MonthJune 2006

Singing along to smoke alarms, and other deaf pursuits

Want to delight a deaf child? Stand them next to a smoke alarm and turn it on. Loud? To you, yes. To them, audible. baby3 loves that game. And afterwards, he likes trying to imitate the noise.

He’s getting better at hitting the pitch and he doesn’t do badly for volume either. Wow. It is noisy.

OK, so now we’ve got a “switch-on” date for baby3, in the middle of July. (Interestingly Tom, whose father has written about his child’s recovery from meningitis and subsequent implant, has almost the same day for switch-on, despite having been implanted a few weeks later. Difference? Tom is about six months older than baby3; had language already; and received his implant from the team at Nottingham, rather than Cambridge. Nottingham is the pioneering centre in this country. One wonders what led to the differences. I suspect that it’s better to re-acquire language sooner; but that if you’ve been deaf since birth, a week here or there won’t make much difference.

However the months and years do make a difference, as this Eurekalert article on the benefits of early implantation demonstrates:

“Bye-bye, bye-bye,” said one 3 and a half-year old child, born deaf but with a cochlear implant that partially restored hearing nine months earlier. That’s the most complex speech the child uttered during a testing session that involved play with a toy train set.

In contrast, a child of the same age who had a cochlear implant 31 months earlier made more sophisticated statements: “OK, now the people goes to stand there with that noise and now — Woo! Woo!” and “OK, the train’s coming to get the animals and people.”

The testing session was part of research that indicates the earlier a deaf infant or toddler receives a cochlear implant, the better his or her spoken language skills at age 3 and a half. The research was conducted by Johanna Grant Nicholas, Ph.D., research associate professor of otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and colleague Ann E. Geers, Ph.D., from the Southwestern Medical School at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The centre visitor came along the other day to give us a dummy external processor, so baby3 can get used to having it on for a week before the real one is activated. Experimentally, we put it on (it’s weird; the coil finds its home, in that self-navigating way of magnets); he was completely untroubled, running about playing peek-a-boo delightedly, not noticing it. Since there’s nothing actually stuck in your ear – a big contrast to hearing aids – it does mean that children are less troubled by them. I understand the sensation: I’ve repeatedly tried in-ear headphones that block out external sound. I end up feeling like there’s a worm in there, and it’s all dank, and also with my ears ringing – somehow I set the volume too loud in a way I don’t with earbud headphones.

The centre visitor watched baby3 running around and squawking delightedly. “I think it’ll be like turning on a tap,” she said. We’ll wait and see.

And it’s lovely to hear from you too: letters we’d rather not get

Do we just get the readers we deserve? Or is there something about writing email which disguises green ink? Or what?

Here’s some extracts from a couple of emails we received at Tech this week. One began:

Oh dear. Not for the first time reading ‘Technology’ in recent months, I am struck by how some of your writers, while posing as knowledgable on an issue, are exposed as being woefully ignorant. XXX… cannot help conceal inadequate understanding of the subjects!

(middle bit snipped)

…Having established last week that preferment within the journalistic profession nationally in the UK is more on the basis of attending the right private school and university, or on daddy having the right friends, perhaps in the case of ‘Technology’ at least the Guardian should look more towards WHAT their contributors know than who they know in the future?

While the writer had made some good points in the letter, the opening and closing paragraphs just suggested someone who wanted to get one over – without any cause, since there’s no suggestion that the writer has benefited from “friends”. Instead they’re someone who (a) writes good copy (b) gets good interviews (c) delivers to deadline. I don’t know what school they went to or who their father is.

Which made the letter’s opening and closing all the more unpleasant, in fact. People lose their minds a little when they get behind a keyboard. It’s the downside of having a readership that pushes back. Sometimes they have mental halitosis.

Then there’s the other – the full-frontal attack:

I started reading the article ["The end of the death march"] but I’m afraid you lost me when you said “But for more than a decade, he [Bill Gates] has had another interest: trying to improve the lot of the world’s poorest.”

Give me a fscking break why don’t you!

At that point I knew that your article was aimed at the gullible and that anything else that followed wasn’t to be counted on.

