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Scripting News

What if the RIAA had embraced Napster?

Back in 2000 when Napster was raging, I kept writing blog posts asking this basic question. Isn't there some way the music industry can make billions of dollars off the new excitement in music?

Turns out there was. Ask all the streaming music services that have been born since the huge war that the music industry had with the Internet. Was it necessary? Would they have done better if they had embraced the inevitable change instead of trying to hold it back? The answer is always, yes, it seems.

Well, now it seems Sony is doing it again, on behalf of the movie industry. Going to war with the Internet. Only now in 2014, the Internet is no longer a novel plaything, it's the underpinning of our civilization, and that includes the entertainment industry. But all they see is the evil side of the net. They don't get the idea that all their customers are now on the net. Yeah there might be a few holdouts here and there, but not many.

What if instead of going to war, they tried to work with the good that's on the Internet? It has shown over and over it responds. People basically want a way to feel good about themselves. To do good. To make the world better. To not feel powerless. It's perverted perhaps to think that Hollywood which is so averse to change, could try to use this goodwill to make money, but I think they could, if they appealed to our imaginations instead of fear.

Heroku deploy puzzle

Note: This problem has been solved. Something about a tarball and the current node.js installation or distribution or. Something shifted in the plate tectonics and it broke my water pump. This is all voodoo, I tell you!

Upfront disclaimer

I have a cold. I'm trying to do some development work anyway. I have a project I'm itching to see run, and I'm bored. Because of the cold, my mind is a little foggy, and it's likely the problem I'm having with Heroku is something I'm doing wrong that's completely obvious. Hence this blog post.

The problem

  1. I've been trying to create a new app on Heroku.

  2. I create a new folder called pringles in a local folder on my local Mac disk.

  3. In that folder I put two files. package.json and hello.js.

  4. As you can see, the script is just a console.log call.

  5. I do the commands on the Bare-bones Heroku page. Init a repo, add the two files, create the app (pringles3), build the master. Here's the log.

A picture named log.png

Things I've considered

At first I thought the problem might be that I'm using a new Mac and it's not initialized in some way. But I kept my original Mac around, completely unmodified, the one I did months of Heroku-based development work on, and repeated the steps with the same results. So it seems the problem isn't on my machine.

I also thought it might have to do with some package I was using, that's why I reduced it down to using no packages, and just being a simple console.log call.

What you can do

If you see the problem, please let me know.

If you're a Heroku user, can you think of something for me to check?

If you're a Heroku user, and feel like wasting some time, can you repeat the steps? Do you get a different result?

I'm basically stuck until I get this working, so I'm highly motivated.


How "dislike" might work

  1. Facebook should have a Dislike button, but it would work differently from Like.

  2. Where likes are public, a dislike would just be between you and the algorithm. It's a way of signalling that "this is something I do not want to see more of."

  3. It's very much like Checkbox News, an idea I proposed for cable news as it makes the transition to the net. Suppose I'm watching MSNBC, as I did in April 2007, and I have heard enough about the massacre at Virginia Tech. The reports are getting too meta. I get the sense that they're mostly just filling space until the next outrage breaks. So I want to say "No more news about Virginia Tech." Uncheck the box. Or in Facebook terminology -- dislike. Same idea.

  4. It just came up the other day. I was sick of reading about people who don't know Ben Edelman saying he should be punished for being himself. I want to signal to Facebook, please I beg you, no more of this. Hence, dislike.

  5. Even better, if the algorithm could learn about this genre of Internet writing, shaming people who have elite jobs, for being human, and allow me to dislike the whole genre. That would be fantastic. I hope the SEO geniuses at Facebook are working on this.

  6. BTW, sometimes the Internet is used in clever ways to disable people like Ben who are acting in ways big companies dislike (there's that word again). I am sure they employ consultants who find ways to discredit their harshest most effective critics, people like Ben (ahh you didn't know that about him did you?). Their goal: get people to stop listening to him. I'd say they achieved that pretty well. (If you believe this is not possible, you haven't been paying attention.)

