Saturday, February 27, 2010

Takeoffs and Landings

Despite everyone at Graphics of the Americas cynically doubting that I would never get home from Miami Beach yesterday, what with Phase 2 of the Snowpocalypse ravaging the Northeast, in point of fact my flight from Miami to Philly took off on time and landed 10 minutes early. My connection to Albany also took off on time and landed 5 minutes early.

I was actually dreading flying US Airways after my last bad experience, but this time I think they may have redeemed themselves in my eyes.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tarnished Silverlight

Well, I tried to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. While writing my story on the keynote address by MS's August de los Toros for today's WhatTheyThink, I had wanted to include a link to a very cool video that Microsoft Surface had put together showcasing all the futuristicky things they were working on in the area of ubiquitous interactive touchscreen and flexible displays. No dice. It wasn't that I couldn't find the video--I couldn't even get onto the Surface site.

I am on a Mac, naturally, and use Safari as my default browser. When I went to the main Surface site, I was told I needed to install Silverlight (Microsoft's Flash-like animation and video environment)--to basically see anything. Since installing software is always tons of fun, and when I'm on deadline is one thing I adore getting sidetracked with, I thought, "Sure, why not?" Since I was on the GoA pressroom WiFi, it was a tad slow, so it took about 15 minutes to download. Fortunately, I needed to take a restroom break and socialize a bit, so I let it do its thing.

I came back, it was done, and I again tried to launch the Surface site. This time I got the Silverlight logo that spun a bit and eventually stalled without doing anything. Great.

So then I tried Firefox, my other default browser when a site doesn't like Safari. This time, I got the spinning Silverlight logo again, as well as a countdown, which stopped at 30 and went no further. Great.

Okay, Plan C. I actually have Internet Explorer on my Mac. It has been years since Microsoft had a version of IE for the Mac, but I have carefully preserved this one in a hermetically-sealed folder on my hard drive on those rare occasions when a site I need to access won't work with anything else. (For example, I once did a lot of writing for a publishing company that configured their independent contractors' online billing site to only work with IE--which they only did after MS discontinued IE for the Mac and probably knowing full well that 90% of their contributors are on a Mac and won't be able to use IE. It wouldn't surprise me if that was their not-so-subtle way of preventing their freelancers from billing them.)

Anyway, IE crashed within seconds of accessing Surface. Great.

Strike 3.

So, I really wanted to link to that video, but never got that far. It does make me wonder what the future depicted in that video would look like if Microsoft actually were the ones to develop all these products. I had to be nice in my WTT article, but all I could think was, if it all ends up anything like Office or Windows, I'm going to want to take one of those glass displays, smash it, and slit my wrists with the shards. A fatal error has occurred, indeed.

There was one brief debate in one of the sessions I attended yesterday where the topic of whether Flash or some other online video/animation environment would prevail, and I don't really care either way--as long as it's something that works fairly transparently and consistently. I have never had a problem getting Flash to function, and I'm sure if I looked, I would find that there are even better solutions out there. But to be the one that prevails, it's going to have to be the one that is most easly available, is most stable and functional, and causes the least amount of grief to use. That's a tall order for any software company, but the reward is the conquering of the universe.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Feed the Bird

I have attempted to consolidate all my myriad social media activities into one place, so using Twitterfeed I am attempting to set up a feed so that things I post here at Blogito Ergo Sum automatically feed to Twitter and Facebook. This post is an attempt to see if it works.


Here's an idea that combines one of the most disturbing memories of high school biology class with hand-knitted craftsmanship. Via Boing Boing, we give you: a hand-knitted dissected frog. Perfect for grandma.

Hold That Ghost

So I checked into The Marseilles Hotel yesterday, and although it's not the nicest hotel in the room (your typical South Beach flea trap), I was more than a little bemused to see this Post-It Note attached to a little purportedly inspirational poem on the wall:
I don't know what picture they are talking about, but I detected no ghost activity--not even actress Alice Ghostley. (The next door room's closet is behind the [thin] wall behind the bed, and it's easy to hear hangers clinking about in the morning. Perhaps the ghosts offer a valet service.) Fortunately, there has never been any definitive evidence that there are such things as ghosts. But even if there were, there certainly, as far as I know, has never been a reliably documented incident of someone being killed or injured by a ghost. So there's not much to be scared of.

I do have a question about ghosts, though. Even if we grant the premise that there is some kind of energy that comprises the soul and that it can linger on Earth after we shuffle off this mortal coil, and even if we assume that it can take the physical form of the person who died, why, oh why, is it wearing clothes? Ghosts always seem to be "seen" wearing Victorian garb, or fancy dresses (never flip-flops and tank tops, thankfully), or whatever. What would the mechanism for that be?

