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You paste software and website legal agreements into EULAlyzer and it flags suspicious and obnoxious phrases. Cool, but I would prefer this in a web-app format. (via)

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Five easy facts about healthcare: 62% of the bankrupcies in the United States are caused by devastating medical bills. 78% of those cases were people who had health insurance, but who found themselves not covered, or not sufficiently covered, when the time came. 18,000 people unnecessarily die here every year because of a lack of insurance. (Source.) Of the top 50 richest nations in the world, the United States is the only one that does not have guaranteed healthcare for everyone. (Source.) The last Republican administration had 8 years to fix the healthcare system their way, and they decided to do nothing.

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Dear The Awl,

I do not think that I have never particularly cared about a single thing The Awl has written about, but I love reading it all the time anyway, because of the glorious wordsmithery of Choire, Balk, et al. However, it bothers me that there are two reasons why reading The Awl in an RSS reader is better than reading it on the site: (1) you can read as much of each post as you’d like instead of as much as the site’s editors would like without having to keep clicking “READ ON” and then clicking back and waiting for things to load and (2) you can see the name of the person who wrote it under the title of each post (i don’t know why all group blogs don’t assume that at least some readers care who writes what?).

But let us not leave it there. Let us point to this fun, which admittedly I might care about more than the average reader because said issue was the first in my subscription to said magazine and because I have actually enjoyed a couple of Dave Eggers books and other things. So, whatever. I’ll skip the story and see the movie, and I’ll try to hold in my heart a little skepticism directed toward the New Yorker’s fiction editor. And I’d urge anyone who read all (two pages!) of the post to also read enough of the comments to get to this bit by Choire:

But I absolutely do believe this is a pegged event for the promotion of the movie. Between the studio-supplied art–and I speak as someone who’s been doing a weekly silly Q&A feature for a major newspaper for the last three years or so, and for which even that little thing we would NEVER accept studio art–to the timing, to the Brand Naminess Quotient (in which you ask: would the New Yorker publish this submission from my Aunt Susan? No they would not): well, it all smells.

(Um, sorry: don’t try to parse that grammar and punctuation.)

Posted: Saturday August 29, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment

 

trek bike

I am not really a huge fan of Trek bicycles or anything, but once a year when the new models come out, the pictures of their ‘Urban’ line are fun to look at. Update: If you did not enjoy those, then you will also not enjoy the new Specialized Globe bikes (they finally got rid of the stupid city-specific Langsters and made some bikes that will make fixie aficionados drool).

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Gizmodo explains how to make coffee, and it’s actually pretty good! Let me save you some time though — just get yourself a french press and a Breville grinder, and you’ll be set.

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Newspapers' troubles are their own fault?

There’s been so so much written about the decline of the newspaper industry over the last five years, and so much of it takes the view that the decline was inevitable in the face of the internet. Occasionally this is delivered with the unconvincing caveat that newspapers could have survived if they’d never put their content online for free. Yet while the newspaper’s inability, unwillingness, and slowness to adapt gets traction in a healthy number of these pieces, rarely does it get comprehensive review. Bill Wyman’s recent essay, Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing (via), not only chronicles these failures, but argues — persuasively — that the newspapers’ decline is their own damned fault.

He begins with a long introduction that spills over into reason #1 (the 5-point list structure seems grafted on to make the longish piece internet-friendly), but really gets cooking in #2:

The paradigmatic American newspaper, once its competition had been eliminated, settled down into a comfortable monopoly position in most cities; sometimes there was another paper around, but in most places one newspaper stood dominant and took home most of the ads, not to mention the money.

These monopoly positions created a dynamic by which the only thing a paper could do wrong was to offend or, God forbid, lose a reader.

The newspapers old model was based on producing MOR fluff. Everybody had a newspaper subscription, and if you wanted to advertise to them you had to buy newspaper ads. But Wyman argues that newspapers had at least a decade of warning of the sea change, and rather than using their profits to get ready, they turned them into increased profit margins. They could have been channeling their considerable resources into creating content with bite and immediacy (which is what you need to compete on the internet), and they could have embraced new technologies that emerged. Wyman blames the leadership, and he blames reporters themselves, for not standing up and arguing for these changes.

In #5 comes a pretty comprehensive critique of newspaper websites. I found this particularly delicious because it touches on a couple of points I’ve made over the years.

Newspaper sites, by and large, are designed as if the paper still had a monopoly on news in its area—and that it didn’t have to work hard to make the sites work sensibly for readers. There is often information available, but you have to work to find it, and the sites don’t seem to care whether you find it or not, and don’t present the information you want in an easy or engaging way. The criticism of Google News you hear from publishers makes me laugh. The top 20 daily newspaper companies in the country could have built a similar site with a paltry investment 15 years ago.