  7. Two facts A picture named sideways.pngthat might seem unrelated at first: A. For some reason I love to watch the Knicks. B. I quit smoking in 2002, already 12 years ago. I am not going to start again. Yet they run a certain number of absolutely disgusting anti-smoking ads on each Knicks game. I try to block the screen with my iPad so I don't have to see the poor disfigured human they're putting up as an example of what smoking can do to you. That's not enough, now they have people who have lost the ability to speak, lamenting how they didn't record their real voice for their grandchildren. I want to desperately say DISLIKE! Get this bullshit off my screen. I quit smoking. I am not going to start. Maybe they should have a FUCKOFF button to express more extreme displeasure than a mere dislike.

  8. See also: 1-877-KARS-4-KIDS.

  9. I read today that Maureen Dowd lets the people she writes about review her column before publication. I think the NYT, who she writes for, should click Dislike on behalf of all her readers, but until they do that, I want to ask for no more articles about her or by her. As far as I'm concerned Ms Dowd does not exist. Dislike!

  10. I love that Facebook is basically a positive space. I think this is partially due to the positiveness of the Like button, but also due to the controls it gives users to silence people who abuse the power of Internet communication. So I click Like on Dislike.

I know Ben

A wish

I wish there were some way to tell Facebook that:

  1. I know Ben Edelman.

  2. He's a good guy.

  3. No more "news" about him writing emails to restaurants in the Boston area.


That was an actual post

I posted that on Facebook, and there were a couple of replies that were interesting enough for me to want to turn this into a post on Scripting News.

Bill Heyman

"Unfortunately, some within the media love to throw out red meat to the famished, raging, and self-righteous mobs of social media to build up those page views. Add in some anti-elitism and other stereotypes to fuel the rage, has generated the perfect storm against a single human. Yes, what Ben did was tactless and asinine, but he doesn't deserve what's happening to him. The same goes with that GOP staffer who ill-advisedly criticized the president's kids on her personal Facebook page."

Michael Markman

"'All the news that's bait for clicks' would not have built the New York Times into the institution it, um, well, hasn't been for years now. The need for clicks to put bread on the table is a mighty corrupting influence, isn't it?

My own two cents

Yup this is the new SEO. At some point I expect the news "algorithms" will have to defend against this. It's so obvious what they're doing, and so potentially harmful. And after a while, sad and shameful, like a bad commercial that a station plays over and over.

One more thing. If you order takeout at Sichuan Garden in the future, and you think they screwed up the bill, just pay it. Not worth the grief.

Project Maelstrom

Project Maelstrom sounds hot.

But it all depends on the execution. It has to be a very smooth reliable web browser.

And it'll need to have applications that can only work this way, in other words, a compelling reason for people to use it. It doesn't have to be a large number of people, just enough to draw interest.

Have a cuppa tea

Chris Saad is talking about what he wants from news. It's good stuff. Read it. He posted it on Facebook. I know what it's like. I wrote something today on Facebook today about my cold and what I'm reading, and whatever. It elicited some nice support from my Facebook posse, which was probably why I posted it. But along the way I put some ideas in there I'd like to have with all my other writing. Arrrgh.

Once again, I got snookered into putting my ideas somewhere where they will serve no use to me or anyone else in the future. Two weeks from now I'll try to remember where I wrote that, and will draw a blank.

THIS -- this is the problem I desperately want to solve. Technically it's no innovation. I could write in both places.

Then this great Kinks song came on! Another thread. All this mess. I want my ideas to live. Right now my ideas have nowhere to go to live and thrive.

For christ's sake have a cup of tea!

PS: Sorting out the tangled mess in my mind has been my life's obsession. These days I'm going in the wrong direction, I'm afraid. But I'm getting better results.

We make tools

Interesting piece by King Kaufman at Bleacher Report, on the disconnect between Silicon Valley and the news industry. Read the whole piece, but there's a line at the end that really got me thinking.

"I can't tell you whether you should embrace a so-called Silicon Valley approach to journalism or stand and fight for old-school journalism."

