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April 2007
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June 2007

Outsourcing Journalism, Greed, Perfidy and Studio 60, Guru Garage Again

A few things that caught my eye in recent weeks:

  • A perfect media firestorm fell on the poor publisher of an online news site in Pasadena, who decided to outsource coverage of the Pasadena City Council to a pair of journalists in Mumbai, India. Clearly, he hit a nerve, because the Associated Press story about journalism outsourcing was printed, approximately, everywhere. At least one site says the idea has been scrapped, but thanks to the tenets of journalism, that story will receive about 10% of the coverage of the original. A no-longer-true story has traveled around the world in the time it took the change of mind to put on its boots.
  • [Why was Studio 60 canceled? According to TV Squad:] Actually, it comes down to this: 30 Rock is owned by NBC and Studio 60 is owned by Warner Brothers. That's one of the many interesting bits of info in Lisa de Moraes' Washington Post column.
  • It's that time of year again; I spent Saturday in San Ramon cleaning out the garage of the home in which Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi Devi), the "Hugging Saint," will stay during part of her U.S. tour in June. The first year I did cleanup seva, I talked about cleaning up small-animal byproducts (the small animals are no longer visiting the garage), and ended up with a lot of disappointed and confused Google visitors, looking for information on pest control. So this year, I'll just say that we swept out the cobwebs while doing our best not to disturb the spiders, washed down the floor, cleaned and reorganized all the shelves, and generally produced a garage you could eat in (although I don't know why you'd want to). All the walls in the house are washed as well, but I didn't do that this year. Seva is the Hindu concept of selfless service, something you do with no expectation of reward or even congratulations. It is an interesting idea.

At Will Redux

I wrote last week about how Joe Dubois on Medium doesn't have a leg to stand on, because he is an at-will employee. I then added a gratuitous plug for the importance of employment contracts in general and union contracts in particular. My friend of 35 years, Harrison Klein, checked in from the Aloha state with a different opinion:

I had to comment on your "At Will Employment" section, because it's a very naive interpretation of modern employment law. Irrespective of the presence or absence of an "at-will" clause or termination process in the company's personnel manual, every employee has numerous legal protections that substantially limit a company's firing ability. If a company were simply to fire an employee without cause, in most cases the employee could successfully sue for wrongful termination. In practice, an employee who does not meet the company's performance standards for the position must be repeatedly counseled and given opportunities to improve before the company can terminate the employee without fear of legal consequences.

I've worked and managed in both union and non-union situations in small and large companies. Indeed, it was easier to fire people in non-union situations, because in union shops it was virtually impossible to terminate employees even if they were totally incompetent and unsuited to the position. In non-union environments, it still was very hard to get fired, but if the manager carefully documented the employee's failings, set clear performance guidelines, counseled the employee, gave the employee time to improve, and the job performance was still below standard, you could terminate someone, which I would submit is to the benefit of the employee, the company, and the economy.

Different industries and types of businesses require different employment structures. In some, unions offer employee protections, negotiating power, and organizational stability that benefit both the employees and society. In others, unions merely protect poor employees and the status quo while discouraging innovation and productivity improvements.


by Craig Reynolds

Copyright and DRM: this is a wonderful self-referential essay on copyright and fair use: A Fair(y) Use Tale (or here). When two evil empires collide: Macrovision infects Windows Media Center. Decides the status quo for the last 70 years is suddenly untenable: RIAA Seeks Royalties From Radio. DRM-free music giant EMI agrees to takeover but EMI sale unlikely to affect DRM-free music.

MacBook color specs give Apple black eye: a tempest is blowing up about a mismatch between Apple's advertised MacBook display specs ("millions of colors") and the actual hardware specs (262,000 colors): Snell: Apple's color-blind MacBook marketing, Suit against Apple claims false advertising on displays and The colorblind MacBook Pros.

Linux: we heard last week  both Dell to offer computers with Linux and Dell to sell PCs at Wal-Mart in retail push. Does that mean we can now get Linux systems at Wal-Mart? A moral if not legal requirement: GPL author: Google must share code. Who'da thunk it? Tux 500 is the Linux car in the Indianapolis 500: Chastain Bringing Innovative Tech Sponsorship To Indianapolis 500.

Bio/Geo: is it really swimming if you drag your feet along the bottom of the pool?: Tracks suggest dinos could swim. A friend sent me a link to High levels of biodiversity found in the deep ocean nominating the "carnivorous moonsnail" for the most disgusting new critter discovered by science. Hints of past hot springs found on Mars. Other reports mentioned this sidebar on the name of the Martian feature: "... The silica-rich patch, informally named 'Gertrude Weise' after a player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, was exposed when Spirit ... " which caused a brief blip in searches for that name on Google Trends (see What's hot? Google offers daily updates on trends).

Robots: Some work on common sense navigation: 'Guessing' robots find their way. Big Brother would have loved it, mini helicopters now hover over London: Spy drones added to Britain's surveillance society. Scary stuff about giving guns to robots: Rules of Engagement for Armed Robots, Scientists Concerned About Autonomous Robots and Rise of the machines.

TRON at 25: I was a Technical Director at the Digital Scene Simulation group of Information International Inc. in Culver City when we worked on TRON. 25 years after its release it is described as both a flop and a seminal event in motion picture production. A reporter mentioned a recent homage to TRON in a Honda ad. Another friend pointed out a Slashdot posting about this article: You Down with MCP? ("Twenty-five years later, ‘Tron’ and other ‘geek’ classics are more compelling than ever").

Technobits: NYC's Con Ed to get superconductor power grid, see also more information about the Hydra project --- Time lapse video of Maker Faire (outside) --- Giant collectively controlled game of breakout coming to cinemas near you! (video of audience playing game, Newsbreaker site) which reminded me of Loren Carpenter's much earlier CineMatrix system for audience capture.

