Bloggers Versus Journalists, Ad Nauseam

And the winner is . . .If you've found yourself wondering what citizen journalism has been up to lately, Jay Rosen's opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times contains an interesting list of examples.

If you've found yourself wondering what, if anything, citizen journalism really is, Mark Glaser's Your Guide to Citizen Journalism is still a good place to find out.

And if you're wondering why there's still controversy over this subject at all, one answer can be found at the Newspaper Death Watch, a self-described "blog about the sad decline of an American institution: the major metropolitan daily newspaper."

This is a debate over terminology that is increasingly meaningless in a new world in which everyone is a publisher.

Whether or not you happen to agree with the logic—self-publishing equals journalism—or even the idea that the debate is a matter of terminology at all, it does seem fairly certain that the fighting isn't going to end anytime soon.


Can't Feel My Brain

I feel so strange . . .
This is bad. This is really, really bad. Curiosity got the better of me, and now I can't feel my brain. Who are
these people, and why are they writing things like this . . .

Even though he's in possession of skin so leathery that he could have made a highly profitable second career upholstering office chairs with peelings from his scrotum, Don Imus decided to sue CBS for $40 million on the basis that he was only hired to spout off a procession of wilfully offensive insults to anyone he could think of.

. . . or this . . .

You know who's an effing big country? Russia. You know who wants to become exactly one North Pole bigger? Russia.

They likely want the entire North Pole because it's said to house over 300 generations of their royal bloodline. That's right - from King Vladamir who founded communism in the year of our Lord 11 BC, to King Slobodan who made Russia's largest Ukrainian baby-skull bong in the 1960s, they're all buried in a wondrous hall beneath the North Pole's frozen crust.

Somebody help me.

Waiting for Irony

Watching for irony, and dark chocolate.Chewing my food at the local café, I saw a young lady I'd met some time ago sitting alone, so I decided to insinuate myself—and my half-eaten sandwich—into her lunch break. By the time she noticed my trajectory it was too late, and I was able to slide into the booth before she had the chance to plan an escape.

"Sitgoin?" I said, my mouth packed with tuna and rye.

She managed a smile. "Good. I'm good. You know, I was just . . . "

I cut her off with a spasm of coughing and choking. The sandwich was trying to enter my lung, and my lung had launched a counterattack. Valerie's mouth was open, her expression an even mix of loathing and disbelief. Suddenly the lung gained an advantage, propelling its enemy toward the open mouth on the other side of the table.

On a different day, the story might have come to a vulgar and predictable end then and there. On this particular day, however, a strange combination of luck, superhuman reflexes, and dark humor turned disaster to serendipity. Valerie's right hand was a blur as it intercepted the fishy missile; her left hand raised a welt on the side of my face.

"Now," said Valerie as she leaned across the table to wipe the tear from my eye, "I think you're ready for a little irony."

I nodded. The last thing anyone needs after nearly choking to death on a tuna sandwich is irony, but I was still within range of her hands. Valerie smiled, and asked if I'd heard about the recent drowning. I shook my head.

"It was an old guy," she said. "He drowned in the creek trying to carry a mattress to the other side. It was ironic."

If there's one thing I've come to expect from people who use the word ironic, it's a complete lack of irony in whatever it is they're using to illustrate the concept. I nodded, and tried not to think about her hands.

"He was always getting after everyone about trashing up the creek," Valerie continued. She was studying my face, looking for something to indicate that I had grasped the irony. I hadn't.

Valerie sighed, and put both hands on the table. My lower lip began to tremble.

"He was always getting after everyone about trashing up the creek," she said again, "but he wound up polluting it himself!"

I laughed. I could see the dark irony in it—my favorite kind.

Valerie winked as she slipped from the booth. "Dark chocolate isn't sweet," she whispered, "but it satisfies."

I laughed again. I love dark chocolate.


Full Circle

The final frontierImagine my disappointment. There I was, enjoying a caffeinated beverage with the usual flock of hippies when someone brought up the end of time as we know it. Not in any some day in the distant future way, either; he meant five short years from now. I felt a chill wind on the back of my neck. Why wasn't I informed of this?

The problem, it seems, has to do with the Mayan calendar, which comes to a rather abrupt end in 2012. Normally, my first impulse would be to laugh at whoever designed a calendar that just quits halfway through, but some say this is no ordinary calendar. Some say this calendar—even though it was in use some 2300 years ago—accurately predicts the exact date of the winter solstice in 2012, among other things. This is no mean feat when you consider problems like precession, which is caused by the lethargic wobble of our planet's polar axis. Astronomically speaking, the relative positions of celestial objects change over time, to the tune of about one degree every 72 years. The result is an accumulating error over time, making the long-term prediction of future equinox dates a bit of a hassle, especially when the date in question lies 2300 years away. According to The How and Why of the Mayan End Date in 2012 A. D., the level of accuracy, in that ancient culture, is extraordinary.

It should be noted that because precession is a very slow process, similar astronomical alignments will be evident on the winter solstice dates within perhaps 5 years on either side of 2012. However, the accuracy of the conjunction of 2012 is quite astounding, beyond anything deemed calculable by the ancient Maya, and serves well to represent the perfect mid-point of the process.