There is no such thing

Silicon Valley does not have an approach to journalism. Silicon Valley makes tools that people can use to make journalism. A very important distinction.

As a software developer, I create tools that are useful in doing news. I use them to write myself, but when I do that, I've switched over to the other side of the fourth wall. I've become a user. The same way a TV show runner can also watch shows. A doctor becomes a patient. We wear different hats at different times. But especially in journalism, it's very important to at all times know which hat you're wearing.

We do best when we listen to our users, think about what they say about and do with our products, and strive to make them work better for users. This is the process of technology product development. It's iterative, it builds on its past.

Journalism is different. I'll leave it to journalists to define it.

The lines do cross

Yes, there are technology companies who are investing in content. That's also a fact, and they are here to stay.

For example YouTube and Facebook are now competing for share with video producers. Medium is gathering an impressive group of writers to help guide the development of their CMS. Or maybe the writing is their main business? I'm not sure they've decided yet.

It also goes the other way. All of the news organizations have more or less created their own CMSes, some from off-the-shelf technology, others built more or less from scratch.

But we do our best work, imho, when we know who we are, what role we're playing.

What "product" means in tech

Product is an evolving idea, a moving target -- which is why it can be so confusing. Not just to people in news, but also to people in tech. If you want to understand, here's my story of how we got to today.


Software used to come in shrink-wrapped boxes. Inside the box -- disks and a book. A registration card. The box sold to users for anywhere between $49 and $800.

There were print magazines. The magazines wrote about products, products ran ads. A full page ad cost up to $50K.

There were retailers, physical stores, where you could buy computers, and they also carried software. Eventually there would be software-only stores like Egghead. And there were primitive social networks called Compuserve, AOL, MCI Mail, AppleLink where people told stories about products they liked or didn't like. There weren't any ads on these networks.

There were software distributors, who the dealers bought software from, at a discount. Three big ones: Softsel, Ingram and Micro-D. Eventually the stores and distributors were replaced by mail order, and that, as far as I know, is where the shrink-wrap story ended.


Next came the web. Instead of products, we had websites. A whole new way to develop software. The software couldn't do much compared to what the desktop stuff did. Simple text editing, that was about it. Eventually the mainstays of the shrink-wrap world would show up as browser-based productivity apps like Google Docs. (I don't know how Office-type software sells these days? Do the users buy direct from the vendors?)


Next transition -- apps and app stores. I think of these as snacks. All of them single-function little products, their entire UI must fit on a phone screen, not integrated with the others, creating little worlds (functionality-wise) with huge user bases, in the hundreds of millions in some cases. In the shrink-wrap days a successful product would have hundreds of thousands.


Productivity "snacks" seem to be the next thing about to happen.

And probably after that, the users will want integration, where the data from one app can be used in another.

Which may lead to "snack suites."

Maybe that's why we're gravitating to larger-screen phones, to allow the software to get a little more complex. (That would be a good thing, imho, as a software developer.)

The unit of news

Briefly, it seems to me the unit used to be the edition -- an instance of the newspaper or news show for broadcast media, published once every 24 hours, that contained sections, and within sections stories.

Today the story stands alone, and is distributed as a unit by Twitter, Facebook, RSS and whatever else comes along.

Maybe a student of news could provide a rough timeline at how this evolved?

Very good analysis by Jay

If you want to understand the disconnect between tech and journalism, stop everything, right now and read this thread by Jay Rosen.

The way he says tech thinks about product is how I think about it.

I grapple with it all the time. I work on the editorial tools, their rendering, and how the ideas written by other people can be made to interrelate with yours in ways that make sense and have value for readers. This is the frontier I've been working at for almost 40 years. I'm glad someone on the "other side" is making the effort to study the disconnect, with the intent of creating a dictionary that translates the terminology, so we can start communicating, and working together more effectively.

I need news people to use my tools. And I think you need my tools, and those made by my competitors. That's our basis for working together. (BTW, all I want is for you to use my tools, I don't want any ownership of what you write.)

