Friday, December 18, 2009

Political campaigns. Take heed: 2010 E Michigan Ave vacancy


Need HQ for a campaign in Michigan? Space available @ 2010 E Michigan Avenue.  The storefront may not look exciting but the street address could be.

Hint: the street name and number are perfect for campaigns for election in the year 2010.  Whether it's a state legislative race, a Congressional race, or other, what address could be better suited for a Michigan campaign office in the year MMX?

Next to Emil's restaurant, a venerable Lansing purveyor of Italian food and multinational libation.

Across from the Gone Wired Cafe, where your overflow group of volunteers can enjoy plenty of room, free Wi-Fi, and yummy sammiches and sweets.

And across from the Everybody Reads bookstore, well-stocked in political rags and books for the reading pleasure of your staff, volunteers and supporters.  And if you're making news, pitch your story to the Lansing City Pulse, just down the block.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Discover the new Kenneth Cole backpack with special "File" feature

I spied a nifty Kenneth Cole computer-friendly backpack at the local Staples, so I went online to see if they offered a decent price. Locating the same item at J and R, the NYC discounter, I double checked its features to be sure they were the same. The text bragged that the backpack sports a "File Folder" -- cool -- but why was "File" hyperlinked?



_________________________________________


Usually if a catalog hyperlinks a term of art -- say, part of an Amazon or Crutchfield item description -- they want to define what the term means, or offer links to products with similar features.

So what is a "File" folder in a backpack according to J and R?



Welcome to computer literacy, circa 1983!






















































































































Monday, October 05, 2009

About time

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.

-- Henry Van Dyke

Monday, September 28, 2009

When William Safire quoted me on e-mail etiquette

William Safire died today. I'm bummed. I've been wanting to write him about how frequently subject / verb agreement is no longer honored. I hear it most often on NPR -- probably because I listen to a lot of NPR. You'll hear things like:
Each of the experts we talked to say xxxxxx.

The subject "each" would agree with "says". But people tend to match the noun closest to the verb. When President Obama announced the secret nuclear processing plant in Iran, he said:
But the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program.

Wrong, Mr. President. "Are."

Sadly I'll never be able to ask Mr. Safire to complain about this in his On Language column.

But I was quoted by William Safire back in 1983. He'd asked his Lexicographic Irregulars to help him with the etiquette of salutations in this new-fangled thing called electronic mail. I'd written an experimental mail system that was in use at Michigan State University, so I wrote in with my thoughts on the matter. His article was pretty prescient. It's obvious Safire was new to e-mail; he didn't give an e-mail address for people to answer him. And of course it's witty.

Here's the resulting article with my quotes; the parts where he quotes me are in bold:

November 27, 1983
ON LANGUAGE
By WILLIAM SAFIRE


My Dear Computer Ahoy!

That was the word Alexander Graham Bell chose to be the salutation for his telephone calls. That nautical variant of Hey! did not catch on with landlubbers or phonelubbers; most telephonists experimenting with the new device preferred the more conversational Hello ; thus, Ahoy! became A.T. & T.'s first divestiture.

Today we are searching for a salutation that befits a new form of communication. Old- fashioned ''physical'' mail - letters that fold into envelopes, postcards that have to be schlepped on human backs, even messages written on those pink ''While you were out'' pads - is obsolescent. While you were out, the world changed.

Oh, the Postal Service will linger on for a few generations, and absolutely-positively overnight delivery services will arrive breathlessly before noon in offices for years, but they know that the handkerchief fluttering on the horizon belongs to the computerized waver of the future.
The new (why ''high''?) technology of transporting words and ideas has us in thrall; those who hang back, writing ''Dear Whoozit'' on paper, will soon be off the screens of the marketing geniuses who have fashioned the oxymoron ''personal computer.''


Because these machines are in the word-process of revolutionizing mail, language must adapt. We must remember who is in charge: Language comes first; the method of communication comes second. With that firmly understood, we can cave in gracefully to the demands of electronic mail.

This department, ear tuned to the diode dialect, has advertised to Lexicographic Irregulars (Word-Process Corps) for an electronic etiquette. When reaching out across the ether through interminable terminals, how do we sign on to the human recipient? How do ''hackers'' bid each other an affectionate adieu? How do the rest of us affix the stamp of our human identity on our electronic messages?

