· The World
· · Journalism
Compact Camera Talk
· Last month at the Moose Camp, I gave a short talk on high-end compact cameras. I whipped it up in a few minutes, made a links page, and the whole thing was well under ten minutes. It was fun. It turns out that Bruce Sharpe was in the audience with a video camera, and he polished up and published it under the title Northern Voice 2008: Best Compact Cameras. The quality is remarkable, particularly when you consider that the whole exercise cost Bruce approximately nothing. If anyone reading this is interested in a point-&-shoot with pretensions, they might find it useful. But here’s what’s interesting: in a world infested with videobloggers, any public utterance, no matter how off-the-cuff, is, potentially, an audiovisual publication. A permanent one. [2 comments]
Tab Sweep — The World
· This time we have journalism, civic politics, and a rare ongoing side-trip into, well, sex ... [5 comments]
More Economist Trouble
· You know, if I didn’t care so much about The Economist, I wouldn’t be giving it grief here. If the word “journalism” means anything, it should mean quality; I expect that my (expensive) subscription buys me a magazine that I often expect to disagree with but which is thoughtful, well-researched, well-written, and well-edited. I don’t want to abandon journalism, but these guys are dropping their end of the bargain ... [26 comments]
Two Approaches to Journalism
· What happened was, I gave the talk in Frankfurt and Björn Schotte pulled out a couple of slides for his blog, without much comment aside from saying the speech was interesting. TheServerSide.com ran a story whose title was a lie, without talking to me or anyone, presumably looking for flameage, and they got some. InfoQ approached it differently; Floyd Marinescu emailed me, and I quote: “This blog [pointing to Björn’s] is starting to be noticed in the Java community and I thought it would be more constructive for InfoQ to post a link to it including a quote from you on what you meant rather than post speculation/flamebait.” So I wrote back “About to blog it.” and he wrote back “Hey, do me a favor and answer a couple questions?” and I did, and Floyd wrote a pretty good piece on the whole thing. (By the way, while I was at InfoQ I spotted this cool interview with Josh Bloch, check it out). [1 comment]
· There’s this new tech-news site, InfoQ; they say they’re tracking the “enterprise software development community”. Somewhat along the same lines as TheServerSide; but along with Java, InfoQ covers .NET, Ruby, SOA, and Agile. They’re currently running an interview with me that Obie Fernandez taped way back in April at that Canada on Rails conference. It’s immensely long; I took a look but my attention wandered after ten minutes or so; I’m not sure even my Mom would last through the whole thing. As to InfoQ, they’re addressing a pretty big space, and now that traditional technology journalism has been blown up, I’m 100% in favor of anyone who’s trying to make new models work. At InfoQ today, I found the stuff in the central “Community” column more interesting than the “exclusive” talking heads (for example, me) in the right column; have a look and make up your own mind.
· I am a long-time reader of The Economist; I give subscriptions to several of my loved ones every Christmas, and regard it as the most compact and efficient way to be reasonably well informed about the world’s realities. One has to route around their reflexive ideological filter (“Well, maybe child labour isn’t that bad if the market wants it”), but still, the quality of writing and thinking is generally very good. In the last couple of years, though, there’s been a slow steady trickle of horrid editorial lapses; some things can apparently make it onto the page without having passed through an intelligent person’s mind. This worries me, since I’d find it hard to replace if it went bad ...
· I always have a big input queue of things I’d like to write about, but never enough writing time to drain it. So I try to spend that time on things where I’m in new territory or making an original point, rather than pointing to something out there, however excellent; because anything that’s worthy of linkage will have picked up some, even if it’s not from me. In recent months, I’ve noticed that an unreasonable number of things I’d like to have linked to have been from the BTL blog over at ZDNet; Farber and Berlind do a remarkable job of digging out industry trends and events, and then adding value by saying smart things about them. And this matters; for a couple of years there I thought the computer trade press might self-destruct completely. To be sure, it’s a pathetic shadow of its former self, but I sure hope the remaining few points of light are self-sustaining; because our business needs its professional storytellers. Along with BTL, I rely most heavily on Jon Udell and, these days, ars technica.
