Monday, May 29, 2006

Beautiful day for sailing . . .

. . . Which is what I'll be doing in a couple of hours. Yesterday was Geek Day, installing Xandros Linux on an unused hard drive for my ThinkPad. I've got three hard drives, one running Win XP, one running Win 2K, and now one running Xandros. But the configuration isn't complete, as Xandros doesn't recognize PC cards. That makes it difficult to use WiFi. So I must search for the proper drivers for the PC card slot. But this afternoon, it's nothing but blue waters and blue sky.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Selling my soul

I've entirely moved away from Microsoft Windows on my home desktop computers. But I've clung to my legacy Windows on my IBM ThinkPad, because there are some programs that need Windows, and partly out of concern a Linux install might not work on my old (2000) notebook PC.

But at least I wouldn't buy Windows again. After all, I had two copies, one each on the hard drives of the two Thinkpads I own. (Since only one ThinkPad works, I swap out the hard drives on the good machine - one with Windows 98 and one with Windows XP -- like floppies.) I would just migrate to Linux on my notebook when the time came.

Until last night, when I violated my rule and bought Windows XP. That was to get to solve incompatibility problems with Windows 98 on my good Thinkpad. The two are almost identical, but some hardware differences prevented the PC card slot from operating - the system would freeze when I'd insert a card. My attempts to upgrade the drivers didn't solve anything.

So installing Windows XP to replace Windows 98 would give me the full use of that hard drive, allowing me to connect wirelessly with a WiFi card and my Verizon Wireless EVDO card.

So I went to Fry's last night after work, and sold my soul to Bill Gates to get the Windows XP upgrade. And with Bill, you're the one who pays!

Despite my Linux inclinations, I must admit the Windows XP install went smoothly, if tediously. Windows installations take far longer than Linux installations. But before I went to bed last night, I blearily surveyed the success -- a hard drive upgraded, allowing my PC wireless cards to work on the ThinkPad. And even with a 500MHz processer and 256MB memory, XP is quite responsive. Give the Microsoft folks some credit.

It looks as if I will have a foot in the Windows camp for some time to come.


Monday, May 22, 2006

The Joys of EVDO and Wireless Lust

It's been a while since I used Verizon Wireless' EVDO service, which I subscribe to. Troubles with my ancient ThinkPad were to blame. Well, I buckled down over the weekend and fixed those minor problems (software, not hardware), and am up and running again. Now if I can get the WiFi connection to work . . .

Anyway, I've rediscovered that rush of excitement that high-speed wireless brings. I've clocked this puppy at more than 500kpbs in my office. At home, I couldn't get over 120 kpbs -- apparently this is not EVDO territory and it defaults back to the slower 1XRTT. Of course, I've already got an Internet connection at home, through Cox Communications.

And Palm has added EVDO to its latest Treo.

"You can use the Treo 700p as a wireless modem for your laptop or desktop computer. Palm now includes an easy to setup DUN (dial up networking) connection that can be used over Bluetooth or with the USB cable. The included USB cable will now also trickle charge the device so you don't have to worry about draining the battery when using it in DUN mode. Not all carriers may support this feature, and some might even require you to purchase a additional DUN data plan."



Sunday, May 21, 2006

Jason Leopold accused of sock puppetry

A discredited politicized hack on his way to the Weekly World News, investigative fabulist Jason Leopold apparently has taken to promoting himself under pseudonyms. The industrious Patterico links to two accounts of sock puppet evidence. It's the usual story -- favorable comments supposedly made by another person were sent from IP addresses used by Leopold.

The Daily Kos commentator Patterico linked to showed the right amount of concern and sympathy. Concern that Leopold's many deceptions and inaccuracies will make those who believe him look foolish. Sympathy that Leopold has suffered from mental illness and substance abuse. The trouble, is, Leopold has not fully admitted everything he's done. He's glossed over his fabrications and blamed those such as who he hurt with his unsubstantiated stories. Leopold is still trying to manipulate people, has not come to terms with reality, so his self-destructive behavior continues.

Leopold's train wreck of a career should have warned those at, the liberal political site, to be skeptical. As long as Leopold holds to his absurd conspiracy theories about how Salon and the New York Times, among others, treated him badly, he should not be trusted. Leopold is responsible for his own fall. Leopold's posturing in his new book "News Junkie" as performing acts of journalistic heroism are sad delusions:

"In NEWS JUNKIE, the cutthroat worlds of journalism, politics, and high finance are laid bare by Jason Leopold, whose addictive tendencies led him from a life of drug abuse and petty crime to become an award-winning investigative journalist who exposed some of the biggest corporate and political scandals in recent American history."

(self-congratulatory blather omitted)

"In the end, News Junkie shows how a man once fueled by raging fear and self-hatred transforms his life, regenerated by love, sobriety and a new, harmonious career with the independent media."

Reality: Jason Leopold has discredited himself with the mainstream media, so he hooked up with a bunch of lefty types who value political correctness over accuracy. Leopold hasn't been transformed at all. He's not regenerated, he's degenerated, and has yet to touch bottom.

I was harsh on Michael Hiltzik, the LA Times writer who confessed to sock puppetry. But compared to Jason Leopold, Hiltzik is the second coming of Edward R. Murrow.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wise Words on Blogging

. . . from Matthew Yglesias, subbing for Joshua Micah Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

"One of the most neglected aspects of the blogosphere, in my opinion, is that precisely because it's (mostly) composed of people who aren't professional journalists, it's composed of people who are professional doers of something else and know a great deal about what it is they "really" do. Consequently, the overall network of blogs contains a great deal of embedded knowledge. The consensus that emerges from that process can, of course, be mistaken but even though the most prominent people expressing that consensus may not be experts in the subject at hand (the most prominent bloggers tend to be generalists), the consensus will almost always be grounded in some kind of well-informed opinions. If you want to push back on that, in other words, you'd better know what you're talking about and not treat your audience like a pack of mewling children."


