Category Archives: Media

Peep into Pepys

Just yesterday I read the sentence “Who remembers Samuel Pepys anymore?” in The New York Times (see ‘Samuel Pepys’: The Man Behind the Diaries
; thanks to ::: wood s lot :::).

Now all of a sudden Samuel Pepys is everywhere!

You’ve got to admire Phil Gyford. How many people make New Year resolutions to last a decade?

An incredulous National Post

The headline Couple turn down $2.9M for painting at London auction – ‘It didn’t reach the price … they were prepared to let it go for’ in Canada’s National Post caught my eye this morning. Here’s the lead paragraph:

A Canadian couple yesterday turned down a chance to make $2.9-million at an auction in London, England, after a Victorian masterpiece they acquired by chance with the purchase of a dilapidated farmhouse failed to generate enough interest.

This article betrays a surprising degree of naivety and ignorance on the part of the newspaper, while making the Canadian couple, who acquired the painting "by chance", sound like shrewd market traders. Obviously the owners know that it makes sense to sell as high as possible, no matter what the cost. I wonder if the author and editor would find the owners’ decision so hard to believe if the painting had simply been inherited? It’s a very strange reaction for a publication that comprises Canada’s Financial Post and was formerly owned by Sotheby’s board member, Conrad Black.

Predicting the news

It really bothers me when professional journalists manufacture news. One morning last week BBC Radio News began several reports with the phrase "Tony Blair will say in a speech later today…". I don’t believe reporters should EVER report events that have yet to happen, and it is disappointing to see that the BBC now does it. I mean what happens if he’s run over by a bus in the meantime? I suppose in that case they’d have some real news to report.

It’s even happening in new media as well. Yesterday BBCi posted a story on a newly revised forecast for the UK property market (BBC News | Business | House price forecasts slashed) that constantly referred to new statistics for the month of November, which as I write has yet to come to an end!

Overall price rises averaged 0.2% nationwide in November, down from 0.5% the month before.

How can they publish a statement like that without some explanation for their readers? Don’t they realise that anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that such a statement, and by extension the journalists that published it, cannot be trusted? Don’t they care that such sloppy reporting undermines everything else they produce? The real news is that journalistic standards continue to slide.

Just a bunch of pamphleteers

It occurred to me some time ago that webloggers are the modern equivalent of pamphleteers, and last weekend I did a little research on this idea. As you might expect, it’s been suggested before, most notably by Dan Bricklin, creator of the very first spreadsheet program, Visicalc (see Pamphleteers and Web Sites).

Now from the BBC comes news (BBC NEWS | Technology | Life lessons for web users) of a recent conference on the Internet’s potential to change society (Beyond the Backlash: Where next for the digital economy?). According to Mark Ward, who reported on the conference for the BBC:

John Naughton, professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University, said there was a pressing need to nurture public discussion spaces online and to keep them free of the usual vested interests that can hobble debate.

His comments were echoed by John Perry Barlow, founder of US cyber-liberties watchdog the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who feared that badly drafted laws would severely curtail the freewheeling spirit of online discussion.

"I thought we would be spared the governments impositions by its incompetence," he said, "but we cannot trust to that anymore."

Instead, he said, the US Government and corporations were pushing a unified agenda that stressed control, censorship and the removal of basic rights over freedom of discussion and action.

Challenges to the corporate and federal axis were limited because, so far, net activists and protesters were not fighting on a united front.

"What we have now is 10 million lonely pamphleteers crying out on lonely street corners and not getting together as a block or getting together as opposition to traditional institutions," said Mr Barlow.

He said there were profound dangers in letting the government and business-backed view of what can be done online prevail because the net was at a pivotal moment in its development.

"If we design it to serve existing models of business and government and to follow short-term goals we will be bad ancestors," he said. "Do not, I beg you, be bad ancestors."

I don’t know enough about the history of journalism to compare the effectiveness of the pamphleteers with that of webloggers, but it seems to me that it might be premature to draw any conclusions. Perhaps the "10 million lonely pamphleteers" will get together soon.

A number of interesting organizations appear to have produced this conference, including Demos, The Work Foundation, and vitamin-e.

National Post delay

It’s amazing to note that five years after the web was adopted by the mainstream media, it’s still not being used properly. Canada’s National Post displays the following image when introducing its columnists:

National Post advertisement

The two main advantages of the Internet are its global reach and its speed. In this case the National Post purposely negates the second benefit, and so undermines the new medium’s value. Does that make sense?

Obviously they want you to buy the newspaper instead of reading the free web site, but to those of us living in places where a subscription is either unavailable or prohibitively expensive, this artificial constraint on a technology’s natural strengths seems increasingly absurd.

Different views of news

I always find it interesting when different media report the same story in different ways, or as in this case, when a story makes headlines in one location, but doesn’t see the light of day in another.

For several days now, the top Canadian story about the Queen’s current tour of Canada is that the Deputy Prime Minister, John Manley, has stated that the monarchy should be abolished. On Sunday Radio Canada International reported:

A political controversy is brewing over untimely remarks by Canada’s deputy prime minister. Hours after Queen Elizabeth arrived Friday for a 12-day tour of Canada to mark her Golden Jubilee, John Manley called for the abolition of the monarchy. Now a former prime minister says Mr. Manley has shown rudeness and poor political judgement. Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark is calling for Prime Minister Jean Chretien to reconsider Mr. Manley’s duties as host to the Queen during her visit to Ottawa this week.