PS: Maybe The New Republic editors were a little hasty? Maybe it was just a language disconnect. I think perhaps you guys just realized there is a world out there that doesn't think the way you do. Is that really so bad?? For all of our lunacy tech really has produced some good stuff, over the years.

Where are the protests?

There are protests, some spontaneous, some planned, all around the city tonight. Like many other people I wonder where they are. And the people of New York, collectively, know where they are.

How to put up an app that collects this data and displays it publicly in real-time? I put that question out to the readers of my blog, some of the nerdiest and most generous people around.

And if you feel like getting something running quickly please feel free to post a URL in a comment.

Update: Here's another way to see the protests, not exactly what I asked for. But even more interesting, imho.

What do to do about NYPD

I don't believe in the death penalty and I don't think cops should use deadly force unless their own lives or the lives of others are in danger. I also don't like to second-guess juries. But I also think they are predisposed to support the police. We need the police to be effective or else all hell will break loose, the theory goes. But what happens when the police are the hell that's breaking loose?

I grew up in NYC, and have never had a very good feeling about the police. But New York is an unusual place. Because there are so many people in such a small space, the rules about how we behave are different from the way people are in other places. The police have a tough job, I get that. But there are limits to what we, the people who live here, will tolerate from the police.

One thing is clear from the video. Mr Garner wasn't a threat. If they had left him alone, no one would have died, or even been hurt. So we're not finished with this. Something has to change in the policing of New York. What happened in Staten Island can't happen again. Someone in a position of responsibility needs to say that. The killers of Mr Garner must be punished, and the rules have to change to make it clear to police that they can't use deadly force unless there's real danger.

The power of juries

Two grand jury decisions in the last two weeks, and a lot of people are angry over the outcomes. Yet most people, when called for jury duty, want to get out of it. I did it too.

But then once, in 1996, I was called and decided not to resist. I was interviewed, passed the test, and was selected. We heard the case, deliberated, argued, were hung, told to go back, more deliberating, we reached a unanimous verdict.

When we started the deliberation, we were all naive about the process and our responsibility. By the end, there was lots of respect. I was confident that we had reached the correct answer. I can't speak for anyone else, but coming out of it, I had a lot more trust in our legal system.

I wrote a piece about it, back then.

It's like they say, if you don't vote, you can't really argue with the outcome. If you avoid serving on a jury, how can you be outraged when a decision is reached that you don't agree with? It's exactly the same kind of thing.

Being a juror changes you.

I gave $100 to Wikipedia

A little story. It's been a long time since I worked every day at the Unix command line. So, while the concepts are all familiar, they are not fresh. Mostly I work in graphic user interfaces. For a few years I used MS-DOS, which has its own command line. Same basic idea.

Anyway, I'm mostly back up to speed on Unix, but every once in a while I forget how to do something. This morning I needed to know how to create what I thought of as a "batch file." Google'd it. One of the first links explains the diff betw a batch file and a "shell script." Ahh that's right, they're not called batch files on Unix.

So I look up shell script -- see a few choices, go straight to the Wikipedia page where it tells me exactly what I needed to know in the first couple of paragraphs. Then I decided it was time to give them their annual $100.

Wikipedia is real

Without Wikipedia the web would be fully dominated by business models. There would be no way to get the simple single fact you need. If there weren't such a thing as Wikipedia, with all its flaws, we'd wish there was. Or in the future you would tell the younguns about this thing that was so wonderful that had just the facts you wanted and nothing more, and they'd roll their eyes.

I've noticed that Medium is now claiming to be a revitalization of the old web values. Oh that is so wrong. Wikipedia, however, which is very much the web, and very much alive. Yes we have lost many of the non-commercial ways of putting a simple web page up on the net. That doesn't mean we should give up. Not when we still have something as useful and relatively open as Wikipedia.

Give them a little money, today. It's the right thing to do, it's good for the net, it's "giving back" in a way that has very quick immediate impact.

