Tag Archives: Typography

How To Stop Noisy Phone Calls

Perhaps it exists already, in which case please let me know why everyone doesn’t have one. But as I was listening to a guy answering his cellphone earlier today in a Beijing coffee shop and then, as everyone seems to do, automatically raising his voice to a shout, I thought: Why don’t I shoot him now? It’s what everyone around him wants. No that’s not what I thought. I thought: Why do we do this? Why is it so hard for us to be aware that when we speak on cellphones we tend to speak louder than we would when we’re not on the phone? And why don’t we realise this, and tone down our voice accordingly? (And, come to think of it, why don’t the people around us make us painfully aware of how loud we’re being?)

There must be an answer to this. I would have thought this would be quite simple: a sensor built into our cellphones that tells us when our voice is too loud, and informs us accordingly. So when we start yelling, a voice says into the earpiece “Your voice is louder than those around you. Your voice is louder than those around you” in an endless loop until our voice has returned to socially acceptable levels. Ignoring it would result in the person on the other end being informed politely that their interlocutor has failed to lower his voice and the call is being terminated. Efforts to disable this function would be met by a polite voice saying “deactivating this feature is not possible” along with a mild but noticeable electric shock administered to the user.

That should do it.

My PR Pet Peeves

On the whole, I find PR people to be great —  helpful, quick and thorough. But some have their quirks. I know I shouldn’t but I’m going to anyway. Here are some of my current pet peeves, all of them including examples I’ve collected over the past few days. Let me just first say that of the 100 or so communications I have had with PR people in the past week, these represent a small minority. But you know who you are!

The Who Are You And What Do You Intend To Do With My Daughter? Response  I have a stock email I send PR people when requesting information, review units or software to test. This stock email includes a list of the publications I work for and my title. Not everyone seems to read it. Here’s one: “Thank you for your inquiry. xxxxx passed your name onto me and he has asked what your intention is on requesting the device.” Just once I’d love to write back “I fully intend to elope with your device and have many, many children with it out of wedlock” or something less suited to a family paper. Sadly, I’ve not done that yet.

The Yes, There is Google, But How Do I Know You’re Really A Journalist? Gambit Not everyone believes me when I tell them I’m a technology columnist. Is it my name? Does it sound shifty? Neither do they seem to know how to use Google, which other people have found to be an excellent background research tool. One email I got this morning: “In order to do this I will need to verify your credentials. Could you please send me a couple of links to technology articles you have written.” Of course this kind of email also crushes one’s ego: “You mean you haven’t heard of me? Outrageous! Make-up!”

The How Is The Review Going Email? Approach Here’s one I got this morning: “I wanted to check in with you to see how your review of xxx is going.” I try to be a nice guy, but if I told everyone how my review of their product was going, I wouldn’t actually have any time to review any products, or write peevish posts like this. The problem is threefold:
– It’s rude not to respond, but by doing so you invite more.
– If you don’t respond, you get more anyway.
– The truth is I have no idea how it’s going. I know PR people would like to know when the column might be due, and I sympathize, but folk like me may have dozens of columns on the go at the same time, and just because we’ve requested a review unit/copy of your product, doesn’t mean we have a clear date set as to when it may appear. If I see something I’d like to review at some point I fire off an email. Then the device sits in a drawer until the planets are aligned and I feel cosmically ready. Really. Just because you launched your product this month doesn’t mean that’s when I’m going to write about it. Honest.

Only one thing worse than this is people calling me in the middle of the night, unaware of something called timezones (usually PR people who work for watch manufacturers, oddly enough) to ask me how the review is going.
“Right now, you mean? Right now I’m dodging flying furniture from my recently awoken wife while also testing whether your product works when flushed down the john.”
“Oh. Is this not a good time?”

The I’ll Let You Review My Product If You Let Me Review Your Copy Before Publication Response Here’s one I got a few days ago: “We would be more than happy to provide a sample unit for your review. However, we would like to preview any articles that you write based on the unit, before they go to press. If you are happy with this, please reply to the affirmative, and we will have your unit shipped via express FedEx within 3 business days. The reason we ask this is that a previous newspaper article had several minor factual inaccuracies, that could have been easily corrected with a quick review of the draft copy.” Er, no, is this short answer to that. Firstly, my publications frown on this kind of thing. Secondly, who in their right mind would agree? Why would a journalist allow the person they’re writing about approve their copy before publication? Would anyone ever trust that journalist again? Finally, what is this person grumbling about? They got a review, with a few “minor factual inaccuracies”, and they’re upset? Sometimes I wonder whether some people even want people to write about their product. Harumph.

The We Got Amazing Coverage In Your Rival Publication, Isn’t That Just Grand? Email This doesn’t seem like a big problem, and it’s not. But why bother? Are we supposed to be so impressed that we immediately feel the need to write something too? Journalists don’t like to be second to something, and don’t see coverage in other publications as evidence that they should start covering the story. In my case, I usually ditch any idea I had to write the story, unless the other coverage seems off, in which case I feel it’s time to do a “more balanced look”, which is journalist-speak for writing something the PR people will inevitably hate.