And another thing. Those silly ghost-hunting shows...they always seem to be using infrared cameras to capture "heat traces" or whatever, which is supposed to be evidence for ghostness. As Ken A. explained to me (as he has used infrared cameras), in order to pick up anything, you need to calibrate an infrared camera using a coefficient that has been determined for the surface generating the heat (which is what infrared radiation is). How do you calibrate an infrared camera to take into account the surface of a ghost? Because unless you do this properly, whatever you pick up on the camera could be anything and not especially reliable.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Boxing Day

So, anyway, last weekend, if you have read below or followed my Facebook/ Twitter/ TweetDeck/ Etc. updates, you know was the 33rd annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott in beautiful downtown Brooklyn, NY. It's located right across the street from the Supreme Court Building, and rumor has it that the hotel was constructed for the primary purpose of sequestering juries, although I'm told that may be apocryphal.

Anyway, the event drew about 650 contestants (and many other non-competing guests) and worked like this. For most contenders, there were seven puzzles, which ranged in difficulty from pretty easy to "queen bitch" difficulty (Will Shortz's term). Everyone gathers in the main banquet hall, and yellow folders help ensure that one's eyes stay on one's own puzzle:
A puzzle is passed out, Will Shortz says, "Ready, set, go," and a clock ticks down the time allotted for a given puzzle--15 minutes, 20 minutes, etc. When you are done, you raise your hand, a proctor picks up your paper, marks the time, and you are released to go out to the lobby and commiserate with others--"what the heck was 19 down?" "did you get the theme of that?" "I have shamed the family," "I paid money to do this," and so forth.

It's interesting how the puzzle scoring and tracking has evolved, and it's a somewhat sophisticated process now. Every contestant is given a Contestant Number, and a sheet of bar-code labels that you stick on the back of each puzzle. (How fortuitous that a crossword puzzle grid can be easily used as a bar code!) These all varied by contestant:
The puzzle is graded by hand; judges verify manually that each square is filled correctly, and deduct points for wrong letters and blank squares (I am happy to say that in seven puzzles, I got no wrong answers or left any blanks). Points are then awarded by how quickly the puzzle was completed. The marked puzzles are then scanned and uploaded to the contest Web site, and you can log in with your contestant nunber to see the scanned puzzles, and track the standings (which are also posted in hard copy on the wall near the banquet hall). I would say that at least half of the contestants had iPhones and BlackBerrys or at least laptops. There were computers in the lobby of the hotel, as well.

There are a bunch of different contestant categories, based on skill, age, and geography. The A category is the best of the bunch--these are the power solvers who are more like human laser printers and can fill in an entire grid faster than I can write a single letter. (There are all sorts of tricks they use, only some which I have any aptitude for.)

At the end, there is an eighth puzzle that is used for the playoffs. If you've seen the movie Wordplay, you know how this works. There is a stage on which is a set of three large puzzle grids mounted on easels. The three contestants stand at their easels (they are angled such that they can't see each others' grids), they are given sound-proof headphones, and then solve the final, really hard puzzle while 700+ people watch--and Neil Conant of NPR and puzzle constructor Merl Reagle do play-by-play commentary. It's pretty intense, but a lot of fun.
You do meet interesting people from all walks of life--some of them are rather silly walks:
This is Jim Jenista, who apparently always comes to this event in some bizarre costume or other. He's kind of a celebrity.

It was a fun time, and I look forward to next year's tournament. I must work on my speed.

Case Closed

Why do I get the sense that if I ever used this impressive toothbrush holder, I would never make it through airport security? (Via Boing Boing)

Power Point of Know Return

An oldie but a goodie, via Boing Boing today--comedian Don McMillan's "How Not to Use PowerPoint" routine. So true, so true...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How You Doing, Bernie?

Sitting in a TGIFriday's in Penn Station, I finally, for the first time, am hearing the original of a 1999 Weird Al parody. "Pretty Fly for a White Guy" that Shazam tells me is by The Offspring. What a wretched song. I much prefer Weird Al's "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi."

What are Words For

For those who have not been following my Twitter and/or Facebook updates, I finished the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament at 75th out of 644. I shall blog more about it (and post pictures) when I get home to my proper computer--God and Amtrak willing...

Friday, February 19, 2010

There Goes Paradise

I have really been enjoying the new SyFy (jeez, I hate that spelling) Channel show Caprica, a prequel to the new Battlestar Galactica, which I also liked a great deal. And I can watch it even though I don't have cable, or know what night it is on. SyFy, like a number of other networks, makes their shows available online, which means they can be watched any time one wants. I can connect my laptop directly to my TV, and some networks (like ABC) have online video quality that even exceeds that of what comes over my cable provider! This is how I watch Lost each week--and I recently discovered a show called FlashForward, which I also like a lot. And what I really like about watching programs online is that there are far far far fewer commercials. There are the usual commercial breaks (shows are actually written with "act breaks" and develop dramatically between commercials), but only last about 30 seconds (not enough time for a bathroom break, though) and typically include only one sponsor. In the case of FlashForward, some episodes offered the option of playing a 90-second introductory "infomercial" and then being able to watch the show without any commercials. Yes! is also a good site to watch old and new shows with a minimum of interruption.