''Most electronic mail systems automatically provide some sort of heading for you,'' explains Richard Wiggins, a systems analyst at Michigan State University's computer lab. ''If I were to send a message to you over the mail system I wrote, it might begin like this:

7 Message from: Richard Wiggins (Date. Hour. Minute. Second.) Lines- 22 Seen.
Re: Your column on electronic etiquette. Mr. Safire: ''

That's brisk and businesslike, I suppose, but it makes me feel like a cipher, especially since the closing includes a ''prompt'' of reply/ ignore/delete/output telling me to reply to the current message, skip it and feel guilty, delete it from my mailbox, or to out my put, whatever that means.

''Thus, the message is surrounded by a system-supplied header at the beginning,'' writes Mr. Wiggins, ''and a system query at the end. Still, people often do choose to supply their own greetings and 'signatures.' In my example message above, I chose to include Mr. Safire: as a sort of salutation. The type of salutation varies from user to user. Some people begin messages with Hi there , and others may put in the word Greetings .''

Not Dear, My Dear, or Dearest , because electronic mail is - at least in its embryonic stage - less formal than a letter. It is more akin to an interoffice memo or a friendly telephone call, and you do not begin those with Dear unless you want to stimulate gossip at the water cooler.

(Date, hour: minute: second)/ From: Tom McSloy/ To: William Safire/ TL 554- 4062/ Z35TOM at IPODOS/ SAFIRE at NYTIMES/. Beneath that heading, duly printed out by a typist whom I take to be named Daisy Wheel, is this message: ''Bill, this is what a piece of electronic mail sent to you might look like if you were on I.B.M.'s internal telecommunications network, VNET. All the gobbledygook at the top merely identifies sender and receiver, date and time. In my imagination, you are userid 'SAFIRE' at node 'NYTIMES.' ''

We userids get all our mail at this node. ''Since this is in memo format,'' continues Mr. McSloy at I.B.M. in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., ''I don't use the Dear salutation; but I soften the opening line of most memos I write by using the receiver's first name. I use your first name, even though we have not met, because in I.B.M. everyone from the C.E.O. on down is called by his or her first name.'' (Presumably, if both boss and office boy are named ''Bill,'' some process exists to differentiate them.)

Some correspondents see the mail of the future unadorned by any humanizing frivolity: (Date, time) safire 5556666 NYT neibauer 70365,770 Saw EMAIL article. I don't see any problem. off (time). The author of that chilling missive, Alan Neibauer of Philadelphia, envisions a marriage proposal similarly addressed and concluding Happiest person in the world if you ***DATA CARRIER LOST***ALL PORTS BUSY.

Do computer manufacturers and software creators feel the need for social graces in messages? Evidently so; user-friendliness is the jargon for the way to take the hard, mechanical edge off communication between and among people and machines. ''I tend to say Hello ,'' writes Peter McWilliams, author of ''The Word Processing Book.'' Herbert Cooper of Queens Village, N.Y., goes further: ''I feel electronic mail should be treated just like 'analogue mail,' '' he writes, using a new retronym. ''I always start my messages Dear So-and-so and end them Love, Herb . If my message is short (two sentences or less), I may write something like So-and-So - The system is down. - Herb. I feel there is no reason to develop special rules for electronic mail. Love, Herb.''

Barry Fellman of Miami disagrees: ''Since electronic mail is different from the stuff we've had before, I don't see why we should stick with the old rules of etiquette. Electronic mail should open with a greetbyte and close with a goodbyte .'' That's only the beginning: ''Since the computer uses one byte of memory to represent an alphameric character, the only logical choice for the opening greetbyte is O . The closing goodbyte should be C . Such brief openings and closings,'' argues Mr. Fellman, ''will eliminate the needless typing of extraneous words and the inevitable headscratching that comes when you can't figure out how to address your boss or how to choose between best regards and electronically yours .''

All right, everybody, here's a chance to flame like mad was a message sent out over ''usenet'' by Ellen Walker at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, alerting users, or usenetters, to my search. He didn't give an electronic address to send opinions to, so you'll have to use (yech) U.S. mail.

