Hacking Snow Leopard’s Weather Widget to Show the Last Time It Was Updated

This post is by John Gruber from Daring Fireball

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Back in 2005, I published a piece explaining in detail how to hack the then-current version of Apple’s Dashboard Weather widget to show a time stamp indicating when the data had last been updated. Unsurprisingly, those instructions broke in a subsequent revision to the Weather widget. I never bothered to do it again because, starting with Leopard, the Weather widget’s refresh latency reached a point where it no longer seemed necessary.

However, I know some people — especially those on low-latency network connections — still enjoy this hack. For them, TJ Luoma has kindly posted updated instructions for hacking the Weather widget on Snow Leopard. There’s even a shell script that applies all the necessary patches in one fell swoop.

Wesleyan Donor Spends $20K To Save Campus Copies Of NYT… But Why Bother?

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newspaper_trash-1According to a link this morning on Romenesko, The Wesleyan Argus is reporting that an anonymous donor will contribute $20,000 to maintain the university’s New York Times readership program, which supplies free copies of the paper daily for students and faculty.

Last year, the program faced the risk of cancelation after the university decided it could no longer foot the bill, before they agreed to split the cost with the Student Assembly. This year, the school backed out altogether and instead found a private donor to provide the news in hard copy form. Per the Argus:

Because of a price increase to the program—the third in one and a half years—only 400 papers will be delivered to the University each morning Monday through Friday, at a cost of $24,500. In previous years, as many as 700 copies were available to students.

Staff and faculty are being asked not to take any papers because of the reduced numbers and the fact that this year’s program is not being funded by the administration.

But this is just a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Firstly, this donation barely covers two years, leaving Wesleyan to scramble for more donors not too far down the line. And that’s to say nothing of the future of print — and the fact the program exists, on one hand, because large university orders doubtlessly subsidize the Times‘ reader base.

But wouldn’t a substantial donation be better served by going toward infrastructure, extra-curricular activities or scholarship funds, considering that everything in the paper is available online, prior to delivery and for free? Surely these students — “75.4 percent said they read the supplied Times and 49.3 percent of that group said they read it daily” — also have 100% computer ownership and internet access. According to one professor, “even with 400 [copies], there are so many left over at the end of the day.” With campus endowments suffering as a result of the economic crisis — and at a school that celebrates environmentalism — physical copies of the paper would be a defensible budget cut.

In a pithy and astute editorial in the Argus, student Ezra Silk wonders about the university’s take on the future of journalism (including its alliance with Politico entrepreneur and alum Robert Allbritton) and notes that students are probably supportive of the NYT readership program because “many of us are the children of intellegentsia types— including a few Times reporters, no doubt.” He writes, “paying attention to the musings of the chattering class is sort of in our blood,” but he also seems to notice the ridiculousness of maintaining this abstract allegiance to the tune of over $20k a year. Let’s just chatter online, shall we?

Helmet-Cam Captures Amazing Avalanche Footage

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If you were to make a movie about experiencing an avalanche, you could only hope it would look like this. The view from the top of the snow-covered mountain, with the skier pointing to his planned run, then the first few turns in fresh powder, the fault lines forming in the snow, the out-of-control tumble, the stillness of being buried alive, four-and-a-half minutes of heavy breathing and agony, and then the rescuer’s shovel opening up the view to a blue sky — all captured from the vantage point of a helmet cam. You wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it’s crazy that it’s been captured and posted online.

Avalanche Skier POV Helmet Cam Burial & Rescue in Haines, Alaska from Chappy on Vimeo.

The video, posted by Vimeo user Chappy, was captured in April 2008 by a customer on a heli-ski trip in Haines, Alaska. (”Chappy” was snowmobiling nearby that day, he writes on Vimeo, though some of his group rode the same helicopter as the skier caught in the avalanche.) The skier fell 1,500 feet in 20 seconds, but escaped without broken bones. He was saved by his right glove, which flew off as he was falling and led the rest of his group to where he was buried. Chappy writes:

And then the digging out is utterly amazing. I don’t think that you could’ve paid a Hollywood crew to stage something better. The fact that he could’ve been facing any 360 direction and yet he’s looking right up into the sun-filled blue sky with that first full scoop away of the shovel is borderline spiritual.

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Peter Cohen: ‘Home Sharing Is iPod Touch’s Killer App for Families’

This post is by John Gruber from Daring Fireball

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It’s been the case all along that iPhone apps have the same sharing policy as DRM-protected music and video from the iTunes Store: you can share them between up to five computers registered with the same iTunes account credentials. What’s new now is that iTunes 9 makes it easy and obvious how to do so, right within iTunes itself.

Update: Fireballed at the moment, and I can’t find a cached version, alas.

Karthika Muthukumaraswamy: Why Press 5 for Customer Service When You Can Twitter?

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A few weeks ago, while having issues with my cable service, Comcast became my rightful target for a string of disapproving tweets. They didn't go unnoticed. "@ComcastBill" responded to my complaints, and asked if there was any way he could help. I did not seek his advice or counsel, but a survey around the blogosphere vouches for his legitimacy. ComcastBill's offer of help came on the heels of another from one of my Facebook acquaintances, also an employee of Comcast.

Social media portals are changing the ways in which companies are doing business, thanks to one-on-one interactions between consumers and employees, either within or outside the professional sphere. There is no denying that big corporations, including the telecommunications giant, are successfully using Twitter to respond to customer concerns and grievances. Gone are the days of merely using Internet monitoring and public surveys to find out what consumers want. Today, all retailers have to do is "listen" to conversations on social networks.

