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Archive for December, 2006

$1 for $5 is a good deal, right?

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

My 7-year-old nephew wants to get a pop out of the machine at the store next door. He comes racing in the house with two $5 bills crumpled in his hand.

“Do you have a dollar bill, the machine won’t take these?”

I tell him that’s because you can’t buy a pop with a $5 bill. He really wants that pop though, because his next question is, “Well, do you have two dollar bills I could trade?”

I try to explain to him that not all dollar bills are created equal and if I trade him two $1 bills for his $5 bills, he will actually lose money. But he really wants that pop. Eventually, I just give in and hand over a dollar for him and a dollar for his brother (so much for the eating on $1 idea, right?)

The whole situation reminded me of a Shel Silverstein poem:


My dad gave me a dollar
`Cause I’m his smartest son
And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
`Cause two is more than one!

And then I took the quarters
And traded them to Lou
For three dimes — I guess he don’t know
That three is more than two!

Just then, along came old blind Bates
And just ‘cause he can’t see
He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,
And four is more than three!

And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
Down at the feed-seed store,
And the fool gave me five pennies for them,
And five is more than four!

And then I went and showed my dad,
And he got red in the cheeks
And closed his eyes and shook his head —
Too proud of me to speak!

Luckily, he asked me not someone who would rip him off.

Eating on $1 a day?

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

I have been poor. In fact, I’ve pretty much perfected the art of being poor the last few years of college. But, I’ve never had to eat on $1 a day, as this guy chose to do as a month-long experiment. He kept a blog of his experiences — from hunger pains to 9 cent hot dogs — that is a pretty quick read (click on the November archive link and read top to bottom).

I know I waste a lot of money eating out or eating fast food, but mostly I do it for the social aspects anyway. The Monday/Wednesday lunch crew? The weekly Chipotle runs on Sunday after the editors meeting? Ethnic Tuesdays? The list goes on.

Although I spent much of college eating one meal a day because I didn’t have time to eat more frequently. (Seriously, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I got home after midnight and considered I hadn’t really eaten that day but decided I’d rather sleep an extra half hour than think of and prepare something to eat.) I can’t imagine forcing myself to sit down and think about how I could make that one meal each day within the budget constraints of $1. I always knew I could grab something on-campus or run to Taco Bell. That was always an option.

I also have to give him kudos for donating the difference between what he spent and his normal food budget to the food bank. That alone validates the experiment and what he learned.

In some-what related matters, I also came across this posting (What the World Eats), which has photos of several families from around the world and what I surmise to be everything in their cupboards/stockpiles. It’s insightful to see how what Americans eat compares to other families in other parts of the world.

Things learned in 2006…

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

Saw this as one of the top posts on del.ico.us and thought it was worth sharing: 50 Things We Know Now (That We Didn’t Know This Time Last Year) 2006 Edition.

Among the more random things learned in 2006:

  • Cheese consumption in the United States is expected to grow by 50 percent between now and 2013.
  • At 68.1 percent, the United States ranks eighth among countries that have access to and use the Internet.
  • At least once a week, 28 percent of high school students fall asleep in school, 22 percent fall sleep while doing homework and 14 percent get to school late or miss school because they overslept.
  • The common pigeon can memorize 1,200 pictures.
  • One of the most effective ways for athletes to recover after exercise is to drink a glass of chocolate milk.

The only thing I can think of that’s not on this list… Pluto isn’t a planet after all.

Wiping the inbox clean

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
no unread e-mail here!

I just cleaned out my e-mail inbox.

An hour ago I had 397 unread e-mails. Right now? I have zero.

The e-mail notifier at the top of my screen is grayed out. None of the e-mails in my inbox are in bold. For the first time in at least a year, I have no unread e-mails to attend to when I have time. You have no idea how liberating this feels.

Although I still have 2,364 messages in my inbox, I have set up some new filters and labels to help manage the incoming mail. Over the next few days, I’m going to try and archive most of the mail, sort it, delete what’s unnecessary, reduce the number of items in my inbox and generally wipe the inbox clean.

The problem with having essentially unlimited e-mail space courtesy of GMail is that there is no incentive to keep it tidy. I want to reverse this and keep it even more organized than I do now (which with about 20 filters is still pretty organized). Perhaps my new years resolution can be keeping my inbox organized. Of course, not receiving about 100 e-mails a day from Stater listservs, editors, reporters, sources, etc. should help a bit.

Of course, there is also something depressing about having an empty inbox.

NYTimes in-site dictionary?