It's unusual for another reason, too. In Mayan culture, the concept of the Sacred Tree lay at the heart of human creation, and the dark band of interstellar dust we see in our own Milky Way—the galactic equator—is closely related. To the Maya, that dark band represented a road, but more in the sense of a cosmic portal than an earthly path.

December 21st, 2012 ( in the Long Count) therefore represents an extremely close conjunction of the winter solstice sun with the crossing point of Galactic Equator and the ecliptic, what the ancient Maya recognized as the Sacred Tree. It is critical to understand that the winter solstice sun rarely conjuncts the Sacred Tree.

But to call this event a rarity, and leave it at that, is to ignore the point of that mysterious final entry in the human calendar. The point, I think, isn't so much about endings as it is about rebirth, and at a very familiar location, too.

Above all, what is becoming apparent from the corpus of Mayan Creation Myths is that creation seems to have taken place at a celestial crossroads - the crossing point of ecliptic and Milky Way.

What a relief. We're not standing at the threshold of extinction; we're only approaching the crossroads of our birth.


Just-in-time Media

Old-school media in a digital worldA recent conversation about Amazon's print-on-demand model triggered a few thoughts about the old just-in-time (JIT) philosophy as it was originally applied to manufacturing—first in the automotive industry, from which it spread to all manner of production systems—and more recently its promise as a solution to the distribution problems facing the print-media industry. If it's possible to order a book online, which is then printed—and possibly even customized in certain ways—on an as-needed basis, a similar process might be applied to virtually any printed product. Whether it's used for making cars and electronics or printing books, magazines, or newspapers, the idea is to avoid producing something that may never be sold, thereby eliminating excess inventory and all the warehousing and support costs that go with it. It's a sensible way of doing things, so why hasn't it caught on in a big way? Where are the print-on-demand newspapers, or magazines? Where, for that matter, are all the JIT-enabled books?

Maybe the answer has to do with applying a sensible idea to a medium that probably shouldn't even exist anymore. Obviously, paper has been around for a very long time, and it has served us well. But is it necessary, really? Nearly everything is available online—in an instant or two—so paper seems more tradition than necessity now. Sure, it's convenient to grab a newspaper or magazine on the way to work, and a paperback doesn't ask much of its reader; all are cheap, easy, and disposable. On the other hand, none of those paper products offer much in the way of flexibility; they're hardwired, single-purpose, one-way communications with a lifespan similar to that of many common insects. But a computer—whether it's a phone or a slightly larger, more dedicated incarnation—is limited only by the requirements and desires of its owner. It's everything, in one place, all the time.

While it's certainly possible to circumvent the promise of a paperless world by—to use the classic workplace example—insisting on a hardcopy version of anything and everything that passes across the computer's display, I'm encouraged by the trend toward ultraportable, wireless computers that make paper increasingly unnecessary, if not undesirable. At one time, paper enabled the portability of information, but that was only because computers weren't portable in any practical sense of the word. But times have changed, and if you factor things like pocketable e-book readers into the near-future equation—and trees, of course—the whole idea of paper becomes increasingly absurd. Printing is better done on a computer display anyway.

Not that the print-on-demand concept is absurd; it's the stubborn refusal to abandon a primitive medium that seems so misguided. When it comes to fiscal—not to mention environmental—responsibility, I wouldn't want to be remembered as the guy who continued to throw money at an outdated medium in spite of every indication to the contrary. Paper isn't dead just yet, but I wouldn't invest my future in it.


The Devil Is In the Deltas

Those dastardly deltasThey say change is the only constant, and they may be right—whoever they are, but that's another matter. Sometimes the hard part is measuring that change, especially where there's disagreement over the methods used to quantify it. Although the mathematical procedures used for this purpose are well established, not everyone is familiar with them, and this is where the trouble begins.

The Greek uppercase letter, delta, is often used to denote change. In fact, it isn't uncommon to hear people involved in certain disciplines refer to changes simply as "deltas," or use the written equivalent in a similar way. To some, that little triangle is as familiar as the percent symbol, which brings us to the heart of the matter, namely, the combination of those two symbols. Together they signify a calculation that results in percent change—or Δ% if your browser is set up to display the character I have in mind—which often yields numbers that seem impossibly large, as percentages go.

For example, my Calculated Madness monologue repeatedly referred to a 6% rate of price-inflation for certain products over the years, but that isn't the same as percent change. The circa-1970, 35-cent gallon of gas I compared to the more recent $3.02 per gallon represents a 763% increase. That happens to be almost exactly the same delta as the 1970 median household income of $8,734 bounced against today's calculated equivalent of $75,428, which isn't completely surprising considering the 37-year interval in both cases.

Not to cause undue pain and anxiety, but you'll recall that the price of a gallon of gas was around $2.00 just after 2007 got under way, but shot up to over $3.00 only a few months later. Sure, it's come down a bit lately, but you're probably still paying somewhere around $2.80, give or take. Anyway, if we use $2.00 and $3.00 as our reference points—just to (1) keep things simple, and (2) blow your mind—we discover that this represents a 50% increase.

The question of how many gallons of gas were sold during that interval I'll leave to you to ponder, as well as the related questions concerning 50% profit increases and what they might represent in actual dollars, even over a period of months.