Friday, May 19, 2006

Calbio conference

I was plumb wrote out Thursday, and that writing fatigue explains the paucity of my postings. A day getting one's head crammed with bio-talk and writing tends to produce neuronal fatigue.

If you want to know more, read my North County Times story on the Calbio biotech conference in San Diego yesterday.

Arnold was pumped up, as well he might be with swelling state coffers (even if this is probably the result of one-time gains in income tax receipts). The audience of biotech types was happy to hear his words of encouragement, ending with his tradmark line, "I'll be back."


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Biotech Thursday

I'm at the Calbio biotech conference today in downtown San Diego. More biotechy stuff TK.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ode to ignorance in the LA Times

Wednesday's LA Times runs a nearly uncritical article-- advertisement would be closer to the truth -- about the wondrous claims of a peddler of something called "peanut milk."

"The drink, which does not contain milk, is made from peanuts, grains, herbs and spices. Fans say it strengthens patients with AIDS and cancer, reverses baldness, heals wounds faster, prevents colds, reduces symptoms of menopause and soothes psoriasis. It's also said to be a hangover cure. Some drink it at bedtime to help them sleep; others choose it as an alternative to caffeine."

There's not a shred of scientific evidence any of this is true, a fact briefly noted amid the raves of fans, who say they don't need no stinkin' science to know it works. The article quotes one scientist -- paid by the company to examine the ingredients -- who vaguely speculates it "may help alter the immune system."

"William Garcia Ganz, 58, who suffers from HIV and cancer, is another regular customer. One day, Chang noticed how sickly Ganz looked and began pushing him to drink peanut milk. Chang told Ganz that his older brother died from complications of AIDS in San Francisco in 1990.

Ganz, a musician and conductor, was unable to pay, so Chang gave him a free daily quart. During his exhausting chemotherapy, Ganz said, he lived solely on peanut milk, gaining weight, before his cancer went into remission.

"I don't know if it was a miracle, but this drink definitely tided me over during those awful months," he said."

Did the LA Times writer bother to verify if this guy really has AIDS? Did he talk to the guy's doctor? The article doesn't say. Judging from the absence of this information, probably not.

The ode to ignorance concludes with these three depressing paragraphs:

Justin Jackson, a regional grocery coordinator for Whole Foods, said if Chang could back up claims with test results, "peanut milk will really take off."

But fans say they don't need scientific confirmation.

"People don't know how aspirin works," said Reginald Legba, who credits the drink with helping to restore his hair. "I don't know how my car works, but when I get in and turn the key, I know it starts up every time. I also can't explain peanut milk. But every time you need it to work, it works."

Actually, people do know how aspirin works.

In a piece of research for which he was awarded both a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1982 and a knighthood, John Robert Vane, who was then employed by the Royal College of Surgeons in London, showed in 1971 that aspirin suppresses the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes. This happens because cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that participates in the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes, is irreversibly inhibited when aspirin acetylates it. This makes aspirin different from other NSAIDS (such as diclofenac and ibuprofen), which are reversible inhibitors.

Prostaglandins are local hormones (paracrine) produced in the body and have diverse effects in the body, including but not limited to transmission of pain information to the brain, modulation of the hypothalamic thermostat, and inflammation.

But why let the facts -- and the harm that glorification of unproven health rumors can do -- get in the way of a good story?


Jeff Jarvis' Revenge

It takes a lot to move a sluggish giant corporation. Computer maker Dell Inc. has been remarkably slothlike in waking up to the dissatisfaction of consumers about its product quality and (insert joke here) technical support.

Uberblogger Jeff Jarvis mordibly fascinated me some time back with his horror stories of Dell Hell. Jarvis raised hell, but Dell wouldn't listen. As late as this January, CEO Michael Dell was shrugging off the implications of his company's bad reputation in the blogosphere.

A little economic pain, namely Dell's poor quarterly performance, is a wonderful antidote to that surreal obliviousness.

Jarvis predicted Dell's hubris would turn to humiliation. You get my crystal ball award, Jeff.

To get an idea of how clueless Dell is about blogs, PC curmudgeon John Dvorak pointed out on St. Patrick's Day that Dell's dull Linux blog hadn't been updated since 2005. A few hours after Dvorak's column was posted, the Dell Linux blog posted this scintillating item:

"The following Linux related papers were published in Dell Power Solutions Quaterly for February 2006:

* Building Clustered Enterprise Applications with JBoss Application Server on the Dell PowerEdge 1855 Blade Server

* VMware ESX Server Performance on Dell PowerEdge 2850 and PowerEdge 6850 Servers

* Configuring a Highly Available Linux Cluster for SAP Services

* OS Deployment Using Dell OpenManage Server Assistant and Preboot Execution Environment"

The next item, dated March 25, begins:

"In conjunction with the Linux team and OpenManage Install team, we are pleased to announce an unofficial, publicly-available up2date/yum repository containing the Q3 2005 release of OpenManage Server Administrator (OMSA), version 4.5. We would like to encourage anybody who uses OMSA on Linux to give this setup a try and let us know what you think. We intend to keep this repository up-to-date with the latest consolidated version of OMSA."

The next item, dated May 9, reads in its entirety:

"Dell Linux Software Architect Matt Domsch has been named as a community member to the Fedora Project Board."