An idea for comments

I want to enable comments for a reader one hour after they read a piece.

The idea is that you'd have to remember what you had to say, and will have had an hour to let the ideas in the piece sink in.

You'd still have the same moderation tools you could delete spam, off-topic or abusive comments. But this would eliminate the drive-by slammers. And people who have a standard speech they want to give and don't care about your time.

David Carr's sad story

The end of David Carr's current column in the NY Times is, I think, meant to outrage us. Reporters are being asked to deliver papers. I'm trying to think of what the analog would be in programming. We have to do a lot of menial tasks. Without a pulpit like Carr's on which to tell our tale of woe. But I agree. Having a professional reporter deliver papers is ridiculous.

I think we're really trying to have a negotiation with the big names of journalism. The NY Times and Columbia University are two of the most distinguished. I doubt if they can see the negotiation happening. Perhaps I can shed some light.

  1. We, meaning everyone who doesn't write for the NYT, value their name. If an article appears in The Times it means more to us.

  2. However, the value is diminishing over time. Fact. Impossible to dispute.

  3. If news were working imho we'd be getting a lot more of it, covering a lot more turf. But too much of what we get in news is the same as all other sources of news.

  4. This wasn't such a problem in the old distribution system, which was geographically limited. Example: when I was a college student in New Orleans in the 70s, I'd have to go downtown on Tuesday to pick up the Sunday edition of the Times. I would often do it, because it made me feel closer to home. Today, I live in NYC, and there's a news stand very near my apartment building. I bought the paper there exactly once, because I was going to eat at a nearby diner. I ended up not reading it, instead reading the news on my iPhone. Much faster, and my brain has adjusted to this way of getting informed. Shuffling papers feels like work (it didn't in the past).

  5. I can read stories from the New Orleans paper in New York just as easily. And I do! But not for the same news that's covered by other papers. For ideas and events that are specific to New Orleans.

  6. Also some of us have become decent writers, because the Internet makes us become good writers (or it used to before we were 140-char-limited).

  7. I am interested in reading news written by other people who do what I do. Wouldn't it be cool if some of them, the really smart ones who don't pander too much could write for the Times? And there is the negotiation. The Times is like Don Corleone in the first Godfather movie. You have all the senators, but you refuse to share them. You have the name. I would still like to write for the Times. But there's no way for me to do that. Until you figure out how to flow the good stuff from the web through your name, the name is going to continue to diminish. Of course that's my opinion. Not one that you could read in the NY Times, of course.

  8. Summary: You have to let more of the world in. Or eventually the world will invent what you have with a different name. That's always been the option. The Times should have fully made the transition to the web by now. The biggest part of that transition is allowing more voices to speak directly through your platform.

River4 progress report

I have to admit my programming stagnated most of the month of November. It happens sometimes. Maybe I should keep a diary. I tend to only report on finished work here on my blog. Still looking for the right way to do this.

I don't ride in the winter. Instead I go for a 40-minute walk every day. That means I get to listen to podcasts. Yesterday I listened to a Terry Gross interview with author Richard Ford. When he thinks of something he wants to remember he writes it on a 3-by-5 index card. They are unorganized. When his mind is idling they give him ideas.

I'm the same way with my todo outline. But when I'm stagnating, I forget to put stuff in there. When I'm firing on all cylinders, my list is full of interesting stuff, and is well organized. And lots of stuff goes from todo to done every day. Well I'm back in that groove now, at least for a while.

Radio1 and River1

In 2000 I did a project called My.UserLand on the Desktop. That became Radio UserLand in 2002. It was a blogging tool and RSS aggregator. That's a little too humble. It was the RSS aggregator that got the whole market going. When people say I "invented" RSS that's not right. What I did was make RSS easy to use.

Radio UserLand, which was also Radio1/River1, was interesting in a couple of other ways.

  1. It was an HTTP server that ran on the desktop. Most users had no idea. But when you installed it, the first thing it did was open a web page. If you looked at the URL it began with The server it was talking to was the app you just launched. No one cared, which is how, as a software designer, I wanted it to be.