And when you query this with them, they send back screeds about how Microsoft is a monopolist. Uh, yuh. Robin Hood was a thief so he could give to the poor. There’s a wonderful irony in Gates’s (and now Buffett’s) actions: the rich countries which won’t forgive debt worth billions, might see billions flowing to them from the peoples and governments of those same poor countries whose debt isn’t forgiven. It’d make a Supreme Being chortle.

How I learnt to stop worrying about reinstalling Tiger and stopped the March of Doom

My previous post, about my weird hassles with my entire machine, prompted a lot of interesting comments (thank you all). But I still had the nagging feeling that it must be simpler than reinstalling the whole damn shooting match – and that I had come across a solution to the problem somewhere in my online wanderings.

Well, I think Appleite had it right – “don’t be so quick to jump to the “I have to reinstall the OS” conclusion. That’s a Windoze user’s response to everything, and has no business in the Mac world.” Hell, no.

I was puzzled by the fact that my Disk Utility checks of the disk kept announcing
Nesting of folders has exceeded the recommended limit of 100
Well, I kept thinking, I ain’t me. I never nested no folders. Could you maybe give me just a little hint where this super-nested folder is? And then it would conclude with
1 HFS volume checked
Volume passed verification
Volume needs repair

Right. You figure it out. Passed, or needing repair? So I Google this “Nesting of folders has exceeded the recommended limit of 100” thing and found someone who had had the same problem, and who discovered (through a shell script) that the answer was a program called Vapor, which for reasons nobody understands contains a copy of the app itself in its resources, and in the resources folder of that app is a copy of the app, and in the resources folder of that app is a copy of the app, and… (If you’ve got a copy of Vapor, control-click on it in the Finder and select “Show Package Contents”. Then keep going. Hours of fun.)

It’s a wonder the machine got any work done. It must have thought it was living through The Matrix or something. Hey! Machine! What are you searching? Oh, it’s a folder in a folder in a folder in a folder in a folder in …. huh? You said something?

So I zapped Vapor. (I’d not used it since downloading it some time in 2002 and discovering that I’ve got no use for VPNs.) Boom, it’s gone: empty Trash, run Disk Utility:

1 HFS volume checked
Volume passed verification

Now things happen a lot faster. Spotlight actually searches, rather than drumming its fingers on whatever virtual table it has up there. But something was still bugging me about the March Of Doom, when apps would all just stall – “not responding”, in the Activity Monitor lingo – and never return.

In my searching through my browser downloads folder (849 items at last count), I came across something I’d downloaded but not quite had the courage to install: unlockupd.

And there’s the documentation:

Unlockupd works around a bug in lookupd, a system service which is required for proper operation of Mac OS X. If lookupd fails, the system quickly becomes unusable. Unlockupd periodically checks lookupd’s status and forces it to restart should it fail.

Oh yeah? What happens when the bug strikes?

Lookupd has a bug (rdar://3632865) in its cache cleanup code that causes it to randomly crash. CrashReporter, the system crash log agent, does not properly handle lookupd crashes, and as a result, when lookupd crashes, the process is not terminated. Since lookupd has not terminated, mach_init does not respawn lookupd. From this point, any application that attempts to access lookupd, either directly or indirectly, will hang.

Once lookupd stops responding, it becomes difficult, but not impossible, to recover the system to a usable state. One technique which works, but is not recommended (for obvious reasons), is to leave a root shell running and `killall -9 lookupd` when it becomes obvious that lookupd has died (sudo does not work, since it requires lookupd’s services, as does opening a new terminal window).

Can’t generate a new Terminal window? Wow, that sounds just like the problem I had. And you say unlockupd (geddit?) can cure this? Sounds good.

The only thing that’s stopped me installing it right this second is that I downloaded it last September, and I’m not online as I write. So I’ll check whether (a) there’s been a fix to that Radar bug – I expect not.. and (b) there’s a new version. And then, let’s install. And hope it ends the March Of Doom, on my screen at least. Let’s hope your problems can be solved as easily as binning a recursive folder and installing a bit of code that watches some other code.

Postscript: there doesn’t seem to be a way to find out if a particular bug has been cleared. Durr. There’s no new version. But from this description at Dreamlight -

1. You’re surfing the web and the page you are on fails to completely load
2. No further pages will load in your browser
3. You can switch to other applications that may already be running and save open files
4. You can no longer launch any additional applications, their icons will bounce in the dock for a while and then they will just stop bouncing
5. You can no longer use any other Finder functions
5. You can no longer use command-option-escape to force quit
6. You can not log out, restart or shut down

- yup, that’s the good ol’ March of Doom. Now begone!