· I got email late yesterday from David Berlind: “Hey, can I call you for a minute?” He wanted commentary on a story he was writing that I think is about the potential for intellectual-property lock-ins on RSS and Atom extensions. I say “I think is about” because the headline is “Will or could RSS get forked?”. After a few minutes’ chat, David asked if he could record for a podcast, and even though I only had a cellphone, the audio came out OK. The conversation was rhythmic: David brought up a succession of potential issues and answered each along the lines of “Yes, it’s reasonable to worry about that, but in this case I don’t see any particular problems.” Plus I emitted a mercifully-brief rant on the difference between protocols, data, and software. On the one hand, I thought David could have been a little clearer that I was pushing back against the thrust of his story, but on the other hand he included the whole conversation right there in the piece, so anyone who actually cares can listen and find out what I actually said, not what I think I said nor what David reported I said. I find this raw barely-intermediated journalism (we talk on the phone this afternoon, it’s on the Web in hours) a little shocking still. On balance, it’s better than the way we used to do things.
Mad at Boston.com
· There’s this piece in Boston.com (an operation of the Boston Globe) today, entitled Blogs ‘essential’ to a good career. It says that “Dervala Hanley writes a quirky literary blog that got her a job is at Stone Yamashita Partners”, but it doesn’t link to Dervala’s space or to her employer. Then it adds “‘Decision-makers respect Google-karma,’ writes Tim Bray, director of Web technologies for Sun Microsystems.” It does link to Sun but not to ongoing; interestingly, that remark about Google was from the follow-up to my original Ten Reasons Why Blogging is Good For Your Career, probably the most-read fragment in the history of ongoing, even if it was whipped off in 15 minutes while watching TV. This feels unprofessional to me. [Update: The Boston.com article has links now.]
InfoWorld Goes Off the Rails
· I got this email, subject “Enterprise Server Spotlight”, that was sorta kinda from InfoWorld, and it took me to a Web page that was sorta kinda InfoWorld, and the whole sequence was very disturbing. [Update: InfoWorld responds; “Never ascribe to malice...” as the saying goes.] ...
· I unloaded the pix from camera and there were a couple from the OSBC trip last week, which gives me an excuse to say a couple more words about the conference, Microsoft, and copyblogging ...
Lower the Anchor
· A decade or two ago, a new pattern crept into broadcast journalism. In both radio and TV newscasts, when there’s a report from an on-the-scene correspondent, the anchor drops into Q&A mode, “interviewing” the reporter: “Well, Joe, do we know what the neighbors think of this latest development?“ This is lame and stupid and it sucks and it’s time to stop doing it; the anchor should say “Let’s go to Joe, who’s on the scene” and then shut up. It may be the case that they’ve had time to script Joe’s report, or in a hot-news situation, they may just be tossing Joe the ball to give us his best judgment as to what’s most newsworthy; either way this is Joe’s story, not the anchor’s. At the end of the day the news anchor is just a good suit, good voice, and good hair. It’s the reporter who’s doing the actual journalism and that’s where the focus should be.
WaPo Still Screwing Up
· The Washington Post has noticed the brewing storm over the two-tier Internet; Doc Searls gets the long-term credit for starting the storm brewing. The WaPo piece, The Coming Tug of War Over the Internet, is clueless, at a trivial level in alleging that the debate is happening “on obscure blogs”, but most of all in the outrageous claim that “Companies like Google and Yahoo pay some fees to connect to their servers to the Internet, but AT&T will collect little if any additional revenue when Yahoo starts offering new features that take up lots of bandwidth on the Internet. When Yahoo’s millions of customers download huge blocks of video or play complex video games, AT&T ends up carrying that increased digital traffic without additional financial compensation.” While the details of the deals by which the big boys buy bandwidth are closely-guarded secrets, the notion that any of them can dramatically increase their net traffic without paying for it, that notion is just wacko. I’ve sent Christopher Stern, the author, an email, but this silliness is already on the streets of Washington in a few hundred thousand dead-tree instances. The difference between blogs and the mainstream media is that when we screw up, we can mostly repair the damage. [Update: Five days later. No answer to my polite, friendly email. No change in the article. So this “journalism” thing... it’s a profession where you can just make random shit up and print it whether it’s right or wrong, and ignore feedback, and you just don’t do those “retraction” or “update” or “apology” things? Seems like a flawed, short-lived business model to me.]
