Scripting News for 8/23/07

my.nytimes.com launches 

First impression: Looks like my.yahoo.com, a descendant of my.netscape.com of the late 90s. The page is divided into modules, each module corresponds to a RSS feed. Within the module the items are presented in the same order as in the feed.

Login here: http://my.nytimes.com/

Screen shot of the home page, uncustomized.

A press release ran at 9:30AM Pacific.

According to this blog post it was open to the public on Tuesday at 9:38PM.

I added Scripting News, but it doesn’t seem to show up.

Of course I’m still looking for a reverse-chronologic list of all new stories as they are published (as they appear in a Times RSS feed).

Is there a mobile version of my.nytimes.com?

What Scripting News looks like in the Times environment.

Their answer to What is RSS? gets the Dave Winer Political Correctness Seal of Approval. Good job. I’m sure they handle all kinds of feeds perfectly well, no need to bother the poor user with technical arcania.

Obvious opportunity to kiss up to influential bloggers missed. Only Battelle’s site is in the list of defaults. Markoff likes Joi Ito. Engadget gets a link, TechCrunch does not. Of course Scripting News is linked in nowhere, but I didn’t expect it would be. (Also, they clearly didn’t seed any bloggers with the beta since it’s been open to the public for about 44 hours at this writing and there’s almost no coverage in the tech blog-o-s’fear. You’d think the Times could do better PR.)

So with the disclaimers out of the way, you may take the following with a grain of salt…

Initial impression: No big deal. They haven’t improved RSS news reading in any obvious way. Looking for the reason to use this service, coming up empty. A couple of generations behind Google Reader.

Salon tried building their own CMS, and learned the hard way that they should have bought one from a software vendor. Would have saved a lot of money and gotten a better CMS. The NY TImes is learning the same lesson with news readers. They clearly spent a lot of money developing my.nytimes.com, but in the end would have done better making a deal with Yahoo, Google, Netvibes, Pageflakes or any of a dozen wannabes who are working on customizable module-oriented viewing of news. If the Times wanted to blaze a new path, they should have done something new that used their unique understanding of news, something the software industry wouldn’t think of or even understand. Such a fresh view is possible, but the Times lacked the courage, ambition, or maybe just the smarts, to try to blaze a new trail. Too bad!

Other reviews: Blodget, Mashable, MacManus.

Don’s Amazing Puzzle 

Please read this sentence.

FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE-

SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIF-

IC STUDY COMBINED WITH

THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

Count the F’s.

How many did you find?

Click here to see the answer.

Thanks to Don Brown for forwarding this. It’s a great puzzle!

Raines’ oldfangled new phone 

Click the pic for an explanation.

Gears of the blogger’s fear 

Yesterday I caught up on cable news — hadn’t been paying much attention. I was peripherally aware that there had been a mine disaster in Utah, followed by a cave-in while rescuers were searching for survivors. Some of them were lost too.

The owner of the mine, a fat not very pretty older man, had become a media star, and had said something in the last news cycle that the press had latched onto, and now talking heads were saying nasty shit about him, the kind of stuff they never say about politicians or TV anchors, the stuff they reserve for the powerless, death row inmates, Don Imus.

What he did wasn’t so clear. They said (in an amazed tone) “and now he’s denying he ever said it.” They showed tape of him denying it, but the tape didn’t include what he was denying having said. In other words, here’s a fat, ugly, old man, being defensive. He’s a bad person. I found myself thinking, nahh, he’s probably just an average person, caught in the gears on a slow news day (the other big news was President Bush finally admitting that Iraq is a lot like Vietnam, something he and other neocons would have screamed at if you said it before yesterday).

The thing is, why we need to be paying attention to this in the blogosphere, is that we’re doing the same thing, all the time. We have all the trappings, the cameras, the mikes, the beautiful interviewers. And we make big deals out of little ones, and let crooks off the hook. We haven’t started any real wars yet, but give us time, we’re just getting warmed up. And maybe if we are somewhat aware of this, we can try to offset it with a little bit of humanity. Maybe someone can speak up for the poor schnook who gets caught in the gears of the blogger’s fear.

