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July 14, 2012

doctorwho: We’re just going to leave this here…. The...



doctorwho:

We’re just going to leave this here….

The culmination of a year of working with BBC America. The cast of Doctor Who having fun at an animated gif photo booth at a meetup for the Doctor Who Tumblr at Comic-Con.

A duck bears no grudges

A duck bears no grudges:

msg:

rickwebb:

I love Buster Benson. A class act all the way. Sometimes, though, the dear fellow, one of my best friends, is self-deprecating to the core. He sell himself short. I just went out and visited him a couple weeks ago, and I know he’s sad about Habit Labs, and this blog post is a great read about someone picking themselves up and moving on, but as a good friend of his, I feel it doesn’t do him justice. 

His first startup, the Robot Co-Op, was founded in 2005. It won the Webby that year for Best Social Networking Site and we all loved it. Here’s the thing though. It’s still in existence, it’s still a going business to this day, seven years later. That, in itself, is an accomplishment. 

The bar? Okay. That didn’t work out too well. But you know what? I was an investor in it, and I don’t regret a second of it. One of the best times of my life that place. 

Then in this blog post he skips over 750words and Locavore as stepping stones to Health Month and Habit Labs and whoops, Habit Labs didn’t work so all of that was a failure.

But you know what? I don’t see it at that way at all. Locavore? A successful product that he sold and lives on to this day. 750 Words? Still alive and well, a site designed from the ground up to not be part of the viral loop, to be something personal and private and special, nonetheless still living on. Additionally it has spawned Peabrain, a product that I am now using and loving completely. 

Health Month? Sold, and will live on. 

The way I see it, that’s four successes Buster has had, all with amazing sites that have changed countless people’s lives for the better. 

I’ll go one further and say something Buster’s too polite to say: the failures of Habit Labs were not his fault, and the product itself (the part of the company he was responsible for) was special, and had amazing metrics around user retention. What Buster went through with an AWOL cofounder is nothing sort of extraordinary, poor luck, and unfair. I know Buster’s counterpoint to that would be that he chose and trusted this person, but considering that I have met literally dozens of amazing people through Buster through the years, every one of them simply wonderful, I can hardly agree with the supposition that his judgement of character is poor. 

Buster is one of the smartest, best people I’ve ever known. It’s super sad about Habit Labs, and as an investor I feel his pain as well, but it hasn’t shaken my faith in him at all, and I still think his accomplishments have been remarkable through the years. 

Oh, also, did you know he wrote a novel?

===

Rick does a great job explaining some of the reasons Buster is one of my heroes.

Also if you havent read his full post you should.

My fave lines:

Remember, we all die in the end anyway. Nobody’s going to be using this skull after I’m done with it so might as well give it a good pounding.

I’m happy to be here.

I have awesome friends. Thank you, Rick and Michael.  I’m lucky to have people continue to believe in me even after I’ve spent a lot of their (and others) hard-earned money. :/

The end of a company is difficult, and in the back of my head I still hate myself for not doing things differently at a few key points of the company’s history. I have to take full responsibility for the way things turned out and at the same time recognize that the universe is not entirely under my control. 

I just want to make it clear that my resolve to solving the problem that I’ve been trying to solve for however long has only been fused more strongly to my soul as a result of these events. My methods might not be the most efficient or practical, but they are the ones that, when successful, will be in the spirit and form that I strongly believe to be inseparable from the solution itself. If that makes any sense.

A New Objective-C Runtime

David Chisnall (via Graham Lee):

One of the biggest changes that the Étoilé runtime made was the message-lookup mechanism. First it made it possible for each object to have its own message-lookup function. Second it made the lookup function return a slot structure, rather than a method. The point of the slot structure was to make safely caching lookups possible using a lockless algorithm.

July 13, 2012

Virtual life on the line, The Daily launches WKND

News Corp.’s digital tabloid The Daily has been on borrowed time since it was an idea, given enough resources and backing by Rupert Murdoch to launch with a flourish but no guarantee that it would last. Given the way some projects have gone, getting launched and then through the first year was an achievement. Add in the plans to spin off the publishing assets, and it’s no surprise to hear rumors that The Daily may not get through the five years publisher Greg Clayman has said it needs to break even.

The New York Observer brought up “internal rumors” that “that The Daily has been put ‘on watch,’” repating a source’s claim that “the status of the groundbreaking iPad tabloid — which loses $30 million a year — will be reassessed after the November 6 election.” The New York Times followed with confirmation that News Corp. “is deciding the fate of The Daily” and that other small operations are under review as the company prepares to spin off its publishing assets into a separate company.

Not so, says The Daily Editor-in-Chief Jesse Angelo. In a letter to staff posted online Friday afternoon, he wrote of having “over 100,000 paying subs” renewing at a 98 percent rate and urged them to ignore “the haters”:

As for the latest misinformed, untrue rumors of our imminent demise, I would urge you to ignore them. Since before we launched, our dear friends at competing media outlets have done their best to wish us ill and gleefully ‘report’ on what they think is going on here. The truth is we have over 100,000 paying subs who are renewing their subscriptions at a 98% rate and fantastic advertisers who love our brand and keep coming back for more because they get results. Pay attention to them, not the haters.

This is the truth about the modern media business – all outlets, including the ones writing about us, are under pressure to prove themselves as businesses. We are no exception, and to be sure, we will need to continue to evolve, adapt and change in order to compete and be successful. As something new and different, we are an easy target for erroneous wishful thinking. But make no mistake, we will be nimble and we will compete.

(If that approach sounds familiar, Rupert Murdoch told News Corp. employees when the spin plans were announced to “ignore the naysayers.”)

It doesn’t help that The Daily has been vague in sharing its numbers or that amounts like “over 100,000″ are not far removed from the 100,000 mentioned earlier this year or the 80,000 of last fall even as iPads and other tablet use expands. True, it’s an achievement to go from zero to 100,000 or more paying subscribers.

But Murdoch said it would take 500,000 subscribers to make The Daily pay off; last fall it was averaging 120,000 unique readers a week; of those, I was told then that nearly two-thirds were paying while the rest were on two-week trial subscriptions. More than half of the paying subs — about 60 percent — were on the weekly rate of $0.99, the rest on the annual $39.99 plan. Publisher Greg Clayman later told Advertising Age that it actually had 80,000 paying subs.

That was before it expanded beyond iPad. Android users have a monthly option for $3.99 instead of weekly but the app is limited to certain Verizon Samsung devices. It’s hard to believe the number is meaningful. The iPhone version is $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year.

And despite support from Verizon and some other advertisers, one knock on The Daily has been its inability to attract advertising at the consistency and volume needed be successful on that front.

That $30 million loss figure is the number that stuck after Rupert Murdoch said that’s how much was being spent in the 2011 fiscal year including launch investment and a run rate of about $500,000 a week. I keep seeing it repeated but haven’t seen any confirmation of the amount, which would be about $26 million a year at that same run rate. That would put the investment so far at just under $60 million.

The Daily, however, was a trademark Rupert Murdoch brainstorm to create the first daily newspaper designed for a tablet and committed to making it a subscription-only app. The financial investment by News Corp. and the personal commitment by Murdoch plus the timing got it on the inside track with Steve Jobs, who made sure it had the support of Apple for the iPad. Jobs was supposed to be at the launch but was too ill; Apple’s Eddy Cue took the stage instead. The Daily stayed exclusive to the iPad for its first year, only recently adding an Android version and an iPhone app. It’s also has a Facebook app with just over 6,146 users.

Part of The Daily‘s conceit from the start has been to use its website for promotion, not as a destination, allowing stories to be shared as pdfs of the tabloid pages but not providing intact issues anywhere but the app. For some, that plan instantly spelled doom. But it made The Daily not only a truly digital-first newspaper — it was truly device-first and pushed innovation in design and photography. It also provided some major tech challenges. The Daily struggled with tech problems for months, including dense issues that took too long to download, persistent crashes and more. Those glitches when the spotlight was the brightest came with a serious opportunity cost.

The Daily also has had a hard time finding its footing editorially. As a subscriber from the start, I appreciate the often-deft tabloid covers and the way they’ve stretched presentation. I enjoy watching The Daily respond to breaking news with new covers during the day, the features about tech catch my eye and I think the overall package works as a concise read of daily news. (Ok, I also read the gossip section when I have time, although if you like the New York Post, it’s probably not mean or tawdry enough.)

It’s not a shock to me that the same people I know who dismiss USA Today don’t see any value in The Daily. Then again, they aren’t the target audience and neither am I. The Daily staff boast of writing for people outside the media capitols; news-wise it’s for people who back in the day might have subscribed to USA Today. Sometimes the writing style is bright and incisive; sometimes it’s stiff or shallow. The stories tend toward short and snappy because that’s what its readers want but it also runs historical features you wouldn’t expect in most papers with that focus. Its opinion sections tend towards conservative although every so often there’s a surprise.

The Daily also keeps evolving. This weekend it’s adding an in-app weekend magazine called WKND and sections for real estate and cars.

At the risk of getting my hand smacked for self-quoting, I wrote last fall:

No one at News Corp. expected it to be profitable this year or next; it’s always been a multi-year plan and it is still very much in start-up mode. (The cynic in me thinks Murdoch would like to keep it running at least through the 2012 elections.) … But with a weekly run rate of nearly $500,000 and a threshold of 500,000 subs, the tablet tab is going to have to show not only that it can keep subscribers but that it can grow. And it has to hope that corporate patience holds
out.

The cynic in me still has corporate patience lasting at least through the presidential election this November.

When I asked News Corp. Chief Digital Officer Jon Miller at paidContent 2012 about The Daily as a template for News Corp. digital news. “What we’re trying to figure out is how far it scales. If it can really scale, then it becomes a model,” he replied.

If it can’t scale, it won’t survive.

About closures

One such operation is already closing: the Newscore wire, designed to make better use of the work being done by News Corp. media outlets globally. Founder John Moody is going to FoxNews.com along with the technology, according to the Observer, while the other 20 or so staffers get the chance to apply for internal jobs.

35 Years After The Blackout at Shea Stadium...And New York

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the great blackout of 1977.





 

Shea_in_Blackout

BTW Jerry Koosman had 11 strikeouts when the lights went out.

I was 9 years old and had been sent to bed. We lived on the Grand Central Parkway, and the highway lights usually illuminated my bedroom. Suddenly it got real dark in my room.

My dad was on the subway coming home. Fortunately he was in a station when the power went out so he didn't stuck. We had to drive and get both him and my grandmother. When we got home, we listened to reports about the looting and fires, and could hear sirens all over Queens. The next morning, we drove around Queens, including over in Corona near Shea. My memories of some neighborhoods on July 14, 1977 are not much different than the images you see of downtown Baghdad these days.

What do you remember of the blackout?


We first posted on the 30th anniversary, and we got some great comments over the years. Here are some:

BOBSTER -

The blackout was one of the best things that happened to the Mets that summer...it came a month after they traded Seaver and Kingman, and the downward spiral was under way. At least they didn't lose when the lights went out.

