Category Archives: In Our Time

Hey, iTunes! Where are all of MY tunes?!?!?

iTunes panic

OK, I’m trying to suppress the panic here…

I was already pretty ticked off because the only tunes that showed up on my Apple TV were ones that I had “purchased” (either for money or by redeeming a free song from Starbucks or something) from iTunes.

Whereas, most of the music that was in iTunes on my PC laptop and my iPhone and my iPad were songs I owned before iTunes was invented — things I bought long, long ago, either on CD or vinyl (I have a turntable at home that hooks up to a computer and converts vinyl to MP3s). Stuff I had every right to. I liked that this music was in iTunes because it meant it wasn’t subject to the ravages of time and rough use as they affect vinyl and CDs — and they were available to me on multiple platforms, wherever I went.

The number of songs I had “purchased” from iTunes were insignificant. I mean, unless someone has given me an iTunes gift card, why would I spend money on something I could hear on Pandora or Spotify for free? (Especially, especially, especially if I had already paid for it once, twice or three times in my lifetime?)

Anyway, this state of affairs got worse when I got a new iPhone a month or so ago. Everything transferred over from my old iPhone just fine. But recently I noticed that all of MY music (the music I owned before iTunes, from vinyl and CD) was missing.

So today, when I connected the iPhone to my PC in order to transfer some photos, and iTunes automatically launched, I thought, “I’ll try to fix this.”

I did this by clicking on “Brad’s iPhone” in iTunes, scrolling down to options, and clicking off the button that said “Sync only checked songs and videos.” And then I clicked “Apply.”

I got a dialogue box that I can’t seem to get back again now, but I think it said something like “Do you want to erase the iTunes profile on your phone and replace it with the one on your computer?” I said “yes,” because that’s what I wanted to do. And I ran it.

And now, I still don’t have any of MY tunes on iTunes, and a bunch of them (but strangely, not all) have disappeared from my laptop as well! For instance, all of the Beatles albums — just gone!

They’re all still on my iPad. So now I’m scared to connect the iPad to the PC, lest I lose them. (And yeah, I suppose I still have copies of these things somewhere, in some form, but getting them onto iTunes represented a lot of time and effort.)

Any minute now, I’ll start freaking out.

Anyone have any advice?

My very first Tweet was (allegedly) a sinful one

Twitter is celebrating its 8th birthday, and in connection with that has set up a website where you can find your very first Tweet ever.

Allegedly, this is mine:

first Tweet

First, I remember that Tweet. Weirdly, I was thinking about it during Mass this past Sunday. I was thinking about how it takes willpower to refrain from Tweeting during Mass, and I suddenly remembered a time when I gave in to the temptation. I sort of remembered where I was sitting. I also remembered that I had been to Starbucks that morning, and was still feeling a very nice first-cup buzz at the time. And I remembered that I mentioned that I was in Mass in the Tweet. (And the timestamp, 12:37 p.m., places it smack in the middle of the Mass I attend most weeks. And I checked — May 24 was a Sunday.)

Second, it seems highly unlikely that that was my first Tweet. I seem to recall rather clearly first trying out Twitter during the week, while sitting in my office in the Byrnes Building at USC. This was when I was on that 90-day consulting contract with Harris Pastides, right after I was laid off at The State. I had been talked into trying Twitter after a meeting in which some other consultants had given the university president and members of his communications team a presentation on social media. Tim Kelly talked me into it. I was reluctant to try Twitter, but he persuaded me that it would be a great tool for promoting my blog.

I remember trying it, sitting there in that office, and almost immediately becoming hooked on it. Which surprised me. I thought I would hate it.

It seems highly unlikely that I would have waited until Sunday, while I was in Mass, to try my first Tweet. For one thing, if I hadn’t Tweeted before, how would I know that it was something I enjoyed doing, and therefore be tempted into doing it at such an inappropriate moment?