Perusing all this old-fashioned mail about the newfangled mail, I can conclude:

(1) Dear will not make the transition from paper to screen. (Sorry, Herb.)
(2) Ahoy! is not a suitable substitute.
(3) Neglect of any personal salutation makes people feel uncomfortable, and a salutation will emerge.
(4) Hi there! will not do for a rising tycoon, though it may suffice for a kid breaking into our early-warning radar system.
(5) Hello is nice, especially if connected to a first name, but is probably too closely identified with telephone communication.
(6) The leading salutation at the moment is the use of a first name at the start of the body of the message, following the formal name at the top of the address. Wise parents will stop naming children Bill or Mary and will choose Ebenezer or Abigail, setting them apart from all the other potential recipients of their mail.
How to conclude? Thirty , writes the old newshand. Love , writes Herb. Off , snorts Neibauer. Nothing, writes the man from I.B.M.


My own preference: REPLY/IGNORE/DESTROY.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two Google failures in 2 days - Gmail loses contacts

Google probably has on payroll the strongest contingent of computer science brainpower on the planet. Google has created an incredible services base, with a global, self-healing file system. If you use Gmail, you don't know if you're connected to a server in the US or in China. You don't know where your mail resides. And you don't care. It just works.

So it was a surprise to see a red warning strip atop my Gmail home page, alerting me that Google can't load my contacts.

The issue becomes increasingly important as Google seeks to convince organizations as well as individuals to trust them not only with mail, but with documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Google now goes so far as to advertise its service offerings on the Red Cedar Message Board, a place where fans of Michigan State University sports gather. Their pitch: it's expensive to run servers, so let us run servers for you.

A bold, aggressive proposition. But be careful what you ask for, Google; people get really upset when vital pieces of their lives vanish.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Google's sorrowful look when a Web page doesn't load

Lately I'm mostly using Google's browser known as Chrome. Today when traversing one of my favorite sites, Spartantailgate.com, Chrome froze. Eventually Chrome woke up and presented a wonderfully plaintive explanation:


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Google News highlights 3 Ted Kennedys

I know, I know, I'm obsessed with how Google News algorithms sometimes do goofy things. This time the robot finds 3 Teddy Kennedys:


So let's think about how the Google News algorithm might have done better. If it somehow knew that "Ted Kennedy" and "Edward Kennedy" and "Edward M. Kennedy" were the same person, it could collapse those entries into one. A conventional approach would be for Google News to have a thesaurus that included those equivalencies. The classic example of a thesaurus (in the U.S. anyhow) is a table that shows that "Mark Twain" and "Samuel Clemens" are the same author.

But traditional thesauri are built by hand, and Google abhors services that require manual labor. It would require a pretty fancy algorithm to understand that the 3 Teddys are the same guy. But the folks that craft Google algorithms are pretty clever, and I bet it's do-able.

Now, what about Hyannis Port? Obviously all of those articles are about Teddy's death. But they may have a different angle: the effect of his death on the town and its citizens. And in fact the top several articles on the hit list are mainly about the town, not the man. Yet intermixed in the results are many articles that are primarily about the man.

This is a toughie. From past cases I'm pretty sure that the Google News highlighter relies heavily on capitalization. It teases out people and place names when it sees they are capitalized. So how might it know that Hyannis Port is not a person?

Elementary, my dear Watson. Consult the Google Maps database. Google as a collective knows that Hyannis Port is a town. The tricky part would be to figure out which articles are about the town, and which are just about Teddy, tangentially mentioning his family's outpost.

Ideally, the news highlighter would list 1 Teddy Kennedy along with 1 Hyannis Port -- and the latter would be about the town, not the man.

I predicted Google News in an article in 2001: The Effects of September 11 on the Leading Search Engine.
I'm predicting now that the Google News robot is only going to get smarter.

Friday, August 21, 2009

AT&T "You Will" ads from 1993: prescient, mostly

One of my favorite themes is Yesterday's Tomorrows. What did we predict about the future way back when?

1993 was the year that the Web came to life, but most of the world didn't notice. It wasn't until fall that NCSA Mosaic came out for Mac and Windows. Envisioning a world of the Web was pretty damn forward looking. These ads, which sound like they are narrated by Tom Selleck, were remarkable in their prescience.

