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In the news…

Friday, January 20th, 2012

I promised myself when I started blogging again that I’d stay away from overtly political posts, but I saw a couple of articles in the news lately that I found interesting in various ways, so I thought I’d share:

BP Makes Amends
When the oil spill first occurred back in April of 2010, environmentalists claimed the damage could last for years, if not decades. Economists predicted economic doom for the Gulf region, already damaged by past hurricanes and other natural disasters. But now, less than two years later, we read this in the New York Times:

BP has performed quite admirably in [the] aftermath. It has spared no expense in cleaning up the oil. It has set aside $1 billion to restore the environment and coastal ecosystem. It underwrote an advertising campaign to lure tourists back to the Gulf Coast. Today, less than two years after the spill, the beaches are sparkling, most fishermen are working and many of the hotels are full.

At the urging of President Obama, BP also agreed to set up a $20 billion fund to compensate anyone who could show that they’d been economically harmed by the accident. Ken Feinberg, the former administrator of the Sept. 11 victim compensation fund, was put in charge of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, as it was named. Feinberg has since paid out $6.3 billion to nearly 200,000 claimants. Daniel Becnel, a lawyer who has settled thousands of claims, says that his clients often receive more money from Feinberg than they would have if they had gone to court. “You couldn’t have done a better job than Feinberg did,” says Becnel.

So kudos all around. BP, the corporate villain who was accused of caring more about profits than people, has done the right thing. Our government stepped in to help and actually made the process more effective and efficient than it otherwise would have been. And the people of the Gulf Coast worked hard, rebuilt, and are now reaping the benefits – despite a continuing tough economy.

The widening pay gap on Wall Street
We read all the time about big Wall Street bonuses and how those rich bankers take every opportunity to reward themselves with sky-high bonuses while “the 99%” suffer. But here’s a pretty clear depiction of how the financial crisis affected Wall Street firms:

Now, before everyone jumps all over me, I’m not suggesting that $128,000 is a small amount of money, or that the average Wall Street worker is suffering. But it is noteworthy that the average bonus dropped 44% when the crisis hit, and is still 28% below pre-crisis levels. And, according to the article, the 2011 bonuses will likely average $77,000-$90,000 (a 30-40% drop from 2010), or less than the immediate post-crisis figures of 2008. Again: my point is not to launch a telethon for the poor Wall Street bankers, or to suggest that someone making a base salary plus a $90,000 bonus deserves any kind of pity. Instead, I think it’s interesting to note that the industry does police itself pretty effectively when it comes to compensation, despite the lack of any major regulations requiring them to do so.

As an aside: the article attempts to call out Wall Street firms for paying their “top performers” higher bonuses than everyone else. Anyone who’s ever worked in a meritocracy realizes how hollow this criticism rings. Whatever the bonus pool – down 30-40% or up 30-40%, one should always expect the larger share to go to the strongest performers. That is, after all, why they call it “incentive compensation.” In a base+bonus pay model, a prominent reason for putting some portion of the pay “at risk” is to allow companies to reward strong performers relative to weaker ones. And, in a down year like 2011, I don’t think a reward of “same as last year” is overly excessive for those performing at the peak.

Categories: News and/or Media, Political Rantings | 2 Comments »

The New York Times – Charging for Free Content

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

In case you haven’t read about it yet, the New York Times changed their online access policy, by offering what they’re calling digital subscriptions. Here’s how it works:

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and other features on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to NYTimes.com.

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access to 20 articles (including slide shows, videos and other features) each month. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber. On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to the other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.

So, twenty articles per month for free, after which you have to pay to read. But wait, there are a couple of small caveats:

• Readers who come to Times articles through links from search engines, blogs and social media will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. This allows new and casual readers to continue to discover our content on the open Web. On all major search engines, users will have a daily limit on free links to Times articles.

• The home page at NYTimes.com and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.

This is because the New York Times sells advertising on its web pages, and if people can’t link through to their articles, then they can’t charge as much for their advertising. And since the vast majority of people who read the news online link to individual articles, either through social media sites, news aggregators or search engine results (as opposed to clicking on every article on the Times’ homepage like it were a physical newspaper), preventing users from reading NYTimes articles when they click on those links would drastically reduce the articles’ pageviews.