Oh, screw it, I’m going to have to reinstall Tiger. Sod it, sod it, sod it

I’ve had this Powerbook since February last year, in the course of which I did a complete reinstall (on the first day – that was with 10.3) and then did an upgrade install of 10.4, aka OSX “Tiger”, when I got an – well, the – early review copy.

I’m starting to think that upgrade installs are a Bad Idea. Or else that something has got really screwed up in the past year or so.

Item: my wife’s (formerly my) 5-year-old iBook is on 10.3.9. It’s a 500MHz G3, running Eudora, Safari, Word, a few things like that. It wakes up and goes to sleep like that. Open: awake. Shut: asleep. No muss, no fuss.

And in the red corner, my 1.67GHz G4 with 1 gig of RAM (two 512MB chips, if you’re going to really enquire). I run Camino, Eudora, NetNewsWire, MarsEdit, Word, Address Book, VoodooPad, iCal, Preview…

I close the lid: there’s at least a 10-15 second delay before it goes to sleep. Sometimes longer. I open the lid: sometimes the screen wipes and it seems to be having a think before we come back. And there’s often some more musing on the machine’s part before we’re ready to do battle. Call it 30 seconds from opening the lid to being ready for business and you’re probably right.

Now, I’ve complained before that NetNewsWire and MarsEdit are resource hogs: NNW because I keep a lot of old articles; MarsEdit because it just seems to be a resource pig that refreshes web preview pages and part-pages that were fine unrefreshed, thanks (and on which you’ve clicked “Don’t refresh”). The folk at Ranchero know about the latter problem. A fix may be in sight, but not to me. (And while I was writing this MarsEdit lost all my shortcut settings for putting HTML tags in. This is just insane behaviour. Unless I somehow managed to press “Reset All”, which is not the sort of thing I’d try to do ever. Even if I’m considering a Reset All on this machine.)

That could be one cause of the delay. But more stuff is happening too. For example, from time to time applications hang all over the place, and there’s no recovery. Right now there’s a group including Camino, Mail, VoodooPad Pro (I’m testing the beta; it’s great), iCal, MenuCalendarClock and VoodooPad (stable version) which are all sitting in Activity Monitor, which declares that they’re “not responding”. Arse. I’ve got pages in Camino that I really don’t want to lose by force-quitting.

What makes this more annoying is that I had exactly this problem earlier today, when a whole bunch of other apps all just gave it the thousand-yard stare. Camino wasn’t going to do anything more. I couldn’t even launch Activity Monitor to find out what was hung; it bounced a few times, sat in the Dock but never came to life. “Can’t contact AppleSpell”, Mail said plaintively, in between giving me the SPOD. I had a Terminal window open, but couldn’t create a new one. Force-reboot was all that was left; even pressing the power button and pressing “Restart” didn’t work.

So that’s twice in one day that I’ve had a big crash, and in both cases it’s lost me work in progress. I’m starting to think that something in 10.4 has got badly futzed up somewhere along the line. Problem is that there’s only one way to properly fix that: back up, wipe, reinstall.

Oh nooooo.

Here’s why I don’t want to do this.

  1. I have tons of apps in /Applications which aren’t Apple ones. Which means (a) moving those all to a special folder and backing that up (b) getting all the licence details out of /Preferences and /Application Support. Argh.
  2. Backing up my home folder is going to be one of those hellish processes that will take forever. Even though I’ve moved all my music out, there’s still a ton of stuff in there – 29 gigabytes. Which means it’s too big for any attachable HFS+ disk I’ve got lying around. (Although.. hang on, 15GB of that is ripped DVDs from DVDs I own. OK, so 14GB. That’s closer to manageable. Though only just.)