Remember, for a while, AT&T also sold PCs. Someone there was dreaming big. The personal device, the network, basically the Web as we know it.

Let's consider their predictions:

  • Borrow a book from thousands of miles away
  • Cross the country without stopping for directions
  • Send a fax from the beach
  • Pay a toll without slowing down
  • Bought concert tickets from an ATM
  • Touch your baby from a phone booth
  • Open doors with your voice
  • Carry your medical history in your wallet
  • Attend a meeting in your bare feet
  • Watch a movie on demand
  • Take a class at a distance
Well some of that didn't pan out, e.g. health records in your wallet (or even in one place on line -- still a dream). But the visions were very forward looking, and most did come to pass. I wonder who wrote the ads?

One of the great misses was predicting that phone booths would become video phones. I still wonder if the phone companies missed the boat on that one. Instead, they've removed phone booths, and cell phones can now shoot video. I think there is still a huge market for high quality video phone booths, with great lighting and audio pre-staged.

Monday, August 10, 2009

When Mother Nature strikes, it's impressive

This past weekend brought tremendous thunderclaps to town. The next day I was riding my bike and was surprised to see this crossing my path:


Click photo for full-size image

Note the charring of the first log. I think that log was struck with a direct lightning blow, and on the way down it took the other tree with it.

Several joggers came by the scene and all were impressed.

This tree is only 100 yards from my house. The funny thing is, a few years ago, while staying at a place called Lake Shore Resort in Saugatuck, a tremendous boom went off in the middle of the night. I nearly hit the motel room ceiling. The next day I saw that a huge old tree had been felled on the property -- less than 100 yards from my room.

If Mother Nature is triangulating, I figure I've got 2 strikes left.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Swedish lesbians suck sperm banks dry

The Register covers IT stories from a cynical -- even caustic -- perspective. You can count on them to put down major players in IT as they cover tech news. As you might imagine, Microsoft is never treated gently. Today, though, they found a story they couldn't resist, allowing them to parody lesbians, sperm banks, and the Swedish all in one delicious headline.


Click for full-size screen shot

You can tell they're a UK publication with terms like "duff man juice" and a section entitled "odds and sods".

Kind of hard to see the IT connection, but there you have it.

See: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/24/swedish_shortage

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite departs 40 years after Apollo 11


Mark Twain said:


I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: "Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together."

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, at times rivals but in old age friends in correspondence, both died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Walter Cronkite died today, in the midst of the 40th anniversary of the first trip to the moon.

Some scientists say that it's common for even gravely ill people to hang onto life just to make it to a birthday, an anniversary, or a holiday. It seems only fitting for Cronkite to pass on the anniversary of a news story that made him most happy. Even the Google News robot places Cronkite and Apollo 11 next to each other In The News.
















Friday, July 10, 2009

Cool tool for comparing Bing versus Google

Microsoft haters deride Redmond's much-advertised new search engine, Bing, as Because It's Not Google. One foolish commentator did a simple search, found that Bing provided 1/10 the claimed number of matches, and derided Bing as deficient. Circa 1996 I interviewed the creator of the Lycos search engine, Dr. Michael Mauldin. At the beginning, Lycos offered users the choice between a "small catalog" and a "large catalog." Dr. Mauldin told me that the vast majority of users choice the large one, assuming it was better. In fact, the small catalog was more selective, and for the vast majority of searches, provided more relevant results.

Comparing search engines is sometimes like the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Do you test popular searches, or do you test obscure ones? How carefully do you examine the results pages? How do you compare special results, such as when Google suggests relevant news articles?

But compare we will, and one Web site makes it a little easier. You enter your test search once, and the Bing-vs-Google tool searches both engines, then offers the SERP from each side-by-side (or, if you prefer, above-and-below).


Click for full size screen shot

In this screen shot, I did a search related to a problem I've got with the touchpad on my HP DV3500 laptop. I accidentally misspelled "touchpad" and Google, as always, offers the correct spelling; Bing says they've got nothing on "tourchpad" and I should try to spell things the right way.