The term shovelware comes to mind.

Either Dell hasn't a clue what blogs are, or is trying to bore readers to death so it won't have to do anything serious about Linux. Perhaps both.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

This 'n' That

JournalSpace is finally up, after an Internet eternity offline. Well, the company kept its word about being up on Tuesday. The question is, how many people are going to trust JS after this debacle?

* * *

Well, another Jason Leopold "scoop" has failed to materialize. Leopold wrote over the weekend at that Bush advisor Karl Rove had been indicted. The report in Truthout was flat-out denied by Rove's attorney. The whole thing looks now like another phony story by the discredited "journalist" writing in a left-wingnut site.

The Wall Street Journal (paid subscribers only) writes about the meltdown of the story. Part of it focuses on the role of those bloggers in spreading misinformation.

"Mainstream news organizations say bloggers can say something is going to happen every day for months and then claim to be ahead of the pack when it does -- or forget about it when it doesn't. Bloggers complain that traditional reporters don't credit them for scoops when they are proved right."

That's true. And the Journal article does note that Leopold had "worked for a number of mainstream news organizations." It doesn't mention, perhaps out of shame, that one of those organizations was Dow Jones Newswires, a sister news outlet.

Much of the blogging community was skeptical of Leopold's latest fizzled exclusive. It only gained traction among the loony lefters, who are willing to believe anything bad about the Bush Administration. The WSJ story should have pointed that out.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Cathy Seipp's new Web home

Given the continuing meltdown of JournalSpace, Cathy did the only reasonable thing -- set up a new blog elsewhere. Even if JournalSpace goes up again, she shouldn't go back, IMO. Four or five days is unforgivably long for such an outage.


JournalSpace back on Tuesday?

That's the day JournalSpace says it plans to have its blog service back online. That's an "estimate," though, not a firm target.

"We are making upgrades to help ensure that this problem does not happen again. The process of upgrading the hardware and restoring the data is, by necessity, a long and complex one." JournalSpace wrote on its vestigial home page.

We'll see.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sympathy for the Quad City Times . . .

. . . a sister paper to my employer, the North County Times. Like us, the QC Times has opened up to Web comments on its stories. Disturbingly to the polite Midwestern culture, there are many anonymous comments, and some are quite rude. Barb Ickes writes:

"A couple of things about this magical reader interaction ain’t so magical. For beginners, who would’ve guessed such a huge majority of readers would choose to express themselves anonymously? What’s wrong with taking credit for your views? Where is the courage of conviction?"


"It’s also become apparent that Web sites such as ours are giving some people an opportunity to simply vent their hostilities, personal dislikes and prejudices to an audience. Though it seems more humane than kicking the dog, it’s just about as pathetic."

Tell me about it, sister.

What's happened to Barb (can I call you Barb? We work for the same employer, after all) is what happens to everyone who stumbles into Internet interaction, without fail. That's the discovery that many people can be mean and hateful when granted the ability to speak anonymously. Everyone who's run a site open to public comment will sooner or later brush up against this fact.

And there are legitimate reasons for anonymity, as one anonymous commenter on Barb's piece wrote:

"The problem with posting with your name attatched can be seen easily in Silvis. A person wrote to the city council with their name attatched was fined $50. Another person who spoke up to power in Silvis had their job threatened. If you express yourself honestly in the Quad Cities, you'd better be prepared to move, or get a new job. Freedom of speech doesn't prevent you from being fired, hounded, exploited...etc."

Of course, there's no way of knowing if this is true. But still something to consider.

Mary, no full name given, had this point to consider:

"For safety reasons, most "experts" suggest that people don't use their real last names when posting on public internet forums. In fact, I think this is the first time I've ever heard anybody encourage people to use their full names in online forums. Don't you read or watch the news, Barb? Ever heard of internet predators?"

Using one's full name in an online forum is hardly unprecedented, but Mary has a good point. I use my full name, but (1) I'm a guy, not the usual candidate for a stalker and (2) As a reporter, my name is in the paper anyway. Any attempt at anonymity would be pointless.

One thing that Barb should consider is that over time, at least some people will reveal who they are, or information about themselves. People who remain truly anonymous run into some skepticism on the Internet. I've seen it happen at the blog where I most hang out, Cathy Seipp's, which is still as I write this suffering from a JournalSpace outage.

Barb, the best thing the QC Times can do is act as a nurturer. Ban those who are dangerous or libelous, and encourage people to talk and get to know one another. The worst thing that could happen to this experiment would be if nobody showed up. But you don't have that problem. So be glad, be patient, and have some fun.

H/T: The Blogging Journalist


Atrocious SacBee article on intelligent design

Phillip Johnson, regarded as the godfather of intelligent design creationism, got this naive plug from a credulous Sacramento Bee reporter. The Bee should be ashamed of publishing this nonsense.

This is typical of the story:

"But many who read "Darwin on Trial" say the book made a "devastating case" against the widely held theory. Among them is Johnson's former colleague Michael Smith, also a retired Berkeley law professor."

Of course -- law professors are the experts we should go to learn about evolution. So when we need legal advice, let's call up a biologist. What this allegedly devastating case is, we're not told. And the headline is obscenely inaccurate about what evolution stands for, saying that Johnson contends "life on Earth is too complex to be created by random mutations"

Nobody in the scientific community from Darwin to the present has ever argued that random mutations created life. As described on Talkorigins, mutations are the raw material for natural selection. Worst of all, this elemental misunderstanding is in the education section! Such ignorance on the Bee's part is difficult to believe.

