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Keep it simple

I was glad to see William Zinsser’s classic On Writing Well listed for #506DE. It just so happened I had a copy on my computer desk.

I own the the sixth edition, which has a 1998 copyright. I see the current edition was published for the book’s 30th anniversary in 2006. I thought my copy was actually older than that. It seems like the lessons I learned from reading it had been learned long before that point in my newspaper career.

If you don’t take anything else from this book, consider this passage:

Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful? Simplify, simplify.

I couldn’t agree more. I know that I improved my writing by reading the Elements of Style from cover to cover. I think I took it up another notch after reading Zinsser’s book.

What will I take from it this time?

Saving a few more trees

I had been meaning to buy my textbooks for #512DE this week and finally went on Amazon.com last night to put in my order. (I’d already checked the iTunes bookstore and didn’t see them listed.)

When I found them on Amazon, I noticed that both had Kindle editions. I also noticed the Kindle versions were about $10 less than the dead-tree editions. So, I bought them both.

I don’t own a Kindle. But I do have an iPad.

Early on, well before the iPad, Amazon developed a Kindle reader app or the iPhone. Now there’s a full version for the iPad as well. I downloaded that and figured I’d buy a few things to give it a shot.

I’m impressed enough with the results. But more importantly, I can carry those books — and hundreds more — all at one time in the iPad. And no trees were killed in their printing.

When I bought the iPad, I was hoping I’d be able to find some of my textbooks before I was done with the master’s program. Looks like I’m off to a pretty good start.

Pogue’s slippery slope

David Pogue of the New York Times

David Pogue of the New York Times

Earlier today, Dr. Alex raised the musical question Is David Pogue a journalist?

The short answer is yes, despite what Pogue says. But the real question is deeper.

Pogue says he never claimed to be a reporter and that he didn’t go to journalism school. My undergraduate degree is in political science, but I’ve worked as a journalist for nearly 30 years.

But the fact that Pogue is a columnist and not a reporter also isn’t the point. The New York Times, like most other large newspapers, has an ethics policy that spells out the kind of freelance work Pogue and other employees are allowed to do under the terms of their employment. The policy clearly states that “Staff members must ensure that their freelance work does not interfere with their normal responsibilities.”
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Clipbook option

If you’re looking for ways to save ideas for the final project, or anything else, Evernote.com can be a good option.

Like Delicious.com, you can save Web clippings here. But the service also has a mobile option that allows you to snap a picture on a cellphone and e-mail it to your account. It will also store PDFs and other documents as well as voice memos.

The standard (free) account has a monthly upload allowance of 40MB. The premium service ($5 a month/$45 annual) boosts the upload allowance to 500MB.

I’ve had an account for a bit and haven’t done much with it. But I’ll probably use it a little more now.

What’s next?

I was interested to read Old TV News Guy’s post about the new study “Life Beyond Print,” which surveyed 3,800 journalists in an attempt to gauge their eagerness to make the transition to digital.

Today’s newspaper journalists have no trouble envisioning a career where news is delivered primarily online and to mobile devices instead of in print, according to a new report by the Media Management Center. In fact, almost half think their newsroom’s transition from print to digital is moving too slowly.

Though I wasn’t surveyed, I’m one of those print folks that has moved to multimedia duties and I couldn’t be happier about it. But there’s no doubt I also feel my organization is moving too slowly towards an all-online model. I came to the realization long ago that the only way for the newspaper newsroom to survive is to realize that we’re a news organization and not just a newspaper. We can do the same thing online as we do in print each day and do it better by utilizing more tools that aren’t available to us in print. But we have to adapt to a different news cycle, staff the newsroom differently and get a better handle on how we present the news online.

The folks who own and run and the company aren’t prepared to embrace that view. While they’re more willing to pay attention now that things have changed, they’re still hoping an economic rebound will bring their advertisers back, which I guess would put them in the “Turn Back the Clock” group.

I don’t know if newspapers will go away entirely, but I do have a feeling we’ve just stepped through the looking glass in terms of a business model. As NYU professor Clay Shirky said earlier this week, “the old models are breaking faster than the new models can be put into place.”

Let’s hope that changes soon.