So, why do I mention this? Well, as I did before when the Wall Street Journal tried this ridiculous scheme, I figured I’d offer, as a public service, a very quick and easy way to read New York Times articles online for free, even if you go over their prescribed monthly limit. To wit:

A couple of other points:

When I tested this just now, I noticed that the URL for the original article was:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/02/business/02obama.html?hp

and the URL provided by Google was:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/02/business/02obama.html

Can it be as simple as removing the “?hp” from the URL to get to the article in the first place? I doubt it, but since I haven’t passed my monthly limit on NYTimes articles this month yet, I can’t test it. If anyone out there can confirm or deny this, post it in the comments of this post, OK?

Also, the NYTimes’ FAQ site for digital subscriptions boasts that if you read the same article twice in a given month, it won’t count against your limit of twenty. That would suggest that the NYTimes is tracking your individual reading habits, so it knows which articles you’ve read on a monthly basis. This is probably not a new practice, and is probably not used for anything other than enforcing their subscription rules, but given how sensitive the NYTimes is about topics like online privacy, I’m surprised they buried this information so deep in their FAQ file.

Anyway, I hope this little tutorial helps you to continue enjoying NYTimes content, right up until the point where their desperate attempts to cling to the old world of “news via subscription” ends with their dramatic and ultimate demise.

Categories: News and/or Media, Tech Talk | 5 Comments »

Headlines

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

This obviously isn’t funny (although, in this case, no one got hurt), but the Associated Press deserves recognition for this gem of a headline:

Nano car bursts into flames, raising safety fears

Gee – ya think?!?

Categories: News and/or Media | 2 Comments »

The 119 words WGN reporters can’t say on television

Friday, March 12th, 2010

The CEO of the Tribune Company has posted a list of 119 broadcast news cliches that he doesn’t want his anchors or reporters to use anymore on the air.

But what’s even stranger is that Ian Chillag of National Public Radio has put them all in a single sentence:

In other news, stay tuned, because in our top story tonight, some really good (or bad) news: as expected, in a surprise move yesterday, informed sources say, a world class icon, diva, mother of all motorists, and famed undocumented alien, lauded for putting area residents at risk and in harm’s way, but at this point in time behind bars for allegations that — according to sketchy details that, to be fair, have officials and authorities under fire for speaking out — he reportedly engaged in shower activity with all of you folks at 5 am in the morning, underwent surgery, utilized an undisclosed vehicle in torrential rain in a near miss manhunt when it was time for a break, literally fled on foot, completely surprised his mother with a clash with bare naked police behind closed doors, definitely possibly completely destroyed a medical hospital under false pretenses, and is lucky to be alive after, the fact of the matter is, he lent a helping hand to a legendary incarcerated pedestrian lone gunman (the perpetrator who over in a neighboring state, perished in a perfect storm of no brainers and things that went terribly wrong, and was plagued by killing sprees in which he gave 110% only to have his senseless murders marred by the untimely deaths of guys and folks whose fatal deaths came in the wake of auto accidents, and while it may be a mute point, let’s everybody touch base on the fact that he was under seige in the wake of unrest after shots rang out in close proximity of the best kept secret on the campaign trail which had authorities reeling up in one place and down in another, and going forward, the alleged aftermath of the death toll for youths behind the podium exceeds those out there, down there, and out in that other place by a two to one margin), is seeking white stuff for those of you that want it, and thus, we’ll explain what he did when we’ll be back — we’ll be right back, after the break and after these commercial messages, and we say “we’re back,” “welcome back,” or “welcome back everybody.”

For more on this story, film at eleven…

Categories: News and/or Media, The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

Journalism is Dead! Long Live Journalism!

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Two weeks ago, I got on a 7:45AM New Jersey Transit to New York City. Just then, power problems developed in the tunnel under the Hudson River, causing massive delays throughout the NJTransit system. Four hours later, when it became obvious that I was still at least an hour away from getting to my office, I gave up and came home. During the entire ordeal, the train conductors kept apologizing for the inconvenience while assuring us that they would pass on any new information as soon as they received it. Meanwhile, the passengers were on their blackberries, iPhones, and other mobile devices, receiving status updates from various websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and even NJTransit itself. Those who were disconnected were treated to a steady stream of information as passengers called out the latest updates to each other and recommended courses of action for folks with various intended destinations. At the time, we joked that the train conductor should get himself an iPhone so he could tell us more than what NJTransit was telling him.

