Archive for October, 2011

Superman vs Rupert Murdoch

I’m still reading DC Comic’s No. 1s. In the first “Superman” in the restarted series, Clark Kent is furious the Daily Planet has been bought by mogul Morgan Edge, owner of the Globe and all sorts of nasty TV and Internet news outlets. Here’s what’s in the speech bubble over Clark’s head as he argues with Lois Lane: “You covered the stories dealing with the Globe’s illegal tactics–wiretaps, extortion, out-and-out lies. Is that the type of newspaper you want the Planet to be? Just another scandal-mongering rag?”

It’s clear to me Rupert needs to do more than sic the “Fox & Friends” crew on Superman. Sure, they can point out his form-fitting costume—what real men wear any sort of costume, really?—and the flouncy red cape and red boots that are worse than Ugg ripoffs. But this demands a greater response, something massive. News Corp. needs to buy Marvel Comics from Disney and start the real war. Bring the Red Hulk pain—no cape or boots there—and Wolverine, who’s got enough anger to fuel an entire Tea Party convention. Plus, Rupert adds the Daily Bugle and all of Tony Stark’s weapons factories into his empire.

As part of the deal, for only a considerable sum, I will throw in my not-so-mint copy of “Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man.” Back in 1976, it was billed as “The Greatest Superhero Team-Up of all Time!” as well as “The Battle of the Century” (funny how these team ups always meet-cute-fight, then work together).

The war I’m talking about will be one for millenium and won’t have any namby-pamby liberal teaming up halfway through.

The theater of the mind

In a hotel near Newark airport, set between railroad tracks and spaghetti-piles of New Jersey highway, the Friends of Old-Time Radio will sit in meeting rooms for the last time this weekend, asking and answering the question, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” The friends will no longer meet after their 36th convention, reports David Hinckley in the Daily News. They will go as silent as the medium they love.

Old radio fans celebrate the days when radio was television, and fllled the airwaves with crime shows, dramas, comedies, variety and news of a great war and the massive changes that followed. If you’ve ever heard of “The Shadow” or “Dragnet” or Jack Benny or Edward R. Murrow or a dummy named Charlie McCarthy, you’ve heard of the programs and the stars of the Golden Age of Radio. The radio you listen to now, the tunes and talk, is what we were left with once television took over the world.

read the rest of my column at Ink By The Barrel: Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? – Pelham, NY Patch.

Steve Jobs and me

Steve Jobs changed my life. I know, I know. You’ve already heard it and from every other journalist on the planet. An entire issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek turned into instant biography. The cover of the Economist. Articles in the New York Times showing up two Sundays after the man’s death. People and the Poughkeepsie Journal. I expect Showdog Monthly and Boy’s Life to chime in.

Let’s face it. Steve Jobs lived an amazing life that is an incredible story. Americans love the chance of a comeback. (Fitzgerald was wrong; there are second acts in American lives.) And so it’s hard for editors and reporters to stay away.

There is another reason for the attention being paid. Jobs revolutionized journalism, hell all of publishing, long before upending the music, cell phone and consumer electronics industries.

In 1984, I was intrigued by Apple’s slick “1984” TV spot because of the sci-fi look, not the Macintosh computer it introduced. I was two years into my career in journalism, not in the market for a personal computer, and couldn’t afford one anyway. A year later, I was reading a very unslick newspaper trade publication, an ugly magazine that was all text—arcane, jargony text at that—topped by long obtuse headlines in ALL CAPS. The article was about Apple’s Macintosh computer, LaserWriter printer and the Postscript language built into both that this dense piece seemed to be suggesting turned the Macintosh into a typesetting machine. If so, I knew then, this would change everything.

Two or three months later, I bought the earliest Macintosh, a squat, friendly little box with two floppy disc drives (no hard drive yet). My partners and I started the Peekskill Herald using the little thing as our entire production system. And that newspaper would never have happened without the Mac. Paying a job shop to typeset the Herald would have cost twice as much as our actual printing bill. We would have run out of money in weeks.

The Herald was one of the first 20 or so newspapers in the country typeset using the Mac, Microsoft Word 1.0 and layout software called Aldus Pagemaker. Dozens, then hundreds more newspapers and magazines followed, some junking conventional typesetting equipment, while others were startups empowered by the computer that took out a dictator (well, in commercials at least). Desktop publishing was born, a revolution so complete we don’t use the term much anymore. All publishing is done on the desktop. We expect to have 50 or 100 typefaces at our disposal on a home computer and create documents that would have cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in typesetting costs.

Everything that’s happened in my life since 1985 happened because of my experiences co-founding and co-owning a newspaper built on the fundamental technological shift ushered in by Steve Jobs. Not that it was all business. There was the magic. I’m a techie and love to play with all the toys. Being honest, most are a disappointment. Rarely do I switch on a box and feel the magic. That’s why techies are techies. We go from box to box hoping it will happen again.

Switching on the first Mac was a magic moment. Things we take for granted were all new: the mouse that miraculously  moved the arrow around the screen. The windows and icons and virtual desktop. A graphical environment rather than c:  awaiting our turgid DOS commands.