Meanwhile, here in Britain this story hasn’t made the news at all. On Monday the coverage was all about that spectacular puck drop, and today it’s about running adrift in Winterpeg’s Red River during a cold spell (see Queen ‘ashen-faced’ after rescue from freezing river).

I can only assume that British journalists think their audiences at home just don’t care whether or not the Queen remains the Canadian head of state. And who can blame them? It would make even less difference here, than it would in Canada.

A Date For Your Diary

On September 30th visit here. MIT is putting its courses online for free, which is an amazing reversal of the fee-for-use mania now rampaging across the Internet. I wonder what specific courses will be offerred next week?

An Anagram of Colour has published an interesting article on Pantone’s phenomenal business (see Living Color). For those who don’t know the company, Pantone Inc. “is the world-renowned authority on color and provider of color systems and leading technology for the selection and accurate communication of color”.

The article describes how influential Pantone has become by setting the standards for reproducing colours in the commercial world.

We don’t tend to think of paint chips as information infrastructure. Yet when everyone in the world is using the same ones, they become a communications protocol. The effect is equivalent to that of any network standard - it amplifies the scale and interconnectedness of how things get made. It greases the wheels of big, fast global culture.

Though Pantone doesn’t sell inks, dyes, or paints, it has come to hold a monopoly on color. Of course, frequencies of light, like naturally occurring sounds, are free for anyone to use. But Pantone owns their names - or, more specifically, their designated numbers and spectro-photometric descriptions. Ultimately, printers and manufacturers have to translate those numbers into atoms - pigment, dye, or varnish. In order to check that the final product matches the design spec, there needs to be an agreed-upon point of reference. And that’s what Pantone sells, to designers of every kind and a thousand ink licensees in 65 countries - a standard reference, in the form of $3,600 cotton-swatch binders, $150 fan decks, and $300 chip books. The Pantone system is embedded in 3-D modeling software and applications like Photoshop and Quark, as well as monitors and inkjet printers.

Having exploited the network effect produced by the need for colour standards, Pantone decided to capitalise on the demand for colour trends.

For years, officials at Pantone fielded calls from designers and color forecasters. What’s the haute new hue? Why has purple been increasing in popularity? What will be the color of the new millennium? After answering more than a few of these calls, Leatrice Eiseman, director of the Pantone Color Institute, the company’s research and information arm, decided that Pantone should stop giving out free advice.

So what is the color of the new millennium? As it happens, I found out last year (a bit late I admit, but I thought it would be good for at least a thousand years). According to a story published in April 1999 by, Pantone decided it should be Cerulean Blue:

The official color of the millennium is Cerulean Blue PANTONE 15-4020 TC, the color of the sky on a serene, crystal clear day, says Pantone, Inc., the world’s leading authority on color and color trends.

Lifestyle movements suggest that consumers will be seeking inner peace and spiritual fulfillment in the new millennium. This is a paradoxical time in which we are heading toward an uncertain, yet exciting, future, and also looking back, trying to hold onto the security of the past. In this stressful, high-tech era, we will be searching for solace and Cerulean Blue produces the perfect calming effect.

Despite Pantone’s attempt at setting definitive standards, I found several different interpretations of the colour Cerulean Blue:

  • first, there was the hexadecimal value cited in the article, which I assume came from Pantone, – #9BC4E2;
  • second came #0B2BD7 from a Japanese web site, the name of which I cannot read;
  • Cerulean Blue squarethen I found the tile on the right from Pigments Through the Ages;
  • and finally I found using #6699FF on an article about Pantone’s colours for 2000.

I don’t know what those colours look like on your screen, but they are all different on mine. Clearly, there is still a need for a standard.

The last example is web safe (only 216 colours are web safe, i.e. those that display accurately on all computers) and probably the closest web safe match to Pantone’s official tone, so I think we can discount it straight away, despite the fact that it matches the clothes pictured on the web site quite closely. I don’t know the source of the Japanese colour, but it’s darker than most of the skies I see so I’m inclined to eliminate it too. The first example, which bears Pantone’s stamp of approval, is significantly lighter than a clear blue sky, so I prefer the colour tile provided by Pigments Through the Ages, which seems quite realistic to me.

Unfortunately, cerulean may become that lighter, washed out blue in future given Pantone’s influence, but I’m not too concerned. It just so happens that cerulean is the only word in English that can be derived from all the letters in my surname, and I’m quite happy with the idea that from my name you can get to a clear blue sky, even if we can’t agree on the shade.

Believe it or not!

Today the mainstream media appeared as bizarre as some weblogs:

  • first there was the report on the midday news about obesity changing the course of human evolution (BBC News | Health | Obesity is changing human shape);
  • Octopushthen I happened to read a story in the weekend’s Financial Times about the game of underwater hockey, known as Octopush;
  • and finally I just caught the end of a programme on BBC Radio 4 (Finger Prints) about how text messaging via mobile phones is changing the way people use their thumbs (The thumb: is it what makes us human?).

Strange stuff. However, it looks like too much Octopush might have an evolutionary effect on your thumb as well.

BBC Gore

The new television channel BBC4 is turning out to be very good. On this evening’s edition of Talk Show the American author Gore Vidal told a funny joke at his own countrymen’s expense. One of the US President’s advisors explained the difficulty of working with the French private sector by saying, “the problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur”!