Shea in the late 70s was about as depressing a place as there is....some nights they completely closed off the upper deck for lack of fans. What made it worse was that the Yanks were kickin' ass back then.

This was my second NY blackout - the first was in '65. This time, the city went nuts in an orgy of looting and burning. I had just gotten out of the subway at Main Street Flushing and was in the process of ordering a slice of pizza when the power went off. I just walked home, without my pizza.

STANLEY - Was at Shea Stadium that evening----I saved my parking stub ($2.00) in those days but forgot why I saved it. Computers r great for things we have forgotten.

RICH - I was in the second row (along the first-base line) for this game. Some of the players brought their cars onto the field through the entrance in center field so the headlights could light the field. Filing out of the stadium in the pitch black was weird, but weirder was driving all the way back to Staten Island with the entire city in darkness. We were at this particular game because my brother was a Bobby Murcer fan, and Murcer was on the Cubs that season.

STU - 35 years ago tonight. I was first row, field box, right field corner. Bobby murcer signed autographs all the way from the corner down toward the dugout. Players car headlights illuminated the field and they took phantom infield practice to keep us entertained.

Dock Ellis & The LSD

Baseball 2012 returns tonight. So it's a good time to think back on a more innocent time, before outrageous contracts and steroids and wild cards. You know, back when major league ballplayers got high on LSD and threw no-hitters.

Here's a great little animated short, based on an interview with one-time Met Dock Ellis.

Lifehacker Pack for iPad: Our List of the Best iPad Apps [Downloads]

There are over 225,000 apps designed just for the iPad, which makes finding the most essential apps for the tablet a bit of a hunt. Let us save you some time with this collection of the best iPad apps to help you get things done, stay connected, enhance your lifestyle, and more. More »


It's a Trap!

Figure_Four.jpg

I recently finished reading a book called "Built by Animals", by Mike Hansell, published by the Oxford University Press. It's a quick read, but quite full of fascinating things to think about. I picked it up because I'm always looking for engaging pop science reading, especially if it includes any ruminations on the biological aspects of human culture. This book is no exception. In one of the chapters, entitled "Two routes lead to trap building", Hansell reveals a simple and elegant fact that is one of my favorite minor eureka moments of the year. The fact is this: out of all the tens of thousands of vertebrate species on Earth, including the mammals, the birds, the reptiles, and the amphibians, humans are the only species that makes traps.

In the invertebrate realm, traps are everywhere- spiders are perhaps the most obvious and most universally succesful trap-makers, but caterpillars and ant-lions and cave glow-worms are trappers too.
Praxillura%20maculata%20Moore%2C%201923%2C%201.jpg

My favorite example from the book is Praxillura, a marine worm whose "mucus capture net…is held by six spokes that radiate from the mouth of the dwelling tube". Hansell prefaces his chapter on invertebrate trapping strategies with a short discussion of the history of human trapping and the impressive variation within the levels of complexity of human-made traps. The simplest is the snare, a loop of wire or cord hung in a spot where animals are likely to stick their heads: simple movement causes the snare to contract, and struggle tightens the trap. He describes a woven basket trap for fish from Thailand, a complex rattan structure with a one-way entrance to be baited and placed in the current and collected later when full, a structure with over 2,500 individual fastenings holding it together. At this point I put the book down and started thinking about other complex traps that humans make.
bowtrap.jpg
Two major ideas put forth to explain the explosive growth of human brain-size during the past 3 million years are the tool-making hypothesis and the Machiavellian hypothesis. Briefly put, the former supposes that using tools to process food freed up a lot more protein and fat in our ancestral diet, permitting the building of a larger and more complex brain. The latter says that it was the need for success in social situations that drove that growth, that in increasingly complex social environments individuals that could remember and manipulate social minutiae would be more successful. These two ideas aren't exclusive, and if you hold them up to the light together, you see the outlines of a trap.
Traps are everywhere, when you know where to look. The austerity programs crushing Europe are traps, the same ones used in South America and Africa during the Eighties, just with the blood washed off and given a new coat of chrome. The reality of this life under senescent capitalism is a narrative of capture and torment, the upshot of what happens when we turn our trap-making skills on one another.
Here's an example from closer to home: the day after the recent announcement by President Obama that the federal government would not be pursuing the deportation of young undocumented people, I was in a car with Julio Salgado. Julio is an undocumented artist and activist in the Bay Area, and he was describing, as we drove up through south San Francisco, the inevitable, imminent appearance of scams targeting undocumented people in light of Obama's announcement. Julio said: "Lawyers are going to be putting ads in the paper saying 'Are you undocumented? We can help you get your new permit!' and people who are scared and hopeful are going to be tricked into giving them a lot of money for no good result". That's a great example of the kind of trap that only humans can create. The education that many of those undocumented people are striving for is another- with student debt now at or exceeding $1 trillion and inextinguishable by bankruptcy, the educational aspirations of young people have become the raw matter of a new round of vampiric financial speculation. The universities know that there's no way into the sanctum of moneyed employment without a degree, and so their fees increase, and the private degree-mills and lenders and collectors circle the trapped like so many wolves in the snow.
snare.jpg

Humans are the greatest trap-makers the world has known, and maybe that defines us better than any of the other supposedly unique traits we possess. Maybe it was trap-making that made us what we are, weaving skillful webs of manipulation in our tightly knit social groups, out there on the savannah, out of the shade of the forest. It remains to be seen whether or not there is a backdoor, whether we can, like Houdini, slip our bonds before a cheering crowd and show that we are just as good at trap-breaking as we are at trap-laying. But Houdini always had a key and an accomplice, and the point of his act was to thrill the crowd with the idea that any escape was possible. Who knows what's really possible, but that idea is probably all we have.

break3.jpg

July 12, 2012

Billboard (US)

Love this flashy new Billboard magazine starring Green Day Creative director: Andrew Horton, read here a great post about the Business Week covers he designed.

Billboard (US)

nycgo:

The Gutter - Photo: Joe Buglewicz/NYC & Company



nycgo:

The Gutter - Photo: Joe Buglewicz/NYC & Company

When it comes to my mind that the 1990s project of moving OSes to dynlangs failed and now we're all using Unix

"Twitter is heading in a direction where its 140-character messages are not so much the main..."

“Twitter is heading in a direction where its 140-character messages are not so much the main attraction but rather the caption to other forms of content.”

- Interview of CEO Dick Costolo, Los Angeles TimesTwitter is building a media business using other people’s content 

Travis Snider Has Patience

Patience. The subtle sense is higher than desire and will.

— Travis Snider (@Lunchboxhero45) July 5, 2012

He’s batting .316/.396/.557 in AAA. What more do the Blue Jays want?

(I have a soft spot for Travis Snider, since he was on my Scoresheet team for the past few seasons– threw him back before the draft this year with much regret… although part of that regret was having turned down a Snider-for-Nelson Cruz one-for-one offer a couple of years ago….)

RA Dickey on Letterman

Related posts:

  1. Mets’ R.A. Dickey will be on Letterman July 11th
  2. METS: RA Dickey Q and A
  3. You want to own this R.A. Dickey All Star jersey


Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Errol Morris has a new essay on the New York Times site this week and it's surprisingly short. And it's actually not an essay but a two-question quiz based on this short passage by David Deutsch:

If a one kilometer asteroid had approached the Earth on a collision course at any time in human history before the early twenty-first century, it would have killed at least a substantial proportion of all humans. In that respect, as in many others, we live in an era of unprecedented safety: the twenty-first century is the first ever moment when we have known how to defend ourselves from such impacts, which occur once every 250,000 years or so.

It doesn't seem like much and Morris is being coy about it, but I've been assured that something interesting will come of it if enough people take it. So take it!

Tags: David Deutsch   Errol Morris

The 2012 Tour de France, Part 1 of 2

The 99th Tour de France cycling race began on July 1, as 22 teams of nine riders raced first through parts of Belgium, then on to France in stage three. Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara held the overall lead until stage six, when Team Sky rider Bradley Wiggins overtook Cancellara, gaining the leader's yellow jersey, which he still wears as of today. The Tour continues until July 22, heading into the Alps for grueling mountain stages in the second half of the race. The entire tour will cover a distance of 3,497 km (2,173 mi). Gathered here are images from the first half of the 2011 Tour de France. Part 2 will be posted after the finish. [40 photos]



The pack of riders cycles in the second stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Vise and Tournai, on July 2, 2012. (Reuters/Stephane Mahe)


Some Comics Links for Your Reading Pleasure

Here’s a quick round-up of comics-related links that have come across my desk recently. First, Comic-Con International opens today in San Diego, where there will be a a reunion of the “Firefly” cast on Friday. I think you could say that will be the highest concentration of pure geekdom this year.

In honor of the convention, this week’s issue of The Onion is a special comics edition. A sampling of my favorite headlines: “Economically Healthy Daily Planet Now Most Unrealistic Part of Superman Universe,” “Comics Not Just for Kids Anymore, Reports 85,000th Mainstream News Story” and (I can’t find a link for this one) “Captain Actual America Overweight, Hopelessly in Debt.”

Over at The A.V. Club (the less satirical sibling to The Onion), there’s an excellent interview with writer and 20-year comics veteran Mark Waid. It offers great insight into how one of the super-hero genre’s best writers thinks about the form in the 21st Century, including thoughts on how comics will evolve in the digital age. Perhaps the best quote is:

“The problem with comics, and I’ve said this before, is that we have over the past 50 years very, very successfully taken what used to be a mass medium and successfully turned it into a niche market.”

Finally, a few weeks ago New York Times senior film critics A.O. Scott and Manhola Dargis published this dialogue on the cinematic and cultural impact of the modern super-hero movie. I tweeted that “the whole exchange is depressing in every way,” but it’s still worth reading if you’re interested in critically appraising this genre that has come to dominate so much of popular culture.

To follow me on Twitter click here.

July 11, 2012

You’re glowing!

I love this so very, very much:

(The way it makes you look as if you only have one arm is way cool, isn’t it?)

Unfortunately, I don’t love this TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS much, which is what it’s currently going for at The Outnet. (Jebus, who spends two large on a dress you’re not getting married in? I do not understand. And that’s ON SALE!)

I love glow-in-the-dark stuff. I had a necklace-and-earrings set in junior high (that I used to wear at the movies) … I still have the necklace, although all the glow-juice has worn off. I currently have a glow-in-the-dark watch, although I never remember to wear it (and I go to fewer movies now, and it’s not so funny to glow in the movies now that everyone is glowing as they check their iPhones when the plots start to drag).

I’d love to find some glow-in-the-dark lining fabric to use under a black lace for a dress. In the daytime it would look just like a normal lining, and at night you would look like a city nightscape! Perfect. Sadly, it looks like glow in the dark fabric is really expensive. Anyone know of a better source?

Why we should defend the changes at the Times-Picayune

There’s been a lot of criticism of Newhouse-owned Advance Publications since the media chain announced it was scaling back printing of some newspapers in Louisiana and Alabama, including the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, which will now only be printed three days a week with a website picking up the slack. Some celebrity fans of the city have written an open letter asking the Newhouse family to either return to printing daily or sell the newspaper to someone who will, but the chain has refused. Are the critics right? In a blog post on the issue, Digital First Media CEO John Paton makes a strong case that the Times-Picayune has to find some way forward in a digital world, as all newspapers do — there is no going back.