The Bee reporter did talk to a scientist, Michael Ruse, who thinks intelligent design is bunk, and to a science teacher. But there's not even a hint at the vast amount of evidence for evolution in the scientific literature, or Johnson's false statements on intelligent design. It's just a he-said he-said hack job, a puff piece on a scientific charlatan.

Thankfully, Wesley R. Elsberry provides the evidence the uninformed (or worse) reporter didn't think worth mentioning.

Talkorigins describes in detail the evidence for Johnson's inaccuracy and intellectual dishonesty the Sacramento Bee reporter (and editors who read the story) didn't think to provide.

h/t to the Panda's Thumb.


Jason Leopold has no shame

This weekend, Leopold claimed that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has indicted Bush political aide Karl Rove. While that may indeed happen, none of the mainstream media reporters who cover the story have made that claim.

Leopold gained notoriety for his unsubstantiated reporting about former Enron executive Thomas White in the online magazine, which retracted his story. Leopold also admitted being challenged over his accuracy with a previous employer, Dow Jones. He's tried to bounce back since then, only to repeatedly stumble in his own mud.

The link is about a book Leopold tried to publish last year about the failings of journalists, a subject with which he has extensive first-hand experience. But the book publisher withdrew the book after it said a fact in the book could not be confirmed.

Leopold has degenerated to playing to the tinfoil hat brigade of the left, who eagerly lap up sensational charges against the Bush Adminstration, but are less than meticulous about checking out whether the charges are true. (In this, they are like their mirror image on the far right).

The gory story of Leopold's downfall in his veracity-challenged Salon article is here.

Believe Jason Leopold? Only if someone else with great credibility and record of accuracy says the same thing.


JournalSpace outage continues

Now in its third day. Totally unacceptable for a blogging host company. I expect bloggers will start abandoning JournalSpace en masse. The exodus may already have begun.

Google, the owner of Blogger, is in a great position to capitalize on this fiasco. I am soooooooooooooooooooooo glad I didn't go with JournalSpace!!


Saturday, May 13, 2006

JournalSpace finally explains it . . . somewhat

Somewhat more than an hour ago, JournalSpace finally had the courtesy to post a notice about its outage. The cause, it said, was a hard drive failure plus errors in the backup.

This is totally unacceptable. It's not just the hard drive failure, or the failure of the backup (which is bad enough), but the delay in letting people know what was wrong. That couldn't have taken more than a few minutes. All that was needed was to post a message that JournalSpace is temporarily offline. Instead, JournalSpace left users and readers in the dark for an entire day.

This makes the glitches Blogger has had (down for an hour or two) in the last week seem trivial. And Google isn't going to screw up the data backups. I was briefly toying with the idea of looking for another blog hoster, but the JournalSpace fiasco has killed that idea. Most of the time, Blogger is a pleasure to work with, and no one else has the resources or incentive Google has to make things work.


JournalSpace still down . . .

Even more ominously, I can reach the pages, instead of getting a cannot connect message -- but they're all blank.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Journalspace outage

I haven't been able to get to Journalspace blogs all day, and other people report the same problem. There's no news story about this that I can find. One would think such a massive outage would be worth writing about.

UPDATE - Any posters at Cathy Seipp's blog can leave comments on Haloscan, which is not affected, at this link.


A candle of reason is lighted . . .

. . . in the scientific darkness of the Wall Street Journal's opinion section: An intelligent commentary on intelligent design and evolution. Since the section has published copious amounts of anti-science, on evolution and global warming, to give two examples, this is especially pleasing.

"There is no longer any serious dispute about the evidence for natural selection; it seems that every gap in our current explanatory model has a Tiktaalik waiting to fill it, whether it comes from the Canadian tundra or a DNA microarray. The logic of Darwin's theory has also undeniably shed light on some of the puzzles of human psychology."

Great words, made even better by the place where they're published.


Boston Globe non-story on NSA spying on Americans

"Most put security ahead of privacy," reads the headline on a Boston Globe article on disclosures that the National Security Agency is data-mining the phone calls of millions of Americans.

Interesting, if true. But what's the source for this claim? From what the story says, just a bunch of people the Globe interviewed Thursday. There's no mention of any attempt at getting a statistically valid sampling of the population.

Here's the giveaway quote:
"Those interviewed yesterday overwhelmingly said the possibility of phone companies handing over records to the government didn't alarm them and wouldn't make them walk away from any of the companies."

The story doesn't tell us how many people were interviewed, and how they were selected. It quotes just four people. Three said they weren't bothered by the snooping, one was.

In short, the story doesn't back up the claim in its headline.

This is the kind of meaningless non-story a newspaper like the Globe should be ashamed to run. It tells us nothing except that an editor wanted to give the impression of getting a local angle for a national story, but didn't want to commit the money for a scientifically valid survey.

I can't fault the reporter for the inaccurate headline, because reporters generally don't write their own headlines. But even so, the reporter should have stated how many people were contacted, and how they were selected. My wild-assed guess is the description would go along the lines of: "This story is based on opinions of people selected for their willingness to talk to a Globe reporter on deadline."

That wouldn't be very impressive, but it probably would be closer to the truth. Memo to Globe editors: this is not the kind of story that makes more people want to subscribe to your paper. My statement is based on an interview with one person (myself). It's just as scientific as the pathetic story you ran.

Meanwhile, an Associated Press story on the subject, while also unscientific, at least mentioned that fact and provided more evidence than the slap-dash Globe story.

"While it was too early to get a scientific read on the nation's thoughts on the program, interviews and a scan of closely watched Web logs appeared to indicate a split that mirrored opinions on the NSA wiretapping program disclosed late last year."