Check out Jon
· Jon Udell is an existence proof of the need for technology writers who are technically competent but don’t have a non-writing day job; in an ideal world this is how all tech journalists would be. First this great big honkin’ survey piece on Web Services; I’ve been feeling guilty about not covering that territory more, but now I don’t have to because Jon is. Summary: There is hope. Then, his excellent interview with Bill Gates, in which Gates is informal, informative and intelligent, as opposed to Ballmer’s party-line bloviation.
· For those who haven’t been watching, there’s been a nasty little dust-up between Rob Scoble and The Register, an online technology-review publication. The Reg accused Microsoft, in an IE beta, of some anti-competitive nasties (to be fair, of exactly the kind that Microsoft has done before). Scoble hotly denied it, saying the problem was rare, he hadn’t seen it and, when it occurred, was a bug not a strategy. He had plausible-sounding support from the IE team. The Reg returned to the attack, specifically alleging that Scoble had experienced the problem and was doing a cover-up, and published an email with Scoble’s name on the “From:” line as evidence. Scoble apparently alleges the email is a fake, and has been slinging words like “libel” around. Since then, the Register has been silent, which is really troubling; they need to affirm that they stand by their story, or back down. Either Scoble was lying, or he wasn’t; either the Register was off the rails or it wasn’t. I’m not linking to the individual pieces, because this hasn’t anything to do with the Reg’s initial allegation. It’s about finding out who’s lying, and if there are any penalties for it.
· Hey, you can call me a pedant and a pinko, and while I know that few today really care much about what happened in Vietnam in 1968, I am constitutionally unable to let huge fat stinking historical lies in major publications go unaddressed. In George Will’s Washington Post column this Sunday, he says “When, after the misreported Tet offensive of 1968 (a U.S. military victory described as a crushing defeat), Cronkite declared Vietnam a ‘stalemate’...” I’m sorry, I was at one time a keen student of the history of Vietnam going back centuries and up through the fall of Saigon, and George Will is full of it. In 1968, at a time when the Americans and South Vietnamese were busy assuring everybody that everything was just fine, the other side suddenly and without warning launched synchronized uprisings and attacks across the country including right in Saigon. Yes, the Americans won that battle, quickly and decisively; but the offensive made it clear that they’d been lying about the real state of affairs. I was watching those TV broadcasts myself, and they made clear it clear that the Americans were winning the skirmishes, but they also exposed the visceral horror of both troops and civilians that the enemy they thought they were beating could infiltrate at will and attack any time. It was at that precise point that a lot of smart people decided, and some of the media started accurately reporting, that the U.S. wasn’t winning.
TV and the Web
· I had a haircut during the Pope’s funeral. My hairdresser knows me well enough to switch it away from Oprah or equivalent and over to CNN or equivalent when I’m in the chair, so I got to watch a half-hour of that coverage. At one point they broke from the endless succession of talking heads and panoramic crowd shots to “visit with the bloggers”; they had two attractive young things propped up in front of flat-panels to tell us what the bloggers were saying about the late Pope. I found it disturbing. To start with, Andrew Sullivan, one of the top ten most popular bloggers in the world, is a gay right-wing anguished-Catholic type (and in the unlikely event that his theology is correct, will spend a couple millennia in Purgatory over some of his 9/11 commentary, but that’s another story); he was emitting multiple intense, erudite, from-the-heart bulletins on the Meaning of John Paul II every day. I’d also read a half-dozen really challenging papacy pieces on a bunch of other blogs; for example, whatever you may think of JP2, he presided over the possibly-terminal decline of his church in Western Europe, what does that mean? Did CNN cover any of those? They did not; they went to a half-dozen apparently random selections where the writers were saying things along the lines of “I’m like so sad.” They were pretty well all from blogspot.com. When the camera focused in, you couldn’t read anything. There was one that was mildly interesting and they read off the address but something went wrong because when I went there, I found no Pope stuff. So am I a filthy anti-Long-Tail elitist because I was disturbed by CNN’s apparent lack of concern for quality and intensity?
