easy before and after Katrina

By Sara Beth Williams Special to THE DAILY

Home. It is where I am now, and it is where I have, in some ways, never left.

Whether you've spent only days or years away from this river valley, you know what I mean.

You know it when you cross the little bridge over some other creek bed in deepest, hottest July and the coolness rises up like an Alabama blessing. You know it wherever you are along the eastern migration route on a late fall day, when you look up to see the Canada geese in their old formation against the cumulus clouds.

You know it when, in a dream, you come into a landscape that is green, and rolling, and so lush with shadow and promise that you first believe it must be a sort of paradise, but then you recognize it as the place beyond the "No Trespassing" sign where you once escaped with your giggling co-criminals, tearing your bellbottoms on the barbed-wire fence, carrying a few contraband beers and a pack of Salems, to share.

You know that it actually exists, or did, somewhere out near a dirt road on Burningtree Mountain.

"It actually exists!" you say to yourself. And you are amazed with this lovely dream that is real.



Thursday, November 10, 2005

Judith Miller: Time's Up

So The New York Times finally had the cajones to get rid of Judith Miller. Good riddance to the woman who sexed up (as the Brits would say) stories of WMD in Iraq, helping give the Bush Administration the cover they needed to launch that misbegotten war.

Yes she went to jail to protect a source, but Judy Miller is no hero. I hope she and Jayson Blair spend long hours together chatting about their journalistic careers.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

On Google Print and the digital Library of Congress

Roy Tennant and I continued a discussion we began in 2001 on the topic of massive library digitization projects. Roy is one of the leading experts on digital libraries; I am a dilettante who likes to ask tough questions.

Our venue was Internet Librarian. Roy and I first discussed this issue at the 2001 conference. He was in Monterey at the event; I was in Maastricht debating from afar. We continued the conversation at Computers in Libraries in D.C. the following year, and, in light of Google Print, resumed the debate at IL 2005 back in Monterey. It's a friendly debate:

Courtesy of the mysterious "Distant Librarian" up in Alberta, you can hear audio of Roy Tennant and me debating the merits of Google Print. (23M MP3 download.)

You can also download my Google Print presentation at Internet Librarian 2005, entitled: "Google Print: Making the Virtual Library Real -- An Extended Conversation Between Roy Tennant and Rich Wiggins"