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Monday, April 05, 2010

Shake, rattle, and roll

  The USGS Recent Earthquake Maps for Northern California and Nevada ( have been full of fascinating graphics for the last day or two, as aftershock after aftershock stacks up in SoCal.

I love this site, and visit it often, but... it is so FULL right now. At left: a close-up of the impacted area.

Yes, I need to refresh my emergency water supply.

Yes, I'm signed up for AlertSF at, San Francisco's emergency preparedness website.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:13 PM

Friday, January 01, 2010

Development: Hunting/Gathering -> Cottage Industries -> Mass Manufacturing -> Cottage Industries

  Bigger isn't always better.

I'm reading one of several entries in the Uppercase Magazine blog about mainstream magazines that have ceased publication (, and am doing a bit of comparing & contrasting. Uppercase is a small operation: the founder has a small team that works with her, has a great website, a small gallery and shop, an adorable line of products, and more than 900 subscribers, so she doesn't need to be solely beholden to advertisers. The mainstream big magazines that are being shut down are vast enterprises with huge offices, vast editorial departments, huge sales organizations, thick layers of well-paid business managers... The sort of model business we have always been told is best, the business we should all want to have, because bigger is better.

Yet bigger is better ceased publication months ago.

Those big publishing houses, for periodicals and for books, are supposed to be an be-all-end-all dream for all those of us who work in any medium that needs to be printed -- we know, because the stuff they print tells us so. But there is increasing evidence that this just isn't the case.


An interesting discussion broke out on an old-fashioned mailing list for specialist photographers recently on a related topic. A fellow photographer was shocked to learn that his publisher had decided not to continue publishing his textbook: he was more or less told that reliable sales of small editions/print runs were no longer worth the publisher's while, and they were going to focus on books with wider appeal for bigger print runs. The author was devastated - his students will no longer be able to buy the book he wrote - and he had no input on the decision not to continue printing it.

He proposed a letter-writing campaign to the publisher to demand that they continue to print it. This is a position that assumes that a big publisher is the best option, or perhaps the only option. He received several supportive replies for this plan.

The majority of replies were NOT supportive of this plan. Most writers asked why he should be satisfied with a publisher whose decision-makers he would never meet controlling his book, and with it his ability to teach. Two major solutions were put forward by a range of authors: small press publishing and print-on-demand. Small press publishing had advocacy from several authors who had chosen that route and had with pleasing results: in support, an actual press representative wrote to discuss their abilities, and how their small size allows them to generate competitive small runs. Since the printing requires an outlay of cash that the author hadn't planned for, print-on-demand was also proposed: POD technology allows for beautifully printed books to stay "in print" indefinitely, for little or no up-front out-of-pocket cost, though at a higher per-unit cost (since they are printed in editions of 1 using more expensive equipment).

No one really stepped up on behalf of the publisher who was discontinuing his book, so the services a big publisher may offer (editing, design assistance, distribution, advertising) weren't talked up, to the extent that is even an option. The abandoned author didn't gush about those services, assuming he had once received them.


I am telling these stories about magazine and book publishers, but there are similar stories with record companies, film companies, greeting card companies, photographic supply companies... You name it. I'm reading more and more in support of the comments I made in the Perils and Profits of Scale which is basically this: companies whose entire business model is pinned to the fundamental economics of quantity really aren't supporting most creatives and others whose primary product is quality. (Or specificity, for that matter.)

The technologies that can allow people to build a successful small business based on quality and/or specificity are maturing now. I now have a choice of POD services to print books for me in a range of formats and paper qualities; I receive catalogs from companies that will burn my music onto CDs and print up packaging for me in large or small runs, or who will sell me the equipment to do so myself; I know people who are running, or have run, small businesses using sites such as eBay or Amazon Marketplace which allow them to specialize in their area of expertise without needing to be the next have-one-of-everything, breadth-without-depth chainstore...

In an economy where more and more of us are learning that big employers aren't the safest places to plan our futures, especially if employment doesn't quite meet all of our expressive needs, having these sorts of tools is a GREAT thing.