· Yesterday I had a long talk about the search competition between Google and MSN. That competition is interesting, but so was the conversation, and what I can say about it. I was talking to a journo from a big-name mag that you see on every newsstand. He’d just been briefed by one of the search titans and wanted some insight from an independent search expert. The briefing was along the lines of “We’re gonna kill ’em dead because of X, Y, and Z” and he wanted my take on X, Y, and Z. Here’s the problem: X, Y, and Z are real interesting, and in particular it’s interesting that the vendor who’d briefed him thought they were important. But you know, I don’t think I can ethically say who the reporter was and who briefed him and what X, Y, and Z are, even though these are things that the vendor was trying to get published; because I didn’t think to ask the journo. Hmm, looks like I covered this ground once already, in August of 2003.
Nothing To Do With Me
· Sys-Con is running this massively-inane piece about the top twenty people in Software (the list of nominees excludes Wirth, Knuth, Dijkstra, and von Neumann) with, to add insult to injury, a headline that claims the list is mine. Now bloody Slashdot’s picked the stupid thing up. It’s not my list, nobody talked to me, and this is extremely unprofessional. I have a note in to Sun Legal. [Update: They took me out of the title. Thank you.] [Update: one of the slashdot comments is very good.]
· Sitting up late, chatting with Sifry about his DNC stories and conventions and how to cover them and wondering if the real RNC story might be outside the building, and reading the latest on war videography from a moonlighting Salam Pax. My personal bet is that New York will be noisy but nonviolent, both the demonstrators and the cops have too much to lose by being scary on TV. Still, I bet there’s some first-rate theater in the streets. So, here’s an idea. Go to Manhattan. Get yourself a high-end PowerBook laptop with a bunch of batteries and a FireWire and USB ports and enough WiFi service provider accounts that you’re always online... then, print up a sandwich board that says Your Pictures And Movies... On The Web Now! and walk around, and then, if something happens, it won’t be film at eleven, it’ll be right now.
Another “Intelligent Search” Skyrocket
· In the On Search series, I wrote a piece called Intelligence that explained why intelligent search is hard, but that it is so eagerly desired that there are predictable flurries of excitement every so often over the next, uh, pretender. This time, Cringely has been sucked in. Well, not entirely, he loads up with caveats too, but it’s a little sad to see one of the really big-name writers point to such tattered hype. Earth to Bob: the problem with AI isn’t that the “A” part isn’t fast enough, it’s that we don’t understand the “I” part. I wonder what it takes for some obscure little company peddling a dream that has been around the track so many times to get airtime with this guy? Cringely needs to pull up his game a bit: in the last couple of weeks, he was the only person on the planet to conclude that the Sun-Microsoft deal was somehow bad for the Java Desktop System; not that he actually advanced any arguments on the subject, just proclaimed it. The people in Redmond are smarter than Bob and I’m pretty sure that the deal isn’t making them worry less about this.
History of the Present
· That’s the title of an excellent 1999 book I’m now reading, by Timothy Garton Ash. It is real-time reportage focusing around the great transition from pre- to post-Cold War that happened so unimaginably fast, starting in 1989, before our watching eyes. But the History of the Present is what bloggers are writing, too; and Ash says some things that anyone who’s doing it should consider very carefully ...
The Input Spectrum
· What happened was, I found myself talking to my computer before breakfast this morning, and I didn’t really like it. Then I looked at the screen and saw the dozens of folders full of thousands of emails, the Web browser parked at a Wiki, the chat icons, and the RSS aggregator. Feeling a little overwhelmed, I looked around the room and saw the newspapers, the magazines, the TV, and a pile of unanswered (physical) mail, as well as Lauren’s and my cellphones charging and the land-line on the sideboard. All these are about moving messages around. So I ask: which is the right one to use? ...
Thanks a Million
· The ongoing logfiles flip over early Sunday mornings, and sometimes I run some basic stats over them. This last Sunday they said that a total of 995,213 pages have been read, so there is a chance that if you’re reading this on the 29th or 30th of September, you will get the millionth page. Thanks to all; herewith a couple more statistics and some discussion of them ...
· NetNewsWire has a feature where it will show you the differences on successive revisions of a story, which is interesting, sometimes amusing, and probably too embarrassing for publishers to live with. Herewith a couple of surprising examples and a war story with a funny look inside Microsoft ...