Still, it was interesting to suddenly have that indiscretion thrown at me today. It’s both a pleasant blast from the past, and a cause for a wave of guilt. But then, as Yossarian said to Chaplain Tappman, “I wouldn’t want to live without strong misgivings. Right, Chaplain?”

I am guilty of the unforgivable crime of walking on the gym floor in street shoes

sock hop

On a couple of occasions recently, in the line of duty for ADCO, I have found myself out on the court at USC basketball games. A nonprofit client of ours has been blessed with donations that it has received in the form of oversized checks presented in front of the fans at Colonial Life Arena. (The client is the SC Center for Fathers and Families; the generous donors are TD Bank and Colonial Life.) I was there to help publicize the donations.

There are a lot of things a person might think as he steps out in front of a crowd like that, some relevant, some not: Do I have a good angle for the picture? Is my focus good enough to read the check? Cheerleaders are cute, but they wear a lot of makeup. Is it hard to smile that much? They’re also smaller than they look from the stands. The players are not. Am I standing in anyone’s way? Is my fly zipped? Who that I know is seeing me down here and wonders what I’m doing?

But the one predominant thought I had on both occasions was, I’m standing on the gym floor in my street shoes! This made me very self-conscious. I felt guilty, furtive, a scofflaw who was going to get yelled at by coach any second. (And in my day, coaches yelled what they pleased at us with impunity.)

Young people, and even some not-so-young-anymore people, are wondering what on Earth I’m on about. But when I was a student at Karr Junior High School in the suburbs of New Orleans in the mid-60s, it was deeply impressed on us that you never, ever walked on the shiny gym floor with street shoes on.

Perhaps I should explain what “street shoes” are. They are dress shoes, made of hard, polished leather. Like what your Daddy wore to work at the office, if your Daddy was old enough to go to the office back when men wore suits and hats. If he wasn’t, then your granddaddy.

We did not wear sneakers, athletic shoes, or whatever you want to call them to school. Or zoris, either (on the Mainland, y’all call them “flip-flops”). Nor did we wear jeans, or shorts, or T-shirts. We dressed in a manner that today is called “business casual,” only less casual than a lot of business people today.

Except in gym. In gym, we wore gym shoes. And shorts, and T-shirts. That’s how you knew you were in P.E. — you wore things that would be strictly verboten in English class. To participate in P.E. was to “dress out.” If you were sick and had a note from the doctor, you didn’t have to “dress out.” The rest of the time, you did.

And you wore those special shoes in P.E. shoes because you never, ever, for even one step, touched the gym floor with street shoes. Because gym floors were extremely delicate, and taxpayers shelled out gazillions of dollars to keep them perfectly shiny, and your parents couldn’t possibly make enough money to pay for the damage that street shoes could cause. It would be like mixing matter with antimatter, or crossing the streams (Egon!).

Stepping on the gym floor in street shoes was, in 1965, the civilian, junior-high equivalent of being a Marine and calling your rifle a “gun.”

We had dances in the gym in our street clothes on Friday nights, but it wasn’t a problem, because we were all completely conditioned to remove our shoes before stepping onto the gym floor. I have somewhere a Polaroid picture I took once of the pile of shoes under the bleachers. If I can find it, I’ll post it. Today, the kids would just wear casual shoes and clothes. But for social occasions that involved girls, you dressed up.

We spent the rest of the evening in our socks. We did the Jerk, and the Monkey, and the Boogaloo in our socks. We engaged in the delicious mystery of slow-dancing in our socks (we waited and waited for the band to do “House of the Rising Sun,” which was the only slow song they knew). If we were total rebels, with no respect for decency and societal mores, and no teachers were in sight (a rare occurrence), we did the Alligator in our socks.

It was what used to be called a “sock hop,” although I don’t recall our actually calling it that. It’s just that when you danced in the gym, you did so in your socks.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about while standing in front of all those basketball fans at Colonial Life Arena. I have no idea who is going to pay for the irreparable damage that my Johnston and Murphys surely did to that floor.

No wonder coach was yelling.

Are things that ‘trend’ on Twitter really trending?

