Vol. 3 No. 9

April, 2004




The Real News

Real News Komix





Data Miner Hell

There are days when pounding your head against the wall a thousand times will not make you feel better. It is like the transposed rage that a hunter has in his bloodlust to blow away small animals with high-caliber ammo on the weekend just to see the fur fly.

Two days in the black hole of the office world. A banker's box of pages needed to be copied to preserve a record to create more documents. Nine volumes of records to be scanned into PDFs instead of outsourcing the thousands of pages to the local copy shop with the hope that copies would return in a week. The office scanner with document feeder was collecting dust, so why not digitize the nine volumes, download the final formatted pages onto the laptop, and work from home for a change. Data mine the information with the modern tech conveniences.

The tedium of the life of a coal miner in suburbia had the repetitive whirls and grinds; pounding my head against the wall at regular intervals. The canary died more than once down the mineshaft. Any time there was a paper jam, the scanner would grist mill and an error box would pop up. Click ok, and it would finish the scanning batch (usually 25 pages or so). But the file would not open. So it was trash the corrupted file, and restart the batch. It was frustrating when a document was several batches long. When an error occurred during the last batch, all the information was lost. So, it took more trial and error to determine that like a baker, small batches of PDFs would get the information on the hard drive quicker than cursing at the ADF.

Then when opening the scans, it became apparent that the scanner was not synching properly with the final destination file format. It was defaulting to TIFF images instead of PDFs. The resolution went to grayscale and huge file sizes instead of clear black and white document images that could be reprinted. So after the first volume of misery, it was start all over again, readjusting the preferences to attempt to get the size and scale just right.

But the nine volume project turtled into a two day project. You had to baby-sit the document feeder-- it was like it KNEW when your back was turned; it would jam and make your life miserable. Has Stephen King written about an evil scanner that takes over the life of an office worker, driving the person insane? Well, I have dibs on that diatribe.

By placing the batch runs into separate file folders, it was an attempt to organize and pigeon hole possible future problems. With Adobe, it should have been possible to combine PDFs into the volume PDFs. When clicking on create PDF from other PDFs, the program said that it could not read the files. Individually, they opened! But inside the program, they could not open! I was about to open my frontal lobe with a can opener just to see if there was still blood function in the brain.

But I recalled how to stitch pages together in the older versions of Adobe. So that is what I did; I opened the first batch of a volume, then under the Document tab, selected insert pages. So I had to manually piece together each batch. It had the scan, swing the page insert, and save like a prisoner taking whacks on a rock pile for hours on end.

With the volumes each having their own PDF, a quick Get Info check, the files were huge, many breaking the 70 MB barrier. Combing the volumes into one Big Document was the final part of the project. Using the same manual insertion, the cursor would spin endlessly as the pages were attached to the end of the existing window pane. The final complete scan of all the documents was near 1 GB in size!

Now, I feared that the massive document would not open on the laptop. So I went to the Reduce File Size menu. Making it compatible with Version 4.0 Reader, the file did not shrink at all. Trying again with Version 5.0, the file compressed to a more manageable 105 MB.

To complete the mission on Day Two, computer files from two other office computers were opened. New file folders were created to place some of the original digital files. Why re-invent the wheel at this late stage of the day? So the new laptop was networked, and all the records and files were transferred to the portable. It was so late, it was not worth trying to open the document minefield. It would be better off starting fresh in the morning.


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The power of perception of the Internet hit home during this year's presidential campaigns. When Howard Dean sprinted to the early lead in the Democratic race in 2003, the national media was stumped by his rise to prominence. What was Dean doing differently? They concluded that Dean was the first national candidate to embrace the Internet as a focal point of his campaign, to get his message across, and more importantly, as a vehicle to raise cold, hard cash.

Hard money; donations from individual donors which is exempt from the massive soft money restrictions under new federal election guidelines. Dean pulled in $40 million campaign dollars. It made the other candidates scramble for attention and political donations.

But the glowing charm of the new candidate's Internet savvy turned into a reality check in Iowa. Politics, like real estate, is all local. You need old school, flesh and blood, campaign workers and local insiders to run an effective campaign. You need a campaign manager in every little precinct who knows other people who can stuff envelopes, make phone calls, hand out flyers, and spread the word of mouth. Those people are also the ones who actually vote-- and in the quaint tradition of Iowa politics, meet in their neighbor's living room to have a tea and vote caucus.

And the lack of a local presence killed Dean in the end. He had to import a thousand volunteers from out-of-state to run a last minute ditch campaign on the ground. He must have listened too much to the national media hype as being the wired candidate of the future. And when he made his concession scream on live national television, the national political pundits dropped him like an angry skunk.

Now the Deaniacs, the electronic political novices, are wandering cyberspace looking to keep their legacy alive. They are trying to position themselves as a serious element of the Democratic party. But the only image they have is their candidate in a non-serious rage.

But it did get the other candidates to ponder the uses of the Internet. Junk mail is expensive marketing. People toss more mail than they bother to read. The cold telephone call has been intercepted by the answering machine. Now call center answering machine messaging leave the candidate's voice inside the home, but with a push of a button, the message can be erased before it is fully heard. The Bush campaign has come up with the idea of sending millions of emails to their key voters. The campaign is attaching a video clip of the latest campaign commercial. Bush is targeting the email to the campaign's voting lists and swing votes. Apparently, the campaign feels that the receivers of their emails will open the attachment to view the ad. This would be pure, direct one-on-one marketing. To the marketing elite, this is like mainlining the message into the customer's veins.