Although the changes announced by Advance affect daily newspapers in Alabama and other states, the shutting down of daily printing for the Times-Picayune has attracted the lion’s share of attention, in part because of eulogies written by New Orleans fans like David Carr, media writer for the New York Times (who initially broke the news that the paper would no longer be printing daily and would also be laying off staff). Critics say the bond between New Orleans and its printed newspaper is different than it is in other towns and cities, as a result of incidents like the disastrous flood of 2005.

Change is coming, whether newspapers like it or not

Carr and others have tried to make the case that having a daily newspaper in print — rather than just an online operation — makes a crucial difference in how journalism is practiced in New Orleans, and point to the low penetration of internet access in the region. But Paton, who recently took the helm of Digital First Media (parent company of newspaper owner Media News Group) after turning around the bankrupt Journal-Register Co. chain, argues that Newhouse had no choice but to make some drastic moves in New Orleans and elsewhere, as print advertising revenue continues to dwindle. As Paton puts it:

An old and distinguished business in New Orleans has seen more than half of its revenue disappear in five years and has decided to change how it conducts business – before it goes out of business… The business is not alone in its problems. Everyone they know in the same industry has the same problems. Everyone knows something has to change.

Much of the coverage has focused on the way Advance communicated (or miscommunicated) the news, the departure of some key staffers from the Times-Picayune and other newspapers, and also the fact that the chain’s websites — including NOLA.com, which is expected to pick up coverage from the no-longer-daily paper — are underwhelming in the extreme when it comes to being bastions of local journalism. Some reporters have also been offered online jobs with odd titles such as “buzz reporter,” which hasn’t exactly helped to dispel such concerns.

No one knows what the right solution is

In his defence of the changes, Paton acknowledges that the chain communicated poorly, didn’t have its new digital assets in shape before it made the announcements, let some key writers go when they shouldn’t have, and made other mistakes that “chew[ed] up a lot of goodwill.” But despite those failings, Paton — whose own chain has made some dramatic changes at many of its newspapers in an attempt to deal with a decline in ad revenue — says that he supports Newhouse and its desire to try something different:

I support them because their industry is my industry and it will not survive without dramatic, difficult and bloody change. And like them I am willing to do what it takes to make our businesses survive.

In a lot of ways, the criticism triggered by Newhouse’s moves is similar to the backlash some other newspapers have faced for using outsourcing services like Journatic — which was attacked recently after using fake bylines on some of the content it provided to papers like the Chicago Tribune. As I argued in both a post on the topic and a segment on WNPR earlier this week, newspapers of all kinds are trying to find whatever means they can to cut costs, since they are facing an almost unprecedented decline in advertising revenue. Some are trying paywalls, some outsourcing — no one is sure of the right answer.

Could Newhouse have done a better job of handling the printing changes at the Times-Picayune and other papers? Almost certainly. And it remains to be seen whether the chain will actually devote the kind of resources to NOLA.com and its other online properties that they require (although it should be noted that the Times-Picayune published online only for several days during the floods of 2005 and later won a Pulitzer Prize for its work). But they are no different than any other newspaper owner — all of whom are trying to find a way of salvaging what they can from the wreckage of their former business model. Trying to return to the glory days of old just isn’t an option.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Zert Sonstige


Pythonista

Today, my friend Ole Zorn released Pythonista on the App Store. Pythonista can perhaps best be described as a full-fledged Python IDE for the iPad.

Pythonista Source Code Editor

It comes with a great source editor, complete with syntax highlighting, an extended keyboard (best feature: swipe left/right to navigate in the current line) and basic code completion for Python. The app’s built-in Python interpreter comes with the (almost) complete set of Python’s standard modules so a lot of existing Python code should work out of the box. You can either write a complete “mini-app” in the code editor and run it or explore the Python APIs from the interactive console.

Ole even wrote five new modules especially for Pythonista. These allow you to play sound, control iOS’s pasteboard, customize the interactive console and, coolest of all, write graphical mini-apps in Python, complete with touch handling and Core Animation-style layers and animations.

Pythonista includes complete documentation for the Python language, standard library and the custom extensions. The documentation browser is accessible from the code editor with a single tap. It also comes with ten examples that demonstrate the features and are a great way to learn some Python basics:

To test Pythonista out, I wrote a very simple Twitter search client today. It takes a keyword, performs a Twitter search on it and displays the most recent results. Despite the fact that I only have a very basic knowledge of Python and I have to look up pretty much every single API I use, it only took me about an hour to get a decent result. Download the code if you’re interested.

The app does have some limitations, of course, most of them due to the restrictions of the iOS platform. Needless to say that you can’t turn the Python apps you wrote into full-fledged iOS apps. Everything stays within Pythonista and Ole decided to forgo integrating any file-sharing functionality via Dropbox or iTunes so far for fear of an Apple rejection. So you’re currently limited to copy and paste to get code in and out of the app (unless you write a Python script that uploads itself, that is). Another thing that is currently not possible is drawing images loaded from the web but I hope that will be added in an update.

My favorite feature for the next version would be support for URL schemes that would let you run a script from via a URL (if Apple allows it). That way, apps like Launch Center Pro could theoretically act as a hub for scripting other apps. It’s like the iOS version of Unix pipes, if you will.

Overall, I think Pythonista is a really great app. It’s truly useful if you’re at all into Python and “dynamic languages”, it’s pretty unique on iOS and it’s really well executed, too. Not to mention that playing around with it is a lot of fun. $5/€4 on the App Store.

A Few Comments on the Alan Kay Interview, and Especially Patterns

Alan Kay

Many of my friends and colleagues on Twitter today are discussing the Interview with Alan Kay posted by Dr. Dobb's yesterday. I read the piece this morning while riding the exercise bike and could not contain my desire to underline passages, star paragraphs, and mark it up with my own comments. That's hard to do while riding hard, hurting a little, and perspiring a lot. My desire propelled me forward in the face of all these obstacles.

Kay is always provocative, and in this interview he leaves no oxen ungored. Like most people do when whenever they read outrageous and provocative claims, I cheered when Kay said something I agreed with and hissed -- or blushed -- when he said something that gored me or one of my pet oxen. Twitter is a natural place to share one's cheers and boos for an artyicle with or by Alan Kay, given the amazing density of soundbites one finds in his comments about the world of computing.

(One might say the same thing about Brian Foote, the source of both soundbites in that paragraph.)

I won't air all my cheers and hisses here. Read the article, if you haven't already, and enjoy your own. I will comment on one paragraph that didn't quite make me blush:

The most disastrous thing about programming -- to pick one of the 10 most disastrous things about programming -- there's a very popular movement based on pattern languages. When Christopher Alexander first did that in architecture, he was looking at 2,000 years of ways that humans have made themselves comfortable. So there was actually something to it, because he was dealing with a genome that hasn't changed that much. I think he got a few hundred valuable patterns out of it. But the bug in trying to do that in computing is the assumption that we know anything at all about programming. So extracting patterns from today's programming practices ennobles them in a way they don't deserve. It actually gives them more cachet.

Long-time Knowing and Doing readers know that patterns are one of my pet oxen, so it would have been natural for me to react somewhat as Keith Ray did and chide Kay for what appears to be a typical "Hey, kids, get off my lawn!" attitude. But that's not my style, and I'm such a big fan of Kay's larger vision for computing that my first reaction was to feel a little sheepish. Have I been wasting my time on a bad idea, distracting myself from something more important? I puzzled over this all morning, and especially as I read other people's reactions to the interview.

Ultimately, I think that Kay is too pessimistic when he says we hardly know anything at all about programming. We may well be closer to the level of the Egyptians who built the pyramids than we are to the engineers who built the Empire State Building. But I simply don't believe that people such as Ward Cunningham, Ralph Johnson, and Martin Fowler don't have a lot to teach most of us about how to make better software.

Wherever we are, I think it's useful to identify, describe, and catalog the patterns we see in our software. Doing so enables us to talk about our code at a level higher than parentheses and semicolons. It helps us bring other programmers up to speed more quickly, so that we don't all have to struggle through all the same detours and tar pits our forebears struggled through. It also makes it possible for us to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of our current patterns and to seek out better ideas and to adopt -- or design -- more powerful languages. These are themes Kay himself expresses in this very same interview: the importance of knowing our history, of making more powerful languages, and of education.

Kay says something about education in this interview that is relevant to the conversation on patterns:

Education is a double-edged sword. You have to start where people are, but if you stay there, you're not educating.

The real bug in what he says about patterns lies at one edge of the sword. We may not know very much about how to make software yet, but if we want to remedy that, we need to start where people are. Most software patterns are an effort to reach programmers who work in the trenches, to teach them a little of what we do know about how to make software. I can yammer on all I want about functional programming. If a Java practitioner doesn't appreciate the idea of a Value Object yet, then my words are likely wasted.

Ward Cunningham

Ironically, many argue that the biggest disappointment of the software patterns effort lies at the other edge of education's sword: an inability to move the programming world quickly enough from where it was in the mid-1990s to a better place. In his own Dr. Dobb's interview, Ward Cunningham observed with a hint of sadness that an unexpected effect of the Gang of Four Design Patterns book was to extend the life of C++ by a decade, rather than reinvigorating Smalltalk (or turning people on to Lisp). Changing the mindset of a large community takes time. Many in the software patterns community tried to move people past a static view of OO design embodied in the GoF book, but the vocabulary calcified more quickly than they could respond.

Perhaps that is all Kay meant by his criticism that patterns "ennoble" practices in a way they don't deserve. But if so, it hardly qualifies in my mind as "one of the 10 most disastrous things about programming". I can think of a lot worse.

Kurt Vonnegut

To all this, I can only echo the Bokononists in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle: "Busy, busy, busy." The machinery of life is usually more complicated and unpredictable than we expect or prefer. As a result, reasonable efforts don't always turn out as we intend them to. So it goes. I don't think that means we should stop trying.

Don't let my hissing about one paragraph in the interview dissuade you from reading the Dr. Dobb's interview. As usual, Kay stimulates our minds and encourages us to do better.

A Hypothetical Angels Trade for Zack Greinke

A couple days ago in these pages, I looked at what sort of trade package, in terms of prospects, might be necessary for a team trying to acquire either Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels before the July 31st deadline. Specifically, I looked at what other front-line starters had yielded for their respective teams in recent years — using John Sickels’ prospect grades as a rough guide as to the “quality” of the minor leaguers in question.

Here, I’d like to do engage in a practice that is both (a) endlessly amusing for the baseball fan and also (b) probably totally irresponsible — which is to say, using that earlier post as a foundation, I’d like to consider the hypothetical trade package a specific team might have to assemble in order to acquire Zack Greinke.

The hypothetical team in question? In this case, the Los Angeles Angels.

