The Server Ate September

OK, kids, here’s a lesson — back up even files other entities are saving for you. Here’s what I learned from my service, Hosting Matters:

The primary drive on this server failed over the weekend, and all sites were restored [on Sept. 22] from the last error-free backup, from Aug 29, which would account for both the stats and content gaps.”

Missing from the message were both an official or informal apology and a promise that steps are being taken to prevent this admittedly rare occurrence — never in the four years I’ve used this company — from happening again, or if it does that the most recent automatic back-up be one week or 10 days, not nearly a month.

I had drafts — minus varying amounts of polish, and all the hyperlinks — of the month’s three Brick essays in my Mac’s trash, which I deliberately don’t empty very often. Just in case.

Where Has September Gone?

That’s what I’d like to know. Sometime in the last couple of days, all of the Brick essays I published in September have disappeared. Poking around my Web site indicates that the problem originates not with WordPress but Hosting Matters, which operates my domain overall.

This posting serves first as a test for whomever might be checking on the support ticket I have submitted. It also is an apology for those who want to read the latest in Brick. I have one just about ready to go, but I don’t want to post then lose it.

Don’t Stop the Presses

Copyright 2008 Ben S. Pollock

I’m not nearly old enough to say I’ve seen it all, or even seen a lot. But when I worked there, my college newspaper, The Stanford Daily, had a noisy Teletype for AP and UPI stories, complete with increasing numbers of bells to rate degrees of breaking news. My first full-time job, news producer at KFJM, 1980-81, had a quiet upgrade, using heat-sensitive paper (still used in today’s cash registers), but it still had a bell to ding five times the night John Lennon was killed. Back to the point, the Times Record of Fort Smith, in 1979 when I interned there, already had a computerized newsroom.

Until a decade or so ago, newspaper owners everywhere jumped on every technology, usually as a way to make more money by saving money. Since then, we in the biz have been getting chompy (chomping at the bit then loitering at the gate). I didn’t quite understand this — and likely this exact thought has been Webbed out many times already. Until the other night I didn’t see this particular blind spot.

Because it is a blind spot: Every technological innovation taken by newspapers has been in the service of its industry, but with the latest tool, the Internet, the industry finds itself serving it.

One of the things newspapers pride themselves on — OK, their personnel, pulp has no known feelings — is getting last-minute news in. [I speak as someone who checks out local papers on every trip; this is by no means a riff on any hometown publications.] Newspapers have done this throughout the century of radio and half-century of television (rounded decades: Coast-to-coast radio is more like 85-90 years and nationwide telecasts with affordable TV receiving sets around 60 years).

We inky muckamucks have admitted from the start that radio has immediacy and TV moving pictures, but newspapers have details. And for a century — though ownership has concentrated like most industries — it’s continued to be highly profitable. Print offered entertainment and information differently from these popular wireless and inkless systems, where comprehensive storytelling, analysis and permanency (paper doesn’t crash) remained attractive to readers and the advertisers who targeted them.

Yet newspapers always strived to be faster for reasons of economic efficiency. Wire services as mentioned above moved from Morse code (a bit before my time) through Teletype then Internet transmission, though the last lacks those bells for true bulletins (as opposed to cable news channels’ continual, crying-wolf, “breaking” or “developing” events).

Each time presses gained speed and sharpness, a number of publishers placed orders for them. USA Today’s near-magazine quality color sharpness in the early 1980s motivated local papers to follow suit. Human typesetters were reduced to almost zero. Their jobs were taken by word-processing software run by copy editors. Those folks no longer got headaches from tubs of rubber cement, used to rearrange paragraphs cut or torn from reporters’ typewritten pages into sensible order — the origin of “cut and paste.” Continue reading

Roger That 404

When you click from one Internet page to another and you get a message saying “we were unable to find” it, sometimes including the phrase Error 404, there’s a problem, Houston.

Brick is having just that issue. Please bear with me, and WordPress, while I try to figure it out, or get them to fix it promptly.*

*Update. Most links work.