People who like the top-down options that the big companies give them - the blond pop vixen of the week, celebrity hairstyles, top ten paperback bestsellers, Tom Cruise movies - might only be aware of these things when some celebrity turns up wearing an outfit from obscure fashion designer running a label out of her garage, or carrying a bag she found on Etsy. Inexplicably, some people I know are using new technologies to follow old-technology companies - as if CNN/EPSN/UNFUN hasn't already told you six different ways the same stuff they're going to tweet to you! But it really doesn't matter so long as the people who DO want to use these tools to sell or buy things that meet their needs can use these tools to their advantage.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:55 PM

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mainframe manipulations

  I often write about how much I enjoy Fake Steve Jobs and his blog. The blog is very often funny. It is very often pissy. As an added bonus, like so much good humor, it is quite often just true enough to be educational as well as humorous.

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs: Why IBM is in trouble with the antitrust police discusses the mainframe industry, and the trap that IBM has set for its customers: namely, that they can't ever leave the monopoly that IBM has built. Fake Steve both credits them for their business savvy and mocks them for their tech backwardness, and gets a dig in on Microsoft:
The real story here is that this is about Microsoft trying to crack the glass house. They covet the billions that IBM makes with mainframes and have believed since the 1980s that they would one day take that business away from IBM. I distinctly remember getting high with Bill Gates in a hot tub at the Alexis Park during a Comdex in Las Vegas and having him tell me he'd control that market by the mid-1990s.
We do all know that lawsuits like this brought by Microsoft-related companies aren't really about 'fairness,' right?

Also informative: 2 BILLION app store downloads - why no one can touch us, where Fake Steve points out, in his cheeky way, that Palm and Microsoft are not even in the same business that Apple is in, but don't seem to know it, and that's why they are trapped following Apple's lead.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)5:25 PM

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Technology advice from journalists, hand puppets, or both

  Compare and contrast: A Review of Apple’s Snow Leopard by Walter Mossberg at (


A review of Snow Leopard by puppet Walt Mossberg, 'the only technology journalist in the world' (shut up) (

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Oh, how I love Wikipedia

  If I had been born before photography was invented, and were permitted to pursue interests similar to the interests I have now, I probably would have been a scientific illustrator. So I love things like this: File:Haeckel Asteridea.jpg - The 40th plate from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1904), depicting organisms classified as Asteridea. (

LOVE. Love love love.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


  Data mining, in all of its forms, is a topic of some concern to privacy advocates, including me. But as an urban woman familiar with routine personal security precautions, I'm rather aware of what I post on-line, and how others could use it to locate me or observe more of my habits than I would like to generally have known.

I will sound old fashioned if I go on a rant about how easy potential stalkers have it nowadays: once, they'd have to spend hours following a person around to establish details of their habits, friends, and schedules. Now, their intended targets likely post so much information about what they are doing that they could bore a stalker to tears - and keep them from ever leaving their couch to buy binoculars.

People who would historically be outraged at the idea of anyone snooping are quite happy to post exactly where they are at nearly any hour of the day. Interview: the men who made Twitter tweet - Times Online (, 5/10/09) is a lively article explaining what Twitter is (cute summary: "e-mail without responsibility"), how popular it is... and how institutions are interested in the data. Very interested.
What was once private information is now very public and searchable. Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, has asked Twitter, Facebook et al to record all internet contacts between people in the UK as she modernises Britain’s increasingly disturbing surveillance policies. Workers who tweet are being monitored by their bosses, and potential employees are having their tweets analysed. Right now, nobody seems to mind.
Perhaps because no one is thinking clearly about it.

I am not the sort of person who worries unduly: my mother's advice not to ever have my name listed in the phone book, because just having a female name could attract stalkers, went unheeded; her advice not to list my home address beside my name in the phone book was taken. I'm not afraid, but am practical. I know that potential colleagues, employers, and friends can scope me out with technology, for better or for worse, and so I am aware of what I post.

Just think: even now someone is figuring out that (a) I like spicy food, (b) I write a lot, (c) I was a bit sensitive about those wrinkle ads, and (d) that the closing line of this entry should be read in a dry, mildly sarcastic tone. Technology has taken us so far.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 PM

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I heart Fake Steve

  I have always adored the REAL Steve Jobs. As a young geek back in... the day, let's just say, he was a vaguely religious figure to me: someone who connected the geek world to the rest of the universe by sheer force of will. The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs ( is not written by the Steve Jobs I have admired: it is written by a witty, brutal impersonator. An impersonator with a micro-engineered sharp wit.