That social media are catching on in the business world is clear from Business Week's recent list of 50 CEOs on Twitter, from Virgin Atlantic's garrulous Richard Branson to the very influential Kevin Rose, founder of Digg.

It is not merely about having a presence on social media, however. Some companies use Twitter to simply send out a deluge of messages about products and services. Launching a Twitter page and letting the technology fend for itself is not what social media is about. Companies have to invest time, resources and personnel in order to do social networking right.

As Soren Gordhamer writes in this post on Mashable, businesses would do well to start embracing Twitter to increase accessibility and add a personal touch to their consumer interactions. And it works both ways. Customers can spread the word about both their good and bad experiences to hundreds of followers in an instant. This further emphasizes the need for corporations to address issues in real time.

Little wonder, then, that some CEOs are surveying the Twittersphere, and directly responding to people's tweets about their company's products. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, which was recently acquired by Amazon, is a great example of this, known as he is to personally respond to tweets from his over 1 million followers. This is also a great way for smaller companies to establish their brands. That's how Loic Le Meur, CEO of software startup Seesmic, reinforces his commitment to consumer interaction.

The important thing about Twitter use by these CEOs is that it is clear they are not just tweeting to push their products or applaud their companies. Their tweets about consumer goods come interspersed with those about the wines they like and the television shows they watch. Why do I care if Tony Hsieh plans to run 12 miles today? Quite simply, personal touch. This merely shows the human face behind the company, and increases trust and authenticity. It would be appropriate here to make a distinction between "prosumer tweeters," such as Hsieh, who tweet as individuals on behalf of a company, and brand tweeters, such as Comcast, whose employees predominantly use Twitter as a channel to serve customers.

Regardless of the purpose, interactivity is paramount. While Dell is best known to have promoted its sales on Twitter and amassed $3 million in revenue in the process, its Twitter page is mostly filled with @replies to customer questions. It also seeks suggestions and ideas for new products.

Another important aspect is content. Content in a 140-character tweet, you ask? Some of the most successful businesses on social media post tweets linking to material (preferably on their own Web sites) that their follower base would find interesting. A classic example is Whole Foods, which links to informative articles about healthy eating and organic lifestyles through its Twitter page.

Twitter is also a great channel to transmit real-time information that might affect customers, especially in the case of companies that provide services. For instance, Comcast used Twitter to communicate news of a power outage that had caused loss of transmission during a Stanley Cup playoff game in April.

While many businesses allocate specific PR personnel to manage their Twitter pages, the most successful tweeting companies, notably Zappos, have a freewheeling approach to social networking. Employees are allowed to tweet under the company's umbrella, and there are no set guidelines, which really is in keeping with the general philosophy of social media.

This distributed nature of online communication also means that bad news about a company is going to circulate as quickly as good news, as Starbucks found recently, when its Twitter ad campaign was seized by film director Robert Greenwald to spread word about the company's own anti-labor practices.

However, as with everything else Web 2.0, transparency and authenticity win out in the end. Organizations that are opening up their businesses to social networks are doing better and better with customers. This is more important now than it has been in the past, as people place higher priorities on customer service when purse strings are tighter.

Social media portals allow endless channels of communication. As long as businesses can find creative ways to use them, the possibilities, too, are endless.

Chris Kelly: Liz Cheney Recycles

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Liz Cheney is related by blood -- or whatever the Cheneys drink -- to a real live-ish former vice president of the United States. And they're close, too. Just ask her, or today's New York Times.

By all accounts, the Cheneys are a tight-knit and at times insular unit steeped in the family business. The extended brood all live within about 15 minutes of one another in northern Virginia. They gather for Sunday night dinners, usually at Liz's house, and travel to family homes in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Ms. Cheney began her Nashville speech by saying that she had asked her father for advice on what she should say. "That's a really important room full of people," she said he told her. "So don't screw it up." Laughter ensued.

Liz Cheney was speaking to a meeting of the prestigious Smart Girl Politics™ (Established July, 2008) Smart Girls Summit. So you could see why it would have dominated Sunday dinner conversation, six days before. And why Dick Cheney would send his little girl out there with his asshole clenched like an imploding star, hoping they'd be impressed.

"This is the Smart Girl Nation, kid. The Big Time. Make me proud. And if you get nervous, just imagine them naked, and being tortured."

Don't screw it up.

The Times weren't the only people struck by this rare insight into table talk in the Cheney keep. The Smart Girls were deeply touched.

From their website:

After the morning's speakers and panels... Liz Cheney spoke to us about the importance of national security. Before she got into the topic at hand, she told us that she had asked her dad (former Vice President Dick Cheney) for some advice on speaking to us grass root activists. He told her, "They are the future of our country. Don't screw it up." What a difference in thinking from some other politicians! This man actually understands the significance of the conservative brush fire sweeping through our country.

They probably meant to say "prairie fire." A prairie fire is something good, in political clichés. A brush fire? Not so good. At least they didn't say "trash fire."

Still, awfully nice for the Smart Girls, to know they're on Dick's mind. And what a revealing, off-the-cuff nugget for the Times, too.

Here's the thing, though. The "don't screw up" story? Liz Cheney says it every time she gives a speech. She just changes the name of the audience.

Here she is, for instance, at the Redstate Gathering, in Atlanta, last August:

I want to bring greetings to you from the whole Cheney family. When I told my dad I was coming today I asked him for some advice, and he said to me, in a nice, kind fatherly way, "Liz, this is a really important group. So don't screw it up."