  2. It had a core feature called upstreaming, which was a precursor to Dropbox (not that the Dropbox guys ever heard of it, I bet they didn't). There was a folder on your desktop that Radio stored stuff into, and another thread also running in Radio that watched that folder for changes, and uploaded them to a server we ran, which was eventually released as a free (as in beer) product, so people could run their own Radio networks behind a firewall. (It did something that today Fargo does with Dropbox, it rendered the content before uploading it, putting the CPU burden at the edge of the net.)

All this ran in the Frontier environment, a Windows and Mac runtime and development system built around an object database, outliner, language, threading system, etc. It was very powerful, still is. I use it as part of my development system on my 5K iMac I just got (thanks to heroic porting by Ted Howard).

River4 on the desktop

It's all a big loop I tell you!

River4 will, as Radio UserLand did, run on the desktop. It will contain a web server, that will be even more invisible to the user.

It runs in Node.js, which as you may know, is a perfectly fine desktop runtime environment in addition to running great in "the cloud." River4 has already shipped in its server form. The goal here is to, using node-webkit, create a totally end-user experience. Something that anyone who used Radio1 could use. Is that progress? Well, yes -- because River4 can do a bunch of things River1 couldn't. However, it's incredibly slow progress. What got in the way? Well personal stuff and market stuff. At least we're getting back to somewhere interesting.

The simplest algorithm

If you're one of those people who don't like algorithms deciding what news you get, this is your antidote. It's got the simplest algorithm possible, a reverse-chronologic list of new stories from the feeds you're subscribed to.

And it's all GPL'd open source so if you want to see for yourself you can. And if you want to write a fancier algorithm, using my code as a starting point, please do! Just know that whatever you create with this code you have to share with everyone.

I'm still hard at work

I'll let you know when this is ready to use.

Journalism going forward

Maybe in the future, journalism will come to mean people who seek out news that is not fed by Algorithm. They use tools that give more direct control over what they see. The thing to know is that the tech industry cannot operate these for you for free. That's the bad news. The good news is that they run for pennies a day for whole organizations, and can be shared with your readers for a few pennies more.

The technical ability to run these "news aggregator" systems is about the same as setting up and running a laptop computer. The technology is already accessible and getting more so. With the emphasis these days on "learning to code" I don't see what the barrier is, other than possibly fear of exploring technology on your own, without the support and approval of multi-billion dollar companies.

But techies who are your friends can and will help you. People who want you to succeed. The mistake is viewing tech as a monolith. As if everyone in tech saw the world the same way, had the same goals, and were willing to burn up the web to make a few more bucks. Some of us think enough money is enough.

Anyway running an aggregator certainly is much simpler than learning to code.

The role of J-schools

One thing I'm sure of is that J-schools should be teaching students the basic technology now. That would do more to strengthen both journalism and the Internet, which are allies in getting people the information they need, imho, more than anything else.

And we should get workshops going everywhere there are news organizations, the way we taught people about blogging in 2003 and 2004. The idea that you can run your own timeline is one that must spread, and to do that we have to show people how to do it.

What does victory look like?

BTW, the picture in the margin of Knick players Jeremy Lin and Carmelo Anthony, in 2012, begrudgingly acknowledging each other, is how I visualize tech and journalism. This team did not win the championship. I'll try to dig up a good picture of what that looks like.

That's the kind of inclusive victory I'm looking for. Sure big tech companies can participate. But the Internet should achieve its destiny of providing great timely news to people who care without waiting for the tech industry to do what is probably an impossible transformation. I want to live to see this happen! If you love news, you should want it too.

Chrome is dying, day 4

See the previous pieces in this thread.

Today, I have to say that unfortunately, while turning off automatic plug-ins did significantly decrease the instances of clipboard failure in Chrome/Mac, they are still there.

At this point, I don't think the problem is going to go away until Google decides it's time to make it go away.

Why this problem persists

I'm learning a lot about how the tech industry works today from this example. I was very naive, apparently.

