Jetsons news

Video telephone seemed a distant concept to me as a young boy — something that would arrive in a far-off future. FedEx delivered that far-off future to me yesterday.

I plugged in my iSight camera, and it bridged the 1,100-mile gap between me on one end, and my brother and nephew on the other. Seeing my nephew’s face was worth the price of the device.

Of course, I’m not the first to join the video chat community. Thousands have come before me, and millions will follow. Still, each is allotted his own “ooh-aah” moment.

Video chat gave me the same chills as seeing the Web for the first time back in February ’93. At the time, pages were mostly lists of links; no one had the bandwidth to view images, let alone stream video.

Still, for all the enhancement to the Web in the 11 years since, it’s still fundamentally about connecting people. Now, I can put video of faces with names.

Chatsters can find me on the AOL/Mac chat system. My handle is ‘siddhasana’.

In other Jetsons news, the BBC is reporting the imminent foray of the private sector into space. Vacation packages for Joe and Jane Consumer can’t be far off, so book your reservations now.

Dissent in poster form

Courtesy of Design Observer, a link to the French site forumetapes. It’s a massive catalog of Iraq war protest posters.

I find the generative power of conflict remarkable. Many designs on the site show a style and cleverness that support that concept. Messages sing, despite the language barrier.

One word of warning: The first time I clicked toward forumetapes, the link timed out. Later (at post time), it came through vivid and clear.

The ecology of the copy editor

[Editor’s note: I wrote this essay in Summer 2003. Since its writing, my knish supplier has gone belly up, and it is sorely missed.]

Midnights present a different paradigm. The contrast to daytime is vivid for a reformed morning person.

Six-a.m. mornings were my norm. Taking a copy editor’s job meant a 180-degree shift. I have worked the Star-Banner’s night copy desk for just over four months – long enough to adapt to the schedule. Now, I wake up to a world that day people create beginning right after my head hit the pillow that morning.

When I hunger for breakfast, the morning stable of knishes has usually fled my local bagel shop. Favorite morning NPR programs cannot broadcast into dreams. Television slips in importance: There’s simply not a soap opera or daytime talk show worth attention. Reading grows more vital in the hours before I work at 5 p.m., and finally there’s time to tackle The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time since my teens.

After work, my commute home winds through empty streets – eyes open to a quiet, unassuming city. Late-night hunger is a sad tale, a doughnut or fast food taco being the best options outside of the ubiquitous Waffle House. The 2 a.m. recast of Washington Week and a video rental membership offer the best after work entertainment.

Then, when the credits wind down the screen, it’s time to relax into the futon, and dream of hot knishes with mustard.

Frame your own discussion

I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. ClearChannel, which owns most, if not all, of the stations here (and in many areas) thinks it’s important.

Most often, I listen to WSKY and their line-up of the usual right-wing suspects: Limbaugh, Savage, O’Reilly and Boortz. The station also has its selection of local Rushlings, who do their own programming.

I consider myself a non-traditional listener. That is, I doubt I’m their typical patron.

As a self-proclaimed outside judge, I’ve noticed the craft with which they frame their mindshare of the national discussion. For example, consider references to Sen. John Kerry. Listeners expect these hosts to slam Kerry. They do.

But, it’s also more subtle than that. The phraseology they use specifically aims to paint Kerry as unstable and, appealing to the isolationists, European. For example, Rush today was discussing a Kerry get-together at his Colorado mountain home. It’s not a “lodge,” or a “vacation home.” It’s a Swiss-style chalet. One of the hosts I’ve listened to regularly refers to the Democratic candidate as the “vaguely French-looking John Kerry.”

Just what is “vaguely French-looking” supposed to mean? As far as I can tell, it’s intent is solely to bristle listeners by using “French,” a currently unpopular concept, in the same sentence as “Kerry.”

Information consumers should take care to get their facts from a variety of sources to counterbalance this limitation of modern media. Go ahead, listen to talk radio. But check out CNN, MSNBC, NPR, etc., in addition to the Web’s news sites, and the blogsphere. Honest straight-forward dialogue, and American discourse, depends on it.

Know your government

Part of good journalism lies in knowing how and where to get information. Much of the information journalists need comes from government. Often, getting that information proves a challenge.