(Sorry for the pun.)

Solution to Don’s Amazing Puzzle 

There are six F’s in the sentence.

There is no catch.

I found three. I went back and counted and recounted, and I was sure there were just three. So I wrote a script to see what was going on. It said there are six! Mystifying.

Here’s a screen shot of the script.

I first ran it in DaveNet in 1997. It’s usually fun. Only two people I knew back then got it right without any coaching. My uncle and Scott Rosenberg. Scott said his trick was to read the sentence backwards, something he learned as an editor at Salon. My uncle was an engineer at heart and loved puzzles. He just did what the puzzle told him to do, literally. Most people, myself included, don’t. That’s why it’s an amazing puzzle. It teaches us about our ability to see what’s right before our eyes. Don’t feel bad if you got it wrong, you have a lot of company. :-)

31 responses to this post.

  1. Bob Murray (the old fat guy) is the victim here?

    He had the men in that mine “retreat mining” — pulling down pillars that support the roof of the mine in order to retrieve the last bits of coal from them.

    The Crandall Canyon mine collapse happened while miners were engaged in a method called “retreat mining,” in which pillars of coal are used to hold up an area of the mine’s roof. When that area is completely mined, the company pulls the pillar and grabs the useful coal, causing an intentional collapse.

    It is “the most dangerous type of mining there is,” said Tony Oppegard, a former top federal and state of Kentucky mine safety official who is now a private attorney in Lexington, Ky., representing miners.

    Retreat pillar mining is one of the biggest causes of mine roof collapse deaths, according to studies done by the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health.

    Immediately after the cave-in, Murray insisted that the cause was an earthquake, and denied that he had his men retreat mining:

    “This was caused by an earthquake, not something that Murray Energy … did or our employees did or our management did,” Murray said, his voice often rising in anger. “It was a natural disaster. An earthquake. And I’m going to prove it to you.”

    He held to that story even when seismologists said that there was no evidence of an earthquake in the area at that time.

    Additionally, the Salt Lake Tribune has uncovered government documents that indicate that the mining approach in use was changed to a more dangerous one after Murray took over the mine — something he had also denied.

    There’s just too much evidence that Murray’s decisions had a hand in making this disaster possible to let him off the hook as a “poor schnook” who’s getting shafted by the media.

    Reply

  2. I didn’t say he was “the victim.”

    I also disclaimed that upfront that I wasn’t paying attention to the story, you obviously were.

    Reply

  3. That said, in the short time I got to see him, I could see clearly that his major crime was that he didn’t know how to lie to reporters like all the other people who show up on TV. His crime, imho, was that he answered questions directly, gave much more information than he had to and should have, and you’re seeing what happens when you dare to be direct with the press.

    Reply

  4. I didn’t say he was “the victim.”

    You’re right, you didn’t use those words. But you did say he was “probably just an average person, caught in the gears on a slow news day” which implies that he’s being lynched by the media for no reason.

    His crime, imho, was that he answered questions directly, gave much more information than he had to and should have, and you’re seeing what happens when you dare to be direct with the press.

    But that’s my point — he didn’t give “information”. He lied. He’s not a straight shooter who is getting beat up for giving us the harsh truth. He denied his culpability in decisions that killed people and continues to do so, despite a mountain of evidence.

    A straight shooter would have come forward and said “yes, I did take a more aggressive approach to working this mine than the previous owners did. I believe that’s not incompatible with a safe working environment.” Which is probably a pretty accurate summation of what he’s really thinking, and might even be defensible. But that’s not what he said; instead he blamed it on an earthquake and the mineworkers’ union.

    All that being said, I’m sure that there has been plenty of fragmentary coverage that hasn’t given the full story, as you note. In stories like this there’s always lots of that “BREAKING!!!1!” treatment.