Cheers to the Associated Press reporter and jeers to the Boston Globe.

UPDATE: ABC and Washington Post did a poll that found most Americans do support the NSA spying on Americans.

Even better, the article reveals the poll's methodology and limitations:

"A total of 502 randomly selected adults were interviewed Thursday night for this survey. Margin of sampling error is five percentage points for the overall results. The practical difficulties of doing a survey in a single night represents another potential source of error."

Great. My only complaint is that this is the story's last graf, and should be higher in the article.

ERRATUM: Fixed a mistaken reference to the poll, which I attributed to the Post and AP instead of the Post and ABC.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Another blogger in trouble . . . and journosaur redux

Marc Fisher, the down-home style blogger for the Washington Post, writes about yet another blogger who has gotten into trouble with his employer.

"Will Vehrs, whose political analysis and random thoughts on things both serious and silly appears primarily on Commonwealth Conservative, one of the state's best political blogs, has been suspended from work for 10 days without pay. The reason: His blog held a caption contest, a good old blogger's standby, in which readers were encouraged to send in their wittiest efforts at labelling a funny photo. . . .

". . .The contest photo, taken from a newspaper in Martinsville in Virginia's Southside, showed a couple of country singers belting it out in less than alluring fashion, and Vehrs came up with a list of captions poking fun at the backwardness of life in rural Virginny. . .Problem: Vehrs' day job is as a manager for Virginia's Department of Business Assistance, which, understandably, gets a bit upset at anything that might discourage businesses from investing in the state's less affluent areas. And the photo in question came from a meeting of the Martinsville area's monthly economic development meeting. Uh-oh."

The consensus seems to be that Vehr made a mistake in not running his idea by his employer, but it was a venial sin at best, and he should be allowed to keep his job.

But Fisher can't quite get his nose out of the air about blogs:

"Somehow, as a society, we've figured out that what you read in blogs just doesn't have the same credibility as what you read in print or from a responsible news organization, so we don't bother to demand corrections or seek a redress of our grievances. And that's fine--going back to the revolutionary era tracts, we've had a long tradition in this country of letting folks mouth off, even untruthfully, in some forums, even as we insist on accuracy and fairness in others"

Smell the whiff of journosaur: We're reliable, of course. We're the Washington Post, and we'll tell you all about those blogs that you can't really trust.

A blog is an electronic way of publishing, or holding an online conversation. Judging something's credibility by its mode of publication is just nonsensical. And as for the virulence in blogs that Fisher decries in his piece (read the whole thing), it can easily be matched by stuff in print such as the tracts by Jack Chick or classic racist tracts such as the Protocols of Zion. And these were published in . . . print.

Credibility is an individual quality pertaining to the author, not to a mode of publication. There are a number of blogs I would trust more on specific topics than the Washington Post, because they are written by experts in the field. Science Blogs, for example, does a far better job of covering the intricacies of science than the stuff you usually get in newspapers. And Carl Zimmer's blog allows this fine science writer to explain more than what gets published in his New York Times articles.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Papers beat cable?

Independent Sources did a nice job comparing the Channel Island column criticized by Patterico with another report of cable news networks (generically speaking) in the trade publication Media Week.

The comparison showed that the LA Times column used the numbers that made Fox look worst. But far more interesting to me was this nugget of analysis from IS:

"We also think cable TV news is feeling the effect of free news on the internet even more than print newspapers. The 25-54 numbers drop more than the overall audience because younger cable TV news viewers are moving to the internet for their news. News has always had the highest average audience age in cable — soon there won’t be any 25-54 (well, 25-40) year olds watching."

Print media holding up better than cable TV news. Amazing, if this is true. And heartening for the newspapers, if they are diligent building up their Web sites.

However, IS deserves to get dinged for its not so fair and balanced references to CNN and Fox. The former is called "left leaning" without qualification, while IS only refers to Fox's "presumed partisanship."


Soylent Blogs

"We are not a mass, not a monolith, not even a medium. We’re just people talking." -- Jeff Jarvis, on the continued inability of certain journosaurs to understand that the blogosphere, like Soylent Green, is made of people.


False anonymity gets another reporter

The tireless Jim Romenesko links to a story about yet another reporter caught making anonymous postings. The AP story:

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A daily newspaper in Lancaster fired its courthouse reporter after he posted anonymous opinions on the public-forum portion of his paper's Web site, including comments critical of his own newspaper, the reporter said.

"Justin Quinn said he was fired last month from the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, where he had spent more than six years. He declined to discuss the content of his postings or confirm the name under which he contributed to the paper's Talkback feature."

Deception is a cardinal offense in journalism, although from what I can tell Quinn's punishment was too severe. Couldn't he have been reassigned?

It is far better to express one's opinions openly -- with the employer's knowledge, of course.

Another firing seems to be the result of a culture clash. A writer for the tbt, an "alternative" publication owned by the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, was fired for posting a satirical parody of a politician on Myspace, purportedly under the politician's name. From the story:

"I should get paid to poke fun of her in print, but fired for doing it on my own time?" she asked in an e-mail to the Tampa Tribune on Friday.

The story quoted an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times. I heartily agree with the sentiments:

"I think she has a point," said Kelly McBride, an ethics expert at The Poynter Institute, a journalism research and teaching foundation that owns tbt,* an offshoot of the St. Petersburg Times.

Tbt* is personality-driven and packs more attitude than a traditional newspaper. That creates different expectations and new challenges for journalists, McBride said.

Newspapers need to discuss the boundaries of new media outlets, she said. In this case, Vivinetto's online comments were too racy for the paper to publish and, therefore, inappropriate for a journalist to post on a Web site, she said.