The If You Won’t Write About Us, We’ll Find Someone in Your Company Who Will Gambit This is one of those sinister ones, where PR firms cut a deal with a journalist to give them the scoop. It’s usually along the lines of “We’ve got this great story/product/event/announcement/report and we’re happy to share it exclusively with you if you publish it”. I try not to get involved in these. First off, because I’m allegedly a columnist, I don’t need scoops, but I also don’t like the implicit compromises that come with it. Mainly, I feel as a journalist you’ve already become hostage to a PR company’s agenda. They want something out in your publication and you’ve agreed to provide it. I’m too prickly to go along with that, most times. Sometimes these compromises are explicit. The offer often comes with a threat: “We need your response by such-and-such a time, or we’ll take the scoop elsewhere”. That always makes me bristle. (I bristle easily.) Call me old fashioned but I reckon readers deserve more than some cut and dried deal between PR and journalist.  

OK, with that off my chest, I’m now going to promise to try to be a better journalist for PR folk. There are some truly great PR people out there who try to move mountains for journalists, with rarely a thank you or even a nod of the head. They deserve better. We journalists should treat you PR people with respect and civility, and shouldn’t ride roughshod over you on our way to your clients. Actually we shouldn’t ride over you at all, roughshod or not. I just wanted to use the words “roughshod” and “bristle” in the same post. Now I have, so I can stop.

Catching the Spark

This is the week of hobbyhorses. I love sparklines though I’ve been very lazy in actually trying to make more use of them. Sparklines are simple little graphs that can pepper text to illustrate data. I went through a phase of using them a year ago on media coverage of technical stuff, the excessive online habits of Hong Kongers and a rather lame illustration (my first effort) at the rise and fall of Internet cliches.

Anyway, interest seems to be returning for sparklines. Here’s a good piece on Corante on Sparklines: Merging visual data with text  about a new utility that lets you create sparklines for your web page or blog:

Joe Gregorio took the idea and ran with it. He created a web-based utility that lets you input a series of comma-separated values from 1 to 100 in order to generate a sparkline you can add to any online text. To give it a shot, I entered the numbers of repeat visitors to this blog beginning on Monday, March 13 and ending yesterday, March 19.


How To Trace The Source of a Hard Copy

Good piece by AP on a Electronic Frontier Foundation report saying that tracking codes in color laser printers have been cracked. The report points to dots embedded in Xerox’s color laser printers that appear on the printed page, which can then be traced back to particular printers:

By analyzing test pages printed out by supporters worldwide and by staffers at various FedEx Kinko’s locations, researchers found that some of the dots correspond to the printers’ serial numbers. Other dots refer to the date and time of the printing.

This is done, AP says, to foil currency counterfeiters, but could just as easily be used by governments to track down criminals or dissidents. This is not just the typewriter trick, where a document could be traced back to a particular typewriter, or make of typewriter, by quirks in the typeface and letter alignment. Although that is a part of it: by comparing two documents it is possible to conclude they are from the same printer, which would poleax a suspect accused of being behind a document just by printing something from their printer.

But although the article doesn’t mention it, I assume these tracking codes could also allow people to track down a suspect, by looking at the serial number and following the distribution of that printer. Unless the purchaser chose to cover his tracks, it shouldn’t be too hard to trace the printer through the country, town, retailer and credit card receipt. (With the time stamp included, it should be possible to track down the customer even if the end user is in a public printshop.) I’m guessing here, but it all seems plausible.

It’ll be interesting to see where EFF goes with this. Me? I’m no dissident but I’m not crazy about anyone being able to trace back what I print out.


The Moleskine vs The Alwych

It arrived too late for the column, but there’s an alternative to the Moleskine that has its followers: The Alwych.


The blurb on the website describes the notebook thus:

‘ALWYCH’ books have a unique strong, flexible and highly durable ALL WEATHER cover.
The pages are section sewn for strength, before being welded into the cover.
The ruled pages are printed on light cream paper, this increases the opacity of the pages substantially, compared to ordinary white paper.

Indeed, they are well-crafted and worth a look, though they lack the pocket, the elastic band and the bookmark tag of the Moleskine. They are, however, made in Scotland, which has to be good news. 

Update: Microsoft Deny Bursting

 Here’s Microsoft’s take on the Burst.com case I mentioned in a previous posting. Would the correct version please stand up? In a nutshell it comes down to the question: did Microsoft deliberately erase weeks of emails from all servers and backups related to the case?
Winnet.mag quotes a Microsoft spokesman as denying that a judge ordered Microsoft to turn over “missing emails” and said that Burst.com’s account of that part of the trial is inaccurate and groundless. “Their fundamental premise, that there were missing emails from a specific period of time, is simply wrong. [At the hearing, we] discussed a routine discovery issue arising from the fact that not every email sent or received gets saved. [The judge] simply directed us to do a more thorough search of our backup files to search for any emails that, as a matter of business routine, were not saved elsewhere.” This is either spin out of control, or Robert X. Cringely’s version is wrong.

Info: More Memory For That Old Machine In The Attic

 From the Obscure Info But Store It Away Because You’re Bound To Need It Someday Dept comes an interesting service: new and legacy memory for desktop computers, notebooks, servers, workstations, laser printers, digital cameras and palm-top computers.
Memory4Less uses a state-of-the-art user-friendly website featuring the “Ultimate Configurator” and “Advanced Search Tools”, which sound exciting in their own right, to help you find your memory.