Politican Joke

Via Kent Peterman, himself an incipient politician.

An old southern country preacher had a teenage son, and it was getting time the boy should give some thought to choosing a profession. Like many young men, the boy didn't really know what he wanted to do, and he didn't seem too concerned about it. One day, while the boy was away at school, his father decided to try an experiment.

He went into the boy's room and placed on his study table four objects: - a Bible, - a silver dollar, - a bottle of whisky and - a Playboy magazine "I'll just hide behind the door," the old preacher said to himself, "and when he comes home from school this afternoon, I'll see which object he picks up. If it's the Bible, he's going to be a preacher like me, and what a blessing that would be! If he picks up the dollar, he's going to be a businessman, and that would be okay, too. But if he picks up the bottle, he's going to be a no-good drunkard, and, Lord, what a shame that would be. And worst of all, if he picks up that magazine he's gonna be a skirt-chasin' bum."

The old man waited anxiously, and soon heard his son's footsteps as he entered the house whistling and headed for his room. The boy tossed his books on the bed, and as he turned to leave the room he spotted the objects on the table. With curiosity in his eye, he walked over to inspect them.

Finally, he picked up the Bible and placed it under his arm. He picked up the silver dollar and dropped it into his pocket. He uncorked the bottle and took a big drink while he admired this month's Centerfold.

"Lord have mercy," the old preacher disgustedly whispered, "he's gonna be a Politician!"

Shrek 3

3.5 stars out of 5

Not a lot of time for the reviews section this week, and three movies to review! Shrek 3 was definitely the best of the Shrek series so far, which isn't saying a lot. The first was innovative, the second derivative, and the third cute. If you go in for this sort of thing, go in for it. It just seems like a group of vignettes, set to soft rock from the 70s and 80s. There are some jokes pitched over the heads of the kids at the adults, and there are some cut references to other films, especially, as always in this series, at Disney films, the former employer of Katzenberg, one of the founders of the company. OK, not great, fun for the whole family. Frankly, it's not as good as Flushed Away, which died the death of a dog last year.

Spider-man 3

3 stars out of 5

There are three great movies here. Alas, they were used to create a mashup of a mess. Love Tobey. Love Kirsten. Amusing to see Topher play a villain. Love the fidelity of the movie to the comic book original (at the 50,000-foot level anyway). But instead of picking one thing, the movie makers mad this movie about everything, so it ends up being about nothing.

I have enjoyed the trend of the last few years, in which superheroes are taken seriously, rather than treated as campy jokes. Now its time such films be held up to the same standards of intelligent story-telling as other big-budget Hollywood films. Spider-Man 3 does not meet those standards.

Paris, je t'aime

4.5 stars out of 5

Attracted by an intriguing review in the San Francisco Chronicle, I found myself watching Paris, je t'aime with about 200 people in an arthouse cinema that, over the last 20 years, has more commonly held 20 people. We all enjoyed it thoroughly. (I don't know what the Chronicle's nudity warning was about; I saw no nudity. Implied sex, yes, nudity, no). "Paris, I love you," is a collection of 18 films about the City of Lights by 18 different filmmakers, set in 18 different places around the city. There's a fair amount of English, and some very bad French (even I know very bad French when I hear it), so if you hate subtitles, don't come. Actually, some of the subtitles are terrible, washed out against the background. But overall, these films are clever, funny, touching, tragic and "can't look away" fascinating. A great investment of two hours, especially if you like your films arty and French. Or if you're the kind of person who reads short stories anywhere, but especially in The New Yorker. . Many of these scenes would be great setups for full length movies. As it is, they make the time pass and entertain. A nearly perfect film.

Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Darth Vader--- What Went Wrong?... Paul Newman says "That's all Folks"... Man Goes For World Record of staying Awake. Guinness says "Nice, but we don't do that record anymore"... Congolese cloth cult says "It's better to look good than feel good...or eat for that matter"... Photoshopped Children's Books... Wierdest DC/Marvel Crossover...EVER!... How about the Bollywood version of "Thriller"... Great. Now the Sharks have a Savior. We're screwed....

Dan Grobstein File

  • March, 1981. that was under saint President Reagan, wasn't it?: ABC News Headline: Price Of Gasoline Jumps To $3.22 A Gallon, Matching the March 1981 Inflation-Adjusted All-Time High Price For Gasoline in the United States.

Napa Diabetes Ride

Marlow now works for a foundation in downtown San Francisco associated with a brokerage firm. The firm fielded a large team of bike riders for the Diabetes ride in Napa Valley. She invited her mother and me to join her. So we made our $150 contributions, and spent six weeks training, gradually getting our mileage up to 50 miles. We rode 48 miles the weekend before. But, like most people who are training for a fundraising ride, we rode on days with reasonable temperatures and on flat bike trails. We rode the Iron Horse Trail in Danville, as well as the Contra Costa Canal trails. Not enough hill work, we discover when we actually start riding on State Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. I later discover that some people won’t do this ride because the shoulders are narrow, and, let’s face it, many drivers in the Napa Valley are impaired from their wine tasting. Vicki and I didn’t have any trouble with either of these things. We didn’t really ride with Marlow, who averaged 12 miles per hour and finished in four hours. We averaged 8 miles an hour and finished in six hours. The last half-hour was into a very strong head wind, and there were moments when Vicki wasn’t sure she could finish. But we finished. And as always the case in these rides, personal accomplishment was almost as important as the fundraising element.

By the way, we stayed at the perfectly lovely Napa River Inn in a river-view room. Right now, the esplanade is under construction, but someday soon the riverwalk in Napa should be quite something.