Thursday, August 29, 2002

When we attack Iraq, will Saddam's under-fed mermidons even stick around to fight? Michael Rubin at The New Republic doesn't think so....
Have bookmarks been around as long as books? Here's an interesting answer from a web site called In My Book.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

John Ellis has a great piece touting netflix.com, one of the true success stories of the over-hyped dot.com era.

Meanwhile at The New Republic, John Judis explains why Major League baseball won't be much better off, even if the Players and Owners avoid a strike this Friday....

Friday, August 23, 2002

University of Rochester biologist H. Allen Orr does a good job exposing the nonsense in the latest publication from the never-never land of those humorless conservatives who believe in "Intelligent Design." (presumably there being such a thing as stupid design?)

Question:Do reasonable liberals get annoyed by the fringe types on their end of the spectrum who rant all the time about overpopulation and the coming climactic catastrophes? Many conservatives bite their lips and roll their eyes when a certain type in their midst continues to insist that God left fingerprints all over the world and that unless science is forced to admit this, the education of our children is doomed....

I don't think Darwin had even published the Origin of Species when John Henry Cardinal Newman demolished the Design argument. It doesn't seem to occur to some conservatives that reducing God to the role of cosmic tinkerer inevitably demeans him—and his creation.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

The Word from New York: On the publishing front, as my inside contact tells me, the picture is getting grimmer for fiction writers. More and more scribes, even those working within the industry, according to this veteran editor, are turning to the new publishing models and technologies to bring out their work, as it gets tougher and tougher for first-time authors to break in.

Again, it comes back to the crushing overhead that publishers—now appendages of huge media conglomerates—have to contend with, thanks to the bean counters. No publisher can afford to bring out a modest book by a promising writer if it can't sell at least 50,000 copies. Which is insanity.

And yet, as M.J. Rose points out in numerous of her columns for Wired, the number of fiction writers who can sell and build an audience through print-on-demand and self-publishing is much smaller than the number of non-fiction writers who can do so....

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Favorite Liberals Dept: Camille Paglia weighs in at the Times of London on why she thinks the Left is losing touch with the people....

Monday, August 19, 2002

Today's column by Boston Globe technology reporter Hiawatha Bray is so good I'm going to quote most of the article below (especially since any link will be useless after today). Once again, Hollywood is anti-technology, especially when technology allows home users more choice:

Martha Coolidge, president of the guild, is outraged by a variety of companies that allow consumers to view films with the naughty bits excised. Sex scenes, cuss words, guys getting limbs blown off - that kind of thing.

Like music recording companies enraged by illicit Internet file-swapping, Coolidge and her group want to dictate to consumers how movies should be used. But with a new generation of digital video-filtering products coming to market, Coolidge will probably have as much success as the music moguls, which is to say none at all.

Not that she doesn't have a point. Coolidge argues that a film's seamy stuff is part of the director's artistic vision and should be left intact.

''When the viewer is not seeing the movie the way it was meant to be seen,'' says Coolidge, ''you're missing part of the movie.''

But some moviegoers don't want to see naked flesh or hear God's name taken in vain, even for the sake of art. Hollywood has always catered to this market, issuing tamer versions of hit films for showing on TV or in airplanes. But there are also companies like Clean Flicks of Pleasant Grove, Utah, which sells ''family-friendly'' videos purged of sex, violence, and foul language.

Coolidge would love to see the Hollywood studios unleash their lawyers on these video companies. If they do, the studios could well prevail. Clean Flicks and its ilk are altering copyrighted material, then reselling it for a profit. That doesn't sound right.

But there's more than one way to edit a movie. For instance, some people fast-forward to skip over the nasty bits. Why not have the TV or video player do this automatically?

A small but growing group of consumers is choosing exactly that option, by purchasing equipment that edits offensive material on the fly. Arkansas-based Principle Solutions Inc. sells a $100 box called TVGuardian (www.tvguardian.com) that detects the closed-caption datastream embedded in most broadcast TV shows and videos. Then it automatically bleeps out the four-letter words.

''We've had a little bit of hate mail from Hollywood insiders about what we're doing with their programs,'' says company president Mike Seals, who seems to be losing no sleep over it. The TVGuardian technology has been licensed by Japanese electronics maker Sanyo, which is now building it into some of its VCRs and DVD players.

To filter images as well as words requires far more sophistication than today's computers can manage. So companies like Family Shield Technologies LLC of Greeley, Colo., use human reviewers to watch dozens of movies and produce a digital template that identifies, down to the split-second, every cuss word, blood splatter, or bare midriff in the movie. This database is then downloaded from the Internet and plugged into the company's $249 MovieShield filtering device, a box that sits between the TV and the video player. When you run a movie that's included in the database, the objectionable parts are deleted.