Two of the three comments Vivinetto posted dealt with panties.

The trouble here is that as an "alternative" publication geared toward the young, tbt has a different, looser ethos than conventional newspapers. Perhaps looser is the wrong word, for that implies alternative papers are less honest than conventional papers. Let's just say the ethos is different.

Mainstream papers owning alternative papers is a recipe for trouble. If the alternative paper hews too closely to the parent company, it will have the same problems the parent has in attracting young readers. If it is too free-form, the corporate parent will be taken aback and rein it in.

Follow the link for a pertinent reaction from a Tampa blogger.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Clueless Journosaur

Yet another old-media rant about the unfriendliness of the Internet, this time courtesy of Washington Post journosaur Richard Cohen.

"It seemed that most of my correspondents had been egged on to write me by various blogs. In response, they smartly assembled into a digital lynch mob and went roaring after me. If I did not like Colbert, I must like Bush. If I write for The Post, I must be a mainstream media warmonger. If I was over a certain age -- which I am -- I am simply out of it, wherever "it" may be. All in all, I was -- I am, and I guess I remain -- the worthy object of ignorant, false and downright idiotic vituperation."


"What to make of all this? First, it's not about Colbert. His show has an audience of about 1 million -- not exactly "American Idol" numbers. Second, it marks the end of a silly pretense about interactive media: We give you our e-mail addresses and then, in theory, we have this nice chat. Forget about it. Not only is e-mail too often a kind of epistolary spitball, but there's no way I can even read the 3,506 e-mails now backed up in my queue -- seven more since I started writing this column."

Cohen's rather late for his reality appointment. It's long been obvious that no one in a high-profile position like a Washington Post columnist can read and respond to all the emails a public Internet address will gather. It's tough enough keeping pace with interoffice emails.

So what does someone like Cohen do? For manageable interactivity, he can blog, then read and reply to the comments he gets. And he can start his search for a new media paradigm here.


No bias this time

Conservative/Libertarian blogger Patterico made an error today with his post lambasting the Los Angeles Times for a biased "article" on Fox News. The piece is actually a television column, and columns are by their nature expected to take a personal view.

I agree with Patterico that it's strange to emphasize a decline in Fox's ratings and downplay a much larger decline in the ratings of CNN, its main rival. But it's not an example of the Times' bias, just the opinion of one columnist. He takes the same facts as Patterico does and reaches a different conclusion. As long as it is understood to be opinion, this is fine.

This columnist/article distinction is standard in the newspaper business. The piece would indeed be wrong as a news article, and I hope that the Times has published a fair and balanced news article pointing out the cratering of CNN's audience.

Patterico is a zealous chronicler of the Times' misdeeds, alleged and real. He should slow down and think more before posting. There are quite enough problems with the Times as it is without inventing imaginary ones.

Patterico wasn't too happy with my distinction. In his haste to criticize the Times, he didn't read the column completely. And in fairness, the column tag at the end and the "Channel Island" label at the top is too subtle for the online edition. It should be better labeled.

We had a somewhat testy exchange on his blog about this. To his credit, Patterico said he will correct his error.


Just to emphasize, I am not defending the columnist's strange interpretation of the facts. That strained interpretation is a ripe target for rebuttal. But it is not a violation of journalistic ethics or anything like that. Had this column indeed run as a news story, it would be totally improper journalistically. The first clue I had that it might be a column was that the language is so plainly out of place with the style of regular news stories. It was then that I looked for the column tag.

This episode illustrates that the Times needs to take greater care in how it presents its writing on the Web. The printed page has all sorts of subtle clues such as typography, shading and boxes that inform the reader of the distinctions between news articles, features, columns, etc. So the Times' Web designers need to develop ways to give this same instantly identifiable perceptual difference.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Walling off cell phone customers

Competition: Companies praise it publicly, but privately most try to thwart it whenever they can.

Internet search is a case in point. Take this article from today's Wall Street Journal about the rivalry to dominate search via cell phones:

"The push by the world's biggest Internet search firms to dominate what customers see when they turn on their cellphones has accelerated in recent months with Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. all striking deals with service providers and others in the cellphone industry.

"The tech giants want their search engines and logos to pop up on cellphone screens, enabling people to also use their phones for other services the companies provide, such as downloading maps, or sending email and instant messaging, just as they do on their computers.

"The companies contend that even though only a small number of people currently use their phones to search for information online, there is a huge potential market with twice as many cellphones in use globally as PCs. And, as search engines become better at tailoring results to a user's location, mobile searching will become more attractive, they say. "The leading edge battleground between us and Google in local search really will come on the phone," predicts Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer."

What Ballmer means is that Microsoft will buy its way into dominating cell phone searches. Microsoft's money hasn't been able to buy that position in PC-based searches because PCs can be so easily customized to bypass the "bloatware" installed by manufacturers (see Sunday's entry). PCs are still largely controlled by their users.

But cell phone software is far more rigidly controlled by the cell phone carriers and manufacturers, limiting consumer freedom. Hence, Microsoft's opportunity to buy dominance on cell phone search.

Where does customer choice fit into all of this? It doesn't. The cell phone carriers are trying to force their customers into a "walled garden" where they can be forced to used services of partners who have paid dearly for the privilege. As part of that, customer initiative in using other services must be curtailed. (T-Mobile appears to be an honorable exception).

That wall is not totally built. Any cell phone that provides true Internet access by definition must allow subscribers to go outside the walled garden. And with GSM phones, the SIM card provides some flexibility for customers. They can simply buy a phone from any compatible vendor and insert the card. This separates the cell phone purchase from the cell phone carrier.