    Reply

  5. Well, he may not be able to lie well–but if his shoddy safety practices led to the deaths of 9 people (6 miners and 3 rescuers), that’s his “major crime.”

    Reply

  6. Posted by Gene Poole on August 23, 2007 at 9:08 am

    We often seek ourselves in some elses shoes and it makes us very empathetic to their plight.

    The press can destroy people.

    And so can the truth at times.

    Reply

  7. Okay fine, but you’re still not responding to what I wrote. Enjoy this discussing this, but I’m not getting into this. I have no opinion of his guilt or innocence, as I said (three times now) I wasn’t following the story.

    Reply

  8. Even the bad people need protecting because the mob, the media, it can be fearce. I imagine that’s why we have courts. This sort of behaviour has been around for a very long time. It’s probably very human.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Gene Poole on August 23, 2007 at 9:24 am

    Very few people have had much experience dealing with the press. You have. You’ve paid for the exposure with a loss of privacy and been violated by inaccurate reporting.

    That’s what I get from your post. You feel sympathy for the human in the process of the press seeking the most ugly aspects of the story without much concern for an individual’s pain.

    I’m sure everyone involved in this tragedy is suffering. I’m not following the story either and the comments here have been very useful in making the story real for me.

    That’s one of the benefits of comments… they allow information to have another venue.

    I love comments as much as the blog. But that’s just me.

    I comment more than I blog. The juice is in the “conversation” for me. And conflict IS engaging for the brain. Debate allows all points of view to be aired.

    Thank you for having comments.

    Reply

  10. Gene, I wrote a conclusion to the piece, it’s in the last paragraph, and in the title of the piece. I tried to make it clear. I don’t think I can have any influence on the press. If you want a takeaway about the press, I’m saying they mislead. There doesn’t seem to be anything too controversial there.

    But the thing I’m saying is less familiar, that we’re basically copying them in the blogosphere. What a waste it would be, to get a whole new medium and make the same mistakes as previous media.

    I can’t bring the miners back. I didn’t know them. I didn’t follow the story. Why people didn’t believe me and chose to argue my soundness is just another illustration of the exact point I was making. Don’t be so sloppy, try to debug your own ideas, it’s wasteful of human bandwidth to deliberately get things wrong, which I gotta believe is what JL did. He’s posted lots of intelligent stuff here, I know he’s smart. So why did he argue with me about something that I obviously don’t believe as if I did believe it?

    That to me is a problem I can help solve. The miners, that appears to be done, and judging the mine owner, is the problem for the people of Utah.

    Reply

  11. Dave,
    David Churbuck has been using an old fasjioned handset for his Treo and more recently his crackberry for the last 18 months.

    Jim Forbes

    Reply

  12. Are we in re-runs? You published that puzzle ten years ago. http://www.scripting.com/davenet/1997/03/03/DonsAmazingPuzzle.html

    Reply

  13. Oh, wait, I didn’t see the subsequent post. Sorry.

    Reply

  14. Posted by Gene Poole on August 23, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Dave,

    “we’re basically copying them [the press] in the blogosphere”.

    True.

    “What a waste it would be, to get a whole new medium and make the same mistakes as previous media.”

    True.

    “Don’t be so sloppy, try to debug your own ideas, it’s wasteful of human bandwidth to deliberately get things wrong”.

    I’ll work on that. I’d like to aim for continuous improvement. Unfortunely, I’m running out of time… and loosing mental ability. :^(

    “So why did he [JL] argue with me about something that I obviously don’t believe as if I did believe it?”

    Text is problematic in that regard… people read into text through their own filters and assumptions. Conversation can help fix the disconnect. We can “debug” the transmission with ACQ’s and NAQ’s like TCP/IP to insure what is recieved isn’t mangled.

    “That to me is a problem I can help solve.”

    It is the problem most worth working on, IMHO. It could fix the middle east, our government, our media and most of our lives. Keep at it! Get people to behave better in their communication. I’m with you on that!

