Monthly Archives: February 2005

Tinkering with Podcasting

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Benny Evangelista tries a hand at podcasting (2/28/05).

I also learned podcasting isn’t as simple as blogging. For podcasting,
you have to be prepared to do it all  —  be a radio announcer, scriptwriter,
program director, sound engineer, Web site developer and marketing agent.

But I also felt the potential power of this emerging medium. Here I was,
an average Joe with no formal broadcast training, talking into a laptop
computer to nobody in particular, yet potentially reaching an audience of
thousands or even millions of people all around the world.


Lantern Festival

There are some spectacular photos of this year’s Lantern Festival celebrations on, a Taiwanese photo hosting site. I came across these images by a photographer with the sobriquet Kangchin Shou ("Piano Hands"). While most of Taiwan’s cities held their own festivities, the nation’s official celebrations were hosted this year by the city of Tainan.

Pointed Pencil

My review of editorial cartoonist Gavin Coates’ book One Hand, Two Fingers is up at The Asian Review of Books.

Random Cell Phone Publishing

Random House has purchased a "significant minority stake" in VOCEL, according to the Associated Press. The New York Times reported that  Random House has also agreed to license two of the company’s product lines.

Under the agreements, Vocel will adapt language-study guides and
video-game tips from Random House for delivery to cellphones beginning
sometime this summer. While most information will be in the form of
text, the Living Language service will also permit users to hear the
correct pronunciations of foreign words.

VOCEL bills itself as a "publisher of premium-branded applications," whose "push technology sends interactive messages to […] mobile phones." Articles about the investment mention more mature cell phone publishing efforts in Europe and Asia.

No news yet about how the partnership figures into Random House’s plans for fiction on cell phones, which seems to have been relegated so far to more guerilla-type publishing and haphazard efforts (see 12/5/04 post "Shorter is Better"). Richard Sarnoff, President of Random House Ventures (an investment arm of the publishing house), was quoted as saying
that cell phones were inadequate for "sustained reading." (Sarnoff sits on the board of The Princeton Review, which is one of VOCEL’s content partners.) Random House Ventures’ past investments have included Xlibris (the self-publishing business), Audible (the provider of digital audio content) and ebrary (a provider of online information and retrieval services).

Memory, Meaning and Authors

About the only negative thing I can say about Stacy Oborn’s The Space in Between is that I wish Stacy would write more. Her photography-related blog is already one that I like to frequent. I cannot fault her for her pace, though, since she confessed that she tends to take time on her blog entries, a process evident in the thoughtfulness of her pieces (in contrast to my rather slapdash efforts). I was happy to see "Perfect Images, Written Photograps and the Absolute," Stacy’s first entry of the new year, a well-written essay about "memory, experience and self-hood." Wonderfully, her discussion veers towards thoughts on Roland Barthes, Marguerite Duras and Herve Guibert.

of course, not carrying pen or camera around everywhere does leave you without the tools to sometimes finish seeing the thing you were open to and only you could see, or to remember all the details of something after the moment has passed.  every writer or photographer, whatever their persuasion (and an infinite variety exist between the two points i have described above), know and have felt this.  the lost moment.  the perfect image gone forever, the beginnings of the great story lost to the overcrowded mind.

Also take the time to check out the photographs of Barthes (and his mother), Duras (and her mother) and Guibert (a self-portrait) that Stacy has posted.

I find author photographs fun. While I am more into street photography, portraiture holds even more interest when there is an excuse for me to call it literary related.  Favorite Henri Cartier-Bresson, while better known for his street photography, once put together a collection called Tete a Tete (online at the National Portrait Gallery; the portraits include photographs of writers such as Truman Capote, Carson McCullers and William Faulkner).

Cartier-Bresson is not alone when he calls portraiture "the one domain which photography has won away from painting." From the invention of photography in 1839, everyone recognized the camera’s ability to render a technically accurate likeness of a face. But in the hands of Cartier-Bresson, a photographic portrait seems transparent, as if no photographer has intervened between the subject and the viewer.

The National Portrait Gallery also has an online version of one of my favorite writers in its 1999 exhibit Picturing Hemingway: A Writer and His Time. Marion Ettlinger (Media Bistro Q&A), who made her reputation off of author photos, had her work collected in the book Author Photo. She is well worth studying for her use of natural light.

Stop and Smell the Tulips

More introspection from the traditional media on how much blogs are and are not changing how they report the news.  In "Why Blogs Are Like Tulips" (National Journal, 2/18), William Powers notes The New York Times (2/14) article
"Bloggers as News Media Trophy Hunters," which says that some traditional journalists are worrying about how heads are rolling before the fact-checking scythe of today’s blogs. Powers praises this greater scrutiny of the press but calls blogs the latest (temporary) mania. "This too shall pass."

Still, is this really a revolution? Bloggers are a fantastic addition
to the media club, but I don’t see them taking it over. So far they’ve
proven adept at several tasks: 1) bird-dogging factual errors and other
crimes that the mainstreamers are ignoring; 2) speaking in a chatty,
irreverent voice that’s refreshing after decades of stilted
establishment formality; and 3) having fun — a skill the mainstreamers
lost long ago.