It's a helpful shortcut for folks who want to do lots of test searches. See http://bing-vs-google.com/ .

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Viral marketing, historical marker style

I'm a huge fan of Jackson Browne. One of his most famous songs is "Take It Easy" which the Eagles covered and made more famous. I've always liked Jackson's version better.

And one of the famous sets of lines is:


Well, Im a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
And such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me
Come on, baby, don't say maybe
I gotta know if your sweet love
Is gonna save me



Well I just learned that these words had a huge effect on college students and tourists for decades. They went to Winslow Arizona and looked for the streeet corner.

That got me to think about a friend and entrepreneur in East Lansing who put up his own historical marker. It looks like some officially sanctioned thing. Nope, it's just his own marker, next to a building he part owns. The building has historical significance but the marker is not official.

So that got me to thinking that someone in Winslow Arizona should do the same thing.

Guess what! Too late. Apparently someone in town did that years ago.





Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gmail protects you from possibly salacious images -- from you

Someone I haven't talked to in 25 years just found me on Twitter, which I found both interesting and kinda weird.


So I forwarded the note to a friend, and was amazed when Gmail warned me:




Always display images from richard.wiggins@gmail.com



But I am richard.wiggins@gmail.com!!!


Yup, that's right: Gmail is protecting me from images that I sent myself.


Hmmm.... I suppose I can see the logic.

Hilarious spoof of new Star Trek movie by The Onion

The Onion does it again: they offer a fake news segment mocking Paramount for making a Star Trek movie that is actually fun and entertaining.



Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

Watch it carefully a few times looking at details in the B roll.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Google takes holiday logo to ultimate extreme: code!

Google has always had a lot of fun with holidays. Their graphic artists do a great job of adorning the normal Google logo with special treatments, such as adding iconic Irish symbols on St. Patrick's Day.


But today they've taken it beyond anything you'd have imagined:






Yup, that's right, you don't even see the word Google... Wait a minute, yes you do: spelled out in Morse code!


This is actually pretty brave. Google will probably scare a lot of people with this move. People will land on the page and either think that Google has been defaced or they've landed on a phishing site. It'll be interesting to see if they stick with it for a full 24 hours.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Google.org enables world map tracking swine flu


Someone has put up a world map (using Google Maps, of course) that depicts with push pins areas of illness or death, reported or confirmed. Click on a push pin to get details about that incident. See the Google H1N1 Swine Flu Map.

It's not totally clear how official or authentic the information is. So far, it seems to match what's reported in the news, and at CDC.gov. But I couldn't find an obvious "About" page. All I could find was that the author has a screen name of "ninan."
He or she only says this in the user profile:


niman
Biomedical Research
Pittsburgh, PA USA
That doesn't offer much confidence. This could be a distinguished professor at Carnegie-Mellon, or a 12 year old who is good in science class.

Google's charity arm, Google.org, last November launched http://www.google.org/flutrends, an experimental attempt to track flu trends by analyzing search patterns. They speculate that when people search for various symptoms, researchers could map those geographically, and give a leading indicator of flu outbreaks -- ahead of official public health data and reports. One news report claims Google.org was responsible for enabling the swine map.

By the way, http://www.cdc.gov/ appears to be functioning well -- and providing current information on this H1N1 outbreak. On the other hand, the World Health Organization site, http://www.who.int/, has been down all day. Wonder how robust a server farm WHO has?

ABCnews.com televises death of Bea Arthur



Writing for the Web has its own special rules, most importantly that you must be concise. Writing headlines for the Web can be even trickier. I was a little surprised to find that ABC News televised the death of Bea Arthur. But it said so right on the screen: "Watch: Bea Arthur Dies..." Sounds kind of creepy!




Update, 4/27/2009

Amazingly, the topic of today's Alertbox by Jakob Nielsen is how hard it is to write headlines for the Web, and how the BBC excels at it:

World's Best Headlines: BBC News
Summary: Precise communication in a handful of words? The editors at BBC News achieve it every day, offering remarkable headline usability.