So when you're in the market for a cell phone, it's wise to research whether the carrier and manufacturer will give you freedom of choice, or brick you up.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Windows Memory minimalism

There's no getting away from Microsoft Windows. Even though I use Linux at home, the OS everyone loves to have is on my work computer, and in the homes of most other people. I helped two of them yesterday, my eldest sister, Vanessa and the youngest, Kim. (My third sister, Sue, hasn't asked for computer doctoring just yet). Both complained of the familiar "Windows Slows" -- the computer starts acting very slow and things that happened quickly just drag out.

Kim's computer, a Windows 98 machine, was fairly typical of the breed. It had accumulated a number of programs that autostarted, taking up precious memory. Windows 98 is also cursed with poor memory management, a remnant of its DOS heritage that later versions of Windows doesn't have. So I did the obvious things. (1) I added more memory, and (2) I disabled some of the unnecessary autostarting programs by running MSconfig and selectiving unchecking programs that didn't need to run at bootup. Result: More free memory and faster performance.

Vanessa's computer woes were much more of a surprise. She's got a relatively new Sony VAIO laptop running Windows XP with a gigabyte of memory. But it had slowed down in recent months. For example, it crawled in displaying thumbnails of the numerous photos Vanessa takes.

So I did a scan for spyware, and then performed the familiar three-fingered salute to bring up the list of running processes. I ranked them in order of memory consumption, and saw some unfamiliar names. One of the was vzfw.exe, which to me seemed to be an abbreviation for "Verizon Firewire", but upon Googling turned out to be part of Sony's GigaPocket Multimedia Entertainment Center. That alone was taking up 40 megabytes. My sister was not running GigaPocket, so I reset this apparently useless process and a few others to start manually instead of automatically.

Upon rebooting, the VAIO was much snappier at opening folders and displaying photo thumbnails and running multimedia.

There are two morals to this story. One, computer users need to know what's on their machines. Microsoft and the computer manufacturer have their own agendas, which may not always coincide with their customers. In this case, my working hypothesis is that Sony enabled GigaPocket software on the VAIO by default (my sister certainly didn't). That makes sense if Sony wants to promote its entertainment products. But if it's not being used, it's a performance drain. In this case, the extra burden wasn't noticeable until Norton Antivirus was added. Since antivirus software is indispensable on a Windows machine, the sensible thing to do was disable GigaPocket software that wasn't functional.

Two, be a memory minimalist. Don't load up your PC with more memory-hogging applications than you need, especially those that autostart. You do have to be careful not to disable essential programs and processes. One way to do that is to Google the name of the process in question, as I did with vzfw.exe, to see if it's essential. And don't erase it, all you have to do is prevent it from autoloading.

Newly installed Windows software will often take up memory with such nonessential tricks as loading itself in the quickstart section of the taskbar. Do this often, and you've got a serious memory drain. This is once again traceable to differing agendas. The maker of computer software wants it to be used often, and doesn't shy away from taking up some of your memory to make this easier. When you install numerous programs that act in this selfish manner, you and your computer are the loser.

Later in the day, I'll update this post with a list of Web sites and books with memory management advice.

Tech columnist Dwight Silverman has written about his own experience with what he calls "junkware" preloaded on Dell computers.

This junkware is often little more than advertisements that bring in money for Dell but weigh down computer performance. It's just one more example of how computer companies can act against your own interests if they can profit from it. To its credit, Dell has listened to complains and now offers junkware-free computers if you ask for them.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Science, facts and religion

One of the blogs I frequent, that of Cathy Seipp, has recently acquired what looks to be a creationist commentator. This person appears to have no knowledge of what science is, or facts, and comes close to denying that facts even exist:

"You touting your theory as science is getting the cart before the horse. Please provide an epistemological basis for determining what facts are, and if indeed, such an animal even exists."

Well, if a creationist has no facts, perhaps it's a clever debating tactic to dispute their reality and throw out a lot of pseudointellectual philosophical mumbo-jumbo. But that's all it is. It's not honest.

One of the things I've noticed about creationists is how much energy they devote to confusing what has long been clarified, such as the difference between science and religion. They do not like the distinction made between investigating nature based on strategies that depend on identifing natural laws, which is science, and an appeal to the supernatural which is to be accepted on faith, which is religion.

Doubting Thomas was acting as a scientist when we wanted to touch Jesus' wounds; today he'd no doubt be asking Jesus for fingerprints and a DNA sample. You can see why religion and science often have a hard time getting along, although there is no necessary contradiction between the two. For example, the Catholic Church has reconciled its faith with evolution.

I recommended that this creationist read Stephen Jay Gould's famous essay, "Evolution as Fact and Theory." It's a great mind-clearer that deserves greater recognition. Here's a sample:

"Evolution lies exposed in the imperfections that record a history of descent. Why should a rat run, a bat fly, a porpoise swim, and I type this essay with structures built of the same bones unless we all inherited them from a common ancestor? An engineer, starting from scratch, could design better limbs in each case. Why should all the large native mammals of Australia be marsupials, unless they descended from a common ancestor isolated on this island continent? Marsupials are not "better," or ideally suited for Australia; many have been wiped out by placental mammals imported by man from other continents."

As bloggers like to say, read the whole thing.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Kudos to LA Times Borderline blog

The LA Times has made good use of its immigration blog to debunk a purported list of facts about immigration that allegedly was reported by the Times itself. Thanks to Kevin Roderick's LA Observed for pointing this out.