MovieShield (www.movieshield.com) went on sale a couple of months ago, says sales director Richard Schmer. And even at its rather stiff price, a thousand copies have been sold to conservative families desperate to watch something besides Disney movies.

Says Schmer: ''The response we've gotten is ... `Where have you guys been?'''

The simplest solution, ClearPlay (www.clearplay.com), is a software-only product for Windows machines with built-in DVD players. It works on the same principle as MovieShield. A $9.95 monthly membership entitles you to download filter templates for dozens of recent movies. You can play them on your PC, but ClearPlay says most of its customers use a ''video-out'' connector on the computer to pump filtered movies to the living room TV.

The new technology drives Coolidge and her colleagues crazy. ''I can tell you that directors are extremely upset,'' she says, and they're mulling a variety of responses, including possible legal action.

Fat chance. Unlike the video retailer Clean Flicks, these digital filters don't make any changes to the original movie, so there's no question of copyright violation. And even Coolidge admits: ''What people do in the privacy of their own home is strictly up to them.''

Just so. If consenting adults, behind closed doors, want their DVD players to skip the gratuitous sex scene, it's none of Coolidge's business, or anybody else's. Her art ends where our picture tubes begin.



Thursday, August 15, 2002

Pope Death-Watchers: Today's New York Times has a funny piece on the haplessness of media pundits who have basically been waiting for John Paul II to die or retire...for the past ten years. Well, they're at it again, now that the pontiff is flying back to his native Poland for a visit:

For at least a decade, publishing industry executives have been lining up books about the old pope or the new pope or the process by which the Roman Catholic Church makes the transition from one to the other.

When Robert Blair Kaiser, who covers the Vatican for Newsweek, got his advance from executives at Alfred Knopf three years ago, all of the parties involved were satisfied that the money would be more than enough to tide him over until the big event.

"I thought and they thought he would be gone by now," said Mr. Kaiser, referring to the pope.

But, he added, "I've pretty much used up my advance, and now my editors are hoping that I'll outlive the pope." Mr. Kaiser is 71.

The field of expected books is so crowded that the title that Mr. Kaiser chose for his, "The Making of a Pope," is virtually identical to the one that the Rev. Andrew Greeley, a prominent Catholic sociologist, chose for his.

Father Greeley's is to be called "The Making of the Pope," followed by a reference to whichever year that new pope ends up being made. He said he struck his deal with Little, Brown 10 years ago.

The authors of post-conclave books may have a tough time meeting contractual obligations to have their manuscripts ready within weeks or months of the big event. Most of these experts have also signed with one of the major American television networks to provide on-air commentary when the conclave happens.

ABC News has exclusive rights during that period to the Rev. Richard McBrien, a Notre Dame University professor, who said he sealed his deal with the network five years ago. ABC News also has dibs on Father Greeley, while Mr. Kaiser will be analyzing the proceedings for CBS News.

In many cases, experts on the Catholic Church have already given interviews for ready-made retrospectives on John Paul's life, and they continue to give new ones every few months.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit journal America, said he began doing that 10 years ago, not just for television correspondents but also for newspaper writers working on obituaries of John Paul.

"They've got these things in the file, in the can," said Father Reese, who said he will probably be an expert commentator on CNN. "The TV ones ? you'll see me with no gray hair and with gray hair and with various hair styles and different glasses on. You'll be able to date the interviews by counting the wrinkles."


Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Just dropped off two one-inch master reels of a video feature at a downtown Boston media center to have them converted to DV for re-mastering. When I placed the reels on the desk in the reception area, the manager smiled and said, "I don't see these much anymore." And when I emailed my old editor to tell him, he replied his heart was "going pitter-pat pitter-pat... I think I can still thread an old Sony 2000 1" deck in my sleep!"

One-inch used to be the standard for broadcast at local and network affiliate TV stations. I remember working at WCVB, Channel 5 in the early 1990s when the station was just converting its edit suites from 3/4" Umatic to BetaSP, but one-inch reel-to-reel was still the standard in the news room and in the studios. At close to 600 lines of horizontal resolution, one-inch was hard to beat, but that's what BetaSP did?and now, of course, we have Beta in digital format, as well as Digital-S, which I work with now in my day job.