Last night — probably not under cover of darkness, as the sun sets quite late early in July — CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported not only that the Angels would be persuing Zack Greinke but that the club is regarded “by a person close to Greinke as a perfect fit.’” Regardless of the degree to which such reports are credible, this one, specifically, provides enough in the way of a pretense for what, as I’ve already admitted, is probably a mistake.

In terms of the sort of prospects which Greinke might yield from the Angels, we must first consider at least two factors — both (a) what needs, if any, the Brewers have and (b) what prospects within the Angels’ organization are comparable to those we’ve seen traded in other, similar deals.

To better guess at what the Brewers might consider their areas of need, let’s consider which players might be reasonably expected to occupy something like a starting role entering 2013 and the last year under which each of those players, respectively, is likely to be under contract. (It should be noted that, apart from a few starting pitchers and maybe Scooter Gennett, that the Brewers don’t have much in the way of prospects, currently, as Marc Hulet’s preseason farm rankings suggest.)

Here, then, is a list of 2013′s provisional starters, by position:

C - Jonathan Lucroy, 2017
1B - Mat Gamel, 2016
2B - Rickie Weeks, 2015
3B - Aramis Ramirez, 2014
SS - ???
OF - Ryan Braun, 2020
OF - Norichika Aoki, 2014
OF - Nyjer Morgan, 2014
OF - Corey Hart, 2013

Given this list, it’s fair to assume that shortstop is an area of need for Milwaukee — as Alex Gonzalez‘s option (dependent on however many of hundreds of plate appearances) won’t be vesting and Cody Ransom, despite having been adequate, is not really what any team would regard as an “answer” at short. Mat Gamel was only just replacement level through 75 plate appearances before his season-ending injury, so there’s the chance that the club will look elsewhere. Then again, Gamel was still the starter when he went down. An alternative is that Aramis Ramirez could move over to first base with Taylor Green taking over third. Finally, let’s consider starting pitchers of infinite interest to a selling team.

Looking at the Angels’ farm system, then, we will privilege shortstops, starting pitchers, and maybe a corner-infield sort. We will also look for ratings that were similar to the ones of the prospects netted by other elite starters in recent seasons. It appears to be the case — again, as we discovered in that piece from Monday — it appears to be the case that a typical package will include a fairly large group of minor leaguers (all the deals considered, for example, consisted of four prospects exactly), with one or two of those in the high-B range and another pair in the low-B or C-range.

All this considered, I decree what follows to be the most likely prospect package from the Angels system (Sickels’ notes on which you can read here).

Some combination of:
Jean Segura, 2B/SS, B (who maybe can and maybe can’t stick at short)

Plus two of the following:
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Grade B-
C.J. Cron, 1B, Grade B-
Luis Jimenez, 3B, Grade B-

Plus a starting-pitching prospect somewhere in the C-range — maybe Ariel Pena (RHP, C+), although he is maybe more valuable, at this point, than at the beginning of the season.

This, of course, is a game that anyone can play at home — either with the Angels, or any of the other teams that (per Heyman) have expressed interest in Greinke (links to the Sickels’ prospect ratings for which I’ve included below).

The idea is that, with some kind of framework established for what a front-line starter can yield, we’re at least capable of playing the game a bit more realistically.

Here are the links to other of Sickels’ preseason ratings: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers.

Twitter is building a media business using other people’s content

As Twitter continues to build out new features such as “expanded tweets” and curation-based services like its NASCAR editorial offering, it has become pretty obvious where the company is headed: it has given up on being a utility built on open APIs and is becoming a media company, powered by a rapidly-growing advertising platform. Twitter also has one big advantage that other media companies don’t: the fact that it doesn’t have to produce any of the content, but simply acts as a filter for information from other sources. Its success will be determined by how well it strikes a balance between helping other media entities and competing with them.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has repeatedly resisted suggestions that Twitter is a media entity, perhaps in part because the company wants to be seen as a partner for traditional media companies like newspapers and TV networks. But as its advertising business grows larger — thanks in part to reports from advertisers of “staggering” levels of engagement with ad features like promoted tweets — and it continues to tighten the rules on its API to squeeze out third-party developers, it becomes more and more clear that Twitter’s future is based on controlling access to the information flowing through the network as closely as possible.

Twitter’s future lies in capturing more user attention

The “expanded tweets” feature, which is currently being used by a number of media companies such as the New York Times (and GigaOM), is a glimpse of what this future looks like: if a tweet contains a link to an article or webpage that uses special tags, users can expand the tweet to show an excerpt of the original — or a video or photo or other content — inside the Twitter app or in a tab on Twitter.com. In an interview this week with the Los Angeles Times about the company’s plans, Costolo said something interesting about how Twitter sees its role. According to the newspaper, he said:

Twitter is heading in a direction where its 140-character messages are not so much the main attraction but rather the caption to other forms of content.

So instead of being a simple information utility that distributes 140-character messages, many of which contain links to other kinds of content, Twitter wants to become something more like a destination. Instead of sending people who click those links away to other websites and media outlets, the company wants to hang onto users for a little longer by showing them excerpts of that content inside its own frame — and it wants to do this primarily so that it can capture more of their attention, since that’s what advertising-based media players do. But then who ultimately gets to retain the value of that attention, Twitter or its media partners?

As I’ve argued before, this isn’t all that different from what the New York Times and other traditional media outlets are trying to do: namely, to walk the tightrope between pushing people away by giving them links to content elsewhere, and trying to hold onto them long enough to show them ads. Even Google is struggling with this dilemma — the company used to be known for the speed with which it sent users elsewhere, but over the past few years it has been spending more and more time trying to capture the attention of users and hold onto them for longer with services like Google+ and its Search Plus Your World feature. Facebook is also trying to be a partner for media companies, but to some extent is a competitor for attention and ad dollars as well.

Send users away, or try to keep them inside your app?

In a recent interview with Om as part of paidContent 2012 in New York, Betaworks CEO John Borthwick made a good point about the tension between pushing people away and holding them in. As he put it:

The grain of Twitter moves with the grain of the web; it’s similar to Google in that it’s a discovery platform that pushes you out. Now they’ve said “We’re going to be a media company” — but the grain of that moves in the opposite direction, to try and keep people in one place, to almost create a walled garden.

The big challenge for Twitter, then, is to somehow manage that transition properly. How does it capture — and to some extent control — more and more content from outside sources, so that it can hang onto users for longer and show them ads, without irritating the media companies and other entities that it relies on for that content? This is why critics such as blogging pioneer Dave Winer argue that Twitter is more of a competitor for media companies than a partner, because it is trying to do fundamentally the same thing that media outlets are trying to do, and it is doing so by using content that belongs to others.

This isn’t all that different from what services like Flipboard and Zite do: they also take content from other sources and aggregate and filter it, and they also walk a fine line by showing excerpts of an original source, or in some cases showing the whole thing inside their own frame (something Zite was threatened with a lawsuit over early in its career, before it was acquired by CNN). Some media companies are seeing the companies as partners — as the New York Times has with Flipboard and the Wall Street Journal has with Pulse — but they could also be seen as competitors in many ways.

Is Twitter a friend and helper to media companies, or a growing rival for both attention and ad dollars? Is it more focused on sending users away or on keeping them inside its walled garden? Those are the questions that anyone interested in Twitter’s future — either as a service or as a business — needs to think about.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr users George Kelly and jphilip

Bow Bin

A wonderful hybrid design for a trash bin from designer Cordula Kehrer and hand-woven by the indigenous Aeta people of the Philippines. More information at Areaware.com.

To follow me on Twitter click here.

Apartamento

If you’re arriving at magCulture for the first time via today’s piece about Apartamento by Tim Jonze in The Guardian, you may be interested to see more of the magazine. Here’s a link to a post about their seventh issue, published a year ago.

 

July 10, 2012

Japanese emoticon stamper

Time Out (New York)

Fab new cover Time Out New York edition; "Great Walks" Illustrated by ace Noma Bar Design Director Adam Fulrath Designer: Kathryn Brazier Editor in Chief: Michael Martin

Time Out (New York)

Building Stories, new Chris Ware graphic novel!

Ware Building Stories

Chris Ware is coming out with a new graphic novel called Building Stories, which has appeared in bits and pieces in other places.

Building Stories imagines the inhabitants of a three-story Chicago apartment building: a 30-something woman who has yet to find someone with whom to spend the rest of her life; a couple, possibly married, who wonder if they can bear each other's company another minute; and the building's landlady, an elderly woman who has lived alone for decades. Taking advantage of the absolute latest advances in wood pulp technology, Building Stories is a book with no deliberate beginning nor end, the scope, ambition, artistry and emotional prevarication beyond anything yet seen from this artist or in this medium, probably for good reason.

(via @mrgan)

Tags: Building Stories   Chris Ware   architecture   books

Mets Halfway Point Video

Randy from Read the Apple put together this little video at the halfway point of the season.

Related posts:

  1. Queens Crap: City drops eminent domain bid at Willets Point
  2. Willets Point to Get Redeveloped
  3. Report: Mets will honor Reyes with a video


Nobrow Press

This small publisher aims to be an “independent platform for graphic art, Illustration and art comics in the U.K. and abroad,” as well as “to become a leading proponent of quality in book design and a standard bearer for original creative content in print publishing.” They have a stable of incredible artists, including the French illustrator Blexbolex (whose children’s book “L’imagier des Gens,” though not from Nobrow, is still a favorite of mine). I received a copy of his Nobrow comic “Dogcrime” as a gift. Here’s a shot of another comic, “Abecederia.”

Nobrow Press

Find out more or order books at Nobrow.net.

To follow me on Twitter click here.

Some Kickstarter Projects I Am Backing

I don’t know what happened this week but suddenly I am really into Kickstarter. I’ve supported a few things in the past, but never really got into it until now.

I discovered I could not be followed on Kickstarter because they rely on Facebook accounts, so I thought I’d list my recently backed projects here for fun. (kickstarter.com/profile/torrez)

Jack Cheng 'These Days'

Jack Cheng’s book “These Days” sounds so good to me. For some reason backing books is an easy decision. I love books and I love the story of self-publishing. So whether it’s fiction or a book someone thinks needs to be written I want to help them. Plus when I was a kid I wanted to design computer interfaces for movies.


Glenn Fleishman 'Crowdfunding: a Guide to What Works and Why'

Crowdfunding: a Guide to What Works and Why”. Glenn Fleishman’s writing a book about crowd funding. Duh.


blink(1), the USB RGB LED

blink(1), the USB RGB LED” Simple. Obvious. Affordable little project I can hack with. It’s so obvious yet nobody I know of has done this. I love it. I can’t wait.


Celebrated Summer

Celebrated Summer” is a book by Chris Ernest Hall. Here is his bio: “Chris Ernest Hall has written a lot, but never been published. He’s worked on a lot of failed software products. He lives with his mother and three cats. THE END.” Straight off the cover and title are a tribute to Hüsker Dü, so if I was browsing in a book store this would already be in my stack for buying. But something about that synopsis (and bio)…I can’t put my finger on it. But I want to read this EXACTLY as much as I want to help Chris publish it.

Why Can't We Celebrate When the Court Gets It Right?