Info-pollution is the bad side of the blogsphere and e-mail. People who get their facts wrong can spread their ignorance at the speed of light. There's a large number of people who will believe anything they see on the Internet or get in an oft-forwarded e-mail, complete with all the >>>>s and other junky formatting. I have become well-known in my own office for pointing out such Internet e-mail hoaxes.

After all the Internet screwups the LA Times has had, it's heartening to see some staffers there are proficient at the fine art of fisking.

I hope the blogs who have propagated this list will also point out the Times' debunking. You can't have an honest discussion about how to deal with illegal immigration, or any other issue, if you don't have accurate information.


The Brain of San Diego . . .

. . . is not located at City Hall or the County Administration building. It's on Torrey Pines Mesa, a neural soup of brilliant research. UC San Diego, the Salk Institute, The Scripps Research Institute, Burnham Institute, many other academic centers and biotech and high-tech companies all share this extraordinarily beautiful coastal location.

I was on the mesa yesterday to do an interview at Scripps Clinic for a health care story. (I've recently begun covering health care after years of writing about business). As always when I visit, I was impressed by what has been built here. The biotechy feel is unmistakable. A bus stop there has an ad for an esoteric biological test, or assay, that not one in 1,000 sun-soaked San Diegans would recognize. Bio-speak is part of the air.

After the interview, I took the scenic route on North Torrey Pines Road past Torrey Pines State Reserve. Down the hill, I drove between the estuary and Torrey Pines State Beach, then got back onto I-5. Click on the link to see the beauty.

Enjoy your Friday!


Thursday, May 04, 2006

And your point is . . .?

I guess writing about blogs writing about the media is the meta-cool thing to do for CBS News' blog. But this post by Vaughn Ververs on the effect of blog rage struck me as trite, and more than a bit recycled. It begins:

"Is the blogosphere full of citizen journalists who, with a seemingly limitless supply of bandwidth and resources at their fingertips, are becoming a powerful addition to the mainstream media? Or is it in danger of slipping into the 21st Century version of cable talk shows, where those who can shout their outrage the loudest get the most attention?"

Yeah, what about those outraged bloggers? That's fresh territory for comment!

Ververs adds master-of-the-obvious statements about the dreaded blogswarms such as: "But sometimes blogs emit little more than anger and venom. Other times, blog posts are thoughtful, full of research that connect dots."

Finally, the stunning conclusion:

"Like many cable news programs, which seem to crave neat, snappy analysis over nuanced thinking, will blogs be evaluated only on their ability to slice and dice an opposing view rather than the value they could possibly bring to the table? Will blog-rage simply overpower citizen journalism? Just asking."

Here's a heretical thought: maybe blogs will be judged on their individual merit, and not all lumped together as if they were a commodity.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Peruse Patterico's Pontifications

I know -- yet more Michael Hiltzik discussion. But I couldn't resist linking to Patterico's latest post, which points out suggestions I made about how the Los Angeles Times can communicate to the public. Subject: What happened with its errant business columnist. Like, y'know, printing it in the newspaper.

But Dean Baquet, the top Los Angeles Times editor, is in a bind. Those reading the LA Times print edition are confused about just why Hiltzik's blog and business column was taken away. Meanwhile, Web sites such as those by Patterico and Kevin Roderick are stealing the Times' thunder by posting much more detailed accounts about Hiltzik's transgressions. Even the Times' Web site hosted a blog discussion of Hiltzik. Readers who stick to the Times print edition for their information about this matter are the least-informed of all.

Baquet must be totally oblivious to the effect this info-brownout has on the reputation of the Times print edition. Or maybe he's got some wacky non-disclosure agreement that allows him to discuss details of Hiltzik's offenses at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, but not in the print edition of the paper.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Digital feline dude

Every so often you read about cat ladies -- you know, the ones who've got scores of cats in their apartment. They come into the news when neighbors notice a stench and the local authorities have to clear out the kitties.

I'm kinda like that with computers. I don't care if they're outmoded and can't play the latest computer games, because I'm not a gamer. If people want to throw out their ancient (circa 2000) PC, I'm glad to take them. I usually just stick some more memory in 'em, install Linux, and they work just fine.

This weekend I added another computer to my collection. This one came with Windows 98, which I'm leaving on there for the novelty. I boosted the memory from 128 to 256 megs (using memory from non-functional computers), cleaned up the spyware, added Mozilla Firefox and Opera, and removed unnecessary programs from the autostart list. This rejuvenated Gateway runs much snappier. I am writing this post from it.

By my count, this is my sixth functional desktop computer -- and that's not counting my two main desktops, and my IBM ThinkPad laptop. So that makes nine PCs in all, not counting a couple of nonfunctional PCs I've cannibalized for parts. (There's a second ThinkPad which I don't use, because the internal connection to the power supply is broken.)

So call me the digital feline dude. But at least working with computers is an inexpensive hobby: I learn useful skills, and the PCs don't bother their neighbors with their smell.

Where to store them is another matter . . .

UPDATE: The stray Gateway has found a good home.


Monday, May 01, 2006


My not-serious reference yesterday to visiting the yacht club to christen my new boat had some truth in it, after all. My friend and colleague Gary Warth, who has a membership at a yacht club on San Diego Bay, invited me on board for a late afternoon cruise. We took out one of the club's motor/sail boats.

Although it was mostly cloudy, enough sun broke through to highlight just how beautiful San Diego is. Gary did most of the hard work; this landlubber did as best he could with that nautical stuff. But my most notable accomplishments were keeping my head down when the boom swung around and some help with tacking.

It was another day in paradise, although there were no cheeseburgers.
UPDATE: Added photo of me gazing out over the placid waters of America's Finest Enron-By-The-Sea.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?