From 1985 until now, I’ve bought Apple computers to use at home, even during the desert years when Jobs was gone and Apple tried to be a sort-of Microsoft, an almost IBM. I’ve only felt that magic three times since 1985 and Apple was responsible twice more: when I got my iPhone three years ago and the iPad last year. (If you’re wondering about the non-Apple event: 1994, when I first clicked a hyperlink on the world wide web, and the world wide world changed again.)

I’m writing this on the iPad, typing it into the Safari browser, music playing via the iPod app, using open-source blogging software called WordPress that’s all about a graphical interface. Steve Jobs is in all of it.

My son explains ADHD

The following words my ten-year-old son wrote as his personal essay in fourth grade:

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hearing Disorder. Here are three facts I’m going to tell you about. What is ADD? What is HD? And what types of medicine can help.

ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. That’s the first part of ADHD. This is a question you might ask: “Why don’t they call it ADDHD?” Well, most people just use ADHD for short, instead of ADDHD.

read the rest of my column at Ink By The Barrel: My Son Explains ADHD – Pelham, NY Patch.

Smartboards and iPads

Technology will set us free, and save education even? I think not.

Questioning Our Mania for Education Technology

By Jack Schneider

The solution to the nation’s education problems is as simple as binary code: a smartboard in every classroom, an iPad in every backpack, and wikis across the curriculum.

That seems to be how the logic works these days, as reformers in foundations, government, and school districts pour billions into educational technology projects.

There’s only one problem: It doesn’t work.

via Education Week: Questioning Our Mania for Education Technology.

Multiple choice questions

Okay, get a tight grip on your No. 2 pencil. Knuckles white? Here’s your first question. Who said:

“Never blame a legislative body for not doing something. When they do nothing, they don’t hurt anybody. When they do something is when they become dangerous.”

* Jon Stewart

* Will Rogers

* Roy Rogers

* Stephen Cobert

Pencils up. Okay, did you get it right?

read the rest of my column at One Multiple Choice, One Essay, and a Chance at Better Schools – Pelham, NY Patch.

DC Comics, no. 1

I don’t feel the slightest bit nerdy writing about the latest pan-galactic shake-up of DC’s comic universe. I know for a fact the New York Times has published not one, but two, Arts front pagers on these mighty developments. The first story hyped the re-numbering back to 1 of all 52 DC titles (because what’s better for a slumming culture editor than putting at top of the page a huge color splash of the Justice League charging off to do justice?). The second reported the stellar sales for the titles in their first month.

DC didn’t just reset the numbers, it reset the stories and reintroduced its caped folk. If you were Batman or Superman, you’d been around for decades and the layers of story, characters and soap operatic turns clung to you like barnacles on a sucken ship. This doesn’t mean DC rebooted right back to the beginning. Superman doesn’t start with baby Kal-El rocketing to Earth, nor Batman with little Bruce Wayne seeing his parents murdered. It was more a cleaning out of the attic and second floor of their story houses.

I was a Marvel kid and so know nothing of all the twists and turns DC made disappear. And I’m aware that with Hollywood rebooting reboots of reboots (see the Superman, Batman and Spider-Man movies), this may not seem novel. But what I liked about the idea is that my ten-year-old and I can start together reading these seminal titles Action Comics and Detective Comics, featuring Supes and the Dark Knight, respectively, without either of us needing the Comic Book Encyclopedia at our side to get the back-back-backstory. (I’m not even sure why the comic book industry uses the word continuity; seems more like discontinuity.) I was also leery. I’ve been let down by Big Comic Events before, on the Marvel side of the wall.

Of the first three titles I bought, I was impressed by two. Action Comics and Detective Comics Nos. 1 both feature great art and decent stories, with a darkening of Superman’s character the most interesting development (darkening Batman now would be all but impossible short of renaming him SatanGuy). Justice League of America No. 1 was weaker, but superhero teams never do it for me. Too much hero banter, not enough smash. Patrick liked them all, of course. I’m now looking forward to lesser titles: Deadman and Dark JLA, and the Nos 2. It’s fun to look forward to comics and feel a part of the start.

Sweet dreams, comic strips

Two comics in the Daily News on Saturday featured shout-outs to two of the great all time strips. And this had me wondering. Stephan Pastis, the creator of Pearls Before Swine, often appears alongside his creations. In Saturday’s, he tells the pig (I don’t know the pig’s name) that he’s reading Pogo by Walt Kelly and goes on to riff on Pogo’s famous line from the McCarthy era, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Pogo was doing political satire 20 years before Doonesbury was blot in his creator’s ink jar.

On that same Daily News page two strips below, Mutts featured a squirrel chucking a nut into a panel of Little Nemo in Slumberland, in fact, onto the iconic image  of Nemo falling out of bed after one of his classic, brilliant and beautiful adventures in the dream world. The punchline from the squirrel, “Sweet dreams.”

I first wondered how many people reading the two strips would get those references. Then I wondered how many would, like me, notice the oddity of two comic-strip-history shout outs in the same day. And I finally wondered if all this riffing is a sign their creators are marking time to the end of the history their art form, to sweet dreams for three panels and a joke or cliff hanger. Yes, you can get the strips online now as papers have cut back (the Daily News, the ultimate funnies paper, down from three-plus pages to two). But will millennials and post-millennials, tablet in hand, follow their favorite daily comics? How will they even discover their favorites? The strips were the ultimate print art form and I take it as the beginning of a goodbye when Nemo—a 106-year old character—shows up in a strip on Saturday. Sweet dreams.