Last week, I dropped a friend off at Continental Airlines’ Terminal C in Newark Liberty Airport about an hour before someone walked the wrong way through a security checkpoint, causing officials to evacuate the terminal. About 10,000 people crammed the check-in counters and baggage claim areas, waiting for the go-ahead to re-enter the terminal and get on their delayed (possibly even cancelled) flights. My friend gave interviews to Fox News and The Star Ledger, and even received update requests from a CNN reporter who had found his Twitter feed. As with the train delay above, no one at Newark Airport or Continental Airlines was making any announcements or providing the inconvenienced passengers with any further information.

The two incidents raise the following question in my mind: has information dissemination, particularly in the case of breaking news, broken down completely, or has it changed in a way that renders the old methods obsolete and unnecessary? Certainly, both NJTransit and Continental Airlines could have made repeated announcements over their public address systems and placed public relations people in the terminals to talk to passengers and the media, but these actions would likely have yielded repetitive and less accurate information than what the passengers were finding on their own. Which is worse? Not saying anything or repeating an unhelpful message over and over again? Perhaps we’ve reached a point where these organizations realize that the passengers are informing themselves and have chosen not to bother competing?

I’ll note that in both cases, passengers joked about the lack of information coming from official sources, but did not complain about a lack of information per se. Maybe all that’s missing is a shift in public perception, where people expect to find information on their own (or from their fellow passengers) rather than have it spoon-fed to them by “an official source?”

“Crowdsourcing,” like most everything else on the Internet, will really only get big when it gets small. Wikipedia became the gold standard for research by using the whole planet to (attempt to) catalog all of the world’s knowledge. Now, we’re creating mini-wikipedias for specific events, like a security concern at an airport terminal. Given time, familiarity, and a build-up of trust, this model could eventually out-pace the concept of “breaking news” from the larger news sources.

Or so I heard on the web

Categories: New York, New York, News and/or Media | 10 Comments »

Random Acts of Blogging – 12/3/09

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

So many blog-worthy things going on in the world all at once! So, some quick thoughts on several things:

Adam Lambert emerged from his #2 finish on American Idol as one of the most promising singing talents in years. At the American Music Awards, he decided to make his performance a social statement, rather than make it about the music. He’s since been cancelled by ABC from Good Morning America, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. And the shows that are letting him on suddenly want to talk about nothing else but the AMA’s. I’m disappointed. Not because I have a particular opinion about his “cause,” but because he’s allowed his cause to overshadow his music, which I was looking forward to enjoying. On the upside, I think maybe he’s realizing his mistake. Here’s what he told Ellen Degeneres:

It was maybe a little too far. I think in hindsight I look back on it and I go, “OK, maybe that wasn’t the best first impression to make again, the first second impression.” I mean, I had fun up there, I had a good time, my dancers had fun and the band had fun. I respect people and feel like people walked away from that feeling disrespected. I would never intend to disrespect anybody. So that was not my intention.

What he needs now is a musical “reset” – another spotlight moment, like the AMA’s, in which he knocks everyone’s socks off musically, and convinces people that music is his thing, not social commentary.


Tiger Woods released the following statement yesterday:

[N]o matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don’t share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one’s own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.

Whatever regrets I have about letting my family down have been shared with and felt by us alone. I have given this a lot of reflection and thought and I believe that there is a point at which I must stick to that principle even though it’s difficult.

I wish every celebrity in the world would memorize these two paragraphs and recite them whenever some nosy reporter presumes to suggest that his/her private life is somehow my business.

Tiger had a car accident and knocked over a fire hydrant. He needs to explain that to the police, and hence, to the public. If someone were knocking over fire hydrants in my neighborhood, I’d want to know who, where and why. That’s a public safety issue and a law enforcement issue. However, if the answer to “Why?” is “domestic dispute” or “private matter,” then I have no need or desire to know more.