And that's okay, too. Politicians have been known to say the same thing more than once. There's a cliché about faking sincerity and it's brushing the country like a conservative on fire.

But a reporter should know the difference between a line from a stump speech and spontaneous sharing. Not being able to tell one from the other is kind of bush.

And the Smart Girls might want to find a new adjective.

Gang Land Entrepreneur

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In a feature story in yesterday's Washington Post, Jerry Capeci's subscription-only "Gang Land" Web site is held up as a possible template for newspapers trying to figure out how to charge for content on the Web. Capeci's column on all things Mafia began in the New York Daily News in 1989, running until 1995. He took the column...

How the YouTube-Warner Music Deal Got Done: Meet Vevo Jr.

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green_day_Warner Music and YouTube, co-owners of the one of the Web’s nastiest spats, are about to patch things up. How’d they do it? By cutting a deal that looks a lot like the one YouTube has already made with Universal Music Group.

Last December, talks between Warner and YouTube to renew a licensing deal broke down, and Warner’s videos disappeared from the world’s largest video site. Now, as Advertising Age has reported, an agreement is in the works that will bring Green Day, Madonna and their label-mates back to the site.

What hasn’t been reported, so far: The deal terms themselves. Neither company is talking, but sources familiar with the negotiations tell me the new pact will be similar to the one Google’s (GOOG) video unit struck earlier this year with Universal Music Group.

That deal created Vevo, a sort of “Hulu for music videos,” owned by Universal and Sony (SNE). So think of Warner’s deal as a “son of Vevo.”

The big idea is the same: Try to create more value for videos by limiting their distribution and creating a more ad-friendly atmosphere around them, and share ad revenue between YouTube and the videos’ owner. The big points:

  • Unlike Vevo, Warner and YouTube won’t be creating a separate site for Warner videos, and Warner won’t be creating a separate company dedicated to its videos. Instead, YouTube will help Warner create a “premium advertising platform” for its videos within YouTube.
  • Warner will take primary responsibility for selling its videos, and YouTube will receive a cut of the revenue.
  • Warner will no longer receive a licensing fee each time one of its videos is played.

I gather that a lot of this is still being hashed out, and some of this will evolve even after the deal is inked. For instance, Warner needs to figure out how it’s going to sell advertising for its clips, since it doesn’t have its own sales force. Timing is also up in the air: Even after the two sides formally announce the pact, users shouldn’t expect to see Warner videos instantly reappearing on YouTube; it may be that they only get rolled out as the new ad platform is built.

Then there’s the ad platform itself: I haven’t been able to get a concrete definition of what this is supposed to look like, but for now, I’m imagining something like the “channels” YouTube has made for partners like ESPN, except they’d be made on an artist-by-artist basis.

All in all, this sounds like a fair deal. Warner loses a guaranteed revenue stream, but if its contention about the value of its videos is correct, it will make even more than it did under the old arrangement. Meanwhile, YouTube gets to hang onto “premium” inventory without being locked into the kind of  pay-per-play arrangement that helped drive the site’s expenses sky-high.

The potential downside for YouTube: If this works–or if the Vevo deal works–it will have to create similar packages/portals/platforms to retain or attract other “premium” content suppliers, like, say Hollywood studios. But given that the site has had limited success getting those guys on board so far, that’s not the worst fate in the world.

In the meantime, even though Green Day is Warner act, you can still find plenty of its clips on YouTube–it’s just that most of them are odds and ends like this grainy concert video:

AP Stylebook Now Available As An iPhone App—For $28.99

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The Associated Press Stylebook is pretty much a required fixture on journalists’ desks, but with today’s release of the reference work as an app for the iPhone and iPod touch, it just got a lot easier to carry around. However, the $28.99 price tag for the app is a lot heavier than the current $18.95 non-AP members have to fork over (AP members and college students can get the spiral bound edition for $11.75). It’s also slightly more than the $25 annual online subscription to the Stylebook. At a time when many reporters have found themselves laid off or seen a cut in the wages, the price might seem a bit steep. But the app will be updated annually with each new addition, so it could save reporters and editors from having to go out and buy a new one every few years.

That said, the AP said it won’t charge for the upgrades now, but of course that could change. The creation of the Stylebook app comes as the AP has been looking more to digital for its revenues, including the selling licensed AP photos and other archival material online. So far, the AP Mobile app, which includes a mix of breaking news and photos, remains free. Release


paidContent Quick Hits: 9.28.09

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»  Can Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) or Google (NSDQ: GOOG) win the $7.25-million contract to replace Los Angeles’s outdated e-mail system? [LA Times]

»  Disney (NYSE: DIS) goes shopping to revive its content. [NY Post]

»  Google’s Fast Flip could hurt the media industry more than help it. [SF Gate]

»  Technical limitations will prevent the Kindle from becoming the iPhone of e-readers. [Local Mobile Search]

»  Playboy TV is looking at the “TV Everywhere model” to bring its content online. [MultiChannel News]

»  Twitter is saving all your tweets but dumping the location tagging after two weeks. [ReadWriteWeb]

»  Is Google Places just a way for Google to link to itself and control the flow of traffic? [Beyond Search]

Alex Green: Google and Amazon: Making Theft and Price-Fixing the Legal Default

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For the first time in American history, a single corporation is attempting to gain full ownership of an extraordinary number of books printed during the last century, effectively controlling their dissemination by default without the consent of those who still hold valid copyrights. In early September authors and their representatives ran out of time to invoke ownership of their own writing and opt out of a legally questionable settlement.  The settlement, which is pending in federal court, reveals Google Inc.'s unprecedented attempt to invert the United States copyright structure and monopolize control of a huge swath of intellectual property. 

