Newsgathering Now and Then

Today marks the Honolulu Advertiser’s 150th anniversary issue. In 1856 (five years after the first edition of the New York Times), a few hundred colorless editions came off the press. Today, the Advertiser can print 48 full-color pages per issue.

The longevity of newspapers in an increasingly digital age seems to be a testament of simpler times. Despite the proliferation of radio, television, blogs, RSS, podcasts, and vidcasts, the nature of informing the public has changed dramatically, yet enough things stay the same. Even with all the competition, dailies still sell millions of copies a day.

Standards developed by papers over a century ago are largely still followed today, and in many cases have influenced competing media. For example, considered the “inverted pyramid” style of writing – originally developed to cope with the unreliability of the telegraph, but now a staple of reporting found in every form of news we use today.

With news now mallable and routinely edited by the reader, it’ll be interesting to see how newspapers continue to adapt to the brave new world delivered by technology.

Flash Video is Incredible

There are times I wish I was an artist.

I missed the announcement, but Flash MX Professional 2004 is out, and the hands-down best feature is Flash Video.

Most of us are familiar with Real, Windows Media, and QuickTime – the three primary streaming video packages available today. The problem with each of these is that they play video in boxy rectangles, just like TV and movies.

Flash Video apparently is treated just like the other vector graphics in Flash, and the results are stunning. Effects like wiping in video under a pencil eraser, seamless integration with sharp vector-based graphs, and more have all been done in the few weeks Flash has been out. I visited many of the sites in the Flash Video gallery (I highly recommend the IBM and Ben and Jerry’s examples), and never – not once – did any presentations skip. That impressed me. I’m on broadband, but I’m usually not that lucky.

Of course, you need some artistic skill, which I have (some, I mean – not nearly enough), but it looks like in the right person’s hands, the new version of Flash may just be a scalpel and chainsaw at the same time.

Cron Etiquette?

Thanks to HYCW, I now have a nice way of doing delayed-posting to my blog (at least, until I decide what to use when I ditch Movable Type).

One of the steps in setting up trickle is adding a cron job to run it hourly. As I was doing this, it occurred to me that cron can put a heavy burden on a shared server.

You see, cron does its check for things to do at the beginning of every minute, and it runs everything that needs to start at the same time. People tend to schedule many tasks at the top of the hour, so it seems that you could really bog down a server by running your job during those times.

I don’t manage servers on a full-time basis, so I may be overestimating the impact. I’d like to hear what others think about this, especially if you work at an ISP that handles this sort of thing on a regular basis.

In the meantime, it seems like a good thing for everybody to run your cron jobs at an odd time. For me, trickle runs at :56 after the hour :).

Firefox 1.0 PR is Here

It’s been a long journey, but Firefox 1.0 is right around the corner. The 1.0 Preview Release was pushed on September 14th. As of press time, 502,659 copies of the browser have been downloaded by the public since then – a spectacular number to be sure, but still far below the estimated 94.16% Internet Explorer browser market share as of the middle of July.

I’m posting this in Firefox, and while it’s very similar to version 0.9.3 for the most part, there are some notable differences, most mentioned in the Release Notes:

  • Live bookmarks – Sites that advertise RSS feeds (like Waileia) can be added as a folder of bookmarks, which will update automatically. It’s a neat idea (similar to Safari’s upcoming implementation), but since I don’t use bookmarks generally, I don’t think it’ll be of much help.
  • Find Toolbar – Mozilla’s Find as You Type feature is simply extraordinary – it’s one of those simple things somebody just stumbles upon, and makes life dramatically easier. I’m not happy about the new Find bar that comes up, however. I haven’t actually done any objective analysis, but it feels slower than it was when the text showed up in the Status Bar. Hopefully they’ll clean it up soon.
  • SSL Highlighting – This is probably 1.0 PR’s best new feature. The address bar turns gold when you’re viewing a secure site, and the status bar plainly displays the host you’re talking to. A quick mouseover of the padlock icons tells you which CA signed the certificate. Browser users have always asked what the best way to implement SSL notification is, and I think the Firefox team has the right approach.
  • Popup Blocker Enhancements – It’s nice that you can now manually open blocked popups, but I don’t know how I feel about the new user interface, which looks like a direct rip from Microsoft’s enhancements in Internet Explorer released in Service Pack 2. It doesn’t feel ethical to me.
  • The theme – “Winstripe” hasn’t gotten any better since the Mozilla team blatently ignored the public’s demands and ripped Qute out of the default distribution. Luckily, Arvid is still maintaining the best Firefox theme ever as an add-on. It’s a pity I have to go through the motions of installing it every time I upgrade.

Despite my misgivings about some of the changes, I can still wholeheartedly recommend Firefox over any other browser with any market share today. You should go get it now. No, really.

The Monkeys Are No More

Webmonkey has long been one of the most consistent how-to sites on the ‘net for web design and engineering. For both the technically illiterate and IT staff making 3 figures, the site was a welcome resource. The fresh style sounds more like your friendly neighborhood geek (albeit much slower) than a typical technology how-to. It’s also very reminiscent of the Dummies book series.

Alas, Webmonkey is no more. Their parent company, TerraLycos, will be pulling the plug due to (wait for it) declining ad revenue. The remaining staff will be at SXSW on March 15th to share a toast with their fans.

I wish all of them luck, and hope that TerraLycos at least has the decency to leave 8 years of valuable resources available to the public.