  • That’s not all: there are other users on this computer. They’ve got their files and settings. Not huge, admittedly, but still there.
  • There’s a huge folder of browser downloads, which I put in “Shared” – which the Finder tells me is another 5.78GB.
  • It’s going to take an age which I’d rather spend doing, well, pretty much anything. Back up all the data in a manageable fashion, check it’s been backed up – and all backed up – wipe the machine, reinstall the software you’re missing, reinstall the users, futz about with permissions, try to get MySQL and PHP and Apache set up as they ought to be – did I remember to back up those databases and their data, and the settings files? Hmm… – and then I’m theoretically back in the place where I shouldn’t have had to do all this anyway.
  • It’s such a dread-full process even thinking about it that I’d much rather hear someone tell me in a lazy comment that it’s perfectly simple, this is a known bug in lookupd or configd or some other piece of Unix underpinning that can be fixed by a quick bit of bit twiddling. God, I hope so. The alternatives are

    1) have machine that craps out occasionally for no obvious reason
    2) have machine that has consumed huge amount of time but might still crap out for no obvious reason.

    One thing I do know about my wife’s iBook: I did do a clean install of Panther on that. I backed up all the data and so on and did the move. In those days I had so much time….

    (Postscript: all the time I have been writing this post – about 40 minutes – those apps mentioned above have been hung. I tried force-quitting Address Book and restarting it. It starts – but just goes into the SPOD. Same with VoodooPad Pro. And VoodooPad. Apps that weren’t running before start fine. Apps that were hung stay hung. What the hell is that about? Something not releasing? It’s infuriating. It feels as though the whole thing is just succumbing to digital cruft, heading into a spiral .. oh, hang on, Proteus (an IM app) started up but now is “not responding” too. I might have to save this post to stop it disappearing up some sort of “not responding” fundament.)

    Post-postscript: I’ve had to restart the whole thing (and now MarsEdit’s shortcuts have come back. I feel ill..), because apps that I quit wouldn’t restart. Then I had the bright idea of looking at the console.log:
    Jun 19 17:26:51 Charless-PowerBook kernel[0]: AFP_VFS afpfs_unmount: /Volumes/Technology, flags 524288, pid 39
    Jun 19 17:26:51 Charless-PowerBook KernelEventAgent[39]: tid 00000000 found 1 filesystem(s) with problem(s)
    Jun 19 17:30:06 Charless-PowerBook ntpd[269]: sendto(17.72.133.42): Can't assign requested address
    And that’s pretty much when the troubles started – this evening, at least. Which makes it all seem like the system got very, very upset when I pulled the Ethernet cord out rather than pressing the “Eject” icon on the screen at work (the link to “/Volumes/Technology” went down, see). Which seems pretty rubbish to me: can’t this system withstand a loss of network? Sometimes I wonder if some of these apps aren’t so determinedly network-aware that if there’s not a network there they go into a complete tizz.
    Doesn’t stop me suspecting I’m going to have to reinstall the whole dawg, though.

    After meningitis, cochlear implants seem a doddle; but watch out for those slides

    • The luckiest of the unlucky
      After spending 22 days in hospital following Tom’s meningitis (a stay that included a coma, grave warnings about prognosis and more anguish than I care to dwell on) three hours of surgery is a walk in the park. Well, maybe not that easy – there is no fun to be had being an anaesthetist’s accomplice – but within a few hours Tom was being thoroughly entertained by his grandfather and was getting distinctly fed up about the lack of biscuits coming his way.

    Now it’s Implant Day + 3 and Tom is as cheerful as we’ve ever seen him. The wound from the implant is almost laughably insignificant (my father did more damage to himself during a contretemps with his garage door), we have had to administer no analgesia and are having to convince people that this is the boy who has experienced two months of sheer awfulness.

    You know you’ve been through hell when an operation that leaves a six-inch scar feels insignificant. The ‘Tom’ of the blog is a 20-month-old previously hearing child who survived meningitis in April. Nice to know he’s doing well. It’ll be really interesting to know how he reacts when the implant is activated – known as “switch-on” day. One doesn’t expect fireworks, literal or metaphorical, of course.. (Seen at My Son Tom)

  • And now, here’s a headline for Google: Engineers hope to provide smooth slide for kids with cochlear implants. (Photo: Washington University of St Louis; sourced externally. Used here because I’m media, and it’s news – stuff I care about, stuff I want to pass on. So nyah, Mr T&C webpage.)
  • Still, a great intro:

    For some deaf children, a plastic slide is a more formidable foe than the school wedgie-giver.

    The reason: static buildup. It zaps the external processor.