    Reply

  15. Don’t be so sloppy, try to debug your own ideas, it’s wasteful of human bandwidth to deliberately get things wrong, which I gotta believe is what JL did. He’s posted lots of intelligent stuff here, I know he’s smart. So why did he argue with me about something that I obviously don’t believe as if I did believe it?

    Because it sounded like you did believe it, at least to me.

    I wouldn’t come here purposely misconstruing stuff just to pick a fight. That’s a waste of your time, my time, and everybody else’s time. (Besides being boring as all get out.)

    Television is a visual medium. You saw a guy who reminds you of you, in a situation that probably reminded you of a few you’ve been in, and felt sympathy for him. That’s fine. I just wanted to let you know that there’s more to this schnook than meets the eye.

    Reply

  16. You saw a guy who reminds you of you, in a situation that probably reminded you of a few you’ve been in

    Look Jason, you’re having a dream here — and it’s really convoluted, at so many levels.

    I normally wouldn’t go this deep with you or anyone else but the WHOLE POINT of the post you were responding to completely went over your head, and it still is, even though it was there in black and white.

    I’m finished discussing your impressions of what you think I saw when I was watching TV. There’s no substance there worth talking about.

    Reply

  17. Posted by Gene Poole on August 23, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Civil conversation requires listening skills more than anything else.

    If someone doesn’t get what you mean, send a polite NAQ and resend the packet… or drop the line and refuse connection. That works to end the miscommunication cycles.

    JL: I think Dave’s asking bloggers for different behavior vs the press behavior: Don’t victimize sources.

    It’s a good idea.

    It’s based upon the Golden Rule. “Do unto others.” Not a bad sermon for a Thursday, huh?

    Reply

  18. Posted by Ralph Hempel on August 23, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I have an actual old rotary phone in my front hall and I get a huge kick out of watching my kids friends try to call home on it.
    The concept of a rotary phone is so foreign to them they just look at it and give me the “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” look.
    Life is full of little moments that can make you smile…

    Reply

  19. Great puzzle Dave. It made my day. A fun intellectual challenge that reminds you of your own limits and the flaws in your expectations.

    Reply

  20. Posted by ltracey on August 23, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    The analogy is flawed is what Jason is saying. There is a point to be made regarding the treatment in the press of “average” people, but Murray is most certainly not the person to use to make that point in any meaningful way.

    Reply

  21. JL: I think Dave’s asking bloggers for different behavior vs the press behavior: Don’t victimize sources.

    It’s a good idea.

    I don’t get that. The guy’s not a source. He’s one of the subjects of the story. Are they not supposed to interview him? Are they not supposed to ask him hard questions? I want a press that asks more hard questions, not less.

    I normally wouldn’t go this deep with you or anyone else but the WHOLE POINT of the post you were responding to completely went over your head, and it still is, even though it was there in black and white.

    Oh, the problem is just that I’m an idiot then. That clears things right up!

    Sheesh.

    Reply

  22. Posted by Gene Poole on August 23, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Jason,

    “I don’t get that. The guy’s not a source. He’s one of the subjects of the story. Are they not supposed to interview him? Are they not supposed to ask him hard questions? I want a press that asks more hard questions, not less.”

    All valid points and I get what you’re saying and agree in this case.

    In other cases, you see 60 Minutes-style interrogations of people without a reasonable context for the “grillling”.

    Dave conceeded early on that you are not an “idiot”.

    I think there’s a pattern here in this simple discussion that mirrors conflict via text exchanges… It spirals out of control when people don’t test their assumptions about the other person’s point of view and the “sides” get frustrated repeating their message.

    I think an important key to a good comment thread is one or more moderating influences to help people connect on some point of common ground. Most successful forums seem to have one or more such influence working to help reduce escalations of frustration and subsequent angry language… like a good facilitator in committee work: Ego management.