A blog over at The New York Times notes that making decisions on the basis of what’s trending on Twitter can sometimes miss what’s actually happening:

download (1)The greatest challenge of Big Data — especially social media — is separating the signal from all the noise. A study by the Pew Research Center, for example, found that Twitter users are more often than not negative. The study, which examined reactions on Twitter to news events, including Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s presidential race, discovered that “for both candidates, negative comments exceeded positive comments by a wide margin.” More disturbingly, that reaction is not representative: “The reaction on Twitter to major political events and policy decisions often differs a great deal from public opinion as measured by surveys,” Pew reported. That is due, in part, to the fact that “Twitter users are not representative of the public”: They are younger and more likely to lean toward the Democratic Party. It turns out that what’s “trending” on Twitter may not really be “trending” at all.

Of course, some of us might say that Twitter users are swarming around what the rest of the public will be talking about in the future. But we won’t. In the meantime, be forewarned — to mine the wisdom of crowds requires some wisdom, some discernment regarding which data to study, and what conclusions to draw from them.

I don’t know why I’m getting these ads on Facebook

OK, so I’m a guy. I get that. You’re trying to market to lowest common denominators, and there is no lower common denominator among heterosexual guys than their interest in… what you’re showing me.risque ads

But this does not sum me up. It doesn’t even fit my Internet habits. Yeah, I may have paused to enjoy YouTube clips such as this one, but I thought that was kind of cute and harmless, and Google is leaping to conclusions when it thinks that’s the only kind of video I want to see. (Which it does sometimes, suggesting things such as these.)

I look at my Chrome history, and I see all sorts of topics, from breaking news to multiple attempts to find a quote I half-remembered from Catch-22; from Netflix (to remind me where I stopped in watching “House of Cards”) to the news that ADCO won more ADDY awards than anyone at the 2014 gala over the weekend.

There are no outrageously buxom or nearly nude women, no photographic representations of the Elvis Costello line, “You want her broken with her mouth wide open/’Cause she’s this year’s girl.” Although if you look far enough back, you might find where I looked up some Elvis lyrics.

I’ve mentioned this phenomenon before — in fact, I showed you one of these very ads. It was one of several that seemed to draw a connection between large breasts and learning a foreign language.

But the collection above really seems to have brought this trend down to a new level. Some of these things don’t seem to be just offering French lessons, if you know what I mean.

I suppose I could learn more by clicking on these come-ons. But that would seem to justify them; wouldn’t it? And who knows what kinds of ads I’d start getting…

By comparison, my browsing history startlingly bland...

By comparison, my browsing history is startlingly bland…

SC Democrats, you won’t get my digits THAT easily…

After having gotten way harsh on the SC Democrats’ case (or at least, the SC House Democrats’ case) the other day, I was about to respond in a positive way to this come-on:

Brad-

In the coming elections, we have a chance to make a big change to the future of South Carolina. We must change course, because failed leadership and no accountability isn’t working for the people of South Carolina.

Change is never easy, but with all of you on board to help, I know that we can make a difference at the ballot box.

This is all about you, so we want to hear from you. Click here to let us know which issues are important to you, and share your story.

In just the last year, South Carolina has seen major ethics scandals, botched cover-ups, and failed leaders who are more worried about making headlines than getting their jobs done.

We can’t change this without you. Let us know what your biggest priority is in the coming election and share why it is important to you. Click here and let us know today!

Thank you for being part of our campaign to bring a new era of leadership to Columbia.

Sincerely,
Amanda Loveday
Executive Director, South Carolina Democratic Party

I was all like, I gave them a hard time for their agenda, so since they’re asking me now what their agenda should be, the least I can do is tell them what I think. Who knows; it might do some good…

But then I clicked on the link, and realized they were just after my contact info. That’s what they meant by “share your story.”

I should have known.

Anyway, they already have my email address. They can reach me when they want. Apparently, they won’t be satisfied until they have my credit card numbers. Which ain’t gonna happen…

Is it possible that the Almighty’s first language is not English?