The current agreement, reached in 2008 between Google, The Authors Guild of America, and the Association of American Publishers has touched off the most vociferous public battle between technology companies since the inception of the Internet.  At stake is supremacy in the coveted marketplace of content ownership and book digitization.  The Justice Department filed strong objections to the settlement last week, registering concerns that Google has violated anti-trust laws by gaining such broad control without legal supervision.  Those concerns resulted in a request by all three parties this week for a postponement of the court’s ruling while they rewrite the agreement.

Online book retailer Amazon.com, Google’s non-profit rival The Internet Archive, Yahoo, Microsoft, and other media companies have joined an umbrella organization called The Open Book Alliance to combat Google’s advance.  In recent weeks they have filed a barrage of complaints to the court and Congress.  Their appeals and public statements have exposed for the first time large areas of legal uncertainty in an industry known for widespread avoidance of public legal battles and legislative interference.

In their legal assault, Amazon appears to have suggested its own involvement in business practices that have widely been considered unethical and potentially illegal.  An Amazon spokesperson told the Associated Press last month that if Google were to gain control of the marketplace his company would no longer be able to obtain low prices for customers by, “playing one publisher off against another." Their statement implies the use of manipulative negotiating practices to receive books at lower wholesale prices than competitors despite the existence of legal precedents that restrict large companies from receiving disproportionately favorable discounts.

The Author’s Guild has also come under fire, with critics questioning the right of an advocacy group to negotiate on behalf of authors who did not seek their support.  If upheld, such a broad invocation of representative power by a guild would be unprecedented in American history.

Compounding the problem is the prevalence of conflicts of interest among board members of nearly every party involved in the litigation.  One particularly disconcerting example involves the venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, & Byers which currently has three partners serving as board members or advisers to Google or Amazon, including John Doerr who is a board member at all three companies. 

The triumvirate of Kleiner board members also includes former Vice-President Al Gore who is a senior advisor to Google.  Gore’s presence is a reminder of the close proximity between the political establishment that first gave rise to broad Internet use and the now-powerful companies that benefited from government encouraged non-regulation throughout the 1990’s and into this decade.

The rise of these companies has created an institutionalized imbalance predicated on the absence of basic legal strictures in the technology sector.  Without regulation tech companies have fed a decade-long ascendancy on a margin of profit derived from their near universal exemption from state tax laws.  Their rise has been accompanied by a consolidation of power among former politicians and wealthy individuals with evident connections to each other and each others’ companies.  Their ties have made it impossible for them to act as impartial advocates for the companies they represent. 

Google has made boldest move thus far in an industry that is reaping large financial rewards at the expense of American taxpayers. As tech skirmishes become more public, the legal and legislative branches of American government will be forced to address issues that have been willfully ignored for a generation.  The implications of delayed intervention are potentially devastating for the interaction of states, the rights of citizens, and the role of governance in business.  Non-regulation now directly endangers the words and creations of our artists in ways that were previously inconceivable. A failure to act comprehensively will only result in the continued exploitation of a growing class of impoverished taxpaying citizens who have already borne the largest burden for the least reward from one of the greatest advances in human history.


Andy Plesser: Video: New York Times Digital Chief: About.com Has “Unbelievable Margins” from Google AdSense

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About.com, the online network of special interest communities, enjoys "unbelievable margins" from Google AdSense, said Martin Nisenholtz, who heads digital operations at The New York Times Company, which owns About.com.

Nisenholtz was a panelist Monday at the OMMA conference where I taped his comments.  (His reference to AdSense comes up at 2:45 in the clip.)

He says that companies who create low cost, highly verticalized and contextualized content will get "very rich" from AdSense.  He adds that AdSense does not perform well for New York Times news coverage.

Production note:  Sorry for the poor audio quality; I was unable to connect to the event sound system from my location.

This video was originally published on Beet.TV.

Why Does The Internet Have No Historical Directory?

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pbumpI went to Ohio State. This means that, before I continue, I have to note that: yes, their football program has not excelled in big games of late. Now then.

For those of you who have never been to OSU’s campus, I imagine you’d be pleasantly surprised. Certainly it’s enormous and sprawling, but the central campus feels, particularly in the fall, like a small New England town — lots of brick, grass and trees. (Compare this with the University of Michigan’s campus, which has all of the elegance and charm of Vladisvostok, circa 1983. December 1983.) (I failed to mention that I also am required to insult Michigan, but that one you probably knew.)

The cornerstone of the campus is the Thompson Library. It towers over the Oval (visible in this this Google Street View shot), some twelve floors of books of every sort resting, at least when I was there, on a first floor containing a sprinkling of computers, periodicals and microfilm. It was obvious in its metaphor — importance made manifest through size.

This MacBook Pro in my lap, of course, gives me access to hundreds of thousands times as much information. But it doesn’t give me tangibility or, more importantly, a sense of space, of quickly learning where — and what — information can be found. Of course, I wouldn’t give up the infinite capacity of the Internet solely for the sake of knowing where the boundaries of information lie, but for those interested in history, this is an important omission. Walking into Thompson (or any) library, there is an index articulating everything that is included and where it is. The Internet has no such directory, just an earnest tour guide in Google who can tell you what he’s seen.