Deciding who is a journalist

It’s interesting that we’re entering this module at a time when Congress has been working on a “shield law” for journalists. As part of the process, some definitions are being tossed around in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A post today on the Neiman Journalism Lab‘s site says:

Previously, the Senate was working with a version of the shield law (S. 448) that defined a journalist in broad terms, focusing on the process and craft of newsgathering. That stood in contrast to the House version (H.R. 985), which passed in March and defines a journalist as someone who gathers news and information “for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain.”

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Second opinions

Just catching up on my reading and was surprised to see that Desiree was told that Second Life is “a new form of instant messaging.” That’s a pretty interesting statement. I can understand why people in Second Life don’t want it to be referred to as a game, but I think this description is really oversimplified. If Second Life were only about communication, there’s no reason it would be as elaborate as it is. I spent at least a couple hours in world and didn’t experience much communication at all.

I also notice that I’m not alone in my indifference on this experience. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that this is a pastime for people who hate their lives, as Old TV News Guy does, but it’s pretty clear you could lose hours of time in this world. I guess the question is would you rather spend 20 hours beating Halo or invest that time in something where you don’t win or lose in the end? Is the achievement of beating a game or someone’s high score better than simply an enjoyable experience? I think you have to be in the group of people who enjoy the journey more than reaching the destination to like Second Life. I agree with him that I’ll take real life over what’s offered in Second Life.

Static … Chaz Static

“Second Life: No one wants to look like a noob”

Yeah, I think that about sums up my first impression of Second Life. I’ve spent enough time with it to know that it’s probably not going to grab my imagination. I think the learning curve is a little too steep and it’s not as intuitive as I’d hoped. Unlike other simulations I’ve played, I’m just not interested in investing a lot of time in this.

I did, however, manage to score a pretty good name: Chaz Static. Even if I don’t go back, I might have to use that name for something else.
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Markings on the Net

delicious

I’ve had a Delicious account for a while (back when they were spelling it de.lic.ious, or something like that), but have only occasionally used it. In fact, I think I might have two accounts, but this is the one I’m using now.

In general, I like the idea of the site. In practice, I uploaded nearly 800 bookmarks at one point and have yet to tag all of them or sort them in any constructive manner. So, from that standpoint, I’m not much further ahead than when I was just hording bookmarks in a browser.

The bookmarking tool I’ve found to be more useful was a Firefox add-on called Xmarks (formerly called Foxmarks). Since I use multiple computers at home and at the office, I constantly had to remember which one had which set of bookmarks. But by installing this add-on to the Firefox browser on all four machines and signing up for the service, I now have one set of bookmarks that is synchronized on each machine. It does require me to mix sets of bookmarks I would otherwise keep separate (work and home), but that’s a small price to be able to use any of those machines and know where to look for certain links. Account information also can be stored and synched through this service (which probably makes IT security guys everywhere shudder).

Similar to Delicious, Xmarks also offers user reviews of sites and can provide links of similar sites.

Photosynth: the ultimate photo mashup

moment

The TED video was fascinating, but left me with a sense of deja vu until I remembered that CNN.com had used this technology during the Obama inauguration ceremony.

They called it “The Moment.” The project was designed to have anyone with a camera who was present as Obama took the oath of office take a snapshot and send it in to CNN. The photos were then stitched together using Photosynth to form this amazing display. The idea was that if they collected enough photos, you could literally “fly” from one end of the Mall up to the podium through a series of shots.

It strikes me as a groundbreaking technology, though I can’t say I’ve seen any other projects based on it to this point. There are many examples at the Photosynth site, but none that I’ve seen so far that are as good as the CNN project or the example shown in the video. I suspect this is because of the relative numbers of photos that are required to make the process really work. CNN had two scenes available with a combined 1,000 photos.

Actually, this just gave me a little brainstorm: We’re trying to find a way to use a visualization tool to build a type of family tree for an online project at the office. The problem is, the number of people involved in the tree is so large after three or four generations that a two-dimensional visualization model quickly becomes cluttered and impossible to read. I wonder if there’s a way to arrange this in some kind of 3-D model where you work down through layers instead of having everything connected through a hub-and-spoke diagram. Otherwise, we’re going to be forced to pare the information.

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