What else are we left to conclude? I received this spam comment yesterday, posted by “God Almighty:”

We are a lot of volunteers in addition to starting up a fresh scheme in the local community. Your site made available you having handy info to help works of art for. You could have carried out a new solid occupation and our complete location could be grateful to you.

That was it. Decipher away..

Twitter more racially diverse than rest of Web (and, I’m guessing, way more so than this blog)

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This, from the WSJ, sort of surprised me:

For most of its rather short life, Twitter rarely mentioned that its user base is more racially diverse than U.S. Internet users as a whole. Now, as a newly minted public company needing to generate revenue, it is moving to capitalize on its demographics.

In November, Twitter hired marketing veteran Nuria Santamaria to a new position as multicultural strategist, leading its effort to target black, Hispanic and Asian-American users.

Together, those groups account for 41% of Twitter’s 54 million U.S. users, compared with 34% of the users of rival Facebook and 33% of all U.S. Internet users, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project….

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s racist of me to have assumed that Twitter was way white. I think it probably had something to do with it being a geeky medium, and I think of geeks as white, the fictional Rajesh Koothrappali notwithstanding.

Facebook, as it turns out, is every bit as white bread as I thought it was. Twitter, less so.

These are not vast differences, but it seems meaningful that the Twitterverse is 50 percent blacker than the U.S. population as a whole. I don’t know what it means, but it seems it means something.

Lest you throw stones at me for being taken by surprise, I’ll have you know that many of my friends/followers/contacts are non-white. Although…

And I’ve sort of wondered about this…

I find myself associating more with nonwhite friends and acquaintances in real life than in the Twitterverse, or elsewhere on the Web. Look at my church (especially the Mass I attend, which is in Spanish), or the membership of the Capital City Club, etc.

In fact, and I hope I’m not insulting anyone here, I kinda think of most of y’all as white. Based on the regulars I actually have met — Kathryn, Doug, Silence, Bryan, Karen, Phillip, Bud, Mark, KP, etc. — that seems overwhelmingly the case. Of course, that’s totally anecdotal, but I tend to pick up on a pretty white vibe in most of our conversations.

This blog seems to lack crossover appeal. Unlike Twitter. I knew Twitter was cool, but I didn’t realize it could be quantified to this extent….

The end of civilization as we know it: The lifestyle of Thomas Ravenel, as entertainment for the masses

This is so low, so base, so degrading to all of us who belong to the same species, that I’m just going to make you aware of it, and comment no further. This is from an item about the new Bravo reality show “Southern Charm,” which stars Thomas Ravenel and several other decadent slackers:

Paternity drama, lots of sleeping around and black tie functions? How scandalous! Bravo describes the cast as “Southern bachelors who suffer from ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ by refusing to settle down; and the women in their lives who challenge them to grow up.”

Look for the series to chronicle political careers, businesses, and of course love lives while trying to protect their family names “Because in Charleston, you’re only as good as your last garden party and one social screw-up can taint generations to come.”

Southern Charm debuts Monday, March 3 at 10 p.m. on Bravo.  A half-hour preview special airs Monday, Feb. 3 at 11:30 p.m….

Maybe when they were casting this thing, they saw this picture from Ravenel’s Facebook page.

And yeah, we elected this guy treasurer once. My newspaper even endorsed him.

We descend into lawless chaos: Basketball player travels 7 steps, without penalty

My son shared this with me, knowing the sort of thing that makes me all indignant. Note that neither officials nor the announcer paid any attention when this player moved one foot or the other seven times, without dribbling.

Well, what are we to expect? We long ago stopped enforcing basic rules of the game “Shooter” regarded as “the greatest game ever invented.” Is it any wonder the world is in such sorry shape?…

So, how did Brigid Schulte find the time to write a BOOK?

