Wednesday, December 21

Death of a language.

Two days ago, I had lunch with a former college professor who lamented the lack of interest American students and teachers show in studying grammar. He suggested our language would be irreparably harmed.

Fast forward to today when I am in line for an attraction at Epcot in Disney World, and a man next to me tells his children that this attraction is not "unsimilar" to one they just left.

Not dissimilar, nor unlike.

Unsimilar.

Perhaps the professor was correct.

Monday, July 25

On leaving Computer America...

I'd like to thank those listeners and fans who've asked about what happened to me at the Computer America show. Your concern about what might be next for me is touching. Radio is a somewhat sterile business, or at least network radio is. In local radio, you see your audience at live remotes, but Computer America stopped airing in front of a live audience years ago. Still, it was more than just a microphone and a computer screen. I always felt connected to the listeners, whether they were screen names in a chat room or voices over a telephone. I will miss you, and I hope you will give my new radio home, Into Tomorrow with Dave Graveline, a listen on Sunday afternoons.

However, this still does not answer your question. Just exactly what happened, after twelve long years? The middle part of this blog entry is something I wrote on the day I gave my two weeks notice to Craig Crossman. I saved it in draft form and let it sit for a while, but I think it's time I posted it.

The time has come to let go, and move on. When I heard Craig's voice over the telephone on the first day of March, telling me that instead of a check I would be getting my on-air hours cut by eighty percent (and my pay cut by ninety), I knew this day would eventually come. But I still don't think I was completely prepared for it.

Four months have passed and now I am ready. Finally.

What caused the break-up? I don't think I will ever know the truth. Craig gave me a reason that was largely financial. I was the highest-paid person on his staff by a wide margin, so if a financial crisis was upon him, I suppose it did make sense to cut me. Yet, as the days rolled by following the schedule change, collecting into months, and finally into several months, I neither saw nor heard anything else that would have supported the existence of a financial crisis. So I was left with only his word, which long experience had taught me to doubt.

No, I believe the real reason was that Craig needed to "take back his show." I was his co-host for twelve years, but what I did in that role changed dramatically over time. By the end, I was also the show's producer, deciding what would go into each night's broadcast, booking the guests, assigning topics for discussion, and organizing contests and promotions. I was also the webmaster, and hosted the web site on my server. While I never had any direct influence on Craig's column for the Knight-Ridder wire service, Craig often chose to write about products or services covered on the radio show. My voice was heard on the show as much as his, perhaps even more, and listeners would joke in our chat room about how it was The Mark Show. All Craig had to do each night was show up to work.

I suppose I should have seen it coming then, eh?

To be fair to Craig, it was indeed his show. He developed the concept of the show as an extension of his newspaper column, and even though that changed over time into the newspaper column covering some product or service from a recent radio show, it was still his creation -- his baby.

On the other hand, no one forced him to turn over control of things to other people. He simply did not want to do the work, especially when he could pay others to do it for him. Yet he still wanted credit as if he had done it. Ego and laziness clashed, and eventually ego won. My role in the show had to be reduced, so that his name would be the only one in lights.

So now it is time to go. Craig was clearly happy with my reduced role in the show, and he has found others willing to do the work without making themselves as prominent as I did, or being paid as much as I was. That is something he has a perfect right to do. The irony of this is, I'm not leaving as much over money as it must seem like I am.

I'm leaving over a lack of respect. For twelve years, I helped mold Computer America into what it is today. As co-host, I helped define its voice and shape its style. As producer, I designed many of the systems operating behind the scenes that make the show far more efficient than it was just a few years ago, when most things were still done by pencil and paper.

Yet, after all that, once I had been "adjusted," I was never updated on the alleged financial crisis, nor given any indication that a change Craig previously described as temporary was, in fact, anything other than permanent.

Yes, it is definitely time for me to go.


It is now nearly a month since my last Computer America show. I have joined Dave Graveline as part of the Into Tomorrow team, and I am enjoying myself completely. Dave Graveline is just the same in person as he sounds over the radio, a very warm and funny man who really loves gadgets and technology.

The Into Tomorrow audience is huge. Sitting in the host's chair a week ago, when Dave was away in Japan, I was surprised at how much pressure I felt. I have hosted hundreds of radio shows by myself, and co-hosted thousands more. But knowing that Into Tomorrow airs on more than 100 radio stations (I welcomed our 106th affiliate on that show), both the XM and Sirius satellite radio networks, and around the world to our troops over the Armed Forces radio network, I keenly felt the weight of one and a half million pairs of ears listening to me.