David Cole

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Celebration outside the Supreme Court after its ruling in the health care case, June 28, 2012

Why can’t we liberals savor our victories? The day after the Supreme Court decided to uphold the Obama administration’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Neal Katyal, who defended the law in the lower courts as acting Solicitor General for the Obama administration, published an op-ed in The New York Times that called the decision a “pyrrhic victory.” This was followed by another op-ed two days later in the same paper by Stanford Law School’s Pam Karlan, who called the case “no respite for liberals.”

Similar outcries greeted the Court’s decision to strike down three of the four provisions in Arizona’s anti-immigration law that the United States had challenged as conflicting with federal law. Instead of celebrating a decision that stopped in its tracks much of the anti-immigrant movement’s effort to enact harsh state laws, civil rights and immigrants’ rights groups lambasted the Court for “upholding” one of the four provisions (the requirement that Arizona police officers inquire into the immigration status of an individual who is stopped for some other lawful reason if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is in violation of federal immigration law). The fact that the Court had struck down the other three provisions was almost passed over.

And as the health care and immigration law decisions rounded out a Supreme Court term that included a number of outcomes favored by liberals, the Times’s own lead editorial on the term, entitled “The Radical Supreme Court,” said the Court’s “conservatism calls to mind the defiance of the court in the 1930s when it regularly struck down New Deal statutes during the Great Depression.” This was despite the fact that the court this term extended Fourth Amendment protection to GPS monitoring of cars; declared unconstitutional “indecency” fines imposed on ABC and Fox for brief nudity and expletives; extended Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel guarantees to guilty plea negotiations; barred mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles; and applied Congress’ liberalization of crack cocaine sentences retroactively to defendants who had committed their offences prior to the liberalization but were sentenced thereafter.

What’s going on here? Why can’t we recognize a win when it is handed to us on a silver platter? In both the health care and immigration law cases, the overall outcomes were broad victories for liberals. After all, the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was upheld, as was the requirement that states expand their Medicaid coverage substantially if they want to remain eligible for federal funds. And while it is true that five Justices concluded—wrongly in my view—that Congress could not have forced individuals to purchase health care under its power to regulate commerce, that decision is unlikely to have much practical impact. The ACA was the first time in US history that Congress even tried to require people to purchase something they did not want, and its mandate was ultimately upheld as a proper exercise of Congress’s tax power.

The justices in the health care majority did impose limits on Congress’s spending power, as Karlan’s article pointed out. They held that while Congress can condition new federal funding on state expansion of Medicaid to cover a broader class of individuals, Congress cannot deny states pre-existing Medicaid funding if they fail to expand their coverage. In a sign of just how crazy politics have become, five Republican governors have now threatened to reject the new federal funds—even though under the program the federal government would initially pick up all of the new costs of expanded coverage, and 90 percent of the costs of expansion long-term. Only time will tell whether state governors will be willing to deny their own citizens billions of dollars of federal assistance in order to make a symbolic partisan point. But more generally, this aspect of the decision—which was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan—was very fact-specific, and turned on the vast amount of money involved and the radical changes effected by the ACA; it is unclear that it will present any serious obstacle to Congress’s ability to craft future spending programs.

Liberal critics are right to point out that the health care law should have been easy to uphold on constitutional grounds, given Supreme Court precedents recognizing Congress’s plenary power to regulate economic matters, so the fact that it was decided by a single vote is worrying. But surely it is good news that even though the law’s challengers spent over $200 million on advertising to support the legal challenge, dwarfing the amount spent by the law’s defenders, the end result seems to have been dictated by law, not money.

Similarly, in the immigration law case, while the Court left standing the “check your papers” provision, it did not actually uphold that provision. The majority merely ruled that it was too early to declare the provision invalid on its face, before it had ever been applied, because the provision includes safeguards that, if honored, might render it consistent with federal law. In doing so, the Court warned that the Arizona police could not detain persons solely for the purpose of checking their immigration status, or extend their detentions for such purposes. And it noted that if the law were executed in ways that violated federal laws, such as the prohibition against discrimination, future legal challenges would be appropriate.

Why, then, are we loath to acknowledge that the Court did the right thing in these and other cases this term? In part, I fear it is a reflection of our intensely partisan culture, in which demonization of the other side is de rigueur, and it has become increasingly difficult to recognize that the other side has done anything good. It may also be a function of expectations; we have come to see this Court as radically conservative, so when it does something that departs from that position our first inclination is to be suspicious.

And in part, it may be the tendency of too many liberals to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The progressive television news show “Democracy Now,” in a special broadcast the morning the health care decision came down, featured activists criticizing the Court for upholding a law that they see as coddling the insurance industry. (They argued that the law should have been struck down for failing to create a single-payer system, even though that policy question was not even before the Court.) Upholding the ACA on Commerce Clause grounds would have been preferable to the taxing power theory around which the majority coalesced, and we’d rather the Arizona law had never been enacted. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and in this world, it is a very good thing that the Court upheld health care and invalidated most of Arizona’s law.

This is not to say that there aren’t legitimate grounds for concern. This Supreme Court is indeed fundamentally conservative. The fact that Chief Justice Roberts has sided with the Court’s four liberal Justices a grand total of once in the more than one hundred 5-4 cases since he joined the Court (and that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have done so only twice, and Samuel Alito never), makes clear how divided, and conservative, this Court is. Still, the surprising number of liberal results this term suggests that the picture is more complicated.

The Arizona and health care cases in particular may best be understood as instances in which the Court was simply unwilling to go as far as the radical conservative political movements that have taken hold in the country at large wanted it to go. The Arizona law was driven by extreme nativist groups, and the most vocal challengers to the health care law came from the Tea Party. It is important not to lose sight of how conservative the Court is, particularly as it prepares next term to take up questions of affirmative action, voting rights, and gay marriage. But at the same time we should celebrate the fact that—on these two crucial decisions—the Court was unwilling to join forces with such hard-right and well-funded forces.

At least sometimes, the rule of law, and fidelity to precedent, constrain conservative judges to reach liberal results.


This is the second of two posts on the Supreme Court’s surprising 2011-2012 term. Yesterday Ronald Dworkin considered why Chief Justice John Roberts might have changed his mind in the ACA case.

The neverending feature backlog

Excellent piece from Joel Spolsky yesterday on software inventory and bug databases:

“The trouble is that 90% of the things in the feature backlog will never get implemented, ever. So every minute you spent writing down, designing, thinking about, or discussing features that are never going to get implemented is just time wasted. When I hear about product teams that regularly have ‘backlog grooming’ sessions, in which they carefully waste a tiny amount of time and mental energy every day or every week thinking about every single feature which will never be implemented, I want to poke my eyes out.”

Reminds me of the original Getting Real from 37signals. Back in 2006:

“So what do you do with all these requests that pour in? Where do you store them? How do you manage them? You don’t. Just read them and then throw them away.

And:

“It sounds blasphemous but the ones that are important will keep bubbling up anyway. Those are the only ones you need to remember. Those are the truly essential ones. Don’t worry about tracking and saving each request that comes in. Let your customers be your memory. If it’s really worth remembering, they’ll remind you until you can’t forget.”

The history of Twitter's @reply

Evan Henshaw digs through some ancient tweets to find the first usage of the now-ubiquitous @reply on Twitter.

The @reply was created on Thanksgiving day, November 23rd, 2006. One wonders if this was the first case of geeks using twitter to avoid their family on thanksgiving.

See also the first use of hashtags on Twitter. It's funny that so many of the things that make Twitter compelling weren't actually invented by Twitter but by the users and developers.

Tags: Evan Henshaw   Twitter

oldtweets

oldtweets is a search engine for the first year of Twitter.

A bunch of folks asked about the how. The Twitter API provides a method for fetching a tweet by ID. So to build an index of the first year of Twitter you need call the api for each ID in the range of IDs 1-20,000,000. 20 million API calls at the rate of 150 calls per hour. Or roughly 15 years of elapsed API time to index year one.

It also helps to know that Twitter is, and has always been, a MySQL shop, and that in the early days there was a theory about scaling databases by using large auto-increment offsets. (I don’t remember what the logic of that was) That started about 6 months in, was turned off for a while, and periodically drifted. So good news the 20 million ID space is very sparse, which significantly cuts down on the elapsed API time. You just need to send tracers into the space to map it.

From there it’s just a question of patience.

The whole things runs on a very small EC2 instance, and it’s on this week’s todo list to get the index running under Upstart, but it hasn’t happened yet. So if it goes away….

Why

I think our history is what makes us human, and the push to ephemerality and disposability “as a feature” is misguided. And a key piece of our personal histories is becoming “the story we want to remember”, aka what we’ve shared. I just wanted my old tweets, as a side effect I got all of them.

Providing an interface to the whole corpus was motivated by the desire that folks would investigate where the social norms arose, exactly like Rabble’s @-reply investigation.

Year 1

I thought year one was a meaningful symbol. It maps to the time when we were figuring out how to use Twitter, and maps to the time when I felt like the service was working best for me and mine as an “ambient intimacy” service.

Additionally after SxSW 2007 the rate of tweeting increased significantly, making the brute force approach even slower.

→ Penny Arcade offers to go ad-free on Kickstarter

An interesting experiment: if they raise enough money to replace the ads, they’ll drop them. (Via John Siracusa.)

As we discussed in yesterday’s podcast, advertisers are usually willing to pay much more than online audiences would be willing and able to pay themselves, and that’s why advertising is by far the most common method to fund media.

Penny Arcade is challenging their audience to make them a counterexample.

∞ Permalink

The great dude battles of the 1880s

King Of The Dudes

E. Berry Wall was a dude. But not just any dude. In 1888, he was declared "King of the Dudes" in a competition against another gentleman, one Robert Hilliard.

Wall became famous after meeting Blakely Hall, a reporter hungry for good copy. Thereafter, every week or so, Hall's articles publicizing Wall's adventures in clothing appeared in newspapers across the country. Then one of Hall's competitors set up a rival, actor Robert "Bob" Hilliard, another flashy dresser. Thus began the Battle of the Dudes, in which each sought to eclipse the other in sartorial extremes. According to the Times, Wall finally won when, during the Great Blizzard of 1888, he strode into the Hoffman House bar clad in gleaming boots of black patent leather that went to his hips. (Nonetheless, some social historians claim Hilliard won with the high boots, supposedly part of his Western gambler's costume from a play in which he was then appearing).

But it was Wall who won a later sartorial marathon:

Wall won another contest in Saratoga when daredevil financier John "Bet-A-Million" Gates wagered that he could not wear 40 changes of clothes between breakfast and dinner. On the appointed day, Wall repeatedly appeared at the racetrack in one flashy ensemble after another until, exhausted but victorious, he at last entered the ballroom of the United States Hotel in faultless evening attire to wild applause.

I wonder how Wall would have done against the likes of Kanye and his entourage? (via @mrgan)

Note: Illustration by Chris Piascik...prints & more are available.

Tags: E. Berry Wall   fashion

BRACE YOURSELVES

Ginter is coming...


Retail wax hit Wal-Marts and Target this weekend like the blitzkrieg hit Poland (Godwin'd!) and entire STORES worth of blasters have already been swooped up by bloggers. You're about to see a LOT of Ginter. I may or may not have acquired a few packs myself.