It's hard enough to write for the Web and meet the guidelines for concise, scannable, and objective content. It's even harder to write Web headlines, which must be: short (because people don't read much online); rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the target article; front-loaded with the most important keywords (because users often scan only the beginning of list items); understandable out of context (because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results); and predictable, so users know whether they'll like the full article before they click (because people don't return to sites that promise more than they deliver). For several years, I've been very impressed with BBC News headlines, both on the main BBC homepage and on its dedicated news page. Most sites routinely violate headline guidelines, but BBC editors consistently do an awesome job.

See: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/headlines-bbc.html

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Maureen Dowd: Coy about Twitter

Maureen Dowd's column in The New York Times today offers a coy interview with the founders of Twitter. In a face-to-face interview, she asked Biz Stone and Evan Williams to limit their answers to 140 characters -- the same as Twitter.


They ended up breaking that limit, but not by much.


At the end of the interview, Dowd asked:


ME: I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey
poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is
there anything you can say to change my mind?


On a hunch, I looked Maureen Dowd up on Twitter. Guess what I found...


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In the news: Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana



The number one movie right now is Hannah Montana. I was amused when Google News listed as important people in the news Hannah Montana and the young actress who portrays her, Miley Cyrus, at the same time. She also shares Google News billing with Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, and Jesus Christ. Pretty impressive company!




Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A sign of desperation? Microsoft advertises on Google

A fellow named James White posted a thoughtful, detailed item about the proper ways to handle "state" on the Web: how session variables or database drops are the right way to go, and JavaSript countdowns are not.

For some reason his post fired up the Google ad machine like nothing you've ever seen. That was surprising enough, but I was astonished to see a Google Adwords ad for: Internet Explorer 8!

Is this a sign that Redmond really is losing to Mountain View? IE has been losing market share to Firefox, and more recently to Google Chrome. Is Microsoft so desperate that they have to buy eyeballs from their arch-rival? This is akin to, say, CBS buying commercial time on ABC to advertise CSI.




See: http://list.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0903&L=webmasters&T=0&P=2449

Sunday, March 08, 2009

ChcagoTribune.com shows how national can capture local

One of the ironies of this age of 24 hour news sources and RSS feeds is that you may read about a US Airways plane ditching on the Hudson on the online site of a newspaper in Ireland. A human or a robot at the Irish newspaper picked up the story from a traditional wire service, perhaps. So I shouldn't have been surprised to receive this news alert in my mail this morning:

Chicago Tribune - United States
Michigan State University's American Studies program is preparing the material for online use. The oral histories will be posted alongside transcriptions ...

Nonetheless I was surprised to see the Chicago Tribune had picked up a story about Lansing, Michigan. There is a suburb of Chicago called Lansing; you'd expect a story in the Trib to be about that Lansing. Even though the Michigan Lansing is a state capital, it usually receives about as much national coverage as, say, that other famous capital, Pierre, South Dakota.

So I followed some links at the Tribune site and discovered something very interesting.  They're not just randomly picking up major stories off the wires and publishing them at chicagotribune.com; they also seem to be publishing stories from or about many burgs across the land.

To test this theory, I searched the Trib site for "Sacramento" and found this:



Section 1) contains ads relevant to Sacramento, California.  Section 2) offers links to related topics about Sacramento.  Section 3) presents news stories about Sacramento.

Could this really be true?  Could the Chicago Tribune really publish this much stuff about faraway Sacramento on a random Sunday in March?

The answer is no. The Chicago Tribune isn't publishing all things Sacramento -- not in its print edition. Instead, they are using robots and wire services to concoct  online "local" pseudo-sections for places all around the country.

Poking around a bit further, I found confirmation of this theory:



Item 1) makes it explicit:  
Highlights

A collection of news and information related to Sacramento published by Tribune Company sources.
Item 2) shows an actual, relevant news story -- ironically about the financial struggles of the Sacramento Bee, in trouble just as the Tribune Company is.

Item 3) shows how a newsbot can fail; it's a completely irrelevant Chicago "Local News" column by Trib columnist Paul Carpenter, whose most recent column casually mentions Sacramento.

Despite that robotic failure, I think what the Tribune is doing is incredibly clever. They're leveraging the news sources they own and subscribe to in order to appear to have a presence in perhaps hundreds of local news markets.  People who use news alerts about their home town, or who search Yahoo News or Google News about their locality, may find Tribune-published stories -- perhaps before they find coverage in their own local news sources.  The Tribune "section" on their home town also serves ads for businesses local to that town.