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Public Comment in Leoville

In a rare moment, I will put up a comment on another person's website/blog. It was during a lunch break surfing the web that I learned that Comcast had acquired TechTV.

I was introduced to TechTV last summer when visiting tech guru, Rocky. From his Montana fortress, his satellite dish and recorder were tuned into TechTV programs. The channel was addictive television. Tech, gadgets, games, hacks, hot tech babes and humor. It was run like an unregulated college radio station. It was television was supposed to be or used to be when it first hit the airwaves in the early 1950s. It is television before the lowest common denominator broadcaster programmer mentality in advertising demographics took hold over the network channels.

Taking on the cool professor-advisor role in this college cable TV outlet was Leo Laporte. He was hosting two programs, including Rocky's favorite, The Screen Savers. So each day, this program was on our agenda.

It took several months of TechTV withdrawal after returning to Illinois. TechTV is not on my cable system. The only source of TechTV life was through its web site. So it was added to my mental bookmark. It is just not the same banter that I was indoctrinated with last summer.

So I wandered onto Laporte's personal weblog, On this site, he would give his views, tech news and commentary. He seems like a friendly wired guy.

So when I read the news about the Comcast purchase, I immediately recalled that Laporte had just signed a new contract with TechTV. I thought the timing was odd. He had been expanding his radio segments with local DJs across the country; I heard him around Christmas on a Chicago station. The subjects discussed were cool gadgets, DVD cams and flat panel/plasma television screens.

So I logged onto leoville to see if Leo had anything posted on this development. The report had alleged that Comcast purchased the San Francisco based TechTV with Comcast's channel G4 based in Los Angeles. Normally, when a Buyer buys a media property, in order to get an immediate return on investment, heads need to roll, payroll and/or production costs cut. Who would be in jeopardy? The women of TechTV had been the subject of a geek poll. There were segments on other cable news channels. Comcast must have been buying into a brand that was growing in recognition, right. But the rumor was that it would fold TechTV into its game channel, G4.

To get around the press release vagueness, I went to the comment section on leoville and typed in a question to Laporte, in effect, asking him if the Comcast purchase of Tech TV would impact his colleagues or himself. It was March 25, 2004 at 10:41 a.m. The rest of the comments after my post replied on the issue I had raised about the sale. A mention of the story hit the message boards and slashdot at around 1:43 p.m. that day. Laporte felt compelled by the rapid pace of the reporting. His next post was at 3:14 p.m. when he addressed the situation (mentioning the fact that posts and message boards had with lightning speed had jumped on the news report.)

The quick response lead to a massive reader comment section of loyal fans on the site. It is just as interesting that interactive web sites like leoville can pose a news question, and elicit a response faster than a normal newspaper story. The rapid distribution of a news item and almost instantaneous reaction, and reply posting is the great strength of the Internet. All within a matter of hours. A typical news cycle in the print media is still 24 hours at best.

The final chapter has not been written on the merger. Comcast had previously bid on Disney, which is a much bigger whale to swallow. But it will never be quite the same in the land of the free wheeling cable tech channel, or that week of TechTV cool last summer.



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Public Information on Demand

Every state and local government should have all its agendas, minutes and supporting documents on-line. There should be a law. Any form, instruction or regulation can easily be scanned and posted as a pdf file. Government is swelling in patronage soldiers and awash in money to upgrade technologies, so why not see a tangible resource in return for those tax dollars?

Everyone's whipping agency, the Internal Revenue Service, has probably one of the better government information sites. Most of its IRS forms are on-line to be either downloaded, or completed on-line. IRS publications are also on-line as a reference library. The site is divided by general categories, and has multiple search options (by keyword or by form number). The site has been constantly updated during the last few years. Several years ago, in April, the site would crash so often it was frustratingly impossible to get a form on the night before the deadline. Last year, there was no problem trying to find that odd 1040 schedule in order to meet a deadline.

The best part of the IRS site is that it is free. Many federal court circuits have incorporated the PACER on-line system. This is a pay-per-view access to court dockets and court documents. Since litigants pay court fees, and the court system is funded by tax dollars, it is hard to swallow additional user fees to access what is public information. You can go to the clerk's office and view the files for free. There should be no inconsistency in access to government records.


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Brain Splatter

There was a recent study on the effects of downloading songs avers the claim that such downloading was reducing CD sales of records. The study concluded that the downloading of music over the net, Napster et al, did not decrease the probability that record label sales would diminish. In fact, the authors concluded that the more downloads of an artist's music, the more actual records were sold in music stores. This was on the same day as I was driving home, and a BOC lyric popped from the classic rock station; it hit me that a whole generation has no idea what is a B-Side.

On a pleasant February Saturday evening, the North Michigan Avenue Apple Store was the scene of a shark feeding frenzy. The trendy chrome and glass boutique had its euro-java-hip hop college crowd filtering around the iBooks, digital cameras, and the flat panel displays. But the one area that was two deep all around was the iPod table. The people could not get enough of seeing, holding or drooling over the little cigarette pack sized music player. Another recent story on the news wires from Australia indicated that the iPods battery problem has not been solved. One person explained the failure rate as the iPod users are using their little machines too much; they are playing their tunes so much that they are killing their iPods. Was there not a song called Love Ya To Death?

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