January 22, 2013


This morning I read an article on Ars Technica about something called “revenge porn.” Essentially it’s when someone posts nude or erotic photos of a former girlfriend (or boyfriend, though this is less common) on sites designed for this purpose. Amazingly, they also often post the name of their ex and sometimes even phone numbers and email addresses.

So what is the matter with these people? This is a ridiculously classless move. If you’re not going to delete such photos upon breaking up it’s the least you can do to keep them as secure as possible. Sharing them online should certainly dissuade other women from dating such men. Perhaps someone needs to create a site where women post the names of men who post the photos and names of women (or even better, people could be less bitter and not post in the first place).

I would think these types of sites would dissuade the fairer sex from sending or posing for such photos, though apparently this isnt the case as it’s alarmingly common amongst young people these days (from what I hear). My generation seems to be wise enough to avoid this trend for the most part (swimming pics don’t count).


Letters and logos

September 16, 2012

I wrote a letter to the editor this morning. I haven’t done that in a very long time (7-10 years?). I was reading the iPad version of USA Today and came across a very sensible column inspired by the Chicago teacher strike that identified one of the biggest problems in our schools. I decided to chime in with a partial solution to the problem.

This is the fourth time I’ve written a letter to USA Today, and I’m risking lowering my percentage significantly if it doesn’t get selected. So far two of my three letters were printed;I can’t remember what the rejected on was about, but I remember the other two. I’ll keep you posted on the new letter’s status.

Meanwhile, USA Today has a new logo. The old logo was certainly in need of refreshing and was looking a bit dated (the paper was founded in 1982).

Before I critique the new one, let’s look at the old one. The “line screen” effect on the globe was very popular back in the day, and in the context of being used for a printed newspaper makes a lot of sense. It also transferred a sense of dependability to a new entity since AT&T used it at the time (on a sphere and in blue no less) as did IBM (and still does since it is less complex and therefore has held up better). But now that people read their news online and on tablets something new was in order.

The new logo is typically minimalist, following the latest fashion. In the “letterhead” form on white shown above I don’t like it much at all. It’s simple to the point of being generic. If I were putting the final touches on that design I would have aligned the baseline of “TODAY” with the equator of the circle for a bit more solidity and left to right flow. Note that the letter spacing is a bit loose, suggesting it is designed for smaller sizes (letter spacing should decrease as point size increases as a general rule). The old logo used mashed together letters  which was easily read in print since the logo was quite large on the printed newspaper.

Look at the website that is still using the old logo here and you can see why they felt the need to change. The “globe” is just mush. Moving to the beta of the new website and the new logo is a big improvement, especially since here it is on black instead of white, uses larger (in relation to the circle) one-line logotype lettering, and is vertically centered with the circle.

Dust, Labor and Grapes

September 15, 2012

My tour of the classics marches on. The latest box I’ve checked is Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (I’m still trying to figure out how I was never assigned to read any of these books in high school – what the heck were we doing in English class?) For those of you who also went to crappy high schools and never read it here’s an ultra-quick non-spoiler recap: A farming family flees the dust bowl in Oklahoma (see photo above), travels to California and tries to make ends meet.

I enjoyed the book very much, though not to the level of East of Eden, which I’m already itching to read again. East had a couple of characters (Sam Hamilton and Lee) who were more likeable and philosophical than anyone in Grapes. The preacher comes closest, but he’s not as prominent a character.

More than being about the characters, Grapes is about the time period. It’s historical fiction at its best, and I learned a lot about The Dust Bowl (caused by drought and a lack of crop rotation), old cars, discrimination (people moving west were called by the derogatory term “Okies” whether they came from Oklahoma or not), and the labor movement.

Those of you who know me and my libertarian ways are aware that I’m not a fan of labor unions. I spent two years as a member of one when I was teaching in Central Falls and saw firsthand how dysfunctional and counterproductive they can be. But I do realize that there was a time when they were necessary; a time when some employers would use malicious tactics to get ever-cheaper labor from a non-mobile and desperate workforce. For instance, luring 10 times as many workers as needed to a place by promising work, and then paying an absurdly low rate once they get there due to the high demand for the jobs.