Back in the early days of the Web, circa 1994,  the Raleigh News and Observer embarked upon a bold, even audacious, experiment -- to transform their local North Carolina paper into a national online newspaper, the NandO Times.  I interviewed them for the cable TV show my friend Chuck Severance and I hosted.  The NandO folks had a crew of about 5 or 6 people who sifted through wire services and created a national newspaper from their nook in Raleigh.

Within a couple of years, McClathy bought the News and Observer and shut down NandO.  Now, 15 years later, a much larger regional paper, itself part of a major news media company, uses robots to do a different trick: to appear to be a local news source for communities throughout the land.

I always want clever folks to succeed, but there is a huge risk: if the Tribune succeeds at this,  they could kill local news sources. The Lansing State Journal is a shell of its former self; it's shrunk so much it's almost a tabloid, and it relies on ... wire services for many local stories.  If the Chicago Tribune does a better job of packaging Lansing-related wire stories, it could speed the death of the only local daily.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Planets are using CCD cameras to spy on us?


Yup, I always suspected this.  Small planets are using CCD cameras to spy on us. NASA's Kepler mission will strive to find these planets.  We've got to locate these evil planets, and deal with this threat.








Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Today's Google News identifies a new celebrity: Mac Pro

Google News offers a section called "In the News" which tries to capture people who are prominently, well, in the news.  The Google newsbot obviously uses an algorithm to ferret out propoer nouns in recent news articles.  And it's obvious the algorithm thinks it's a person if it sees lots of references of two words with capital letters:  Rush Limbaugh, Barack Obama, Britney Spears -- and their pal, Mac Pro.

This morning Google News featured two new celebrities: Mac Pro and Mac Mini.  These two guys named Mac are of course two models of the Mac lineup; in the last couple days Apple announced new versions of these computers.  (Click for full-size image.)


At one point, Google News had these two guys -- Mac Pro and Mac Mini -- In the News.  Alas, poor Mr. Mini dropped off their radar, but his cousin Mac Pro remained.  As did his buddy, Late Night.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Google Earth outs our horrible lawn circa 2005


Coverage of the airplane tragedy near Buffalo NY included imagery from Google Earth and from the street view of Google Maps, making me wonder if they had discernible views of my own house. So I checked and found a satellite view of my house on Google Earth.  

When I zoomed in, I had to laugh.  The satellite image of my neighborhood showed a verdant area -- except for my own lawn. We installed a sprinkler system a couple of years after the image that Google shows, taken in 2005. 

Look closely, and you'll see that all of our neighbors obviously watered their lawns regularly.  Our lawn, by contrast, is brown.

I suppose we could claim that we were the green household in the neighborhood, not wasting precious water on living up to golf course standards.  Does this mean that brown can be green? In any event, Google Earth lays bare the story of our barren lawn.



Friday, January 30, 2009

Google News makes news out of Windows 7 non-story



Google News reports prominently that a university isn't supporting Windows 7. The headline screams Windows 7 Beta Flunks Out Of Georgetown.

This of course is not news. No IT organization supports beta software; they can't, because the definition of a beta product is that the vendor itself doesn't support it. Windows 7 is the next version of Microsoft Windows, an attempt to patch the many design flaws in Vista. It's available to the masses as a beta download. The university's IT department is merely warning the campus not to use an unsupported product.

Yet the Google News robot not only snared this non-story, it placed it above the fold, adjacent to news about world security, the global financial crisis, and the fool Blagojevich.
Ascribe original blame to Information Week -- but understand that IW is a tech industry publication whose readers will put the story in proper context. It's a problem when Google News yanks a headline from a speialty publication and republishes it for a general audience.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jobs working less than 40 hours

Interesting juxtaposition of headlines in Google News just now.... Yesterday's inaugural address mentioned people who are voluntarily working less than full time jobs so that colleagues can stay employed; meanwhile, compensation experts are taking Steve Jobs to task for standing for re-election to Disney's board. They argue that if he can't work full time for Apple, he can't fulfill his duty as a director.


Click for full-size image.