20071207

The Future of the Newspaper, the Newspaper of the Future

Of all the old media formats that lay dying in the shadow of the internet, the daily newspaper is the greatest and most unfortunate of losses. The newspaper was an indispensable tool in the rise of post-Enlightenment democracy, publicizing the ideas behind the American and French revolutions.

Since that time, the newspaper has played a central role in every war, election and public event in the industrialized world. For the latest in-depth news and rough summary of public consensus, the newspaper was the well-informed person's key source. Even in the age of television, nothing beat a newspaper for its scope and detail.

Obviously, those times have come to an end. The internet is where news is distributed now. The newspaper, as it exists today is a relic, printed only for the sake of tradition, and the pleasure of those diehards who cannot break the habit of yesterday's technology.

But as the newspaper fades away, we lose its single-most important benefit. The unique advantage of a newspaper is its portability. The Kindle and the iPod represent breakthroughs in the portability of electronic media, but they are far from acheiving the portability of the printed page. No device can ever be as lightweight, disposable and as easily manipulable as paper. It seems hard to argue that any electronic device will ever fully overlap the ease and convenience of the book or printed sheet.

Meanwhile, "Short Run Digital Printing" is a technology that has been in development for several years now, and it promises to bridge the gap between the rapid-distribution capabilities of electronic media and the unique conveniences of printed media.

There is an unexploited opportunity here. With some clever software design and marketing it is conceivable that someone out there could make a lot of money devising a system for delivering a highly-personalized news product that could be printed from street kiosks or even in the home.

Whether they prefer comic strips, sports scores, financial information, obituaries, grocery advertisements, local crime news, election information, or any of the other hundreds of things that the daily paper used to deliver, the common news consumer loves to have a real crinkling piece of paper to hold and read on the bus to work, over the morning coffee or with the evening cocktail. The internet has revolutionized the flow of information, but humans will always have a place in their hearts for news that they can fold. Hopefully, those with the resources will soon realize the basic truth of this fact and make a reality out of something that has long been needed and is entirely possible at this very moment.

-z

20071130

R.I.P. Evel Knievel

Alas, he was a childhood hero.

AOL News.
Yahoo News
Legendary Daredevil Evel Knievel Dies

20071122

Al Qaeda's Holiday Marketing Strategy Creates Consternation

International News Syndicate, Nov. 22, 2007

Washington D.C.- We know it as al Qaeda. But to the people at the Department of Homeland Security, it is a global corporation built to market nothing more than wanton violence. A desperate hatred drives this terrorism machine, and strips it of any inhibition in its quest for total control.

Only recently has a new plot come to light, allowing a glimpse into the plans of the fanatical menace. Al Qaeda Inc. are planning a major marketing campaign for the Holiday season, including the release of a new suicide-bombing kit designed specially for children, according to Department of Homeland Security officials.

“I had a gut feeling about this, but this time I've also got internet chatter to back it up,” said Michael Chertoff, DHS chief at a completely genuine press conference today.

Chertoff said that the RSS feed from al-qaeda.com has revealed the release of new terrorism equipment under the Al Qaeda brand name, and calls for attacks on shopping malls at the height of the Christmas season. The flagship product in this marketing campaign is a suicide-bombing kit, called Watch Me Martyr, that includes a bicycle and an child-sized explosive vest, he said. In addition to details about the kit, the RSS feed also delivered a call for bombings at the Mall of America on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional beginning of the US Christmas shopping season.

“This year the Terror Alert level isn't red, it's red and green,” he said.

In spite of these warnings, ordinary Americans do not seem to be alarmed.

“I do all my Christmas shopping online, anyway, ” said Stanley Erdnase, a Boston, Massachusetts cellist, in a telephone interview Saturday.

“The Mall of America? They still have that?” said Kim Dereksen, a Fargo, North Dakota school teacher, also in a telephone interview.

The Mall of America was built in the early 1990s by the Triple Five Group, a property development company owned and operated by four brothers. Nader Ghermezian, one of the Triple Five Group owners, said by email that he is aware of the al Qaeda marketing campaign, and that he has instructed Mall of America merchants against offering any al Qaeda product for sale, including the Watch Me Martyr suicide bombing kit.

“Those Keystone Cops over at DHS can save themselves the trouble. The FBI too. Bin Laden has [expletive] with the wrong guy,” said Ghermezian on his blog this weekend. None of the other Ghermezian brothers or their spokespeople returned messages left throughout the week.

Nationwide, several independent retailers have made orders for the Watch Me Martyr kits, which ships in late November. However, both Wal-Mart and Target have released statements reminding shoppers that they have never carried al Qaeda products.

“Al Qaeda is the enemy of freedom. We do not, nor have we ever, believed al Qaeda products to be worthy of the American consumer,” said Wal-Mart in a press release issued this morning.

-Khaleda Shirazi contributed to this report.

20071111

Happy 11/11

The staff at Hollow Tree Experimental Design Studios and the iSuck blog would like to wish you and yours a warm, safe and happy 11/11 holiday.