The reason this bug is not a high priority is that it is only a problem for people who use the web to write. People who just watch YouTube videos and click on links in Twitter or Facebook, they don't use the clipboard. They probably don't even know it exists.

Basically if a bug interferes with your ability to watch advertising, it's high priority. If not, well, someone can work on that in their "spare time." Said with a wink and a nudge.

And when someone gets too close to saying this in public, flame them, hoping they will think it's not worth the trouble.

What do do?

It seems there's enough economic interest in the web to find a few million a year to keep a fork of WebKit nice and solid and working well across all versions of Mac OS. Based on the theory that PBS hasn't had a huge negative effect on commercial TV over the years, the tech industry might not even try to sabotage it.

As much as I don't care about advertising, personally, I have to say that in order for this idea to work, this version would have to specifically not support advertisers' interests. They're what's making the web crazy right now.

What I'm thankful for

I love to learn, and therefore the most important people to me are teachers.

And as with most things today, the teachers aren't just the ones with the titles. There is information and lessons to be learned everywhere you look.

So in 2014, I have to say -- it's teachers I am most thankful for.

A hidden Mac paint program

I didn't know that every Mac comes with a simple paint program built-in, until I asked for advice on getting a new one. It's part of the Preview application. Here's how to access it.

How to

  1. Copy an image to the clipboard.

  2. Launch the Preview app.

  3. Choose New from Clipboard from the File menu.

  4. When the image window opens, click on the toolbox icon to enable the editing features. Screen shot.

  5. You should see a row of icons.

What I was looking for

I use a paint program basically to edit small sidebar images for my blog and for screen shots to document my software. These are the features I need.

  1. Resize an image, usually scaling.

  2. Make the background transparent.

  3. Draw an arrow on the image.

  4. Save as either GIF, JPG or PNG.

The Preview app can do all this and more. And the other features don't seem to get in the way.

I'm still figuring out how to fit it into my workflow.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A picture named givePeaceAChance.png

Your beliefs are bupkis

A picture named beliefs.png

From Banksy. Never more relevant.

Turn off Flash in Chrome

Yesterday I followed Tracy Hern's advice and turned off the Flash plug-in in Chrome/Mac, and things are now running faster and in less memory.

Haven't had a clipboard failure since. Of course that's not yet proof that the problem is gone. But it's a good sign.

How to

Choose Preferences from the Chrome menu.

At the bottom of the page, click on Show advanced settings.

Click on the Content settings button.

Scroll down to Plug-ins.

Choose Click to play from the set of radio buttons.

Click on the Done button.

What this means

Now, when you visit a web page with Flash movies, instead of seeing a preview, you'll see the image of a jigsaw puzzle piece. If you want to watch the movie, click the image.

Feels really good. I'm not a big fan of movies that start playing while I'm reading, so I like this way of working.

Recommendation to Google

Why not ship Chrome with this setting by default.

iOS users are already accustomed to a world without Flash. Presumably many of us are also Mac users. It's a much more humane way to use the web, without videos starting up automatically while you're doing other stuff. It seems that the human being sitting in front of the computer should decide whether or not they want to watch a movie. I imagine advertisers wouldn't like this. Maybe if you like your users more there will be more of them to see the ads.

How to rebuild journalism

I read Emily Bell's speech and her piece in the Guardian over the weekend. They fairly well reflect what you hear from journalism pundits these days.

I don't think they know how to listen to technology. They of course, being journalists, focus on the money. But there's a lot of open tech available for them to use. They don't look there.

It's like the blind men and the elephants, or Don's Amazing Puzzle (try it!). You see what you expect to see. Journalism is conservative. It wants things to stay the same. Tech is the opposite. It's invested only in upheaval. There's your conflict.

The story of the last 20 years has been the story of the collision of journalism and tech. I've been working on this for my entire 40-plus year career as a software developer and writer -- what happens to story-telling when the tools of publishing are available to everyone.