This is how TV began, after all--a single sponsor footing the bill for a show, and commercial breaks were kept to a minimum and you didn't get the constant clutter of a zillion ads per 2- or 3-minute break (which even individual sponsors hate). If you think commercials are taking up more programming time these days, you're right. If you watch old and new series on DVD, you can see this quite dramatically; in the 1960s and 70s, a one-hour drama like Star Trek or The Wild Wild West clocked in about 52 minutes per episode. A half-hour sitcom like M*A*S*H or The Bob Newhart Show was about 26 minutes. Today, a "one-hour" drama like Lost is 42 minutes; a half-hour sitcom about 21 minutes. And, to be honest, I remember the single sponsor's ads better than a zillion (generally loathsome and tasteless) ads clustered in one block.

Being able to watch shows online with a minimum of commercials is far preferable (yes, someone has to pay for them, but there has to be a better way)--but it may be changing. Unfortunately. Says Ad Age:
Starting this fall, Nielsen intends to start making available data that take into account viewing of commercials that run in a particular show, no matter whether they are seen online or on TV. The data will be made available for evaluation starting this September and are intended to become the basis for ad negotiations in February 2011.

But here's the catch: For Nielsen to be able to provide the commercial rating, shows seen online will have to have the same group of commercials that run on TV. If this system were adopted en masse -- and it's not clear that it would be -- online viewing might be crammed just as full of commercials as the more traditional TV-watching experience.
Oh, well, It was nice while it lasted. Guess I'll go back to reading books and watching DVDs.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Back to NYC

Off for the weekend to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in beautiful downtown Brooklyn. This is the first year I have been able to attend since I first went in March 2007. (It has tended to conflict with Graphics of the Americas.)

Speaking of Graphics of the Americas, I jet off to Miami Beach on I should start drinking now to be in the right frame of mind to get on a plane.

Funny--The Beatles could fly non-stop from Miami Beach to the U.S.S.R., but I have to transfer in Atlanta. That Georgia's always on my itinerary, let alone my mind.

Expect blizzards, as I have to fly back Friday night--we have basketball tickets for Syracuse vs. Villanova in Syracuse on Saturday!

Speaking of Social Media

I have recently discovered--thanks to WTT's Cary Sherburne--TweetDeck, a social media management application that puts all one's Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn updates in one place, and lets you write once and publish posts in all three places simultaneously. So while I have not been blogging here all that much lately, I have been trying to master the art of the terse over at Twitter et al.

The simultaneous plus and minus of TweetDeck is that updates pop up automatically on-screen--which is good for staying involved in virtual conversations, but bad when some people don't know when to stop!

Antisocial Media

Over at PrintCEO Blog, I babble on and on about social media and eventually get around to mentioning my latest WhatTheyThink special report, “Social Media for Graphic Communications: A WhatTheyThink Strategy Summary Report—The Hows and Whys of Social Media.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Voice Wreck Ignition

From New Scientist magazine's Feedback:
OUR colleague Jim Giles subscribes to Google Voice, the Google service which, among other things, transcribes incoming telephone messages and sends them to you as an email. Jim forwards on to Feedback a transcript of a call from the owners of the apartment he rents in London. The message was to enquire about some work being carried out there. It is, he suggests, evidence that computerised dictation has not reached maximum verisimilitude quite yet.

"Good Morning to you on Michael for French forces area so will you go out. Workman in your flight 046 44 life. Pace, Elco we must install a new phone working. I'm coming to tell the cats. I could please celebrate the contract. It's not working. M A D late. Thank you. If you can leave me. Another [phone number]. Thank you."

As you can imagine, Jim was particularly pleased that the cats were being kept in the loop.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

We're Not Kansas Anymore

Via Boing Boing, the Muppets Studio YouTube channel features Beaker performing "Dust in the Wind" whilst being attacked by nasty commenters. Oh, also check out the Muppet version of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I heard this repeated on NPR this morning and thought it was pretty funny:
...the President and CEO of Toyota apologized to his customers for causing them so much worry.