Friedman’s “Longtitudes and Attitudes”
· I just finished reading this latest book from Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs correspondent for the New York Times. Everyone who follows Middle East news closely already knows about Friedman and has possibly already read this. If you care about that part of the world you owe it to yourself to do the same ...
· Today c|net published some red-hot coverage (well, the news was months old, but whatever) of the RSS/Pie/Echo/Atom dynamics. The story genially ignored all the technical issues and focused on a thinly-documented tale of internecine infighting. But it was well-written and, I must admit, came out pretty readable. Herewith some notes on the story itself, on latter-day journalism, and on personalities ...
· I just got a call from Paul Festa of C|Net, who’s working on a story about Pie/Echo/Atom. He tried, several times, to get me to say something nasty about Dave Winer, coming at it from two or three different directions. I wouldn’t bite (sorry Paul), but I do think there’s a story here and Dave’s one of the people in it. I think the people in this story care about the human voice on the Net; they’re are working hard on improving the landscape and (mostly) not getting paid for it, because this is worth working on. And if you can’t see why, nothing I or Paul Festa can say can possibly help you.
How We Talk to Each Other
· Back in March, I had an intense dialogue with Jon Udell about how journalism in general and tech journalism in particular feel increasingly broken, and whether something else comes next, and if so what. Herewith a look at the problem and where it comes from. (Warning: Insanely long even by my standards. Summary: Journalism sucks. But there's hope.) ...
Where Newspaper Stories Go When They Die
· Doc Searls has been at the center of a bunch of discussion about big-name print journalism contents not being on the Web for any usable time in any usable form. Well, I know where they go when they die, and it's not to heaven; I'm astounded that nobody else has picked up on the basic dollars-and-cents issues here ...
Bad, Bad Reporter!
· This c|net story is the epitome of everything that's wrong with tech journalism. No combination of RSS and Semantic Web and Web Services and Knowledge Representation and Intelligent Agents and Lizard Necromancy can keep this kind of dross from dropping with a soggy thud in the middle of your attention span if you, for love or money, keep an eye on tech news ...
Don't Watch the War on TV
· We don't get TV at home, so I've been following the war (a bit obsessively, I will admit) on the Web. I was on the road the last couple of days and spent several hours in my hotel room glued to the news channels watching the war on TV. The conclusion is: don't watch the war on TV, the Web is way better ...
Pictures and Lies
· There's a fascinating story today about the LA Times firing a reporter who, in Iraq, digitally altered a photo before shipping it back. Major credit is due to the paper for being up-front about it, their note even shows the photowork in detail. This really raises a deeper issue: are photographs, in this digital day, useful evidence in establishing the truth? I think they remain useful, here's why ...
Carl Hiaasen and Meta-Journalism
· This note is to recommend books by Carl Hiaasen, with a brief reflection on the future of journalism provoked by his latest, Basket Case ...
The Beeb Gets a Clue
· A few days back, I complained that the excellent BBC war correspondents' collective weblog got a new URI every midnight GMT. It now has a fixed address (and somebody @bbc.co.uk even sent me a note); good on ya! There is also now a scraped RSS feed available from News is Free, if I get around to subscribing I'll report. I should note that I have a special relationship with the BBC ...
Webthoughts in Wartime
· I'm sitting at home in a daze induced by the worst cold of my life - the few operating brain cells mostly sucked up in aimless Web meandering trying to understand the War and the world better, but mostly I'm learning things things about the Web instead. To a ghostly soundtrack of Baghdad night sounds (cars and their horns mostly) from the teeny MSNBC Baghdad Cam in the screen's corner, I wonder if Yahoo is dead, and maybe publishing too, and what it is we're making up here as we go along? ...
Hey BBC, Get a Clue!
· In my opinion the single best online source for war news (in the last 24 hours anyhow) is the BBC's Reporters' Log, a blog-style thingie where all the reporters they have scattered around the arena post news snippets right then as they happen. You notice I haven't included a pointer to it because these morons have set it up so it gets a new URL every day! I bookmarked it, and was upset it wasn't updating, and noted that the last posting was 2345GMT, and what do you know ...
By Tim Bray.
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