Pod-ner in Time

Isn’t the Internet wonderful, with all of that information available in an instant? Crusty people like me have taken to it in varying degrees of speed and intensity, while everyone under 30, from most of my office to three nephews and niece (in their 20s), didn’t need to learn it, for high electronics is their birthright.

I see the Internet as largely text, and thus a not-so-difficult heir to newsprint. My eldest nephew (reared in Los Angeles now a proud New Yorker) disagreed when I saw him in Joplin on July 4. He’s a newshound — God bless the young — but relies on streaming video and audio podcasts, multitasking while working. If something catches his attention like political or economic news (not drunk celebrities), he’ll finish the, well, broadcast, then click to for details in text.

This may be a generational barrier. I surf with some agility, but podcasts and videos pull my patience. Get on with it. Gimme info! When writing goes into tangents I don’t need or get bored by, I skim to the points.

Heard or seen reports hold the recipient hostage; fast-forwarding is imprecise. What do you look at while taking in an audio podcast or MP3? If it’s Web pages, you often lose what you’re hearing. What do you see when it’s Web video? Low resolution and mistimed sound. How is it that TVs get bigger and clearer and at the same time young people watch shows on their cell phones and DVD movies on laptops?

A decent writing site (address withheld to protect the guilty), offers tips for the daily regimen. We all can stand to improve. Some are in the form of audio feeds. A man and woman narrate most of them, and the first half-minute is conversational and intriguing. Yet early in the second minute impatience begins. If the information, similarly informal, was typed — that is, keyboarded — out, I’d get the message and may even print it for future reference or email to someone else.

Friends of mine have expanded into video columns. They’re fun but not new: Robert Benchley as always was there first, even winning an Oscar for one, back in 1935.

We communicators short-change if not short-circuit ourselves when we mischoose our medium. Curmudgeonly, I also grow weary of question-and-answer written profiles of otherwise fascinating people. Journalists are gatekeepers. Readers, listeners and viewers nearly all of the time expect us to edit, to summarize, to point out what’s worth emphasis.

This is not across-the-board. One can see an actor or director’s work yet be drawn to how they think, which can be shown with great clarity in a well-conducted yet closely edited Q-and-A. Please delete the er’s and uh’s, as well as the repetitions, especially those of the questioner.

In my last year of college I had no time for TV so read all the details about the 1979-80 detention of dozens of Americans within their embassy in Tehran, Iran. I thought I understood. But the first times I saw that new program, ABC News’ Nightline, the scene blew me away — the taunts by huge crowds, the burning of the Stars and Stripes — providing a necessary component of information, night after night. As the 20th century closed, print finally proved insufficient.

Long-form video can be enchanting. That would be C-SPAN. Last weekend C-SPAN2 featured a three-hour interview and call-in with the intellectual political writer Christopher Hitchens. I watched it 1 1/2 of the three times it aired over Labor Day weekend. This angry man’s eyes teared up twice, about his children and his mother. He famously does not suffer fools but showed gentle tolerance with homely callers who with sincerity disagreed with him.

That time was so well spent I’d download a summary of the transcript. -30-

Travel Plans

Wednesday, My Beloved and I head to Philadelphia for the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. It starts with a Thursday night reception, but I need to be at the hotel at 2 for the board meeting.

I have created Brick subsets for two previous conferences, in Dallas and Boston, and a weekend workshop, in Oklahoma City. I plan to do one for this one. Ideally, I’d post daily, from a complimentary PC for guests in the hotel lobby, and as long as I’m dreaming, there’ll be no line ahead of me and no foot-tapping yo-yo waiting for me to log off. Hey, mac, I’d say, if you were needing a computer so badly, you should’ve brought your own.

I can’t accuse myself that way. I have a 6-year-old iBook. I didn’t buy the wi-fi available at the time, and most of the hard and the soft components are obsolete. I have to wait to October for the new Mac laptop. Good excuse.

If I don’t get to post “live” — and I never have — then I’ll take a few days next week and make them pretty, then backdate them and post.

Later, only my barber will know if I color the calendar. -30-