I don't have time for a full blown post, but I can give you a small taste of what is to come.



Melky Cabrera. How lovely. Dare I say Melky-jo? Nah, I'm not saying that. That's just dumb. So, uh, brace yourselves for more of this. A LOT MORE. Hmmmm... am I forgetting anything?

somebody else drew this I can't remember who. reverse image search it


Oh yah. Duh!

July 9, 2012

Yum.

Is it hot out where you are? I won’t incur the wrath of everyone east, north, and south of the Rockies by telling you how nice it is in the Bay Area. But if it’s hot where you are, you really need this dress:

Especially because it has these adorable pockets:

I’m not a huge fan of purple but I love the Easter colorway in this dress. Especially with that chartreuse-y green …

Click on the images to visit this dress at LuciteBox.com … Holly is having a sale to help replace her broken bike, use the code BIKE at checkout to get 25% off!

→ “Little-known”

The Wall Street Journal:

Little-known social coding start-up GitHub Inc. has raised $100 million in its first round of funding, in a sign of how big investment bets are continuing in Silicon Valley.

It’s “little-known” compared to Facebook, I guess. But developers are a pretty big group.

∞ Permalink

On LCD screens and parenting

Behold: the Fisher-Price Apptivity Case, a protective baby-friendly cover for your iPhone.

I'm a digital guy, have been since I got an Atari as a second-grader. I now have two kids that can't help but see my TV set, laptop, iPad, iPhone, iPod. They think it's fascinating and fun.

So I did what any responsible parent should do. I downloaded and tested some age-appropriate apps and let my older son explore. The iPad and iPhone are genius devices in their usability, with their clutter-free fascia and immersive interfaces. So now the gadget is teaching the boy animals, colors, shapes, letters, memory retention and matching, spatial relations, you name it. We also set up guidelines: no screens between breakfast and dinner, no YouTube (Thomas the Tank Engine snuff films! who knew?), you have to play out difficult boards and not quit things quickly, etc.

That boy is now 4 and is as digitally savvy as anyone his age. He's also wicked good at memory matching games, he can write his letters in capitals and lowercase, and he plays sophisticated games like Flow, Trainyard and Rush Hour better than many adults. Heck, he figured out how to unlock the home screen at 21 months. And he still loves his real-world toys, crayons and books.

Done right, gadgets are as wondrously useful for young people as they are for adults.

My baby boy is 15 months and dying to play with the iPhone. Right now he only gets glimpses when his big brother is engaged. Soon enough, Eli, soon enough.

Wes Anderson’s Kingdom

Sam ShakuskyOn the whole, I’ve enjoyed most of director Wes Anderson’s oeuvre, and I count myself a fan. Enough so that I’m even partial to his oft-maligned Jacques Cousteau riff “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” one of his least-liked films. It’s far from perfect, I admit, but there’s enough of a through-line to it from “Rushmore,” his 1998 breakthrough, that I find it worthwhile. “Rushmore,” in case there’s any doubt, is a film that I found to be thoroughly wonderful and full of singular promise. It balanced a wholly novel worldview with indelible characters. There’s been very little like it from other directors since.

Over the weekend I went to see Anderson’s newest movie “Moonrise Kingdom,” which like his past works is another Joseph Cornell-like cinematic diorama, full of diminutive but delightful details and vaguely familiar but endearingly idiosyncratic characters. It tells the tale of two pre-teens who fall in love and plot to steal away to a remote part of a fictional New England island, and the comical search parties that pursue them.

Two Different Kinds of Direction

Part of the wonder of a Wes Anderson film, for me, is getting to see the kind of film a designer would make given a budget, a crew and a sampling of today’s most notable celebrities. Anderson populates his movies with big name actors eager to burnish their indie cred, and he surrounds them with the accoutrements of his obsessions: obsolete technology, dubious uniforms, imaginary cartographies, naive architecture, and more. Every single piece counts, and is placed exquisitely in relation to every other. Most filmmakers compose their frames, but it might be more accurate to say that Anderson lays his out, much the way print designers once pasted up pages in lavishly illustrated encyclopedia volumes. It’s not film direction, it’s art direction.

In this, Anderson remains at the height of his powers. “Moonrise Kingdom” looks great. The eye can’t help but pore over each frame, visually twiddling with the seemingly endless details festooned fussily on every object. No one can art direct quite like Wes Anderson, and together with his regular cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, no one can produce films quite this visually rich. The story is set in 1965 and is rendered with an appropriately halcyon color palette that’s a wonder to behold; it evokes an intoxicating, imaginary past with the verve of an Instagram photo adapted for the screen by a true auteur.

Moonrise Kingdom

Nevertheless, I found myself intermittently irritated by it. To watch “Moonrise Kingdom” is to be enthralled by the totality of Anderson’s vision, and even to be warmed by the obvious fondness that he has for his characters. But the movie is also ninety-four minutes of starvation if you’re hungry for any kind of substantial character development. The protagonists (and by the end, nearly everyone is a protagonist, undermining any real dramatic tension the plot had going for it) are little more than inventories of their scripted eccentricities. The director offers scant few arguments for why any of the characters do any of the things they do; they’re all just dress-up dolls at the beck and call of Anderson’s charmingly pre-adolescent fetishes.

Poor character development can seem like a petty complaint when Anderson also provides the visual riches that he does. His technical proficiency is clearly higher than ever, and if you can set aside the centrality of character development, you’d have no trouble arguing that “Moonrise Kingdom” is a remarkable jewel of a movie. (In fairness, the characters are not as horrifically ill-conceived as they were in Anderson’s 2007 travelogue “The Darjeeling Limited.”) This is perhaps how we should think of Anderson’s films from here on out: technical marvels engineered to show off endless quirk. That’s a legitimate credential; it’s just not the one I would have hoped for right after I saw “Rushmore.”

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O! Ryan Braun!

Despite being the sixth most valuable position player in the National League (per WAR) this year, the third most outfielder, and, easily, the most valuable left-fielder, Ryan Braun is only starting the All-Star game tomorrow night because of Matt Kemp‘s injury.

Also, even with Mr. Kemp being injured, Ryan Braun was not invited to participate in the Spanks & Taters Contest tonight, despite being the NL leader in Spanks/Taters with 24 (Carlos Beltran is second with 20).

Brauny was not included in any All-Star Game promo or other official MLB promo this year, and I guess it’s pretty obvious why. But the fact of the matter is, whatever “happened” in 2011 and before, Braun is almost certainly not using PEDs now (he’d have to be an idiot to do so), and even in the face of incessant taunting of opposing fans and a cold shoulder from MLB, Braun is putting up another MVP-caliber season.

Despite all this, Ryan Braun is still a star. In Milwaukee, amidst a disappointing season that will probably not see a 2011 division title defended, Braun is much more than a star — he’s a constellation.

Thus I present, Orion Braun:


“And his bright junk shall guide us…”-Homer

UX Week. Now Ten Times Stronger.

From the beginning, we didn't want Adaptive Path to be just a consulting firm. We loved attending and speaking at events and saw putting on our own as a great way to share our knowledge, learn from others, and bring our community together.

We started small, with a single two-day workshop in 2001 that we took on tour around the United States in 2002. That went so well we decided to tackle something a little bigger—and UX Week was born.


For the first UX Week in 2003, we stuck to an all-workshop format, but the following year we expanded our scope to include conference-style presentations, including our first guest speakers, such as Doug Bowman and Jason Fried (before he was famous!). This established the basic UX Week formula we've maintained to this day: inspiration through talks about ideas and case studies, plus practical skills-building through hands-on workshops.

Along the way, we've been fortunate to host not only some of the world's top UX designers, but fascinating people from a wide range of disciplines. We've always looked toward fields adjacent to user experience design for inspiration. We've also changed as UX has changed—after attendees told us they needed more content about managing teams, we added a management track in 2006. The following year, we spun that out as its own conference, MX: Managing Experience.

This year, the 10th UX Week promises another potent, wide-ranging mix of ideas and experiences. Check out our keynotes:

  • Microsoft's Jensen Harris on Windows 8 and the radical Metro UI
  • Researcher danah boyd, sharing her latest insights on young people and social media
  • Anthropologist Genevieve Bell on how technology is transforming human behavior
  • Design legend Stefan Sagmeister, offering his singular perspective on creative work

Then there's the rest of our main stage lineup. We've got case studies both digital (Gina Trapani of social media startup ThinkUp) and not so much (the Boeing 787 Dreamliner!). We've got a museum exhibit designer, an expert on sustainable design, and a toy inventor. And of course, we've got longtime UX stalwarts like Bill DeRouchey, Tom Coates, and Peter Merholz (who?) sharing their wisdom.

Don't forget about workshops. Hands on, small groups, learning by doing! We've got some great ones this year, including service design, content strategy, game design, and even improv (trust us, it's relevant!).

Okay, you get the idea. It's August 21-24 in San Francisco, and we'd love to have you there, again, or for the first time. Check out uxweek.com to register or learn more.

Time to Hack the RIBBA With VÄCKIS Clocks


Materials: 1 RIBBA 9" x9" frame; 9 VÄCKIS clocks; 9 AA Batteries

Description:
1) Open back of RIBBA frame and remove mat. Leave the spacer inside the frame.
2) Insert one AA battery into each of the nine clocks.



3) Synch the time on all the clocks.
4) Insert VÄCKIS clocks into the RIBBA frame.


5) BE SURE TO TURN OFF THE ALARMS.
6) Replace back of RIBBA frame.

You're done!


You can paint your frame, hang it on the wall, or otherwise customize it to fit your space.

~ E.O. Jackson, Washington, DC, United States

[image: Screen shot 2012-07-06 at 7.55.39 PM.png]

At the top

Screen shot 2012-07-06 at 7.55.39 PM.png

At the top of the page is a Purple Heart medal; beneath that is a photo of Army Pvt. Corrado Piccoli, who was awarded a Purple Heart during World War II before being killed in action later in the war.

Pvt. Piccoli and his Purple Heart are at the center of a really interesting report that ran on NPR on July 6. It's about a 31-year-old Vermonter named Zac Fike, who likes to seek out old military medals (in antiques stores, on eBay, etc.) and then tries return them to the soldiers' families. In the case of Pvt. Piccoli's Purple Heart, Fike was able to track down Piccoli's sister, who's now 85 years old, and return the medal to her. (Audio of the NRP story, along with a text version, is available here.)

This is, of course, very Permanent Record. As I listened to the NPR story, many of the details sounded so familiar to me. When Fike first contacted Pvt. Piccoli's sister, for example, she was initially suspicious of him, which is the same response I often get when contacting the family of a Manhattan Trade School student. By the end of the story, however, the sister tells Fike, "We were very fortunate that you were the one who ended up with the Purple Heart. You're part of our family now." I'm happy to say I've been on the receiving end of that type of sentiment as well, and it's a very humbling thing.