Michaele and Tareq Salahi are the latest in a series of Reality TV inspired stupidity. Years ago, people would do dumb things to get noticed, to be sure, but the result was rarely more than the standard fifteen minutes of fame. Today, with the institutional backing (and financing) of a Reality TV Show’s production company, exhibitionists like these have the capability of distracting the entire nation for fifteen days, not fifteen minutes. The Salahi’s, like the Balloon Boy family before them, only benefit from their actions if they get caught. And even though the news media knows this, they play right into the perpetrators’ hands, because they also know that it sells soap. My only hope is that the largely negative reaction to both the Salahi’s and the Heene’s dissuade Reality TV producers from pulling stunts like this in the future. Because the media is certainly not going to show any restraint.


HBO recently aired the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert. Culling through two nights of music, they presented a “mere” four hours of musical genius, ranging from Stevie Wonder to Simon & Garfunkel to Aretha Franklin to Crosby, Stills & Nash to U2 to Metallica to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Add to that a truly amazing array of “guest stars,” such as James Taylor, Joe Cocker, Smokey Robinson, Sting, BB King, Bonnie Rait, and Billy Joel. As I watch these folks float on and off the Madison Square Garden stage, all I can think is, “These are the masters that today’s musical acts can only dream of approximating.” I’m not a fan of every musical style in the show, but the amount of raw musical talent on display is so far and away beyond the artists of today, that one wonders what the 50th Anniversary show could possibly have to offer. Maybe it’s just my age showing…

Categories: News and/or Media, Political Rantings, Random Acts of Blogging, Words about Music | 4 Comments »

Obama’s Speech – Reaction from the Constituency

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Since President Obama’s speech today was directed at the nation’s school children, I took an informal poll in my house (sample size: two)

Brandon (age 6), before the speech: The President is speaking at 12 noon? What about kids on the west coast? Will they still be asleep?

Brandon, after the speech: If the President asks for help all the time, then we can too.

Avery (age 9), after the speech: If the kids with all those challenges accomplished their goals, then we should accomplish our goals more easily than them. Not easily, but more easily.

Avery, when asked if Barack Obama should visit his elementary school one day: I’d rather he wait until next year and visit our middle school, because when you’re the youngest in the school, you get to sit closest to the stage during an assembly, and then I’d be the first one to shake his hand when the speech is over. If he visited our elementary school this year, I’d be way in the back.

Categories: News and/or Media, Political Rantings | 2 Comments »

A Fool to Some of the People, All of the Time

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Time Magazine Poll:  Now that Walter Cronkite has passed on, who is America’s most trusted newscaster?

From which we learn: The most trustworthy man is the man who tells us upfront that he’s lying to us.

Fan-frickin’-tastic.

Categories: News and/or Media, The World Wide Weird | 2 Comments »

Sarah Palin: Crazy as a Clinton?

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Like many Americans, I was confused about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s sudden resignation last week. Turning to the Internet, my usually dependable series of newsfeeds did little to clarify my confusion. Almost no one linked to the actual statement that she made, choosing instead to quote portions of it, and then use some decidedly subjective terms to describe it. CNN called it “rambling [and ] often-disjointed.” US News & World Report called it “rambling, quirky and quixotic.” And the New York Times went with “breathless.” These are not the kinds of words I’m used to reading in news articles (as opposed to Op-Ed pieces or blog entries).

In any case, I Googled around and finally found the text of her remarks. Now, I think we’ve established a long time ago that Sarah Palin is not a good public speaker. Her statement is 2,546 words long, and“rambling” and “disjointed,” while subjective, are not bad descriptors after all. That said, those who claim to be confused about why she is stepping down either haven’t read it or are intentionally drumming up controversy that just isn’t there. Allow me to strip away as much of the fluff as I can and present her message in just 432 (of her own) words:
Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: News and/or Media, Political Rantings | 5 Comments »

Celebrity Sighting – Chris Matthews

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I don’t often spot celebrities on the streets of Manhattan, usually because I’m too oblivious to notice them as I walk right past them. But today, on my way to New York’s Penn Station, I looked to my left and there was Chris Matthews talking on his cellphone. This is why I finally threw a digital camera in my laptop bag (hat tip: Ilya Burlak).

Anyway, I moved to a respectful difference and then snapped a picture:

Figures he was to my left… (bad political humor)

Categories: New York, New York, News and/or Media | No Comments »

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