Journalism stood by while blogging took root. They covered it, but largely dismissed it. They ignored "RSS". They ignored everything, including the threat to their art. I warned them many times, here on, that they would regret letting the tech industry own their distribution system. But that's what happened. Without any resistance whatsoever. Journalism let tech move in and take over.

Yet tech has been a lot more generous than I thought they (we) would be. Perhaps because they understand as little about journalism as journalism understands about tech. Or perhaps because they want journalism to be independent of tech. Hard to know.

The Algorithm

  • Facebook's algorithm is something they don't like. Lots to say about that.
  • 1. Most of them don't use Facebook. Which would be similar to not liking Google if you didn't use Google. Most of them do use Google, so will understand what this means, I hope.
  • 2. The results you get from "the algorithm" is a function of how you trained it. If, on the day of the Ferguson shooting (the canonical example Bell and others cite) you were, like me, a lover of news, your feed would have had lots of stuff about Ferguson in it. (BTW, have you watched the network news shows recently? Lots of YouTube videos and pie-eating contests.)
  • 3. Journalism has an opaque algorithm too. None of its users has any idea how they decide what is and isn't news.
  • 4. Facebook hasn't really gotten into news yet. They are actively developing new technology in this area. To judge it on its ability to deliver news would be like judging the NYC Subway on its ability to deliver news. It's for people, today, more than it is for news. However, expect that to change.
  • 5. I have been listening to Facebook people carefully. Reading the tea leaves, getting to know their developers. I believe they really want to work with you. Yet not very many journalists have expressed much interest. I think this is a big mistake. When someone offers to work with me, my first response is to say yes. I wasn't always this way, I had to train myself to do it, after watching lots of opportunities pass me by because I wasn't ready enough to work with others.
  • 6. One thing you can learn from the process of tech is to study your competition, don't ignore them. Use the software yourself, understand its strengths and weaknesses before you attack. Journalism hasn't done any of this, which is odd, because that's supposed to be their job, understanding things that matter.

How to rebuild

  • 1. If I were running a news organization today, accepting that we let the tech industry own our distribution system, I would first incorporate it into my plans by flowing all my headlines through Twitter and Facebook, and then start to create our own distribution system to stand alongside the tech industry distribution system.
  • 2. The first mover doesn't always win. That's a big lesson. Use what you know about news to build the best news system you can, and then learn from your users, and iterate. My first version of a product usually doesn't work very well. My second one works better. By the time I've done it the third or fourth time I usually hit the mark pretty well.
  • 3. I would not rush to the government and make demands. That is just plain wrong. If your children behaved that way, before trying to work things out with each other, you'd send them back to at least try to find their own peace. You should have enough self-respect to do that yourself. I am sure the Bezos-owned Washington Post will not be seeking government protection from Twitter and Facebook.
  • 4. It's also not right because there's so much potential right now. It's not time to lock it down and regulate. It's time for tech and journalism to behave responsibly and respectfully of themselves and each other.
  • 5. We have enough open formats and protocols to build a dozen news distribution systems with all kinds of algorithms. We have bright-eyed J-school students who are excited about the future of news. Even some graybeards such as myself are still totally excited about the future. Come on, let's use the tools we have. Feed your headlines and stories into Facebook and Twitter, you have to do that -- they exist and billions of people use them -- but also into new systems for news distribution. There is room for lots of different approaches. We're at the beginning of something new, at a time of exciting possibilities. Let that excitement be reflected in your thinking.

My two tech motivations

  1. I want to keep the things that are open open.

  2. I want to make more things that are open.

I need more surface to develop on. I don't at this time work inside a big company. Maybe the only way to play with the good toys is to hook up with one. The more things in #1 keep breaking the harder it is to be independent.

Otherwise when people guess my motivations, and they do often, they err wildly. I'm not "for" or "against" anyone. I am not fighting a moral battle. I don't care if anyone else is good or bad. That's for God to decide.

Think of me as a showrunner or a movie producer. I have shows I want to make. I need good platforms to make them on. I can't afford to worry about anything else, I already have a full plate.