I don't mean to equate a report card's significance with that of a Purple Heart. But they both serve as powerful reminders that a simple object can carry stories, stir memories, and even serve as a conduit for intimacy between strangers. And like all lost items that become found, they can trigger the impulse to bring that wayward object back to where it belongs.

(Special thanks to Kirsten Hively for letting me know about the NPR story.)

+ + + + +

Finigan Update: I've now written several blog entries about the Finigan family of Darby, Pennsylvania, because I ended up with a bunch of their receipts, invoices, and other paperwork from the 1940s. In my last entry, I noted that Harold Finigan, who had established a tradition of hanging Christmas decorations in Darby, was likely deceased by now, and I wondered if anyone was now putting up the decorations in his stead.

That prompted the following note from reader Scott Jackson:

I asked a former co-worker about this. She's lived in Darby since the 1960s. She wrote back, "No after Mr. Finigan died in 2005, there was a fire and the store that the family owned burned down. Everything in the store was destroyed, along with many of the decorations that Mr. Finigan put up. Darby is not the same place it used to be, which is very sad."

Too bad. But thanks for the info, Scott.

Class action trial over e-book pricing at least one year away

New court filings related to an alleged conspiracy between Apple and publishers over e-book prices show the matter may not be resolved until 2014 or later. The filings reflect the sprawling dimensions of the litigation and also underscore how the legal system moves at a much slower pace than the fast-evolving e-book market.

Lawyers for Apple, publishers, the U.S. Department of Justice and state governments on Friday filed a new schedule and status report about how they intend to undertake the case. The case itself turns on whether Apple and five publishers broke antitrust laws when they introduced a commission-style pricing system for e-books in a bid to halt Amazon’s growing dominance in the market.

The schedule confirms that a trial pitting the Justice Department against Apple and two of the publishers is set for June 3, 2013, and reveals that final preliminary filings in the related state government and class action cases are due in October of 2013. In reality, this means any class action trial would not take place until 2014. This second part of the proceedings is important because it determines how much money Apple and the two publishers will have to pay if they are found to have conspired to overcharge readers for e-books. The Justice Department segment of the case, set for next June, could result in new pricing rules but not payouts to consumers.

The new filings also set out a complex agreement as to how the parties will coordinate the expensive process of gathering evidence and deposing witnesses. Under the agreement, the Justice Department and state governments will share transcripts and other findings related to their investigations with the class action lawyers who are seeking millions on behalf of consumers.

The process has become especially complicated because three of the publishers have already reached a settlement with state governments, led by Texas and Connecticut, worth tens of millions of dollars that effectively cuts out the class action lawyers. The settlement, however, does not yet include every state and nor does it cover Apple or the other two publishers, Penguin and Macmillan. The holdout defendants, if found liable, could end up paying tens of millions more into the consumer settlement pool.

The holdouts, however, insist that they did nothing wrong and say that the Justice Department and their other accusers went after the wrong target. Apple and the publishers have said it is Amazon and its dominant control of the e-book market that should be the real subject of antitrust scrutiny.

The documents filed on Friday also state that the parties will begin talks with a mediator this fall to consider a settlement. For now, though, this appears to be a legal formality rather than a sign that the trial will be called off.

As the legal proceedings drone forward, the market for e-books continues to evolve rapidly. A growing number of reading platforms are entering the market — from the Galaxy tablet to new versions of the iPad, Nook and Kindle Fire — and the rest of the world is expected to join North Americans in embracing e-books (see my colleague Laura Owen’s recent report here).

E-book Litigation Schedule Copy
(Image by  Kristo-Gothard Hunor via Shutterstock)

TED Books launches iOS store, with subscriptions

Conference organization TED already publishes ebooks. Now it is selling them through a new app, Ted Books for iOS. Readers can also buy subscriptions.

TED’s book apps is built on the platform developed by Brooklyn-based publisher and developer Atavist. That allows for enhanced features like video and audio. For example, videos of TED talks are embedded into some of the books. The videos can be watched anywhere — “subway and airplane-ability are very important to us,” Tom Rielly, TED fellows and community director, told me. They can also be streamed to Apple TV through Airplay. An “embryonic” commenting feature allows readers to leave comments at the end of the books.

Readers can buy the books a la carte for $2.99 each or can purchase a subscription: $14.99 for three months of books. That price includes six books, with one new one delivered every two weeks. “Founding subscribers” — those who sign up in the first 90 days — get free access to all the books in the back catalog. (Authors are paid advances and also get a royalty each time their book is downloaded.)

“Assuming we get enough subscribers,” Rielly said, “we are guaranteeing an author a first printing that is larger than they were used to.” He noted that many TED speakers aren’t full-time authors. “They don’t necessarily have time to write a giant book,” he said, “but they can get one of these books together more quickly.”

July 8, 2012

Spider-Man at 50: The strange tale of ‘Amazing Fantasy’

A key panel from “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15. (Marvel Comics)

These are days of silver and gold for Spider-Man. This week he returned to the silver screen in director Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and next month he celebrates his golden anniversary — it will be 50 years since “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15 introduced a character who would become the gold-standard creation of the silver age.

The new film takes its title from a slab of Marvel bedrock: “The Amazing Spider-Man” was the name of the series that began in 1963 with No. 1 and is now closing in on issue No. 700. But what was the deal with “Amazing Fantasy”? How did the 15th and final issue of a series with something of tin-bucket heritage end up with a holy grail character that would revolutionize comics and define the Marvel brand of melodrama? It’s an elusive question, in a way, because that No. 15 glows so bright that the previous 14 issues  is a deep, dark shadow for most collectors.

“Amazing Adult Fantasy” No. 7 (Marvel)

The title kept changing names, for one thing, which is never a good sign. The creative team at Marvel’s soon-to-be-famous House of Ideas was looking for anything that might stick. “Amazing Adventures” for its first six issues, the title switched to “Amazing Adult Fantasy” for the next eight (and no it wasn’t that kind of adult fantasy). Like a weary con man, after No. 15 the series stopped using aliases, put its hands up and went off to the long-box penitentiary; visiting hours are silver age boxes on top of rickety card tables at conventions.

But that final issue — wow, what a way to go out. The cover had three words just below the title: “Introducing Spider Man.” There wasn’t a hyphen but, far, far stranger was the absence of any exclamation point at the end of the phrase. Wait, are we sure Stan Lee wrote this?

It’s amazing (yes, the word of the day) how much of that first Spider-Man story by Lee and Steve Ditko echoed in the character’s core portrayal as he leaped across media — comics and animation,  video games and live-action TV, even a Broadway show. The elements are so familiar but so revolutionary at the time: The bite and the burglar,  the web-slinging and wall-crawling, the friends and the family, the angst and the bullies, the death and the tears, the power and the responsibility, etc.  Think how different it was from DC Comics where, sure, Bruce Wayne might struggle to lift a gorilla wearing a bomb but at least he knew his checks would never bounce.

In those days, DC felt as dangerous and daring as Pat Boone. The company of Metropolis and Gotham City even gave Boone his own insipid comic book title in August 1959, but revolution was already in the air; that same month an early lineup of the Quarrymen played at the opening night of the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool, England. The Quarrymen would become the Beatles, who were called the Fab Four and, hey, doesn’t that sound kind of like the Fantastic Four? Marvel and the Beatles each represented energy, generational crackle, irreverence and, eventually, cosmic aspiration. Superman was Elvis, made strong by the yellow sun (or the yellow label of Sun Records) but not keeping tune with a new generation’s heroic ideal.

Martin Goodman (Reuters)

Where did Marvel come from? The golden age, it turns out. The 1960s comic-book company we call Marvel had existed since the late 1930s under a publisher named Martin Goodman (who died 20 years ago this month in Palm Beach, Fla.). Goodman produced a wide variety of periodicals – pulp magazines, paperback books, comics, crossword puzzle books, girlie magazines, you name it.  The comic book arm of Goodman’s empire was initially known as Timely and went by the moniker Atlas in the 1950s. The name Marvel first appeared in the early 1960s, at roughly the same time the company began publishing stories featuring some newly created superheroes – the Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, the Hulk, Spider-Man and Thor. Marvel was also publishing comics representing other genres, notably westerns (Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt, Outlaw), teen comedy (Patsy Walker, Millie the Model) and horror/sci-fi anthologies.

That last category, horror/sci-fi anthologies brings us to “Amazing Fantasy.” Well, actually, it brings us to its first incarnation, since the series changed its name almost as often as Henry Pym. “Amazing Adventures” and its six-issue run (cover dates June 1961 to November 1961)  presented bombastic four-color equivalents to B-movies. There were tales of rampaging giant monsters and alien invasions, as well as slightly more atmospheric stories built around haunted houses, cursed relics, time-travelers and a parade of human schemers who ran smack into the brick-wall folly of their ways. (We should mention that “Amazing Adventures” also contained a proto-superhero called Dr. Droom, who appeared in issues 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6, but there isn’t enough space to discuss him in detail here. Another day, Droom, another day…).

“Amazing Adventures” No. 1 (Marvel Comics)

The stories in “Amazing Adventures” were written by Stan Lee and/or his brother Larry Lieber (Larry didn’t shorten their shared surname as his elder brother had done) and illustrated primarily by Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko and, occasionally, by Don Heck or Paul Reinman. When the title debuted with an issue cover-dated June 1961, Marvel was already producing four other monthly titles with virtually identical formats and personnel. The quartet have names that chime with meaning and memory for silver age readers: “Strange Tales,” “Journey Into Mystery,” “Tales to Astonish” and “Tales of Suspense.”

Those titles all were well underway too — “Journey Into Mystery” launched in summer of 1952 and “Strange Tales” had begun a full year before that – so why would Goodman add the fifth anthology comic in 1961? Goodman must have thought the youth interest in horror and sci-fi was still ticking up. The American sci-fi film had taken on new contours over the previous decade as jet age ideas were marinated in Cold War fear and served with a side of Sputnik envy: “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” “Them!,” “The Blob,” “Forbidden Planet” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and space junk such as “The Giant Claw” and “Teenagers From Outer Space.” Some U.S. theaters were also showing early Japanese sci-fi films from Toho Studios, such as “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” and “Rodan! The Flying Monster!”

American television audiences, meanwhile,  were adjusting their rabbit ears to catch Universal Studios “Shock!” package, an archive of 1930s and 1940s monster movies made available to local TV stations in 1957. The following February,  Forrest J. Akerman’sFamous Monsters of Filmland” arrived and would in short order establish itself as the beloved crypt keeper of pop culture’s fake blood districts (and the career guidance counselor for several generations of key filmmakers).

“Amazing Fantasy” No. 15

No matter the stars or signpost that potentially pointed to his path, Goodman’s hand-drawn map was wrong on this one. Sales of “Amazing Adventures” were insufficient to keep the title going in its original format. Apparently, the market couldn’t support a fifth Marvel shovel digging into the same genre ground.