When last week's show was over and I knew that I had done well as the host, I felt a rush I haven't felt in years. I wanted to take a victory lap around the studio. It reminded me what I love about broadcasting: To know you've done a good show is an amazing feeling, and yet if you know that you stunk up the joint, you just can't wait for the next show so you can do better.

It keeps you coming back. As long as there is an audience and a microphone, you will just keep coming back.

And I love it.

Tuesday, February 1

Spam on the rise

According to an article published February 1st, 2005, on the New York Times website, unsolicited commercial emails (better known as "spam") now make up 80 percent of all the email carried over the internet. That's up from 50 to 60 percent, one year ago, when the much-hyped Can Spam Act was signed into law. At the time, I predicted on the Computer America Show that Can Spam would have precisely zero effect on junk email. It turns out I was right, but what I didn't predict was that Can Spam would lead to a sharp rise in the amount of junk email. Ah, the law of unintended consequences strikes again! It seems that, far from discouraging would-be junk emailers, Can Spam has made them bold by showing them that if they add a few bits of information to their worthless electrons, the message is legal. Can Spam requires bulk emailers to identify advertisements in the subject line (I'd estimate that one in a thousand junk emails I receive has this), not use false return addresses (of course, nothing specifies for just how long the return address must be valid and I'm sure none of the mailboxes work by the time you want to send your scathing replies), and must offer an "opt-out" feature where people can remove themselves from the mailing lists (we've long told you NEVER to do this, as it simply confirms for the spammer that they've connected with a valid email address). Can Spam, giving the appearance of legality to junk email, has been the spammer's best marketing tool. They can point to this law when soliciting new customers and assure them that unsolicited bulk emails are perfectly legal. Once again, an attempt to legislate morality fails. Look, stopping spam for good requires only one thing: stop buying things from emails you did not ask to receive! Spam continues because it works. In the meantime, forget about Washington D.C. saving you, arm yourself with a good antispam program, take common sense steps to keep your email message private, and you can reduce your torrent of junk email down to a trickle.

Tuesday, January 25

Picasa 2: Know what you are getting

I recommended the new Picasa 2 software on the air last week. It's backed by Google, free to download from www.picasa.com, and it's the slickest organizer I have seen yet for your digital photographs. If you've seen iPhoto, which is part of Apple's iLife 05 suite, Picasa 2 is very similar. It will find all your existing digital photographs, keep watch over designated folders for new photographs as they arrive, and display them for you in a colorful, easy to use format. Oh, and did I mention that this thing is fast? No, not fast. Fast with a CAPITAL F. It also improves the look of your digital photos with some of the smartest automatic enhancement tools I have ever used. Fast, smart, and free. Is this the perfect software? As with most things, there is one small, teeny-tiny little quirk. You see, Picasa 2 is not a photo editor. Yes, it does give you tools for improving your digital photos. You can crop them, sharpen them, add flash fill, improve the color saturation, etc. Wait!, you say, that sure sounds like editing to me. Ah, it would indeed, except that Picasa 2 isn't making any of these changes to the actual file on your computer. No, Picasa 2 is creating a database of where your digital photos are, and what edits you've specified for them. The photo you see on your screen through Picasa 2 is a combination of your original photo and any applied edits, created for you in the blink of an eye. If you want to actually change a digital photograph, you need to export the image from Picasa 2 back into a file on your computer. This includes such changes as resizing the image, by the way. Do I think it makes Picasa 2 a bad program? Heck, no. It never claimed to be an image editor, and it's not. But, I do not see any of the other glowing reviews of this program making this point: It may look like you are improving your photos, but you are not. You are improving Picasa 2's version of your photo. Why does this matter? Well, as long as you're using Picasa 2 to handle all your digital photos, I suppose it doesn't. But, if you use Picasa 2 to fix up a passel of your pics, and then you email them or burn them to CD right from the Windows folder instead of using the email and burn to CD functions provided by Picasa 2, you might be stunned to see that you've just emailed or burned the ugly original versions and not your spruced-up Picasa 2 editions. Hey folks, this is still a great tool. Just be aware of what it is and what it is not. It is a great tool for displaying your digital photos on your computer. It is not a tool for editing them, at least not without the extra step of exporting a new, edited image.