The problem of hidden information is exacerbated by the ad hoc nature of the Internet. In the same way that the world is documented in the moment by those capturing what interests them, our history is being cobbled together by individuals interested in preserving as much of what has happened as they can. While much of this is undertaken by academics, a lot comes from the general public, seeking to memorialize 8-bit video game machines or manuals to vintage cars or old newspaper ads (in this case, captured from the aforementioned and now-obsolete microfilm). It’s not all pop culture items, of course, but pop culture has an advantage — that little word “pop.” The more people interested in something, the more likely it is to transition to immortal status on the Web.

This is all prompted by my stumbling across three fantastic tools or collections of history, purely by chance. No tour guide, no directory. So in the spirit of the helpful guy at the information desk, let me share them with you:

  1. Duke University recently announced a project to put old television ads online for free through iTunes. The collection has great breadth, but its depth is remarkable. Want to check out 98 Schick ads? You’re in luck.
  2. For those of you seeking a truly authentic atmosphere as you watch a 1950s ad for asbestos kitchen tile, Google Books just announced that they’ve digitized the entire Life magazine collection. The collection (which can be perused here) is perhaps the premier documentation of idealized American society for several decades in the middle of last century. Print them out, bind them, and put them on your coffee table next to your Scotch-and-water and ashtray. And then watch Mad Men.
  3. One of my favorite tools, though, comes from the old Gray Lady, whose longevity pays some benefits. In addition to the clever Times Machine, which makes available scans of entire papers from 1850 to 1922, the paper has a Twitter account, @timestraveler, which relays stories from the paper 100 years ago today. Seeing these articles appear in my Twitter feed occasionally throws me off — such as a link to a piece about the 300th anniversary of New York City, which caused me to do a double-take.

None of these tools are a natural fit with a traditional library, admittedly, but it’s frustrating to have to stumble across them. Like a museum with a closed wing, it makes you wonder what exactly you’re missing. Libraries, like newspapers, still have a role in an evolving world of information — and can offer best practices for whatever succeeds them.

Speaking of, congratulations to Columbus and The Ohio State University for managing to each maintain daily newspapers. Apparently, that’s a trickier task for some folks.

Philip Bump is a technology and communications consultant in New York City who will be writing an occassional column for Mediaite about the intersection of history and the Internet called “The Wayback Machine.” Follow him on Twitter here.

Steven Weber: Left, Wrong and Center

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As a loyal listener to KCRW's "Left, Right and Center" (Fridays at 2:30 PM PST), one of the few forums for reasonable and energetic political debate, I have always enjoyed its spirited and stalwart cast of silver-tongued commentators: the occasionally irascible but scrupulously centric whiz of a host Matt Miller, the canny Arianna Huffington and the passionate Robert Scheer. Listening to their weekly analysis of the week's events I am assured of a frequently electrifying, always edifying experience, free from partisan histrionics and trite talking points.

But mostly, I look forward to conservative commentator Tony Blankley's articulate expressions on all issues which circulate through the perpetually running news cycle. His erudition and humor make his positions, pretty much all of which I dare say most liberals disagree with, palatable alternatives to the psychotic spew which passes for political dialogue of late.

But in this past Friday's installment, Tony (I like to think I am on a first name basis with the man, since I welcome him into my dank inner sanctum every week) informed us that, in his opinion, the entire global warming issue is at best a canard and any actions taken toward the alleviation of said issue, whether it is actual or merely a nefarious, liberal concoction, would lead the world to economic ruin.

This, to me, was a revelation on par with learning Oliver Wendell Holmes's views on eugenics (he was for it).

The sound of bubbles bursting among Left, Right and Center's loyal listenership must have sounded like Chinese New Year.

Huh? Really? Plus, Tony said it with such fed-up finality, it almost seemed like he could no longer be burdened by the process of empirical thought imposed on him by the show's format; that he had thrown all his erudition and education away for the sake of his chosen ideology.

But more than my own sense of disappointment, it points to what I think is at the core of the rapidly spreading division in the body politic: the fungibility of facts and the emergence of a veritable alternate reality based solely on the preservation of one's ideology.

Reeling from its loss to Obama, the Republican/Conservative world has pretty much detached from the Union and aggressively declared independence from even its own historical devotion to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Seeing the effect its zombie infantry of birthers, deathers, and other hurlers of distraction grenades have had upon the country, the right wing has said "fuck it" to a world in which it has to fight too damn hard to survive, let alone thrive. It's getting several steps closer to operating out of a David Koresh-like compound, daring anyone to pry the weapons of mossy distraction from their cold dead hands.

What this does is nullify any attempt to achieve a workable parity and keep the United States and its principles intact and functioning. And it reaches deep into the psyche of a conservative as embodied by Blankley and all the other high profile mouthpieces who speak on behalf of the dwindling and cornered herd. It is a nuclear option in the form of obstruction and denial.

As when I first learned about Glenn Beck's tragic upbringing and felt real sympathy for this person who endured so much tribulation (isn't that just like a spineless liberal fascist socialist pansy? To give a shit?), I can understand the pull toward extreme solutions to problems which seem insurmountable.

The election of Barack Obama must have amounted to such a trauma, the final straw for the right wing Conservative Republicans who have thrown in with and allowed wackos to define their once proud party. They have left flaming bags of dog crap on the country's collective doorstep, clearly taking stances which can only result in either their expulsion or secession. They are daring the country as the neo-cons dared the world.