Congrats to my long-ago colleague Brigid Schulte, who just received a starred review in Publishers Weekly for her new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

51FQv8OfA7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_On her quest to turn her “time confetti” into “time serenity,” journalist Schulte finds that, while it’s worse for women and hits working mothers the hardest, what she calls the “Overwhelm” cuts across gender, income, and nationality to contaminate time, shrink brains, impair productivity, and reduce happiness. Investigating the “great speed-up” of modern life, Schulte surveys the “time cages” of the American workplace, the “stalled gender revolution” in the home, and the documented necessity for play, and discovers that the “aimless whirl” of American life runs on a conspiracy of “invisible forces”: outdated notions of the Ideal Worker; the cult of motherhood; antiquated national family policies; and the “high status of busyness.” The result is our communal “time sickness.” Schulte takes a purely practical and secular approach to a question that philosophers and spiritual teachers have debated for centuries—how to find meaningful work, connection, and joy—but her research is thorough and her conclusions fascinating, her personal narrative is charmingly honest, and the stakes are high: the “good life” pays off in “sustainable living, healthy populations, happy families, good business, [and] sound economies.” While the final insights stretch thin, Schulte unearths the attitudes and “powerful cultural expectations” responsible for our hectic lives, documents European alternatives to the work/family balance, and handily summarizes her solutions in an appendix. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Agency. (Mar.)

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Brigid Schulte

Brigid was the reporter I hired as Lee Bandy’s successor in The State‘s Washington Bureau. My memories of her sort of illustrate the theme of her book. First, there’s the way we met. I went to Washington in January 1993 — there was snow on the ground of the Mall around the booths set up for the first Clinton inauguration, which was to occur a few days later. I had set up interviews with a number of candidates, using an empty office in the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau as my base. But Brigid was out of town, and wasn’t getting back until almost exactly the moment my returning flight left.

So we met in the airport, as she was coming and I was going. I was sufficiently impressed to bring her down to Columbia for further interviews. We ended up hiring her. About a year later, she got drafted by the KR national staff, and not long after that moved on to The Washington Post.

Another quick anecdote: She was covering the round of BRAC hearings that led to the closing of Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The climax of the process occurred on a Sunday afternoon. I happened to have the desk duty that day, and Brigid was having to wait for it all to happen, then write the story and somehow catch a train on which she was to depart with her then-new husband on vacation. This was before cellphones. She filed the story (on a Radio Shack TRS-80, I guess) at a time when it seemed physically impossible for her still to catch the train. Of course, I wasn’t going to let her go until I had the story.

Then there was the matter of calling in to answer my questions after I had read it. She did so, literally breathless and a bit dazed, from a phone on the train — which in those days was a technological marvel. “I’m on the train!” she shouted. “I’m on the phone, on the train! I’m calling you from the train! I made it!” That’s wonderful, I said. Now, here are my questions…

Of course, life has become even more hectic since that time. I mean, she didn’t even have kids back then.

So, I have to wonder: How did she find time to write a book? I always wonder that — I marvel that anyone finds time in a lifetime to do that — but I particularly wonder, given that she knows so well how insane modern life is. Well enough to write a book about it.

But she was always well-organized. She used to carry two notebooks — one for the live stories that day, another for enterprise stuff she was working on for later. I suppose that, while working on this book, she carried a third. Or the electronic equivalent of a third…

No hard feelings between Clowney, cops

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Not sure what to make of this, beyond concluding that Jadeveon Clowney is a good-natured young man.

He Tweeted out the above picture today with the words:

We in here me and my boys lol

I’m not sure that being charged with going 110 mph is an LOL matter, but that’s probably because I’m a sour-natured, buzz-killing alter cocker.

‘What did the world search for in 2013?’ Google knows…

zeitgeist

Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald are feeling like pretty important guys (just ask ‘em; they’ll tell ya), especially since they finally got one federal judge to agree with their view of NSA surveillance programs.

But as far as Google is concerned, they’re not all that interesting.