20071030

Diary of a slow suicide

Among the very deadliest things around is cancer. It's the second leading cause of death in the United States, right after heart disease. If you're an American, or a citizen of one of the so-called industrialized nations, you probably know someone who has it, will know such a person in the future, will suffer cancer yourself, or--heaven forbid--it could likely be the cause of your own unfortunate passing.

Cancer is real. It's something we'll all have to think about at some point in our life.

And famously, there is no cure for the dread disease. However, medical science is getting closer and closer to sure-fire treatments. Among the most promising is the genetic re-engineering of viruses to attack cancerous cells in our bodies. This treatment is still in its earliest stages of experimentation, but perhaps one day it will be the thing that saves us all from the "big C."

Meanwhile, the standard treatment for cancer is to have the tumor removed surgically, if possible, and then to have either chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of the two. The exact details of an individual's cancer treatment are best determined by a good doctor. The most fortunate among us will have a team of crack oncologists at our disposal.

Possibly the worst thing anyone can do once diagnosed with cancer is to leave the tumor intact and to try to treat the disease with “alternative therapies.” Yet, quite a lot of people make this choice. Among this population is one Susan Insole, a former British nurse and the mind behind the Natural Health Benefits website.

It's always encouraging to see those with strong ideas put their own physical well being on the line in support of their opinions. Aside from that, though, a bad idea is still a bad idea. Insole is not only forgoing a tumorectomy and subsequent treatment for her breast cancer, but she is also taking on a self-proscribed dietary regimen and chronicling the progress of her disease on the anti-medical website What Doctors Don't Tell You.

It is not an unusual thing at all to choose an alternative treatment over an actual one, but to make the additional decision to write about the process on the internet is something else entirely. Insole's story raises more issues than can be counted, among them the role that the internet plays in helping misguided people support one another in maintaining their delusions.

The best thing that can happen for Insole is for her cancer to go into spontaneous remission, despite her decision to avoid proper treatment. This is not likely, but all the same, we hope that it happens, despite any damage that such a turn of events will do to the public's opinion of science-based medicine.


Dennis Prager, one more moron on the internet

No one truly knows the limits of human stupidity. But, through the man-made miracle of the internet, we have a better measure of our collective foolishness than ever before.

The amount of free-ranging idiocy on the nets is known by all and lamented by many. And often it is the very lamentation of stupidity which brings the stupidity to greater heights.

A fine example of this is Dennis Prager's recent column “How to Get Moron's Off the Internet.” Prager seems to believe that he has a clever solution to the problem of bile and ignorance on the internet. Simply ban anonymous posting, he says. If the operators of websites would require all commentors to state their real names and locations, discourse on the internet would magically elevate itself.

This kind of simplistic reasoning is standard for Prager, whose career as a social pundit centers around an ongoing attack against a homogeneous “liberal” strawman that exists only in the minds of himself and his talk-radio colleagues. Among Prager's more ridiculous positions are that politicians who stand opposed to gay rights, though they may be secretly gay themselves, ought not to be exposed as closeted homosexuals; that Judaism and Christianity, taken together, are “the finest system of values ever devised”; and that public swearing somehow causes injury to our general culture. Dennis Prager is essentially a mouthpiece for the “traditional American values” crowd. If social conservatives as a group have any position on any given issue then, right or wrong, Prager is there right along with them.

Not satisfied with mere redundancy, Prager does go off the talking points with some regularity. Most recently, Mr. Prager has made an expedition into the chaotic subject of internet culture. He is absolutely correct in saying that the internet is overrun with hateful jackasses, but he loses all credibility when he proposes eliminating anonymity as a solution.

The problem with eliminating anonymity on the internet has nothing to do with issues of free expression. The problem, which defies any workaround, is nothing more than simple practicality. It can't be done. Anonymity is as much an ineluctable part of the internet as wetness is of rain. Which is to say that anonymity is built into the medium.

As anyone who knows a little history may remember, the internet grew out a United States military project to develop a communication system that could withstand a nuclear assault. Much has changed since the original AARPA days, but the decentralized quality of the internet persists. Along with this quality, the internet is also open to including any machine from any location. It is possible to link an iPod to the internet, as well as an Xbox or any other electronic device that can run software. If it can be programmed, it can be connected. More than that, any machine that can be connected can be rendered anonymous using any of a wide array of software applications.

This means that it is not possible to completely exclude anonymous users from the internet. Of course, the owners of specific websites could easily require that visitors identify themselves in order to leave comments. This already happens quite a lot to discourage spam artists who try to use comment services for advertising purposes. It isn't unusual for websites to ask users to register in order to use their sites, but many of these internet services find that requiring registration actually decreases their traffic, as users are reluctant to have to remember one more password, or to give their email address to one more organization who may send them unwanted messages.

As Prager himself says, there is a financial price for a website that might want to eliminate anonymity. That price is irrelevance. There will always be websites willing to allow anonymous posting, which would create a total competitive disadvantage for websites that do not. Because of this, anonymity will always exist on the internet, and to expect anything else is naïve.