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

I was reading an article on NYTimes.com when I noticed something at the end that piqued my interest:


To find reference information about the words used in this article, hold down the ALT key and click on any word, phrase or name. A new window will open with a dictionary definition or encyclopedia entry.

It actually worked too — even on my Mac. I held down alt and clicked on slave to test it, and up popped just about everything I’d need to know to understand any reference made in the story. Clicking on Civil War brings up an exhaustive encyclopedia entry.

This has to be one of the coolest and most useful site add-ons I’ve ever seen implemented in a newspaper Web site. I never noticed it before, but now that I have I’m sure I’ll use it a lot.

Normally when I come across words I don’t know I just hit F12 and search on my dictionary widget. Now, this saves me the time and trouble. My vocabulary thanks you. If only books came with this feature.

Readers say the darndest things

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

The PD public editor discusses some of the uncalled for comments readers leave him and other reporters in his column today (as seen on Romenesko).

I will never forget the first time I took one of these calls. I didn’t even know what to say except to thank the caller. They teach you a lot of things in j-school, but dealing with angry callers is not one of them.

It was the summer between sophomore and junior year, which I spent as managing editor of the Stater while taking feature writing to justify my not taking an internship. I was in the newsroom at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. (it was summer and I commuted 20 minutes) polishing my feature writing story before our 8:30 a.m. class. That’s when the call came in… 8 a.m. on a Wednesday.

The entire purpose of the call was to inform me that we had misspelled received in a headline. Yeah. She called just to tell us we misspelled a word. Then she admonished me, “FIFTH graders know how to spell received,” and went on to ask “Don’t you have spell check?” I explained yes, and headlines are among the last steps in the design process before spell check. And she went on, “Well, OBVIOUSLY, someone didn’t do their job.” *dies* What do you say to that? I put on my most professional voice and demeanor and said simply, “Thank for bringing it to my attention. I’ll look into it.”

While embarassing to have a misspelled word let alone a headline, I have to wonder if it was necessary to call first thing in the morning to point it out? I still don’t know why someone would feel the need to call about it in the first place. It’s not like we’re going to run a correction for a misspelled word.

But still, as far as I know, nobody ever called and left ridiculous messages about people’s headshots (a la Kim Crow at the PD). Although, there are a few “I hate thus&so from the Daily Kent Stater” facebook groups aimed at columnists, etc. Mostly, I guess we’re just developing our thick skin, and sometimes it is kind of funny the things that set people off.

… and you better believe we never misspelled received again under my watch.

The future from the 20 under 40 helping shape it

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

As an “up-and-coming” journalist, I often look at the media world today and am in awe of the amazing things happening out there. I’m always struck by how people end up where they do, how hard work pays off and how much things have changed just in my lifetime. I’m also impressed by the variety of different methods people and news organizations are taking to try and keep up with the Internet revolution.

They say that things are changing now faster than ever. It’s true. A decade ago, the Internet was for nerds and businessmen. In high school, I was the weird one because I had an e-mail address and AIM when none of my friends did. I was one of the first with my own cell phone, which didn’t even have a color screen. By college, that had mostly changed and most people I knew had computers, cell phones, etc. Now, many of my peers have laptops, camera phones with the Internet and video iPods. This is all in a few years.

I often joke that I majored in something that won’t exist in a decade. It’s true. Newspapers on paper are on their way out. Will they entirely disappear? I’m not ready to make that prediction. I hope not. But even if they do, there’s always going to be a need for people to connect the dots, for someone with courage and know-how to uncover wrongs or share inspiring triumphs with the world. There will ALWAYS be a need for journalists committed to finding and producing the stories that matter. There’s always going to be a need to know by the public. That’s what our job is, right? Getting the information people want and need to live a healthy, happy, productive life. Getting them the facts about their world so they can make informed decisions and draw their own conclusions. Newspapers as a medium may become irrelevant, but reporters and editors with solid reputations and ethics will only be more necessary as the public tries to wade fact from fiction and sort through the ever-growing expanse of information available.

The challenge today isn’t getting that information. The challenge is finding out how people want to retrieve it and providing them with it in engaging ways that make the story matter to them. I don’t look at the Internet, cell phones, iPods, etc. as competitors. I think they’re opportunities to tell stories in ways we never imagined before.

Who knows what method will be in vogue in a year or a decade? Certainly I don’t. But I know who I’m going to watch for hints. It’s going to be the 20 under 40 on this list, who have already proven themselves adaptable and innovative, who are committed to excellence and not afraid of a challenge. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll be one of those who gets to help shape and sort out the industry’s future. That future, after all, is my future.