    I’ve enjoyed the exchange… it made me think hard about some issues that Dave is trying to get us to consider and why it’s so mucher harder in practive than it is in theory. People are complex and conversational text has a pattern similar to a negotiation more than simple conversational flow with the extra channels of tone, body language and verbal clues about the frustration with not being understood.

    Why DO we use these approaches to build community or concensus? They seem to create more problems than they solve. I’m just asking…

    Reply

  23. Yeah Jason, you figured it out — it *was* all about you. When I was writing the post I was thinking to myself, “How can I really tick off Jason Lefkowitz.”

    (Sorry for the sarcasm.)

    Reply

  24. Dave conceeded early on that you are not an “idiot”.

    True, and I probably shouldn’t have written that. I was taken aback by the aggressive tone of Dave’s response and responded in kind. As you note, not the best way to move a discussion forward.

    Consider that part of my comment retracted.

    Reply

  25. Posted by elle on August 23, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Interesting puzzle.

    Here’s something else weird. Try reading this quickly:

    Fanashed fales ire the result of yeirs of scaentafac study, combaned wath the experaence of yeirs.

    Reply

  26. Posted by Gene Poole on August 23, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Sarcasm always seems to read as a literal insult… an intentional slight. If the conversation is already heated based upon misinterpretation then the sarcasm just kicks it into a real streetfight.

    As interesting as a fire to a casual observer… but a life or death contest to the firefighters.

    We all need less fire and more great ideas on how to make the world a better safer place to interact. That seems like a reasonable wrap-up to this thread of comments for my input

    Jason: good retraction. Life being so short and all.

    Reply

  27. Well, it didn’t become a streetfight, it had the opposite effect, because I’ve gotten to know JL and was pretty sure if he saw how I *felt* about his repeated challenges and sarcasm (he said I was calling him an idiot after all, when I had gone out of my way to say the opposite) that would stop the looping, which I was getting really tired of.

    Let’s get the level of discourse a bit higher here, maybe we can actually get some stuff done. In the early days here we got a lot done, before the LCD folks showed up.

    http://discuss.userland.com/

    Reply

  28. RE the puzzle: I got six F’s quite easily. Start at the beginning,
    examine a letter, up the count if it’s an F, repeat til done.

    Seems most programmers, who have to scan code for weird dumbonio errors all the times, should get that number easily.
    Obviously a false assumption.

    I do like the fact that our minds are all wired slightly differently.

    – krute

    Reply

  29. The gardener counted six F’s, but only after doing a similar puzzle years ago and missing a couple. Lesson learned the first time.

    I couldn’t care less about a my.nytimes.com. I just want to know when they’re going to stop forcing me to click through several pages to read a complete article. Cheats such as clicking on the single page link don’t help as a majority of the articles are 2 or 3 pages long. Love reading the WSJ online especially since every article has a snippet or mouseover thing that let’s me know more before I click to read.The gardener counted six F’s, but only after doing a similar puzzle years ago and missing a couple. Lesson learned the first time.

    I couldn’t care less about a my.nytimes.com. I just want to know when they’re going to stop forcing me to click through several pages to read a complete article. Cheats such as clicking on the single page link don’t help as a majority of the articles are 2 or 3 pages long. Love reading the WSJ online especially since every article has a snippet or mouseover thing that let’s me know more before I click to read.

    Reply

  30. Re: amazing puzzle. Visualizing things in new ways can be enlightening.

    I have a version of this with highlights that makes things (too much?) clearer at

    In my case I missed the second ‘OF’, F #4.

    (
    Generated with Perl! Aack!, available at

    http://dereklane.us/files/ff_context.txt

    run
    $ perl ff_context.txt > tmp.htm
    and view tmp.htm in most any browser. The html is adequate for purpose but not modern.
    )

    Reply

  31. My wife, a communications and speech therapist, said that people that only count 3 F’s (like me!) missed the trailing f’s because they interpereted them as v’s when they processed them as speech/auditory information. Reviewing the sentence backwards removes the speech/auditory processing from the workflow, allowing you to “see” all of the F’s.

    Reply

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