It may well be that Prager proposed this “banning” of anonymity from the net as a way to vent his frustration against the hordes of trolls who have been leaving rude comments to his grandmotherly internet columns. Still, the idea is so outrageously dimwitted that it begs for a response. Prager shows a hopeless misunderstanding of the world that he lives in, not realizing that vitriol on the internet is something that he is just going to have to learn to accept. Anonymous comments may not be pleasant, and they may not be “good” for society, but in the long run they are essentially harmless. Rather than trying to design a hare-brained solution to a non-problem, Prager would do better to spend his time reconsidering his own misguided view of the world, and getting comfortable with the unalterability of reality. Once he has done this and begins writing columns that make practical sense, he may find that the rude comments do not come with such regularity.

###

20071028

iSuck Programming Notes

The light of another Sunday is fading quickly. I want to toss in a couple of hastily written self-referential comments during these non-peak hours...

The seven-posts in seven-days thing didn't work out exactly as I had announced it would. But still, I got seven posts in, more or less. Problem is they were longer than is really appropriate for a blog. That's fine. I've still got a couple more of these overweight essays ready to drop in the coming days. But amidst those I hope to get a few 250-word posts in. Hopefully they'll be worth your time.

I know that there are at least a couple of people who are seeing this blog, if not necessarily reading it. Please feel free to let me know if you want more or less of anything I'm providing here. The iSuck blog is mostly for my own amusement, but at the same time it's all the more amusing to me if I've got any sort of audience. So, tell me how to pander to you. I'll probably comply. Use the comments section, or email me directly. However you like.

And no doubt you've seen the delightful redesign. Most significant is the right-hand column. The hand-filtered newsfeed is now supplying the full content of the items, rather than just the headlines. Unfortunately, the del.icio.us links are popping up far too often for my taste. Tweaking will continue.

That's all for now. Thanks for your time.

-Zeno Izen

20071026

A Solution to the Steroid Problem

Steroids have been a part of sports for years now, and they are here to stay. Not only that, but steroids are just the beginning. Soon enough we will see robotic and genetic enhancements to the human body that will let athletes perform at many times their natural capabilities. As science marches on, records will be smashed over and over again. Are you ready for the 200-mph fastball? How about the 1500-home-run career, or the two-minute mile? Not even science fiction is the limit in the world of athletic competition, because whatever can be engineered will be put to quick use on the playing field.

The only uncertainty is how the rulemakers of the various sports leagues will treat these advancements. The current trend is to prohibit technological ability-boosters, to banish them into a hidden sphere. With steroids prohibited, honest players must compete against cheaters, standards of achievement become skewed and sports fans can no longer be sure who is a true winner and who is a juiced-up manbeast taking advantage of an unbalanced situation.

It's as true in sports as anywhere else, prohibition is terrible mistake. The difference is that, in sports, to ban enhancements is twice the error. Drug users tend to fail real world, but the opposite is true in sports--at least over the short term. Steroid users will always win against their more honest opponents, and those who follow the rules will never break the records set by more-than-human competitors.

But while prohibition is a foolish policy, it is clearly necessary to exert some sort of control over these substances--not to mention whatever else might be on its way down the research pipeline. Whatever is allowed will become an immediate standard. If one man quadruples the size of his pitching arm with stem cells, then everyone else will have to do it just to keep up. In competitive situations, what is not prohibited becomes obligatory. It would be terribly unwise to ask our up and coming athletes to destroy their bodies just so that they can play a game.

The best solution then is to partition our sports. There is no reason we can't have separate leagues in each sport, one that allows any possible enhancement, and one that allows no enhancements at all.

The benefits of a system that separates sports into enhanced and non-enhanced leagues are plain.

A main improvement under this system will be that performance enhancement will come out of the closet. No parent will have to lecture their children on the dangers of steroid or amphetamine use because these risks will be openly illustrated by the scores of sports heroes who will suffer from brain cancer, abnormal hair and sudden coronary explosions.

As cyborgenics become available, we will also see athletes with robotic limbs and bits of facial circuitry. Admittedly, the fact that these physical upgrades will be introduced to us by famous sports figures may actually add an element of romance to the technology. However it's also an undeniable fact that when once these things are invented, there will be no way to stop their infiltration into our culture. It is better to have the gear tested in full public view under high-performance conditions than to have them sold to us "as is" by less-than-honest marketing hacks.

Wearable computing and cyborgenics are things of the near future. As a species, we have lived through the introduction of many new technologies, and it's about time we began to get this process right. Consider the automobile. How many years, and how many lives, passed us by before we saw the invention of seat belts and air bags? Or take an additional example--genetic engineering. The citizenry tend to fear this technology and clamor for regulation that is much more dramatic than necessary. In either case, the legislation on these innovations has been either too late or too quick.

But in the case of re-engineering the human body, we have the luxury of a class of people who will willingly test these things and do it at their own expense. Considering the entertainment value that comes as a bonus, why not let them?

There are many more possible benefits of this idea, but I will add just one more. When performance enhancement is brought out in the open through league partitioning, we will no longer have to suffer the heartbreak, or witness the disgrace, as our beloved athletes are inevitably caught cheating at their games. Episodes such as our ongoing suspicion of Barry Bonds, and our shock at the downfall of Marion Jones will no longer haunt us, and we will be free to enjoy the diversions of sport once again.