Unions today are another story. The most prominent unions are in the public sector, which baffles me. The purpose of unions is to protect workers from unfair labor practices by unethical employers, with protections ensured by the government. But why would these workers need to be protected from the very same governments that are enforcing those protections? If Mitt or Barack want my vote in November all one of them has to do is promise to create an executive order disbanding public sector unions. It would be a visionary move, since those unions are going to be a major stumbling block for balancing budgets as our state and federal government face major budget shortfalls in the coming decades. I’m not holding my breath though.

Compass Creativity

March 11, 2012

SXSW is happening! South by Southwest is a music, film and interactive media show that takes place in Austin, Texas every spring. It started way back in 1987 and has expanded from a relatively small music festival (Austin is a great location since it has a strong music scene) to a massive event with 20,000 registrants that has an estimated $167 million impact on the local economy.

A number of now-famous musical acts were “discovered” as SXSW, including Hanson, John Mayer, The Polyphonic Spree and James Blunt. This year over 2,000 acts will perform at almost 100 venues trying to be next on that list. The film festival generally focuses on emerging directors, but this year started with Joss Whedon of Firefly and Buffy fame and his new film “Cabin in the Woods.”

There is also an education event, named SXSWedu, so maybe I’ll make the trip down there next year for that and for the Interactive show to further my current work. Austin is also hosting an F1 race this year in November, so it seems this city to which I’ve long wanted to visit is upping the ante to make that happen.

War and Civil Disobedience

February 19, 2012

Last night I watched Gandhi, the 1982 biographical film about Mohandus Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley and directed by Richard Attenborough (the older brother of nature documentarian David Attenborough). Most people know of Gandhi in general terms as proponent of civil disobedience, likely because of this film. The movie focuses on his role in achieving independence for India from the British. I was aware of his role in that, but I did not know that he had lived in South Africa for nearly 20 years and fought (peacefully) for the rights of fellow Indians there (mostly educated Muslims) during that time with some success. This period was later cited by Nelson Mandela as influential to his work to end apartheid there (though Mandela resorted to armed protest as a last resort after years of non-violence).

This time in South Africa is also when Gandhi began correspondence with one of his major influences, Russian author Leo Tolstoy, who by this time was over 80. Tolstoy was a proponent of civil disobedience and anarchy, both major factors in Gandhi’s own philosophy (though he was willing to work with the state to achieve his aims).

After returning to India in 1915 independence became a focus of his work over the next 30 years, but was not his only cause. He fought for the rights of “untouchables” (the lowest strata of Indian society), women’s rights (women were a major factor in the famed Salt March of 1930), farmers (many of whom were required to grow unprofitable crops by law), and tolerance between Hindus and Muslims. When independence was achieved in 1947 he was displeased by the division of British India into two nations, Pakistan and India. Violent riots killed nearly half a million people as Muslims raced into Pakistan as Hindus abandoned it for the new India. In January of 1948 he was killed by a Hindu extremist who thought him too sympathetic with the Muslims.

Gandhi was also a major influence on Martin Luther King Jr., who traveled to Gandhi’s birthplace in 1959 and said that his trip to India convinced him of the power of non-violent civil disobedience.

The movie did make me think about how this type of activism works. Ultimately, it’s a public relations exercise and relied upon a free press and a government responsive to outrage (either from its own people or from outside powers). The Arab Spring uprising last year demonstrated the power of such tactics. In a world of instantaneous wireless and internet communication it is nearly impossible to suppress protests (and violent suppression only furthers the cause).

Of course, it helps to have an actual cause, unlike the misguided Occupy movement. Protesting Wall Street is a bit odd when the target Gandhi would protest is 227 miles down I-95.