It's beyond merely being sore losers. It is a primal survival mechanism kicking in with tragic ferocity. It's having a once formidable but now insane uncle, turning violent at the family picnic, spewing masticated egg salad and madness, frightening the children and endangering everyone.

In the case of Tony Blankley's assertions that global warming is sham science, preferring to ignore facts which point to certain inevitabilities is, like much of what has been expressed from the current Conservative perspective, short-sighted and desperate. And that's a real shame.

And frankly, hearing him spout such cant is causing me to experience my own trauma which will, I fear, inevitably lead me to behave in a similarly antisocial manner.

In fact, I am suddenly feeling the urge to denounce, oh, the law of gravity as a liberal hoax. I believe there is a pernicious "gravity lobby" which seeks to deprive patriotic Americans of their right to hover and wobble anywhere from a few inches to several yards above their God-given lawns.

And if we are bound by such a thing as "gravity," how then would we ever reach "Heaven"? See where I'm going with this?

Dale Maharidge Interview: Covering The Economic Pain Of Real Americans

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Is today's media built for these times? Is it capable of covering the widespread economic downturn in a way that conveys the pain so many Americans are feeling to the country and the world? And can it be done in a way that doesn't feel like a view of devastation from 30,000 feet up in the air? For insight, we turned to a man who is built to cover this crisis, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and Columbia School of Journalism professor Dale Maharidge.

For the past 30 years, Maharidge has dedicated himself to telling stories of the working class in books such as Pulitzer-Prize-winning And Their Children After Them, which revisited the sharecropper families that Walker Evans and James Agee first brought to light with their own Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and Journey To Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass, a book that inspired two songs by Bruce Springsteen. Maharidge also boasts a fifteen-year-long career in newspapers, most prominently at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Sacramento Bee.

During his career, Maharidge has found that the working class has always been a community historically underserved by journalists. "Over the past 30 years, I haven't exactly had to jostle through crowds of journalists covering the story of the working poor. There were no 'boys in the boxcar' when I rode the rails with the new jobless in the early 1980s. And even today, not a lot of deep work is being done."

Currently, Maharidge is completing work on his latest book, Someplace Like America, in which he revisits, after 30 years, the people he met in Journey To Nowhere. "This book is a document of the past 30 years. " he writes, "It will rely on the ultimate experts -- the people who are most affected by the bad economy."

I spoke to Maharidge by phone in Arlington, Virginia.


THE HUFFINGTON POST: One of the things we're trying to get a real fix on here at the Huffington Post are the real, human effects of the economic downturn, and the question I want to ask right off the bat is: How come the media fails to address this matter in a substantive way?

DALE MAHARIDGE: There are many reasons for this that predate newspapers getting in trouble, but which are of course exacerbated by cutbacks. But even before, people were very, very unwilling to tackle this issue.

THE HUFFINGTON POST: Structurally speaking, what's been inhibiting this sort of coverage?

MAHARIDGE: Reporters, for a long while, have seen themselves as an elite class of people. I had a colleague, back in the 80's, who was covering the steelworkers, who would be very dismissive of them. She said, "They aren't really middle-class people." And I said, "I beg your pardon?" She replied, "Well, they're not like us."

Well, she was just downsized. She was just laid off from the newspaper she went to. We're all steelworkers now -- I think reporters are just now realizing it. A lot of the time, during the '80s and '90s, the press saw themselves as part of the elite. The salaries were good. A lot of journalists were fat and happy until just a few years ago and felt they were not part of the working class. This created a gulf between subject and journalist. Often, it meant the working poor would get covered at Christmas and Thanksgiving, in stories that were "weepers."

There is also the element of the business press, which failed so hugely, and which has been so well-documented. It borders on boosterism. But even among reporters who aren't business writers, there's always this breathless sense of "everything is going to be all right, everything is going to be great." And I don't why that is.

So the boosterism in the coverage was bad. The fact that members of the press saw themselves as part of the elite, that was another problem. And then, the problem's cultural. That we're a "middle class society" is a myth. We don't like talking about the word "class" unless it's preceded by the word "middle." And so, if you start talking about these issues, that's who you focus on. And that leaves out millions -- tens of millions of people -- and this basically defines what we are as a nation.

For years. the debate was the welfare debate and reporters fell into the trap. It was a Republican agenda issue, really, that coalesced around Charles Murray, who wrote the book Losing Ground. So all through the '80s and into the '90s, until Bill Clinton signed welfare reform in 1996, welfare was the de facto "poor" story, when in fact only a peak five percent of Americans were on welfare. It's less than two percent now. The vast majority of poor people have always worked and not taken welfare. But welfare dominated the debate for much of the last 30 years.

Welfare is over, for all intents and purposes. So now what? Now we've got those 50 or 60 million working poor people whose children are going to bed hungry at night. Adding to their ranks are falling white-collar people, now. So now what's the answer for those people?

THE HUFFINGTON POST: It sounds to me like coverage of the poor over the past 30 or 40 years was first founded on a false premise and, now that the false premise has been eliminated, we're left with a clueless media that lacks the facility to approach this issue.

MAHARIDGE: No way to approach it, exactly. And so what's the answer? Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary, had a posting at his site a few months ago, talking about the possibilities of a "V-shaped recovery" and a "u-shaped recovery." He said that the real problem is that the consumer society is not going to come back. The credit is not going to be there. The second mortgages are not going to be there. He said that we need to create "X" -- something new. And that's what the press should be concentrating on.