Overcome that challenge through knowledge of your state’s open meeting laws.

I’m told Florida’s “Sunshine” laws foster more openness than those in any other state. I haven’t made a case-by-case exploration of the claim, but California lawyer Ann Taylor Schwing has. Visit her site for a complete list of links to open meeting laws in each of the 50 states.

Of course, these laws apply to everyone, not just journalists. Regardless who uses them, they should get their exercise.

Growing up, Jersey style

I just got back from seeing Jersey Girl, and it prompted a few thoughts.

Kevin Smith’s directing has tickled my funny for a decade now. I’ve found something to like in each of his films. The hook set in with Clerks, and carried right through this recent one.

I hardly expected to like Jersey Girl. The “chick flick” format, as it’s often called, has few things to offer the extended bachelor. Advertisements portrayed this as a chick flick. Based on trailers, I doubt I would have seen this film had it not been for a couple of free tickets I’d recently received.

Setting preconceptions aside, I settled into the theater’s stadium seat, and braced myself.

When the credits rolled, I realized I’d enjoyed every minute. Smith successfully walked a fine line between romance and comedy. He didn’t make a honey-coated movie. He made an accessible movie (compared to earlier efforts). He, gasp, made a family movie. Even with the inimitable mouth of George Carlin in tow, he made a film with broad, all-age appeal.

I’ll always reserve a place for Clerks on my movie shelf. The irreverent humor of that movie, epitomized by the homophobic and illicit substance jokes of Jay and Silent Bob, still makes me laugh. Repeated viewings have yet to dull it for me.

Yet, I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago, and neither is Smith. His latest movie reflects that.

Jay and Silent Bob are dead. Long live Jay and Silent Bob.

A sensible approach

Body image is a problem for everyone; having to inhabit what is essentially a skin-wrapped sack of bones, blood and guts inevitably brings consciousness of that sack’s limitations.

In that vein, that I applaud the Web weight-loss project of J. Scott Wilson, who wears many hats over at Internet Broadcasting Systems. I met Wilson at the recent American Copy Editors convention in Houston, Texas. His new column, titled “Diary of a Fat Man,” documents his drive to lose weight. His secrets: turn off the television and walk; make sensible changes to eating habits; be honest with yourself; and have a sense of humor.

Stop by, and give Scott your own MPs, or share own your weight-loss stories with him.

Rising to the occasion

[Hands out kudos]

Tonight, I got to witness good deadline journalism again as the Star-Banner localized the death of one of the victims of the Fallujah tragedy. Scott Helvenston, 38, lived in Leesburg, Fla., before joining the Navy — to eventually attain SEAL status. He later did physical consulting and stunts for movies such as G.I. Jane, and even made SEAL-style training and excercise videos. In Iraq, he was aiding security for food distribution.

The AP moved the names of the four civilians late in the evening, around 10 p.m. for us. Our city editor Frank Stanfield found Helvenston’s [Ed. note: corrected to ‘Helvenston’ from ‘Helventson’ 4/16/04] grandmother and brother at that late hour, and rounded up a fairly nice lead. Click here for the complete story. (It will likely pipe through to the Web by early in the morning; I’ll try to link directly to it then.)

Like many young journalists, I can be critical of newsroom resources. However, this shows that our A-team does well with what it has, and still makes deadline. I love it when a plan comes together. Even a roughly hewn, late-night plan.

More on AYJ

[Editor’s note: I’ve previously written about AYJ, and you can find that post here.]

The Unity conference has rejected an application by the Association of Young Journalists to hold what group co-founder Chris Frates described as a “panel on race and youth and how reporters cover the issue.”

That pesky foreign support

Pundits all around have devoured the red meat of John Kerry’s alleged remark that foreign leaders wish him victory in November. In light of that, I found this post at World Press Review interesting. It lists excerpts from a small handful of editorials from Mexico City to Milan to Budapest. Flattery is scant, but it shows that critical thinking does go on outside U.S. borders (despite what some may think). It also hints at the influence of U.S. politics in the lives of people across the globe.

A caveat: Most of the items are dated mid-February. Still, I found it interesting to peer into the non-American mind.

For what it’s worth, the Iowa-based Stanley Foundation, which runds WPR, describes itself as a globalist organization. It has a multilateral bent.