Couldn't help feeling a little nostalgic as I dropped off those masters for their transfer to DV.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Mickey Kaus draws attention to the Los Angeles Times' recent piece on the real plagiarism at the heart of Dorothy Kearns Goodwin's work:

Either nobody reads the Los Angeles Times, or it's summer and nobody reads anything, or people are sick of the Doris Kearns Goodwin plagiarism story—but for some reason attention hasn't been paid to a fairly damning front-page Times piece that knocks one of the remaining props out from under Goodwin's defense.

As I understand the prior state of the controversy, Goodwin had constructed a defensive perimeter around her 1995 Pulitzer-winning Roosevelt book, No Ordinary Time . Sure, her earlier Kennedy book might have had a "mistake" or two due to a "mechanical breakdown." But it was just "these mechanical problems on this one book." The Roosevelt book was clean. "Under the auspices of the law firm of Ropes & Gray, 'No Ordinary Time' has been reviewed and checked," her attorney, Michael Nussbaum told the New York Times."Everything is fully credited and attributed."

But the L.A. Times looked at the Roosevelt book—and at a few of its sources—and found nearly three dozen instances where phrases and sentences in Goodwin's book resembled the words of other authors.

The LAT 's Peter King gives five examples, presumably the best ones. They're all ham-handed paraphrases of the "if I change three words I'll get away with it" variety. In two,Goodwin actually names in her text the person (e.g. "Grace Tullly recalled") she's filching the rest of the paragraph from. Two others are almost defensible. But one bald, paragraph-long crib—from Joseph Lash—isn't. After King's piece, we can still have a debate over how awful this sort of plagiarism is. But it's hard for Goodwin to deny her M.O.. (The wording changes in the borrowed sentences are so uninspired they do raise one question: Did Goodwin herself even do the paraphrasing? Or is she stealing credit from the real thieves —her assistants, maybe?)

Why hasn't Goodwin been destroyed by King's piece? I blame his editors, who buried their scoop under dozens of inches of calm, fair profiling (and under a stupefyingly tedious headline). If you're Bob Woodward, readers might hunt through your wordy prose looking for the dirt. You can't count on that if your paper is the fourth or fifth read of the East Coast elites. ... This sort of failure—blowing the story even when you've got the goods—has to be demoralizing to LAT reporters....

Thursday, August 08, 2002

The slow death of the Red Sox. This season's hopes for any sort of playoff berth are dwindling as one statistic looms larger and larger in the latening season. The Red Sox are terrible in games that are decided in the late innings. They have a poor record in games that are decided by one run; an even worse record when it comes to comeback victories. Last night's game—in which Manny Ramirez was robbed of a game-winning home run in the 9th—is a perfect example.

Maybe things can turn around. But even last year, before the melt down, the Sox had, all season long, shown that must-have knack for never giving up; battling back for dramatic late-inning wins. That knack is the one thing they haven't got going for them this year. And it's a crucial knack for any team that expects to be a champion.

Having said that, I nevertheless look forward to eating crow come September....


One more thing: Nomar Garciaparra has become as predictable as dirt at the plate. The lousiest pitcher in the league can get a sure out against Nomar because HE ALWAYS SWINGS AT THE FIRST PITCH. I cannot imagine a more stupid approach to batting, a better way to give the opposing pitcher a freebie. No matter how good his stats look, this predictability is a killer.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Quote of the week: "Both authors had failed to get interest from agents or publishers when the books were in manuscript form. But there was no problem once the books had online attention and promising sales figures.

"When the effort to get an agent and a major New York publisher has failed, it can make sense to self-publish, said Edghill's agent, Anna Ghosh, of the Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency."

This is from M.J. Rose's recent weekly column for Wired. It's a hopeful sign for new writers that conservative publishers are now looking out for self-published novelists who have garnered good reviews and managed to build some sales on their own. Of course, it's also a depressing sign of how little risk today's publishers are willing to take on new writers.

Which leads me to Doctor Janeway's Plague. Nothing has helped me with awareness among readers of the book as much as free review e-books for Amazon and other readers. Generating sales is a taller task, however. The main reason being the high price of the initial iUniverse trade version. But newer outfits like Booklocker and BookSurge are making smaller and less expensive trade versions a possibility.

Friday, August 02, 2002

Today's devastating column by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe on former Boston Red Sox utility player Jose Offerman is a collector's piece. It's that good, from start to finish! Read it on the Internet if you don't get the Globe. Offerman has been a $6.5 million-a-year misfit on the team all year long.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

The always captivating Camille Paglia in an email interview conducted by Andrew Sullivan for his web site:

"Whatever its financial problems, Salon will go down in history as one of the most influential publications of our time. Its tone, style, and format have been massively imitated by web sites across the political spectrum. I'm very proud to have played a role in that pioneering operation from the start."

As a Salon contributor, I hope it hangs in there...