What are we going to do to get to the next stage. What we've done has not worked. Basically, we've had bubble after bubble. There are no bubbles left. I think the press should be highlighting the ways people are moving beyond the consumer society. People who are not using credit anymore. People who are dealing with this problem.

But the bigger issue is this: we have to create jobs for people. We have to cover labor. All of those beats that were dead, especially labor, we have to reinvigorate, because labor is where this story is.

THE HUFFINGTON POST: One of the things you've mentioned is that, for a long time, the way the working poor have been covered is that a reporter will parachute in at Thanksgiving or Christmas, do the soup-kitchen story and get air-lifted back out. And a few months ago I read an excellent article in Vice Magazine about Detroit, where the hammer of this economy has fallen hard and it has become the premier spot for reporters-slash-poverty tourists to document working-class destitution on the cheap. Ruin porn, they called it.

MAHARIDGE: That sort of thing is easy to do. I like what Time Magazine has done: they bought a house in Detroit and they are going to have a year-long presence there. A colleague of mine, she's going to go there and find the kind of stories we're talking about: who's doing things in Detroit that are working. I think that's good, live there and go beyond the ruin porn. That's fantastic. I applaud that.

There are some people doing some good work out there. Scott Bransford's "TARP Nation" story on tent cities for the High Country News is a great example. That took the story to the next level. There are some good journalists out there, doing good work. I want to see more of that. And from what people have told me, this Time series in Detroit is going to be another serious effort.

THE HUFFINGTON POST: At the root of the financial crisis seems to be an overall asymmetry of information. You've touched on this a little already, in distinguishing between news that informs and what the business press had become: an outlet for naked boosterism. Is there a way of combating this asymmetry?

MAHARIDGE: This goes back to the need for reporters to get off their asses and get back to talking to real people. Right now, there's too much emphasis on the talking heads, the focus on Wall Street. There's a colleague of mine -- I won't name names -- who'd advise reporters, "Don't bother those ordinary people -- the story is in the boardroom." I tell journalists to ignore that advice, take it to the street, do some real shoe-leather reporting. Take a look at the paperwork that people have been made to sign, look at how they've been coerced. Too may reporters want to focus on the sound bytes. Some are just lazy. But most have this default position where they're going to repeat the official line.

THE HUFFINGTON POST: How do you arm your students to go out and combat this?

MAHARIDGE: I tell them, three things make a great story: people, people, and people. By that I mean, real people. Go out and find the bottom of the food chain, because that is where most Americans live. The emphasis for the past 30 years has been the adoration of wealth, the celebritization of wealth. We're all rich. Everything's looking up. But, no. Most Americans are working poor. Four-fifths of us who work for salaries or wages make less than $20 an hour. This is a poor country. We're a nation of the working poor, and it's something that people don't want to acknowledge.

Ultimately, what are we as journalists? We are educators. Our job is to show America to Americans, and America to the world. So we have to show the story of what's going on in this country at the bottom -- the bottom being the vast majority of Americans.

I think we have to ask ourselves: "What are we as journalists?" I go back to journalists and fiction writers who did journalistic work, like Sherwood Anderson. John Steinbeck did some journalism. He really reported The Grapes Of Wrath. But there were journalists like Mary Heaton Vorse, who covered the farm strike in the middle of the country in the 1930s. Did some amazing work out there. Louis Adamic spent seven years driving and flying around America, documenting this stuff. And I think collectively, the journalism produced a better country.

Our job is to go out and measure the impact of policy. The impact of political decisions and how they affect Americans. Like I said, our job is to show America to Americans and America to the world. I think journalism lost that. We have a need to fundamentally return to these basics.

THE HUFFINGTON POST: One of the things that strikes me as a major obstacle, in this current economic downturn, is that it is vast in every way. It hits all manner of industry, and all manner of geographic location. There's a ton of ground to cover. It's foreclosures in the Southwest, it's the auto industry in Detroit, it's the decline of the Rust Belt working class, it's textile towns in the South, devastation in New Orleans... and beyond that there's unemployment, credit market downturns, health care costs. It's so hard to cover it without ending up being some sort of poverty generalist. But there's no silver bullet, get this story and the rest falls in place, is there?

MAHARIDGE: I ask this very question in a course of mine. There's a labor studies professor named John Russo at Youngstown State University, he's the co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies. They do a lot of cutting-edge research on this topic, I really respect their work. Well, I asked John this same question, and when he stopped laughing, he said, "Well, do you want a book?"

His take is that we've let the industry of making things die. We won't recover until we start making things again. It was a 30-year decline and it could take 30 years to get back. As journalists, though, we have to each go into the mine and take a piece. Maybe it's industrial policy, maybe it's labor policy. But I don't think any one person can just dive into this and find the "silver bullet." It's just too big for that.

We have to raise questions, the foremost being, "What sort of country do we want to be?" I think something big is happening. I think there's a massive cultural shift. The country is not so much liberal or conservative -- as it's usually portrayed. It's different. John Russo talks about the "parabola," where left meets right and they agree on the same issues. I think what we have going on is that people are scared and their stressed. And this is giving rise to populism. Is is a liberal or a conservative populism? I think if you look just at the town hall meetings you'd say it's a conservative populism, but remember: this is just a fraction of the electorate.

I go back to the 1930s, which I study in depth for insight into what's going on now. In the midst of the 1930s, you have two forces. There was going to be a Communist revolution! They never even came close. And near the end of the 1930s the right wing was ascending in the form of Father Charles Coughlin, and there were mini-pogroms in New York City. These guys were nasty... they were thugs, basically. But neither was going to win. And I don't think this country is going to go far left or far right.