At least, they don’t show up in the Google Zeitgeist list of top 10 global trending searches of 2013. Here’s what does:

  1. Nelson Mandela
  2. Paul Walker
  3. iPhone 5s
  4. Cory Monteith
  5. Harlem Shake
  6. Boston Marathon
  7. Royal Baby
  8. Samsung Galaxy s4
  9. PlayStation 4
  10. North Korea

There’s more — much more. From Google’s blog:

Every day, around the world, we search. We want to find out more about our heroes, explore far-away destinations, or settle a dinner table dispute between friends. And sometimes we just search to find out how many calories are in an avocado.

In our annual Year-End Zeitgeist (“spirit of the times”), we reflect on the people, places, and moments that captured the world’s attention throughout the year. This year marks our most global Zeitgeist to date—with 1,000+ top 10 lists across categories like Trending People, Most-Searched Events and Top Trending Searches from 72 countries.

As we get ready to turn the page to 2014, we invite you to take a global journey through the biggest moments from the past 12 months in our Year in Review video

And how did the largest number of users finish the query, “what is…?”

With the word, “twerking,” that’s how. Really. We’re serious. Even if the rest of the world wasn’t. It was “twerking,” not, say, “metadata.”

Somewhere at The Guardian, there’s an editor weeping right about now. Probably the one who keeps leading the paper (or at least, the Web version) with Snowden/NSA stories

Yes! Gov’t likely to continue banning phone calls on U.S. flights

I like the sound of this:

The federal government is moving closer to approving the use of cellphones on planes, but with a catch: Consumers couldn’t use the devices to make calls.

The effort would be the culmination of separate rules being considered at two federal agencies. The Federal Communications Commission is taking steps Thursday to allow airplanes to install technology that would enable cellphone service.

Separately, the Department of Transportation is considering a proposal that would ban calls outright. Passengers could still use their data plans on smartphones and tablets to surf the Web or send e-mails and texts….

I’ve been dreading the idea of having to listening to other people’s obnoxious conversations ever since I heard the gummint was talking about loosening its ban on phones. Obviously, I was far from the only one:

The idea of allowing cellphone calls on planes generated a massive storm of public criticism after it was first put forward by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last month. Travelers, flight attendants and lawmakers voiced concern that the proposal unleash unbearable cacophonies of phone conversation on packed airplanes….

On Thursday, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that also would prohibit cellphone calls on commercial airlines, echoing an effort in the House this week.

“Keeping phone conversations private on commercial flights may not be enshrined in the Constitution, but it is certainly enshrined in common sense,” Alexander said. “This legislation is about avoiding something nobody wants: nearly 2 million passengers a day, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts.”…

Y’all see what I mean about Lamar being one of those senators who needs to stay in Washington. He’s a true voice of sanity. (That problem with his chief of staff notwithstanding.)

Speaking of voices… Ever since I heard that the rules might be loosened, I’ve thought about this one woman I was trapped on a plane with for nine hours, going to England. She was across the aisle and a couple of seats in front of me, but I couldn’t help hearing every loud, self-important word she spoke to the poor guy seated next to her. She didn’t speak the whole time — the guy must have pretended to go to sleep or something. But imagine if should could have filled those gaps with phone calls. I shudder. Some people shouldn’t be allowed out in public, much less making phone calls while enclose with a hundred other people in an aluminum tube in the sky.

Thoughts?

Fascinating NYT piece about Google Maps

maps

I continue to believe that Google Maps is, next to HTML code itself, the most amazingly absorbing thing I’ve ever encountered on the Internet.

This NYT piece, headlined “Google’s Road Map to Global Domination,” gives an extended glimpse into what Maps is all about, and the implications for the future. An excerpt:

 Where-type questions — the kind that result in a little map popping up on the search-results page — account for some 20 percent of all Google queries done from the desktop. But ultimately more important by far is location-awareness, the sort of geographical information that our phones and other mobile devices already require in order to function. In the future, such location-awareness will be built into more than just phones. All of our stuff will know where it is — and that awareness will imbue the real world with some of the power of the virtual. Your house keys will tell you that they’re still on your desk at work. Your tools will remind you that they were lent to a friend. And your car will be able to drive itself on an errand to retrieve both your keys and your tools.