In November 1961, Marvel Comics made two changes to its lineup. The first issue of “Fantastic Four” was released and (like a flare gun signal shot above New York) it announced that the new shop was in the old business of superheroes. After years covering every corner of the comics field,  the duo of Lee and Kirby(who had worked together at Timely when Kirby was a big fish in a little publishing pond and Lee was the kid who lettered pages and ran out for sandwiches) may have subconsciously made costumed collages of other comics genres. Consider that the F.F. and the Marvel creations that followed could look like the monster from a horror comic; bicker and brawl like the saloon rivals in Old West tales; swoon, fret and sob like lovers in romance comics; battle the ancient men (and gods) of myth from adventure stories; and hold their own in any cosmic conversation from the sci-fi’s lab-coat crowd.

Oh, and the other change was, “Amazing Adventures” died — and donated its organs (and numbering) to “Amazing Adult Fantasy,” picking up with issues No. 7 and lurching on to No. 14 (December 1961 to July 1962). Sporting a square slogan — “The Magazine That Respects Your Intelligence” — “Amazing Adult Fantasy” downsized its commitment to  giant monsters and closed its page borders to all the alien armies that were waiting for their turn to destroy (or enslave … or remodel) Earth.

Stan Lee co-created Spider-Man and scores of Marvel characters in the 1960s and 1970s. (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times)

The emphasis turned toward tarot topics with the occult and folklore riffs. And, unlike its peerage, “Amazing Adult Fantasy” exclusively featured the work of just one artist, Steve Ditko, who typically handled both the penciling and inking tasks. His line work was clean, elegant but also odd and somehow unsettling. It perfectly suited the subject matter, and Ditko produced some of the best work of his career in the pages of “Amazing Adult Fantasy.”

HULK AT 50: A LOOK BACK

Unfortunately, these changes weren’t enough to keep the title afloat. One problem, explained by adolescent fans in published letters to the editor, was the “Adult” in the title — imagine how many mom noses crinkled with sour suspicion at the sight of that loaded word in the title? No surprise, the hexed tales of “Amazing Adult Fantasy” gave up the ghost in mid-1962 as Marvel was more engaged by the idea of cracking the code of superhero franchises.

“Tales to Astonish” No. 27 (January 1962) laid the groundwork for Ant-Man while the first introduction of “The Incredible Hulk” as a series (May 1962) didn’t inspire much green movement in the marketplace (after six issues the plug was pulled on the beta version of the gamma monster, but he’d be back in a big way and relatively soon).

As far the series that had been “Amazing” this and “Amazing” that?

On the way to oblivion it gave new life to the adjective and, 50 years later, a hero who still sticks.

– Tom Nordlie and Geoff Boucher

RECENT AND RELATED

Amazing Spider-Man’ No. 121 still echoes

Romita’s ‘Spider-Man’ more amazing than ever

‘Avengers’: Mystery villain’s creator speaks out

Ifans: Spidey is like…’Hamlet’?

Damon Lindelof: Why Spider-Man sticks

Darywn Cooke: I found career in Spidey comic

Marc Webb feels ‘responsibility to reinvent’

Why the web-shooters are back

Brit invasion: Superman, Batman, Spidey from U.K.

Ifans: ‘We’re reclaiming the poetry of the hero’

Raimi: ‘I would have done everything differently’

‘Avengers’: Marvel’s new approach to Hulk

‘Avengers’ set: Joss Whedon’s heroes, humor


iPad Mini: Wishful Thinking?

Or another killer product? Or, on the pessimistic side, a loser defensive move showing Apple’s fear of competitors such as Amazon, with its Kindle Fire, and Google’s 7″ Nexus tablet?

Recent leaks from purported sources inside Apple’s traditional suppliers have ignited a new frenzy of speculation. And not just from the usual blogging suspects — often better informed and more insightful than the official kommentariat. BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal both stuck their august necks out: The so-called iPad Mini will be launched this coming September.

On this matter, my own biases are on the record.

In an August 2009 Note titled “Apple’s Jesus Tablet: What For?“, I went as far as measuring the pocket on men’s pockets. As a result, I posited a 10″ (diagonal) tablet might not provide the same desirable ubiquity as a 7″ one that men could carry in a coat or jacket pocket, and women in a purse.
(Apple once came to a similar conclusion: the original Newton project started by Steve Sakoman in 1987 was a letter-size tablet. After he and I left, the screen size was cut in half and the actual Newton came out as a pocketable product.)
Five months later, on January 27th, 2010, Steve Jobs stood up and changed the personal computing world for the third time with the 9.7″ (diagonal screen size) iPad. The take-no-prisoners price ($499 for the entry model) was a big surprise. Another one, much less obvious, was Dear Leader’s unusually tentative positioning statement: ‘We’ll see how the iPad finds its place between the iPhone and a MacBook’. (I’m paraphrasing a bit but the tone was there.)
The iPad surprised many, Apple included and, at the beginning, was often misunderstood. I recall my initial disappointment at not being able to perform the same tasks as on my laptop. A huge number of normal humans of all ages thought differently. As we know now, the iPad grew even faster than the iPhone. Notwithstanding Microsoft’s clinging to its ossified PC-centric rhetoric, this turned out to be the true beginning of the Post-PC era.

This excited competitors around the world: You’ll find here a list of 76 tablets announced at CES. By the end of 2011, few had accomplished anything. One exception was Amazon’s Kindle Fire, its Xmas season numbers were rumored to reach more than 4M units, even 6M by some rumored estimates. This rekindled, sorry, rumors of a smaller iPad.
In October 2010, Jobs famously dismissed the idea: “7-inch tablets should come with sandpaper so users can file down their fingers.” None of the journalists present at the time had the presence of mind to ask him about the iPhone screen…
Tim Cook, Steve’s disciple put it well at the D10 conference last June when he affectionately (and accurately) called Jobs a great flip-flopper, citing examples of products features his then boss ended up endorsing after repeatedly nixing them.
In an April 2012 Monday Note, I discussed the possible end of Apple’s One Size Fits All for  iPhones and, in particular, iPads. There, I linked to an A. T. Faust III post lucidly explaining how the original 1024 x 768 resolution could easily scale down to a 7.85″ tablet and achieve a nice 163 ppi (pixels per inch) resolution, the same as pre-Retina iPhones. This leads one to believe there is abundant (and inexpensive) manufacturing capacity for such pre-Retina displays.

A few questions.

First, developers. As we saw with iOS apps for iPhone and iPad, size matters, apps don’t scale. That hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of developers for investing in app versions that take advantage of each device unique characteristics, as opposed to committing the cardinal sin of “It’s like the other one, only smaller/bigger”.
So, if developers believe a 7″ iPad would sell in large numbers, they’ll happily fire up Xcode, adapt their existing app, or write a new one. As for the belief in large unit volume for a 7″ device, the initial reception accorded to Google’s Nexus tablet shows there is potentially a lot of life in a smaller iPad.

(I ordered a Nexus tablet and will dutifully report. Last April, I bought a Samsung Note phablet and promised a report. Here it is: I’ll sell you mine for $50. A respectable product, I could definitely live with it. But, IMO, too big for a phone, too small for a tablet.)

Second, Apple was on offense. Now, competition succeeded in putting it on the defensive. While initial Kindle Fire sales were rumored to be huge, the same “sources”, checking on display supplier suppliers, now claim sales of Amazon’s tablet dropped precipitously after the Holidays. Amazon keeps mum, but is also rumored to prepare a slew of not one but several tablets for this year’s Xmas quarter.
As for the Nexus tablet, it isn’t shipping yet.
Instead of a defensive move, I think a 7″ iPad might be another take-no-prisoners move:

From the very beginning of the iPad and its surprising low $499 entry price, it’s been clear that Apple wants to conquer the tablet market and maintain an iPod-like share for the iPad. Now that Apple has become The Man, the company might have to adopt the Not A Single Crack In The Wall strategy used by the previous occupant of the hightech throne.

If this cannibalizes 10″ iPad sales, no problem, better do it yourself than let Google, Amazon or Samsung do it.

Lastly, the price/cost question. As you’ll see on this video, Todd Schoenberger, a Wall Street haruspex visibly off his meds, contends an iPad Mini is a terrible move for Apple, it would be a break with its single product version focus. Like, for the example, the one and only Macintosh, the one and only iPod. Also, he continues, an iPad Mini wouldn’t allow Apple achieve the 37% gross margin it gets from the bigger sibling.
No. If we’re to believe iSuppli, a saner authority on cost matters, the latest 32 GB 4G iPad carries a Bill Of Materials of about $364, for a retail price of $729. Even with a bit of manufacturing overhead, we’re far from 37% today. And, tomorrow, a smaller iPad, with a smaller display, a smaller battery, a correspondingly smaller processor would nicely scale down in cost from the “new” iPad and its expensive display/battery/processor combo.
To where? I won’t speculate, but Apple has shown an ability to be very cost competitive when using previous generation parts and processes. See today’s iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 prices for an example.

I have no inside knowledge and quite a few inclinations: I’d love a pocketable iPad as much as I like small computers such as the defunct Toshiba Libretto and the lively 11″ MacBook Air.

If Apple comes up with a smaller iPad later this year, I think it’ll be a killer product.

–JLG@mondaynote.com

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‘Amazing Spider-Man’: Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are ‘magic’

“The Amazing Spider-Man” is off to a strong start, and director Marc Webb’s film has escaped the clutches of its biggest foe — the crowded summer schedule. Trapped between “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” the Sony reboot was in real danger of becoming the friendly neighborhood afterthought.

Our readers got to see “Amazing Spider-Man” early thanks to the Hero Complex IMAX Screening Series. In the Q&A portion of the evening, Webb spoke about the chemistry between his lead actors, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and said that “casting them was the single most important” thing. Take a look at the video above to learn more about the casting of Garfield, the differing style of the two young stars and the director’s funny line about the off-screen romance between the two actors. “We did a lot of work in post on that,” Webb said, referring to post-production, the work phase in which editing, digital effects and music can add considerable Hollywood magic to footage.

– Geoff Boucher

RECENT AND RELATED:

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The Lizard, revealed…

Kevin Feige feels Spidey’s pain

Darywn Cooke: I found career in Spidey comic

Spidey film: Denis Leary’s date with destiny?

Romita’s ‘Spider-Man’ more amazing than ever

Marc Webb feels ‘responsibility to reinvent’

Why the web-shooters are back

Andrew Garfield: Fame terrifies me

Brit invasion: Superman, Batman, Spidey from U.K.

Ifans: ‘We’re reclaiming the poetry of the hero’

Raimi: ‘I would have done everything differently’

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A Capable Neologism, Courtesy Major League Baseball

Here’s Hunter Pence absolutely explode-tackling his third-base coach while running to the plate: atmlb.com/LWIfff

— MLB (@MLB) July 8, 2012

The author has often stated — at cocktail parties, at area bars after those same cocktail parties — that neologism is his favorite sort of gism.

Thus it was with no little pleasure that the author found, in the midst of his Twitter feed this morning, the above-embedded message, courtesy Major League Baseball itself.

A brief inspection of the web — noted for being worldwide in its dimensions — reveals that neither explode-tackle nor any of its variants (explode-tackling, will have explode-tackled, etc.) is in anything like common use.

What it (i.e. the WWW) does reveal is that Juan Samuel has ordered a Code Red to be performed in and around and on the head part of Hunter Pence.

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