Cars, indoors

February 4, 2012

Today I went to the Northeast International Auto Show in Providence. I’ve been meaning to go for years and finally got there.

For a very long time I’ve wanted to go to the Detroit Auto Show, where a lot of new models are unveiled with lots of hoopla, but in these days of internet leaks its impact is somewhat diminished so it’s a bit less appealing (which it has to be to justify a trip to Detroit in January). Incidentally, one of the other January trade shows I’ve long wanted to attend has also faded a bit – Macworld in San Francisco now suffers from a lack of an official Apple presence, leaving CES  (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas at the top of my trade show list (though the Geneva Auto Show in March sounds pretty good).

So back to today’s show… every major auto manufacturer was represented, and there were a few models that haven’t made it to showroom floors yet that were on display. The most important of these were both Ford products. The new Ford Fusion (out this fall) is an impressive looking car with a wide range of cutting edge power trains. The existing model, especially the hybrid,  has been selling very well despite it’s staid appearance. I expect sales to jump significantly with this stylist and more mechanically impressive model.

The other Ford that will surely make a big splash is the new Escape. It also replaces one of the least stylish models in the Ford fleet, and like the Fusion is nicely proportioned and detailed. Small SUVs (basically tall small cars these days) are a hot segment and this one should jump to the head of that pack in sales.

There was another small SUV that I was hoping to see… the new Mazda CX-5. From what I’ve seen so far I just may be tempted to replace my trusty Mazda3 with one in the coming year, especially if the diesel model that Europe is getting finds its way over here.


November 3, 2011

I’m currently reading the Steve Jobs biography and of all the interesting tidbits about his early life, I found the fact that he grew up in an “Eichler” house to be particularly interesting. The description of the design, which is cleanly modern with features such as some glass walls, radiant heat concrete floors and exposed post & beam construction, suits my tastes nearly perfectly. Eichler Homes built around 11,000 of these types of homes in California between 1950 and 1974. The architect was Frank Lloyd Wright disciple Robert Anshen. The homes were affordable and desirable, and often part of planned communities with included parks and community centers. This reminds me a bit of my current residence in that there are common areas that create a sense of community that isn’t all that common here in New England (and I like the loft-style with high ceilings, exposed wood beams and columns and solid brick exterior wall). I know a lot of my neighbors quite well, making events like the recent Halloween Costume Party a breeze to organize.

Wright was also the inspiration for Howard Roark in “The Fountainhead,” my favorite Ayn Rand novel (edging out “Atlas Shrugged,” which I saw someone reading in a coffee shop the other day). This protaganist, like Jobs, was an uncompromising idealist. I wondered if Jobs ever read Rand, and found a quote from Steve Wozniak recalling his business partner mentioning “Atlas Shrugged” in the early years of their friendship. Apparently he also managed to see a screening of the movie of the same name that came out earlier this year.

Goodbye Newman!

August 17, 2011

I was helping a friend try to find a post office by phone today and directed her to a location that I found on Google Maps. There wasn’t a post office there (though she did find one of those old blue mail boxes nearby). It got me thinking about how infrequently we physically mail things these days. It’s so much easier to send a letter by email or send a link to photos online that the amount of mail flowing through the USPS system must be declining. As you can see from the above graph, it’s dropping off very quickly. Imagine how little of that is actual letters being exchanged between actual people and not just a bunch of junk mail we immediately dump in the recycling bin.

Naturally, the USPS is badly hurting. Their net loss  $8.5 billion during the last fiscal year is more than double what it was the previous year. And it’s not like they’re much hope of people deciding to mail stuff all of a sudden. So they have to continue downsizing, since they run on their own revenue and not tax dollars. The Postmaster General (not Wilford Brimley – it’s some guy named Patrick Donahoe) has proposed laying off 120,000 workers, closing 3,700 post offices and delivering mail only five days a week by 2015 to compensate. It’s unlikely to be quite that drastic in reality, but it’s not going to be pretty.