While no one can say exactly how we will get from the current moment to that Jetsonian future, one thing for sure can be said about location-awareness: maps are required. Tomorrow’s map, integrally connected to everything that moves (the keys, the tools, the car), will be so fundamental to their operation that the map will, in effect, be their operating system. A map is to location-awareness as Windows is to a P.C. And as the history of Microsoft makes clear, a company that controls the operating system controls just about everything. So the competition to make the best maps, the thinking goes, is more than a struggle over who dominates the trillion-dollar smartphone market; it’s a contest over the future itself….

 

Overdramatizing to make celebrities seem interesting

Lewis as Lt. Dick Winters.

Lewis as Lt. Dick Winters.

I started reading this with some interest yesterday, at the recommendation of Michael McKean:

The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears [or Miley Cyrus], enthralls the country …

Until I saw it was turning into an Occupy-style rant (which “locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires” should have hipped me to, but I had skimmed over it)…

…despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.

In any case, I shared the concern over celebrity obsession. We really shouldn’t be fixated on celebs, unless they happen to be Christina Hendricks.

But you know, if a significant proportion of the few remaining journalists who are paid to do their thing must focus on celebrities, at least they should do so honestly and well. You don’t have to be writing about war or famine or the fates of nations to do a good job with it. Look at the great tradition of fine sports writing, from Ring Lardner through Sports Illustrated. And let’s not forget that Renaissance man George Plimpton.

Admittedly, there are grace and nobility in sport, while what actors and singers and people-who-are-famous-for-being-on-TV do can be relatively lacking in poetry. But if you must write about them, at least do so honestly, instead of making lame attempts to make them seem more interesting than they are.

I had been delving in triviality myself — looking for most popular Christmas songs — when I saw a link to some apparent controversy regarding something Damian Lewis had said. Being a fan of his work in “Band of Brothers” (and to some extent in “Homeland”), I clicked on it:

Sir Ian McKellen has a bone to pick with Damian Lewis…

Lewis recently commented that when he was in his 20s, he became concerned that if he didn’t break out of the theatre in time, he “would be one of these slightly over-the-top, fruity actors who would have an illustrious career on stage, but wouldn’t start getting any kind of film work until I was 50 and then start playing wizards.”…

Oh, gee — let’s see what sort of verbal artillery McKellen unleashed on Lewis:

The X-Men actor went on to describe Lewis’ statement as “a fair comment”, before adding: “To rebut it: I wouldn’t like to have been one of those actors who hit stardom quite early on and expected it to continue and was stuck doing scripts that I didn’t particularly like just to keep the income up.

“I’ve always wanted to get better as an actor. And I have got better. You’ve only got to see my early work to see that.

“As for a fruity voice? Well, it may be a voice that is trained like an opera singer’s voice: to fill a large space. It is unnatural. Actors have to be heard and their voice may therefore develop a sonorous quality that they can’t quite get rid of, so you think actors are as pompous as their voice is large. I suppose Damian was thinking of that a little bit, too.”…

So… McKellen was fairer, and more thoughtful, about what Lewis said (which, by the way, could as easily be applied to Richard Harris), than this story was.

Where was he “reeling”? Where did he pick a bone?

Sorry, folks — no slugfest here. Move along…

McKellen as Gandalf.

McKellen as Gandalf.

The Thing I Hate Most About Facebook (at the moment)

And now that my temper is up, I may as well go on and abuse every body I can think of.
– Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Still grumbling about strong-mayor, and irritated by bad Christmas music everywhere (I’m going to do a Top Five List on that sometime in the next few days), I might as well abuse Facebook.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about Facebook, but this tops them all…

I always leave it running on a tab on my browser, alongside Twitter and a couple of different views of my blog’s dashboard, my email, my calendar and the public face of the blog itself. Those are all things I click and alt-tab back and forth among a lot, and it’s far more convenient to have them all running simultaneously than to have to call each one up when I need it.