What independent bloggers don’t have is the resources or, in
most cases, the skills to do the heavy journalistic lifting that the
big American outlets still do better than anyone, and will continue to
do for a very long time. You can carp all you want about the toadying
White House press corps, but we’d miss them if they were gone — and
the bloggers would really miss them.

Slate’s Jack Shafer, however, says that the Internet does not place the skillbase of the more astute bloggers as far back as Powers would like to think ("If I Had a Blog, I’d Write More Columns Like this One," (2/18)).

Blogs reconnect journalists with readers by reminding them how closely they’re read outside the newsroom. I agree with Powers that most independent bloggers don’t have the resources or skills for "heavy journalistic lifting," as he puts it. But what he misses, I think, is the fact that 1) the skills can be quickly learned by bright, well-read people; and 2) the Internet has leveled the resources playing field. Thanks to the Web and affordable databases, today’s blogger has more information at his fingertips than the best investigative reporter at the Washington Post could acquire after a week’s work at the Library of Congress.

A Washington Post article ("Hard News," 2/20) discusses what traditional newspapers have been doing to battle their declining (print) circulations. (Online) readership actually continues to increase, but finding a way to profit on that trend continues to be challenging.

Many newspapers recognized the Internet’s combination of threat and potential early on and have plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into Web sites of their own, hoping to keep readers, even if they don’t leaf through the actual paper. In 2003, the New York Times’ Web site became profitable for the first time; last year, The Post’s Web site did the same.

But working against newspaper Web sites is the fact that the Internet has trained users that most content — including news — should be free. Users generally will pay only for specialized information, such as the in-depth financial reporting provided by the Wall Street Journal, which charges a subscription fee to read stories on its Web site.


General-interest papers such as The Post and the New York Times are playing a sort of game of chicken with each other: None wants to be the first to charge to use the Web site, fearing that users will refuse and simply migrate to a competitor whose site still is free. Papers, however, have begun using their Web sites to provide Internet-only content that gives in-depth information on everything from football to politics beyond what is available in the newspaper. In future scenarios, such content may require a paid subscription. A potential model is ESPN’s Web site, which includes a great deal of free content but charges $6.95 a month for its premium "Insider" reports. In the online news industry, this is called moving content "behind the wall."

Bulletproof Photographer

According to the South China Morning Post columnist Robin Kwong (who first saw the item in Apple Daily), Hong Kong actor Chow Yan-Fat is a "street photographer with a penchant for taking snaps in red light districts."

[…] it was none other than Chow Yan-Fat whose passion for photography recently saw him taking snaps of erotic advertisements in Portland Street, Mongkok, when several tattoed men approached him […]. "They did not know who was taking photographs so they reacted strongly," Chow said. "But afterwards they realised it was me and then they were very nice."

Better Email

Jeff Nolan writes about the functionality he wants in email. Two items from his list that rank up there for me include "better mobile integration, take email with me everywhere," and  "better spam and spyware detection baked in, 100% effective with no false positives." Although, frankly, right now I would settle for a spam filter that effectively keeps me from seeing every iteration of that email about an overseas guy who wants to send me a portion of his funds if I will only help him unblock his accounts. I’ve long lost count how many versions I have received. I was surprised to find that the so-called "Nigerian scam" actually dates back to the 1920s, long before the advent of email, according to Do the spammers think my days as a Swiss banker make me more likely to fall for the scam?

Literary Blogs, Their Online Niche

Zoetrope friend Laila Lalami is mentioned in a USA Today (2/16) piece about literary blogs.

The explosion of blogging among book lovers
corresponds with a general rise in the use of blogs among the computer
literate. A recent study by the Pew Foundation finds that 8 million
people have created blogs, a 58% jump in the past year, and about 25%
of all Internet users read them.
The online book media have grown so much that Publishers Weekly,
the book industry’s primary trade magazine, recently replaced its
editor in chief of 12 years, citing the need to revamp the magazine in
light of such competition and to tap into the public’s interest in
reading about books online.

What many blogs do better than the conventional print media is offer a sense of the global literary culture by providing links to foreign book coverage.


James Borcoman on the photography of Eugene Atget.

The adventure of seeing in Atget’s work, however, extends beyond its
formal properties to other levels, the most mysterious of which is the
appearance of the "accidental." This word is placed in quotation marks
because the extent to which the photographer is the victim or the
controlling agent is a moot point. The phenomenon of the apparently
accidental incident or of the inclusion within the frame of an
apparently insignificant object has been known to photographers since
the beginning of the medium. Some have delighted in it, others have
deplored it, and the more astute have exploited it. Oliver Wendell
Holmes, American physician, essayist, and poet, recognized the power of
the so-called unintentional in the photograph when, in 1859, he wrote,
"The more evidently accidental their introduction, the more trivial
they are in themselves, the more they take hold of the imagination."
One critic has recently put a name to it – punctum: that which
unexpectedly reaches out and pierces the viewer, thereby giving new
meaning to the image.