"I am deeply sorry," said Akio Toyoda.... After the interview he was seen leaving in a black Audi.
I'm sure there's a legitimate reason that he wasn't driving his own company's car, but still.... And after apologizing for the acceleration problems, appropriately, he couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Happily, my own Toyota Camry is not involved in this whole mess, or at least that's what they tell me. Although, I wonder how effective an excuse it would be to get out of a speeding ticket.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Monday Afternoon Quarterbacking

Yes, I did watch the Superbowl last night; a friend of mine had some people over so we gathered round for one of the only remaining communal activities left in a fragmented media culture. I should point out that his fiancée's dog was a bit more entertaining.

Anyway, some random thoughts.

It was actually a fairly good game, which the Superbowl usually isn't. It was nice to see an onside kick actually work, which it usually doesn't. I wasn't particularly for or against either the Colts or the Saints, but given that the Saints have never been to a Superbowl before, much less won one, it was nice to see the underdog win. And Peyton Manning does seem like a bit of a dink.

Am I the only one who sees that floating overhead camera above the field and thinks of Nomad, the killer probe from "The Changeling" episode of Star Trek? (Don't answer that.) And am I the only one who wished that Nomad would eliminate Phil Simms?

Sports announcers are almost always insufferable (hint: TV is by definition a visual medium; we don't need their constant nattering every nanosecond), but Simms seemed to have been even more so, with comments that ranged from the blindingly obvious ("This team wants to win this game!") to the overly self-important ("I told the coach of the Saints not to do that and he did it anyway!" Gasp!) Still, he's not as bad as John Maddening. Seen live, sporting events have the barest minimum of announcing and it's still really easy to figure out what is happening (more so, since no one is talking about a bus trip they went on with some coach 30 years ago, while failing to explain why a play is under review). Why do we need these people? I think some organ music like they have at baseball or hockey games would be far preferable. Or, barring that, the constant scraping of nails on a blackboard. (Whenever I am forced, Clockwork Orange-like, to listen to Bill Raftery call a college basketball game I react like that woman back in the 90s who had seizures whenever she heard Mary Hart's voice on Entertainment Tonight. And don't get me started on Dick "For the love of God, don't call a 3-point shot a trifecta!" Vitale.)

But I digress.

Oh, and we couldn't help wonder who dressed all the on-air people? Purple striped shirts with pink paisley ties? And other even more garish combinations? Their mothers let them go out dressed like that? I'm surprised HD sets across the country didn't explode like popcorn. It kind of reminded me of the green and purple make up they needed to use back in the 1940s to get people to show up properly in the very earliest days of TV broadcasting. Maybe they thought that everyone still had black-and-white sets. Maybe CBS Sports hired color blind people as wardrobe supervisors. Maybe next year they'll all get clown suits.

Speaking of HD, The Who in HD is not a pretty sight. And they were, um, disappointing, but then Entwistle was always my favorite. I guess I liked the CSI theme medley. Anyway, 'nuff said.

As for the commercials, they were loathsome, of course, but not as obnoxious as they usually are. There may be something good about the recession, if it meant that many companies took a pass on the Superbowl this year. What always annoys me about Superbowl commercials is that they are all basically the same, and always seem to revolve around really stupid people doing really stupid things to obtain really bad products. I guess I wonder if companies really do think that their target customer has a sub-moronic IQ. Kind of makes me want to run right out, wallet in hand.

The Doritos commercials that all seemed to have the common theme of violent revenge also were colossally unappealing. But then, so are Doritos.

And what was with the misogyny? It was even worse this year than ever. It was rather amusing, and ironic in a way, that CBS refused to run a commercial from a gay dating site but all the commercials they did allow seemed to be about how men really hate women (unless they have beer--and bad beer at that, but I kid Bud Lite...). It just seemed more upsetting than it usually does. It kind of makes you wish that PBS would carry the Superbowl. At least then we could get some nifty totebags. As for the Tim Tebow commercial, well, not everyone grows up to become a football star, you know. But the obvious joke of course is to combine the two "controversial spots" and have Tebow's mom say, "So please, give birth to your child, so he can grow up to be a man...and find love at"

Though, that is a rather unappealing name for a Web site, isn't it?

Anyway, thank the great maker that it's over for another year and we can get back to real sports: college basketball--after yesterday's win over Cincinnati, Syracuse is now 23-1 and ranked #2!). We have our SU-Villanova tickets for February 27...I think...I hope...

Poetry in Motion

Or, perhaps, ba-a-a-ad poetry:
A North East writer has been given a grant of £2,000 to use sheep to create random poems, which also utilise the deepest workings of the universe.
Each of the animals has a word from a poem written on their backs and as they wander about the words take a new poetic form each time they come to rest.

But the exercise is not just an attempt to create living poems, it is also, according to the poet, an exercise in quantum mechanics.
So if you start seeing people wearing sweaters with random words written across the back, now you know where the wool came from.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Disrupting the Future

Coming soon to an e-bookstore near you.