    A useful paragraph explaining what a CI is:

    Cochlear implants, often referred to as bionic ears, help provide a sense of sound to a profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing person. The costly surgical procedure invites a doctor to wind an array of up to 22 electrodes through a diseased cochlea, the part of the inner ear that sends electrical impulses to the brain. An externally-worn speech processor filters sound, selecting and prioritizing tonal frequencies specifically for its wearer, and sends it to a magnetic transmitter behind the external ear. The internal device, then, perceives the processed sounds after the transmitter sends

    them by electromagnetic induction. The catch? Once the device is implanted in the cochlea, the patient submits to total hearing loss when their unit is switched off or malfunctioning.

    Very fine – though (1) it’s not a “diseased” cochlea; often it’s simply defective (2) what’s with the passive voice? “The surgical procedures invites a doctor…” “The patient submits to total hearing loss”. It’s like a report in my local paper the other day: “The motorbike was in collision with a brick wall.” Unless the wall was on the back of a truck, it’s pretty clear that the wall didn’t swerve out in front of the bike. Saying “the motorbike collided with a brick wall” doesn’t assign blame to the driver, just states what happened – unlike “the motorbike collided with the other car”, which would imply the car was not at fault. It should be “the doctor [tries to] wind..” and “the patient experiences total hearing loss..” Anyway.

    The speech processors aren’t zap-proof. Their smarts can scramble if a wearer removes her sweater too fast or slides down a high-voltage-generating plastic slide. When a child discharges the electricity by touching something-like a fellow slider – the processor temporarily loses function. Restoring hearing requires an inconvenient visit to an audiologist to have the unit reprogrammed.

    “The kids who have cochlear implants are told that if they want to go to the playground and go down the plastic slides like the other kids, they have to take off their speech processors,” Morley explained. “So then, of course, they are at a disadvantage on the playground because they can’t hear.”

    And a useful stat:

    Nearly 100,000 people worldwide have restored functional hearing because of their cochlear implants. About half of those people are children.

    Compare and contrast the Wired story on the same topic:

    By hooking sensors to children as they slid down slides in St. Louis and Tucson, Arizona, the scientists found that children easily built up 25,000 volts of electricity, the limit of the measuring devices.

    “That’s a pretty good lightning bolt,” said study lead author Bob Morley, an associate professor of electrical and systems engineering at Washington University.

    Plastic slides are such a strong generator of static because large parts of the body come in contact with the surface area, causing electrons to be rubbed free and cling to the kids, Morley said.

    For the time being, however, children with cochlear implants should stay away from plastic playground slides. (Metal slides don’t pose a great risk — at least one playground designed for the disabled has installed them to protect implant-wearing kids — but they get hotter in the summer.)

    Except, as someone pointed out to Wired, you can simply take off your external processor. OK, you won’t be able to hear, but you’ll still be able to play, right?

    Neenaw: “999, which blogger do you require?”

    • Nee Naw – Blog of a Dispatcher in the London Ambulance Service’s Control Room
      I did derive some pleasure from telling the maternataxis/toothaches/crying babies etc things like “Sorry, we’re extremely busy, and we have to give priority to genuine life threatening emergencies. You could be waiting some time, if not forever” but I hate, loathe and despise telling genuine callers that they are not getting an ambulance right now because they are all out dealing with silly football fans who can’t handle their beer. The people that were really suffering were the Assist Onlys – that is, old people who have fallen over, can’t get up, and need an ambulance to lift them and check them over. They aren’t a priority, because they aren’t seriously injured, but I just hate to think of old people languishing on the floor, alone, scared and helpless.

      The sort of insight that I would have killed for back when I was writing about the LAS (London Ambulance Service) computer flaws. But this is simply great reading too. (Spotted via Fraser Spiers)

    Save the planet before it shrugs you off

    • Gavin Shearer (he’s a Microsoftie who does Macs) has read “Garbage Land”, by an author who followed where all the stuff she put out for the bin men in New York actually goes:

    Toward the end of the book, Royte writes:

    If we have a garbage problem, it is that landfills and incinerators make it too easy to get rid of things. Burying or burning waste only spurs more resource extraction to make more products. Our trash cans, I believe, ought to make us think: not about holes in the ground and barrels of oil saved by recycling, but about the enormous amount of material and energy that goes into the stuff we use for an instant and then discard. Garbage should worry us. It should prod us. We don’t need better ways to get rid of things. We need to not get rid of things, either by keeping them cycling through the system or not designing and desiring them in the first place.

