New at CES: Affordable rip, mix, burn for books...

Okay, so most stuff in the booths at CES is still half-vapor; screenlinked demos and soldered boards, a lot of it. But rolling out a potentially affordable automated book scanner is bound to put the Fear into the atavistic/fetishistic paper publishing industry types. "Can you say inducement? I thought you could."

Via PC
ATIZ Innovation, a small start up fronted by former Apprentice candidate Nick Warnock (who was also a former Xerox salesman and now CEO of ATIZ) and former PH. D. student Art Sarasin is introducing at CES 2006 its own $35,000, automated book scanner, known as BookDrive, that literally turns the pages and scans them without much human interaction.

A writerly site for finding historical events in character lifespans

Our allows you to enter a birth and death year from (Western calendar) 1000 on, and it will plot major historical events, showing the person's age. While it really for genealogists, this is a neat thing for quickly prototyping lifespans for characters in fiction. I'm one of those folks who's usually asking myself, "what's happening when this character is 10 years old?" and end up pulling out "The Timetables of History."

Admittedly, this doesn't replace the spadework of linking up a character to their milieu, but as a first approximation, this site does a dandy job. Just think of it as a Rails scaffold. ;)

For the New Year -- some new (auld) words...

Happy nu Yaaar. Build vocabulary, kick sand in the face of Merriam-Webster, or seek synchronistic connections. A neat perl script from the linguistics department at the University of Pennsylvania that gives you 100 random words. Enjoy!

SCOTUS v. ChuckleBunker, et. seq.

Hey, just because they're the highest court in the land doesn't mean they can't have some fun in the process. An new study of Supreme Court transcripts shows that the justices -- some at least -- can retain their sense of humor and their gravitas at the same time. And guess who's the biggest joker?

Via the New York Times:
Jay D. Wexler, a law professor at Boston University, was quick to exploit the new data to analyze the relative funniness of the justices. His study, which covers the nine-month term that began that October, has just been published in a law journal called The Green Bag.

Justice Scalia was the funniest justice, at 77 "laughing episodes." On average, he was good for slightly more than one laugh - 1.027, to be precise - per argument.

"I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power"

Transcript of today's Nixon Bush press conference, via the Washington Post:
QUESTION: I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a president during wartime.

And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?

BUSH: First of all, I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power.


BUSH: Hold on for a second, please.

There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters.

BUSH: There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time.

And on this program, to suggest there's unchecked power is not listening to what I'm telling you. I'm telling you, we have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times.

This is an awesome responsibility, to make decisions on behalf of the American people. And I understand that. And we'll continue to work with the Congress, as well as people within our own administration, to constantly monitor a program such as the one I described to you, to make sure that we're protecting the civil liberties of the United States.

To say "unchecked power" basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president, which I strongly reject.

Bitter Pinter at the Nobel mike. Huh, Pinter? Who's he?

Oh, shucks, just the usual whingeing from some Nobel laureate. Puzzled expression. Hey, did this get any airplay here in the US of A? No? Well, no wonder. Bad weather, death row appeals, and Sanjay Gupta has this insightful piece about avian flu, heck, we just couldn't find a spot for it...

BBC News story with video

In memoriam, Robert Sheckley

While he had been sick for a while – anyone who followed sf knew he had been seriously ill – still, his passing is a huge sadness.

While I'm not sure it was the first Sheckley story I read, I can still recall, vividly, reading "Warm" when I was in college; it was one of those moments where you think, 'my god, this guy really is inside my head.' Yeah, an experience that most fans are oh, so familiar with; his haunting and yet playful voice, one of those experiences where you surface from the text, and nothing in the 'real' world is ever, really, quite the same again. One of the highest compliments you can pay to an sf author is that they can do that to you. And man, he could.

We'll miss him.

Sheckley's official site

BoingBoing "How News is Made," with some prior art...

In a wonderful BoingBoing post, Dale Dougherty exposes how the pandemic Black Friday shopping story was manufactured by a retail trade group via uncritically recycled press release.

How News is Made, by Dale Dougherty
There should be a book titled "How News Is Made," a book that could be for journalism what "The Jungle" was to the meatpacking industry. My version would offer no conspiracy theory, but I'd point out the preponderance of sloppiness and lazy thinking coupled with a herd mentality..
[Boing Boing]

Yeah, sad to say, this is nothing new. Fortunately, there already many such books; a rich literature over in the media criticism area. One of my favorites, a bit dated now, but still powerful, is How to Watch TV News by Neil Postman and former TV journalist Steve Powers. (Penguin, 1992). As they said then...

Many stories are originated by press secretaries issuing press releases ("handouts") to the news media...TV Guide in its February 22, 1992 issue, documented story after story in which video supplied by lobbying groups, product manufacturers, and policital candidates was used in news programs without labeling the source.(p.79)

And for those who aren't afraid to be seen reading "subversive" literature, Michael Parenti's classic Inventing Reality is a higher-level systemic critique. I taught this book back during the first Gulf War, and my students thought I was a communist. Sigh.

NYTimes Tierney's faux Iraqi rejection letters for Pentagon "news"

In the most biting take on the fake news stories planted by the Pentagon in Iraqi papers, NY Times columnist John Tierney shows quite clearly why BushCo had to pay for the coverage: he got his hands on a bunch of the copy.

With rip-roaringly delusional titles like, "The Sands Are Blowing Toward a Democratic Iraq" and "Iraqi Forces Capture Al Qaeda Fighters Crawling Like Dogs," you can see how Iraqi editors would have needed a ارتش to find a space for these.

Tierney has serious fun imagining the rejection letters; it's almost worth the cost of a subscription to Times Select. (Add Maureen Dowd and it's a gimme...)

Via NY Times Select
There is much to admire in your article on the Iraqi Security Forces. You memorably describe them "moving across the desert sands like the wind." But you do not introduce us to any of these "heroic" figures or describe their activities beyond a list of the weapons they seized.

You write that these soldiers "fight for freedom, wherever there is trouble," a revelation that would indeed be newsworthy to our readers across Iraq, not to mention the American military advisers. But our readers would remain skeptical unless you could provide more evidence.


Okay, okay, not everyone will be as excited as I was. I yelled "YAAAY" only to have Karen peer over her glasses at me with that patronizing "my god what a geek" expression, but this is SO much better than the e-mail version, if you're trying to keep up with all the shit in the world that's trying to kill us.
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