These pieces obligatorily end with a list of ways the problems could be fixed, and Wyman obliges with a great one. Prefaced with a hearty “They don’t have the gumption to change, and it’s probably too late anyway, but here’s what I’d try,” it’s actually a really great list. But no cheating — read the whole thing.

Posted: Thursday August 27, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment

 

Weekendly Clickables XV

I know it’s not the weekend. But I made this over the weekend, more or less, so here goes:

Posted: Tuesday August 25, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment

 

“On your way home from church, stop at the grocery store and buy all the leafy vegetables you can carry. Under no circumstances should you eat the vegetables, as they contain dangerous amounts of butt-blasting fibre. Instead, affix them to your head. Laughter is a type of medicine, so try to laugh at yourself. This shouldn’t be difficult, because you’re wearing a hat made of salad. Seriously, look in the mirror. You look like an asshole.” — from Amy Ozlos’ hangover cure, the best thing (so far) in my first issue of the New Yorker.

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Hurra Torpedo – Total Eclipse of the Heart. Best Swedish kitchen appliance cover of an 80s hit song, period.

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“The new sensor in the F200EXR, though, goes a step further. In what’s called EXR mode, it can merge two adjacent photosites, in effect doubling the light collected at that spot on the sensor.” It sounds to me like David Pogue is falling for a little marketing hype. (Getting a good low-light 6-megapixel photo out of a 12-megapixel camera should not qualify as a major step forward. I say compare the new Sony and Fuji cameras to a new Canon, and then we’ll see where we’re at.)

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Michael Erard waxes poetic about the future of attention, envisioning such things as attention festivals and attention audits. I actually think that stuff like this is overly dramatic, and that human attention span has been, and remains, flexible. But this one was fun to read.

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Personas searches the web for a person’s name and creates a graph to “characterize” the person. For my name, it seems to be latching on to the phrase “ALESH HOUDEK IS DIM-WITTED AND SAD.”

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A pretty good time to remind you people that I have a frequently-updated photo blog that you should be checking.

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Please do not try your wishy-washy corporate shit on Steve, because he does not go for it and he will take up inordinate amounts of your company’s time to get his way. Nice work!

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Trailer for My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, the new Werner Herzog film (produced by David Lynch!). Looks like it’s much closer in surface appearance to a regular Hollywood picture than typical Herzog works, which is sort of exiting.

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Waiting for Hand Grenade Practice, Southern Israel by Rachel Papo

Rachel Papo, Waiting for Hand Grenade Practice, Southern Israel, 8×10” print available for $20. Unfortunately not available in 11×14”.

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Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) on Meet the Press: This segment is much more notable for the “how to win an argument by talking over someone,” though actually Sunday’s episode of MtP was not only fun to watch (Gregory is losing control!) but was informative about the healthcare debate. (Actually, the best thing I’ve seen recently there was this article, which explains why doing some reform, but not all the components being talked about, wouldn’t work.) But come on, Rangel is amazing, right?!

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A guy who’s blog name I might have stolen makes a delicate comparison between getting his foot shat on and accepting money for blogging. At great great length. Huh.

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Duh, of course I am going to eat your food.

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Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is 50 years old; Fred Kaplan has a great appreciation, with sound clips, at Slate.

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hurricane season

Good morning Miami. Welcome to the bulls-eye!

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Whoa! Mood-altering photos of Greenland from last week’s Big Picture.

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A hotshoe-mounted bubble-level for my SLR. I want this. I’ll pay up to five bucks.

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Our wildman R, of en vivo y en directo fame, is undertaking a rickshaw race across India(!), and is in need of your support.

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Apple Tablet. Pretty cool, and very close to what I requested in an e-reader. But the problem with this is the same problem the iPhone has (exacerbated by the big screen) — you forget that you’re not using a “real” computer, and you keep getting frustrated by the stuff you can’t do. Which is anything to do with real typing. And forget about plugging in an external keyboard, because then the touch-screen becomes very awkward to use. Also, the big piece of glass that makes up its face is going to make this a very fragile object in any situation other then sitting on the couch. If this is really what’s coming, I worry that it’ll be Apple’s Segway — a beautiful and inspiring device that isn’t useful beyond a few specific niche markets.

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google maps images

What does it mean to have the whole world photographed? Here’s a collection of beautiful images culled from Google Maps Street View by Jon Rafman, including the scerene, the obscene, the shocking, and the delightfully ambiguous. (Via fimoculous, tho I eventually would have gotten to this in my RSS.)

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Les Paul died. Not many people get credit for both inventing and perfecting the same thing, but with the Gibson Les Paul the man did exactly that. Before him, all electric guitars were essentially acoustics with pickups on them. People thought he was crazy to put pickups on a solid piece of wood, but not only did it succeed brilliantly, but nobody has ever made a guitar that looks or plays better. (As evidence, witness the so-called Dark Fire, Gibsons latest ill-conceived attempt to improve on a classic.) R.I.P. (Thanks, Steve.)