    Here then is how you get people to recycle more: (1) have less frequent rubbish collections, but more frequent recycling collections; (2) sue the hell out of anyone who flytips. They’ll leave clues. Follow the clues – letters, cards, stuff like that. People who are so lazy they flytip will also be so lazy they’ll leave those sorts of clues.

    He also went to see Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, about which he says

    I just watched a film that discusses, with great frankness, the very real possibility that Earth will no longer support our species by the coming century.

    The same thought had occurred to me this afternoon; I wondered if I was really preparing my children for life as it will be. If scarcity becomes more common (if you see what I mean), what happens to the social contract? Or as Shearer puts it:

    we’re talking about the future of the species, here. Some petty little extra 2% return doesn’t outweigh the rights of hundreds of millions of people not to get flooded out of their houses as the sea rises. (Send my regards to Wall street.)

    (Seen at Gavin Shearer (MSoft, Mac))

    Hey, come meet our new bozo… why not at the football, eh?

    Chris Edwards is somehow channeling my thoughts. It feels weird, though possibly weirder for him… in

    Some guy’s in town to tell you something or other

    Picture this. You’ve just been told the CEO of your client is flying over for a few days and wants “to meet the local press”. What do you do? Do you find out which particular things this CEO wants to get off their chest, and use those as teasers to encourage people to turn up with questions? No, don’t be stupid, you send out invites like this (I copied out a real one and changed some details to hide where this one came from, for the simple reason that the one that arrived today was no better or worse than any others of its kind.):

    Jim Smiggins, president and CEO of Big Software will be in London on June 14th through 16th and would like to meet with you.

    Aw, that’s nice, flying all that way and he wants to meet me. Oh wait, that’s a lie. He’s got no idea who he wants to meet. This is a form letter. Don’t get carried away. Actually this is not the problem with most invites of the kind. This next bit is:

    The meeting offers a great opportunity to find out more about Big Software, the latest developments in the big software market and the latest products, which are to be launched on June 12th, which are particularly relevant to big-software customers in key verticals such as automotive, industrial and finance.

    Fantastic. I can hardly wait. I can go along and get the death-by-Powerpoint on how the company is going to dominate the big software market, or something.

    These days, if I want to find out more about Big Software, I can go to the website. What I want to know is why I should care. And that means working out whether readers will care what Smiggins has to say. If it’s just a sales pitch on why big software rocks, that’s unlikely. They too can go to the website.

    He gets it just right on how so many PR “pitches” introduce stuff and people that’s not news – you don’t care about them, and you don’t feel like passing any of what they say on.
    Personally, I tend to ignore invites like these completely. If someone can explain what is unusual or contentious, that’s more interesting.. or if they could point me to the would-be interviewee’s blog, which might prove insightful, and instantly give me more to talk about with them.

    In a related vein, since it’s somehow simultaneously the time of year for pretty much all the below, I might as well point out that I’m completely uninterested in coming to watch (a) football matches (b) rugby matches (c) cricket matches (d) golf matches (e) tennis matches – I used to watch pro tennis as my principal journalistic pursuit, and unless you’re John McEnroe or Steffi Graf, there’s barely anything you can tell me about what’s happening in a tennis match that I won’t have seen 10 or 50 times before, or have asked the winning/losing players (including McEnroe and Graf) a few dozen times myself. With all the others, I’m just not interested. With football, I’m actively uninterested – I’ll make efforts to avoid it.

    Though I still await the day when a PR rings up and says “We’re organising a weekend’s rock climbing with our clients in the Peak District/Llanberis Pass/Pembroke – do you want to come and meet them?” Strangely enough, that’s never happened. Not enough executive boxes, I guess.

    (Seen at Hacking Cough)

    The best definition of “news” I’ve ever heard

    I’ve just been to a two-day seminar which was discussing what happens to journalism in a world (say, ten years hence) where everyone is always connected: with bloggers, “citizen journalists” (sooo emphatically not my phrase, or favourite phrase) all around, will hacks be able to make a living?