Fake Steve has posts with titles like, Ballmer: In future, when you scream at your miserable frozen piece of shit Windows PC, it will be smart enough to understand why you're angry. After reporters from Forbes started loitering at Apple hangouts, looking for dirt on Steve, he provided instructions on how to stalk people at Forbes, complete with tips on overwhelming the unarmed, sleepy guard. And oh, the post-liver-transplant commentary! Especially the comments mocking Palm, like these:
Palm, which has reinvented itself with a business model that basically involves doing whatever Apple does, only two years later, announced today that its CEO, Jon Rubinstein, is planning to receive a liver transplant.... Palm says Rubinstein's liver will have features that my liver lacks, though they won't say what those features are. Meanwhile Roger McNamee has been posting Facebook updates saying he has seen a working prototype of Ruby's liver and it totally blows my liver away. Just like the Pre blows away the iPhone, right?
The action hero photo of Fake Steve that serves as a profile image goes well with NY Times mocking commentary such as this:
I will tell you this about iLiver 2.0: It's nanoengineered, and it kicks ass. I wake up every morning feeling like Shaft, Superfly, James Bond and Kung Fu all put together. I'm bench-pressing twice my body weight, and I am so friggin ready to kick some low-rent tabloid hack wannabe ass that's it not even funny. So bring it, Brad Stone and you other jealous, sanctimonious gits at the New York Times. Seriously. Bring your A game, you clueless, classless...
well, I can stop there.

Real Steve Jobs doesn't have the time to share harsh commentary, notes about hanging out with Bono, his plans for putting LSD into the Palo Alto water supply, or any of the other valuable insights that Fake Steve does. So it is great that Fake Steve is providing this fabulous service.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:58 PM

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Heat-induced imagery

multicolored salpiglossus sinuataImage: salpiglossus at Filoli.

I took 244 pictures today that I was able to save, and about 6 that I wasn't. I had planned to take "a few" digital camera photographs at Filoli, and then many iPhone photographs for my photoblog at There was a catch: I could "take" all the photos I wanted with my iPhone, but it wasn't saving them: when I looked at the Camera Roll, there were white squares where the photos were supposed to be: opening a white square made the Camera Roll close abruptly.

The iPhone is set up so that you can't freely transfer files back and forth from it easily, likely as a concession to various download-based services. (If you recall, Apple had difficulty finding a phone carrier, because nearly all carriers make too much money on ringtones and song downloads to permit Apple to let you load such things for FREE.) I had more than 1500 photos on the phone, and it made the camera slower than I wanted, so I used ImageCapture to remove the photos, and (apparently) some associated files. I did this last night; today, the camera couldn't remember how to save a photo.

The solution from that fabulous resource known as the Internet: restore the camera to its original "factory" settings; then take a new photo; THEN sync your phone with iTunes so that all of your backed-up personal stuff is returned. (Be sure you are photo syncing to a folder containing only photos you want on the phone.) Then all is back to normal.

Yes, this means I had to use a NORMAL digital camera at Filoli today. I had no self-restraint whatsoever during the time period before the heat overwhelmed me completely and I had to sit in the cafe, drinking iced red "tea" and eating strawberry shortcake while Steven observed at how pale I'd become.

I'm not good at dealing with heat. I'm looking over today's photos now, and I think that many of my plant abstracts are less abstract when I'm not overheating.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:33 PM

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Next, I walked uphill in the snow both ways

I was riding the Emery-Go-Round shuttle with the interim software developer for our office last night. She's a nice young woman, and we often speak on the shuttle. We were discussing software, and I opined that the tools available now are much nicer than the tools developers used to use. She asked what tools I'd used. I mentioned that I'd had an internship in McKesson's Computer and Information Services group in the 1980s, and had reviewed COBOL programs that ran on McKesson's mainframe, which wasn't ideal because I thought COBOL was too verbose and clumsy; I had used the Internet extensively before there was a web using UNIX environments, and in college was able to play with Sun's SPARCstations (running UNIX or Sun OS, though I might have said Solaris (which came later)) and NeXT boxes running NEXTSTEP (which I LOVED); and that I had a web presence (once the web's graphical interface arrived) from 1996 or so...

Her comment: "I wasn't born yet."

I laughed. She's a legal adult, and WAS born after most of this stuff was around, but it doesn't feel that way. I'd might as well be talking about the telegraph. Or about my paternal grandmother working in a telephone exchange in Ohio, taking the stereo-like (mono) plugs and manually connecting people with little cables...

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:04 AM

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