Almost invariably, when I click back to the Facebook tab, at the very top of my screen will be something interesting that I had meant to click on and read earlier, but hadn’t had the time, and left sitting there for when I did have time.

Only now, when I click on the FB tab, and I see that interesting thing in front of me for ONE SECOND, I yell “No! Don’t!” as the page automatically refreshes and brings up whatever is the most recent thing on my feed, which invariably will be something not interesting at all — thereby burying what I wanted to read under an avalanche of irrelevant material.

So I have to go hunting for the interesting thing.

That’s what I hate most about Facebook. At the moment.

Jeff Bezos tantalizes us with drone delivery


I meant to mention this yesterday, but didn’t get to it.

The first thing I saw about Amazon’s tantalizing “unveiling” of drone delivery of packages — within half an hour, we’re told! — was a piece on Slate pooh-poohing it:

In an infomercial hosted by Charlie Rose on CBS’s 60 Minutes this weekend, Amazon announced that it plans to deliver small packages via drone in the near future. Many media outlets have credulously repeated this claim, just like they did with the beer-delivering drone and the taco-delivering drone.

However, the technical, regulatory, and logistical challenges of autonomous flight in crowded American urban airspace are far more profound than Bezos allowed on TV. As he said, the FAA is now revising its rules regarding autonomous flight. The FAA roadmap is complex. But it bluntly states (on Page 33): “Autonomous operations are not permitted.” There is an exception for line-of-sight operations for small UAVs. But Bezos’ vision of autonomous delivery in a city is not, according to the FAA roadmap, in the cards in the next few years….

Well, to be fair, Bezos did tell Charlie Rose it would be a few years. (But if the writer had Slate had really wanted to mock the media’s gee-whiz, boosterish reaction, he should have commented on the breathless “making of” feature about their Amazon scoop.)

In the spirit of scoffing, I thought about writing a post headlined something like, “Why doesn’t Bezos promise us teleportation while he’s at it?”

But truly, this is pretty much of a gee-whiz idea — little flying robots gently dropping stuff off at our front doors, and NOT taking the stuff back because we’re not there to sign for it? Who couldn’t love that.

Of course, I hope my libertarian friends will now stop insisting that the private sector is the place where innovations that make our lives better originate. I mean, the government’s been using drones for years, with deadly effect. And delivering payloads WAY bigger than five pounds, baby. It just shows how lame the private sector really is that we get excited over something that’s such a “been-there, done-that” to government.

Sorry, Doug. Couldn’t resist.

Seriously, folks, this is exciting. And we communitarians must admit that the one barrier to doing this is government — that is, the FAA. On the other hand, count me among those grateful that the FAA won’t automatically approve thousands of mini-helicopters buzzing around the yards where our kids play.

Someday, we’ll have this. Just as someday, we’ll have self-driving cars — once the liability issues are worked out.

And I like that Bezos is straining at the limits, getting out there, breaking molds, challenging assumptions, yadda-yadda.

It’s stuff like this that makes me hopeful that he’ll come up with mold-breaking ideas that save the newspaper industry, now that he’s in that business. I’d love a chance to help him do it. It would be wonderful (not to mention tremendous fun) to be on the technological frontier as a part of forging the salvation of the Fourth Estate.

Maybe we could even work drones into it…

The Word of the Year, and a picture to go with it

I learned this from listening to NPR this morning:

Good morning. I’m Renee Montagne announcing the word of the year: Selfie. The Smartphone self-portrait. The Oxford Dictionary says it perfectly captures 2013. Selfies lit up social media and dirty ones derailed political careers. Teens even took one with the Pope. The word’s come a long way since popping up on an Australian message board a decade ago. It beat out binge watch, meaning marathon TV watching, and twerk. You can look that one up.

But what really made me enjoy the news was this Tweet from NASA’s Curiosity Rover:

selfie

By the way, as a guy who has had occasion to shoot a number of pictures of himself over the years, what with blogging and the avatars needed for social media, I really don’t like the way that word sounds.