    It all happened under the Chatham House rule (you can say what was discussed, you can say who was there, but not who said what). Anyway, here are some facts I learnt, in no particular order.

    1. Knife deaths may not be rising, but that’s because emergency doctors and surgeons are better than they were before at preventing life-threatening injuries turning into deaths. So in fact, there is reason to be concerned about knife attacks; it’s not a media invention.
    2. Some eyewitnesses (shall we say ‘citizen journalists’?) said that they saw a man being chased into Stockwell tube station in a padded jacket and jump over the ticket barrier. Subsequent reports suggested this was the man who was shot, Charles de Menenzes. In fact it was one of the pursuing police officers.
    3. Motorola sells a ‘kosher mobile’ in Israel. (No, you don’t eat it.)
    4. An error in the available length of a field for typing in the name of a country led to death threats and a huge problem for Motorola in 2001/2. I won’t go into it, but you can read about it here.
    5. “News is stuff that I care about, and stuff that I want to pass on.”
      This is one of the best definitions of news – as individuals perceive it – that I have ever heard.
    6. “News is stuff that you think people will pay attention to.”
      A (slightly less good) news producer’s definition of news; less good since that definition could also include advertising.

    OK, perhaps it’s not a lot to show for two days, but “stuff that I care about, stuff that I want to pass on” is a magic definition. And the person who said it remarked “I’ve never thought of it before.” It was an off-the-cuff remark in the course of a short speech.

    No, Jeff – print is where books go to be embalmed. There’s a difference

    I’ve been troubled for a couple of days by Jeff Jarvis’s latest column in MediaGuardian, which was headlined “Books will disappear. Print is where words go to die“, which essentially riffs on the points Kevin Kelly has been making in the New York Times. (Jarvis makes the same point on his blog post, which has more links.)

    Sorry, but even though he gives himself wiggle room by saying

    I’m not proposing that every book would be enhanced by adding functionality; fiction, especially, is best delivered one-way and on portable paper

    I just can’t buy the idea of books being sucked up into the motherlode of the Net, in the manner of a drunken redneck being uplifted by passing aliens seeking some sort of impregnation.

    I realise that it’s a bit weird for the editor of the Guardian’s Technology section – which surely is the forward-looking one that’s all ya-hoo about this stuff – to be suggesting some braking is due on stuff that appears in the Media section, which is surely that old fusty print stuff. But I’m just calling it as I see it. Ich kann nicht anders.

    First, you can’t read anywhere near as efficiently online as off. We read at least 50% faster off paper, because of the limitations of displays, and that’s not going to change until we get to 200dpi. (I wrote about this for The Independent last year.. here.)

    Next, reading online promotes a sort of attention deficit disorder. Do you really hunker down to that 4,000 word piece online? Nope, you either get a PDF of it (you hope) and print that out, or you read a few hundred words, then check your email, then read some more and hey- just got an IM! – and then, oh, you know… Which is nothing like getting lost in a good book, or even well-argued scientific treatise. (For more on this, see Nick Carr’s latest post, on the difference between “active” and “passive”. Being online tends to make you “active” – which isn’t necessarily a good thing.)

    Plus, paper is convenient. And it lasts. Books survive. Shakespeare folios survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls survive.

    In the same way, most of the people who’ve lived have disappeared, been buried, vanished forever. Recall the remains of the statue of Ozymandias – two feet in the desert, and the legend “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” It’s hard not to feel that putting “books” online isn’t going down the Ozymandias route.

    By contrast, the ancient Egyptians embalmed their kings. Nothing changed. The mummies lasted. (OK, the desert air might have helped too.) Tutankhamen might have been dead, but his message survived. A book embalms (which my dictionary gives, as one meaning, “preserves in an unaltered state”) the words inside. They don’t need to be linked, because the reader does the linking, in all the synapses and neurons in their brain, when they read it.

    Does this mean I’m against putting information online? No, it doesn’t. Does it mean I’m against putting news or features or other work like that online? No, it doesn’t. It means that I think that something special does happen when you open the pages of a physical book and start reading. Trying to pretend that the Net can supplant that experience is like thinking that TV will replace radio. Millions, billions of people still listen to radio. Media don’t die. And books, since they embalm their contents, have the best chance of longevity of them all right now.