Friday, April 13, 2007

Print innovation and editorial competence at Wired

[5/29/07 - updated with specific link to Clive Thompson's blog entry where he requested comments from readers regarding the Wired article prior to its publication.]

Print Innovation
Wired has always been a forward-thinking publication, both in subject matter and presentation and layout. An article in the April 2007 issue stands out as particularly innovative, though. The topic of corporate transparency is interesting, but it's the layout that I'm most impressed by.

The article is now online and is titled "The See-Through CEO," but interestingly, and this is a rare case where I feel the term ironically is appropriate, the online presentation doesn't translate the innovation. The print layout has nice wide margins of about 1 3/4 inches, where the margin notes are placed for this article. The irony comes in when you consider the article's author, Clive Thompson, blogged about the article as part of his creative process, reproduces some of his readers' input as footnotes in the margins, and the dead-tree pulp outdoes the pixelated electrons for readability and, dare I say, structural transparency.

The part I really like, and that makes the print version eminently easy to read, is that the portion of the main text the margin note refers to is highlighted and the corresponding margin note is right there on the same page, with credit given to the reader who contributed it. In addition to simple readability, how cool must it be for one of Mr. Thompson's readers to see an idea and comment credited in print like that?

Editorial Competence
On to the editorial competence, in the same article Mr. Thompson correctly uses the expression "take a different tack" (end of the third paragraph) to indicate one of the subjects of his article decided to change course and try something different. The presence of the word tack was what spurred me to make this entire post.

That's right. Tack.

I hear and see the expression misused so often I thought the fact that it was used correctly warranted mention. The worst misuse I hear is "take a different tact." Also spotted in the wild is "take a different track." No, no, no, no ...


The expression originates from the sailing term "tack," which is used to describe the maneuver that occurs when a sailboat changes the direction of its bow relative to the wind. This maneuver allows a sailboat to move forward while heading into the wind. Wikipedia has a nice diagram.

Bravo Clive Thompson and bravo Wired for a job well done all around.

As you were, readers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut is dead at 84

He was truly a unique voice in American literature. He mixed satire, humor and sometimes science fiction to create scathing social commentary. The first book of his I read was Breakfast of Champions, as a high school student. The off-the-wall storytelling and ideas interspersed with the author's own line drawings made for sometimes hilarious passages.

Since that time I have read the classic Slaughterhouse-Five as well as his final novel, Timequake. Almost all of these novels involve somewhat flawed or quirky characters in usually improbable or absurd situations, dealing with life the best they can. Vonnegut's voice comes through, often with irony and humor, sometimes hitting you in the face with our own reality without you noticing because you're laughing so hard.

It's been years since I've read his work, and as one of my all-time favorite authors, I'm going to have to start a few more of his novels I haven't read yet. I'll never forget one of my favorite scenes in Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School, in which Vonnegut makes a cameo appearance as himself to deliver a paper which Thornton Melon (Dangerfield) hired him to write about himself for Melon's English class. Rent that movie sometime, it's a classic.

Today's New York Times has a good piece about Vonnegut and his life.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I voted for Sanjaya and it's Howard Stern's fault

I've been working an evening job to bring in some cash, and when I turned on Howard 100 tonight at 10:30 after my shift ended, I saw that on the second line of the display on my radio, underneath "Howard Stern Show," it said "Vote for Sanjaya 866-436-5708." Here on the west coast American Idol ends at nine, meaning viewers can vote until 11p, so I dialed the number and ended up voting five times in the parking lot before driving home.

Without even watching the show, knowing nothing about the other performers/contestants. Apparently Sanjaya actually did ok tonight.

I'm not sure when the Sanjaya movement began, but a few weeks ago Howard brought up the web site on the air and interviewed the founder of the site on the show. Howard was digging what the guy was doing and has stated several times since then that he thinks it's great to destroy something, meaning the show American Idol -- to take part in such a disruption and distortion of what the show means as to make it worthless as a concept.

I have to agree the idea is hilarious. Sanjaya isn't the worst I've heard, but there is no way he is the best singer on that show right now. Just the fact that he made it into the top 10 and will be a part of the forthcoming American Idol live tour is sweet justice. Last week, even Simon gave up criticizing Sanjaya's performances because he knows it's useless, calling his performance "brilliant."

Of course all of this Sanjaya mania isn't due to Howard Stern alone, but Howard's name is being mentioned in connection with it. The publicity certainly can't hurt. Is this the first true test of the power of satellite radio? Is the fact that this is the first true test of such power a sad commentary on what millions of Americans are focused on? Am I actually typing this?