I spoke to all sorts of people, researching Someplace Like America. What people are doing is that they are cutting back from credit. Upper class people who hit the bricks. They're giving up on credit. There's a mindset shift going on in this country. People are hungry for knowledge, and they're a lot more ready for change than the Obama administration is likely to provide. People want something done. What should be done? We can argue those points.

But we have to make things. All wealth comes from the soil and seed. I lived in an Iowa town for a year for a book I wrote called Denison, Iowa. Middle of corn country. There was one high-tech firm in Denison, and they did the billing for rural electric cooperatives. They had sixteen employees. High tech jobs, great wages, but none of it would have existed if they didn't grow corn. If the corn stops growing tomorrow, those jobs are gone. That's a microcosm of the country.

[Dale Maharidge's latest book, Someplace Like America is slated to be published in September 2010.]

Fox News Brings Widescreen To Their Wide Audience

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fnchd_9-28If you’ve been watching Fox News today (and we know someone at the New York Times is), you’ve probably noticed it looks a little different. The chyron type is much larger, and the screen may look stretched.

That’s because today Fox News became the first cable news network to broadcast in 16:9, widescreen format only – to all SD and HD TVs.

How does this work? Broadcasting & Cable breaks it down today:

The network has decided to produce all of its programming in high-definition using the 16:9 aspect ratio, and deliver a downconverted, letterboxed version to standard-definition viewers. The cable network has overhauled its camera positions, graphics and editing to accommodate all-widescreen production, and is using Active Format Description (AFD) technology internally to specify how the widescreen HD pictures are downconverted for display on 4:3 aspect-ratio standard-def sets.

Fox News has been teasing the move all day today, and directing its viewers to Foxnews.com and a separate section about what the transition means for them. From the site:

Now, all of our viewers get to watch our channel in the widescreen format. Settings on your television may need to be adjusted to properly view our new telecast. Learn more about setting your TV for the widescreen format. And don’t worry, this in no way changes the way we bring you the news.

Right – just because the words are bigger, doesn’t mean you won’t be getting your “fair and balanced” news. Glenn Beck may gain a chin, however.

But seriously, Fox News has by far the most viewers of any cable news network, and of course, the most viewers with standard definition TVs. And while it has more young viewers than any other network (25-54 demographic), its viewership has a higher average age than any other as well. What does this mean? There’s going to be some confused Fox News fans today.

The Website should help that a bit – that is, if the confused viewer has access to/is familiar with the internet. But the changes are small, and in the end, will benefit everyone. It puts Fox News once again at the head of the pack – not only in the ratings, but now in broadcasting technology.

» Follow Steve Krakauer on Twitter

StatShot: Gleeks Love Tweets

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Don’t stop believin’ in FOX’s musical comedy Glee. For the second week in a row the show is racking up impressive social buzz on Twitter, according to the latest stats from Trendrr.

Glee rocked the week with a high of 71,555 tweets on Thursday. The ratings-challenged Heroes took second with a high of 34,734 tweets.

Oprah got a nice bump towards the end of the work week, fueled probably by the tell-not-just-all-but-way-too-much appearance of MacKenzie Phillips. Blech. Bad Twitter, bad, bad, Twitter!


The Truth About Time Inc: Nobody Really Knows Its Future

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98bab1cf2ab64ebdDuring a discussion at University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, investor Gordon Crawford claimed that Time Warner would eventually sell-off their print unit Time Inc., renewing lots of speculation about the print giant’s future. The innocuous comment seemed like a throw away line to some; but it not only sent shock waves in media circles, it also forced many to predict a future that, frankly, no one really yet knows.

The relative frenzy about the publishing giant’s future was started by the following Reuter’s item:

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Time Warner Inc will eventually sell the Time Inc magazine unit and could buy holdings in its core entertainment category, Gordon Crawford, managing director of its largest shareholder, said during a presentation this week.

“Time Warner just spun off their cable division, they are going to sell their print division, they are going to spin off AOL and they’re just going to be Warner Brothers, HBO and the Turner Networks,” said Crawford, managing director of The Capital Group.

This spawned an enormous headline on the media section on Huffington Post (though in fairness to them, it was a rather slow weekend for news) as well as numerous posts on news and media aggregating websites.

It also lead to a lot of wanton and uninformed speculation about Time Inc.’s future. Perhaps the most ridiculous analysis came from Peter Kafka at AllThingsDigital. Writing in his “Media Memo” column he published a post entitled “Time Warner Dumping Its Magazines? Not So Fast,” which offered this gem on why they aren’t selling:

Time Warner won’t comment, but I’m sure the company has heard Crawford make this prediction before. His Capital Research Global Investors owns more than eight percent of Time Warner shares, which means he gets plenty of access to Bewkes and his lieutenants.

But here’s the thing: The body language from Time Warner executives in recent months makes me think they intend to keep at least part of their magazine business in the family. More than body language, actually: “Time Warner without People? I can’t imagine it,” one well-placed Time Warner official told me recently.

Kafka redeems himself by correctly pointing out that while Time Inc.’s annual revenue may be significantly less than last year, its still a very profitable unit that earns TW millions a year.

Now Bloomberg Calls it an Obama Bull Market

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I nicked Bloomberg for a story in March calling the stock-market swoon an "Obama Bear Market." Now it's saying there's an "Obama Stock Advance." Ding it for that, too. That relatively quick turnaround ought to show you how foolish it is to peg stock market moves to a president. That's especially true for its story in March, when...