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Hey Miami, we are back in the hot seat!

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Larry Wilmore on the white majority, from last night’s Daily Show. Wilmore is always brilliant, but this was particularly good. There’s a great Fresh Air interview where he discusses how he figured out his role on the Daily Show.

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When do photographs become photo illustrations?

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From a conversation with a burglar, Where to hide stuff in your home, Part 1 and Part 2. Of course the thing that most of us worry about losing these days is our data. I have an external hard drive stashed in the guts of my sofa connected to my computer by a cable that runs along the same route as the 12+ other cables plugged into my computer. They can steal my computer (upgrade opportunity!), but I’ve got all my data. On the other hand, when my friends had their house broken into recently, the thief ignored their brand new 24” iMac (easy to carry under one arm!) in favor of rifling through their bedroom drawers for jewelry.

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Fergus the Forager is a blog of a guy living in rural England, eating only foraged food for one year. Completely amazing. You’ll find accounts of him starting his own beehive, skinning a badger, bathing in a tub of watercress, and making cherry wine. The latest post is some heavy existential angst. I’d recommend exploring by scrolling around and reading text that surrounds pictures that intrigue you.

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A subtle point of grammar

The word “a” becomes “an” if it’s followed by a noun that begins with a vowel. So we have “a fool” and “an idiot.” If we insert a adjective between them, “a” becomes “an” on the basis of the adjective: “an interesting fool,” “a handsome idiot.” So far so good. The question before us today is, what if the interceding adjective is in parentheses? In deciding whether it should transmogrify itself into “an,” does the “a” look at the word in parentheses, or does it skip over that word and look to the noun following? In short, is it “a (handsome) idiot,” or “an (handsome) idiot”? (By the way, I place my question mark on the outside of the parentheses advisedly. Just because I’m concerned with the technicalities of “correct” grammar does not mean that I’m unwilling to break the rules where I disagree with them, and in some cases the “punctuation inside quote” rule is just nuts.)

I discussed this issue with several newspaper folks (Folks who, I suspect, were not quite able to get over conflating the issue with something rather separate — that it is in newspaper writing completely blinkered wrong to have a parenthetical adjective before a noun. Yeah, but I just like to use byzantine parenthetical constructions, I protested. It’s part of my style — a sort of deconstruction of the linear hegemony usually exerted by the written word. And it works for the casual nature of blog writing. And it inserts a mood of doubting and probing to writing that fits a particular mental style. But they don’t read my blog. They don’t understand. Life goes on.), and to a one they all agreed with what you are probably thinking: that the parenthetical adjective takes charge, and you get “a (handsome) idiot.”

Among other seemingly valid reasons for why this should be the case is the appeal to the spoken word. Were you speaking the phrase, you would certainly say “a handsome idiot” — it would be almost impossible not to. But parentheses are funny things, and they don’t really exist in the spoken language. Speakers may make clear verbal asides, but these do not get transcribed as parentheses — they’re typically set off with dashes — because parentheses in transcriptions cannot help but to look silly. Therefore, the appeal to sound cannot be used in arguing this particular case.

A key consideration when constructing sentences with parenthetical asides is that the sentence must remain perfectly constructed should the parentheses and everything within them be removed. The reader ought to be able to skip over the parentheses and feel that nothing is amiss. (I bet you wished you’d skipped over some of these parenthetical remarks, e.g.) For me, this is the clincher. Correct as though it may seem at first blush, I must insist on “a (interesting) fool” — a parenthetical adjective cannot be enough to force “a” to become “an.” A separate, and less clear, decision is whether a noun following a parenthetical adjective ought to. Do we really end up with “an (handsome) idiot”?

This, I guess, is the question I’m submitting to you. By the argument I’ve laid out it seems inevitable. But. Common sense interjects that it’s crazy, right? Could it be that when followed by the beginning of a parenthetical aside, “a” never becomes “an”? Could we have “a (handsome) idiot,” and “a (interesting) fool”? Maybe. Maybe, because parentheses are inherently a tool of the written word, and “an” is inherently a concession to the spoken word (however codified it is in the rules of grammar — after all, there’s nothing difficult to read about “a idiot,” right? (Or isn’t there??!)), the rule pertaining to the latter is somehow canceled out by the use of the former?

But how can this be? How does a grammatical rule get canceled out? As much as I doubt anyone can, I sure hope someone will clarify this issue. (Other than to say, “with as many other grammatical problems as you’ve got going, this ought be the last of yer worries, bud.”)

Posted: Wednesday August 5, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [13]