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Friday, July 31, 2009

Kodak Kills Kodachrome

Film fades and soon Kodachrome will fade from the scene forever. Yes, I am afraid, mama is goin' take your Kodachrome away. Kodak has announced the end of an era; Kodachrome film is being discontinued. By the end of 2010 the last plant processing this unique film will shut down, the film itself will be gone in months.

Its had a good run — 74 years in production. Today Kodachrome sales are only a fraction of one percent of Kodak's total film sales. For most consumers, amateur and professional, the disappearance of Kodachrome is a non-event. Digital technology dominates the market with the majority of photographers preferring digital to film.

Many will tell you that Kodachrome was the first commercially successful colour film. They have a case. But, since Kodachrome's release back in the mid '30s, there have been major advances in film technology. Chromes will still be available, they just may be better, certainly different, and no longer Kodachrome.

Steve McCurry, the National Geographic/Magnum photojournalist who shot the famous Afghan Girl June 1985 cover had this to say, "While Kodachrome film was very good to me, I have since moved on to other films and digital to create my images. In fact, when I returned to shoot the 'Afghan Girl' 17 years later, I used Kodak's E100VS film to create that image, rather than Kodachrome film as with the original."

McCurry, even though he has been an unfaithful Kodachrome lover, has been chosen by Kodak to be the photographer to shoot the last roll of Kodachrome — 36 frames — with the images to go to the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

The main difference between Kodachrome and other slide, or transparency films, is that the dye couplers, the colours so to speak, are embedded in the other film emulsions themselves — not so with Kodachrome. Processing Kodachrome was complicated, expensive, and environmentally challenging. For decades the film could only be processed in Kodak's own labs.

There are those like William Wolfe-Wylie of Sun Media who claim, "The image quality and resolution of a film like Kodachrome still can't be touched (by digital cameras)." As a photojournalist who entered the business shooting chromes and left it shooting digital, I can assure you that digital resolution surpassed film years ago, if by resolution you mean apparent sharpness and measurable detail.

The almost total lack of noise when digital images are exposed at low ISO settings contributes greatly to the perceived clarity of the digital image over film which is inherently noisy or grainy. (But oddly enough, it is in low-light-level situations where digital really shines — basketball in dark, high school gyms, rock performances on underlit stages, soccer games or baseball games under the lights . . . )

Film lovers, and film does have a small but strong following, will argue that digital can never replace film. Well, for many of us it has, but for those still in love with film there are newer, and quite possibly better films still being made. Admittedly, these films will not be Kodachrome. It was unique.

Good-bye Kodachrome. Thanks for the memories.

    This image has very little to do with the above and yet it has everything. I needed a place to put this image, on-line, so that I would have an Internet address. I needed the address in order to post the image to Canadian Geographic. Shot with a simple digital point and shoot, this picture makes the advancements in photography since the invention of Kodachrome very clear.

    The Great A&P forgot what made it great.

    The A&P sign came down today at our neighbourhood strip mall. Soon the Metro sign will go up. It seems like an excellent time to republish a post looking at the rise and fall of A&P, once the world's food distribution giant.

    While cleaning the garage today I uncovered a dusty, forgotten, cardboard box filled with ancient copies of the Reader's Digest. The February 1948 issue had an article, condensed from Fortune, entitled "The Great A&P."

    In 1948 the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company was the biggest single buyer, distributor and seller in the world of all but a few food products. A&P accounted for ten percent of the total food store sales in the United States with sales of two billion dollars, just about equal to the combined totals of their five biggest competitors.

    Back then A&P owned two huge laundries for keeping their many uniforms clean. They used so many labels, they owned their own printing plant. A&P had their own Alaskan fishing fleet enabling them to deliver, for the first time, vast quantities of fresh and frozen seafood deep into the American Midwest.

    A&P operated 37 bakeries in the U.S. and two in Canada. They baked more cakes and fried more doughnuts than anyone else – nearly 2,000,000 a day. And A&P was no slouch when it came to bread either; They baked 1,000,000 loaves a day.

    According to the Digest, despite the massive amount of baked goods produced, A&P made allowances for regional preferences: bitter-chocolate icings east of the Mississippi, sweet chocolate west; mostly white bread in the west, 25 different varieties in the east.

    Eggs were candled, graded and quickly sold at the peak of freshness. The east got medium-light yolks while those in the west were a deeper colour. Bostonians got premium brownshelled eggs while New Yorkers got the white eggs they demanded.

    Attacked under the antitrust laws in the States, even its detractors conceded that A&P's savings on mass buying and inhouse production were being passed on to consumers.

    In the early '30s the number of A&P stores peaked at about 16,000 and then the slow decline set in. In the '60s A&P retreated from the west coast, selling their stores to Safeway. In the '90s the shrivelling giant pulled out of Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Today, thanks to "Fresh Thinking Since 1859", A&P operated about 460 stores.

    By 2007, A&P, the chain that once bragged that it had an approach to business that "made deserts bloom" had dropped about 21 notches in food store standings and its days of dominance in the food industry were long gone. The few remaining stores were now all centred in the American northeast.

    The article ended by saying A&P, the great discounter, was firmly attached to "the one great principle – the selling of more for less..."

    I was but an unsteady toddler when the Digest article was written. Today, I am a retired geezer with a fading memory, but A&P’s memory faded long before mine. In 2005 Metro Inc., the successful Quebec food retailer, acquired A&P Canada. Soon all Canadian stores will be rebadged with the Metro name.

    Ironically, ten years before their sale to Metro, A&P Canada opened, with great fanfare, its first discount food store, Food Basics, designed to attract customers by offering better value and lower prices.

    A&P lost its way, forgetting that it, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, was the original discount food store dedicated to the "the one great principle – the selling of more for less . . . "

    Thursday, July 30, 2009

    Downtown London (Ont.) Master Plan Session

    I'm both impressed and wordless.

    I attended the Downtown Master Plan and Public Information and Visioning Session last night, Wednesday, July 29. It was held at Museum London and was well attended, every table rimmed with attendees and more people filling chairs or standing at the back of the room.

    I have no time to make any thoughtful comments and so I will simply stay quiet. There will be another public meeting, this one revealing the completed work, to be held in September. The city has posted information on the Downtown Master Plan Study. Blogger Brian Frank has posted a personal view of the night from the perspective of someone who works and lives downtown.

    Hope to have a more substantive post before the next meeting,
    If not, maybe we'll see you at the next gathering,

    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Hey Americans! Canadian Health Care Rocks!

    I watch a lot of television news and I confess a lot of it is American. I follow the whole Obama health care reform controversy with a smile. I live in Canada.

    A little over five years ago the mitral valve in my heart failed. I was sitting at my computer and noticed my heart beating quicker than usual. I don't usually feel my heart pounding but that day I did. I called work and they insisted I go to emergency.

    I went to the walk-in clinic near our home and not emerg. A doctor at the clinic listened to my heart and said that there was a definite problem. He wanted to call an ambulance and rush me to emerg. I refused. He said that I may have had a heart attack. I assured him that I hadn't. My dad had a heart condition. I know heart attacks. I did not have a heart attack.

    They called my wife and she came to the clinic, picked me up and drove me to the hospital. At emerg they took some blood and soon knew I had not had a heart attack. This was the good news. The bad news was that the hospital doctors all agreed something, possibly a valve, was wrong in my heart. They booked me into the cardiac institute for tests.

    Within days I was taking a stress test. I failed.

    I was booked into one of the local hospitals for an angiogram. The doctor threads a tube from your crotch up to your heart — I always knew my crotch was directly connected to my heart. The doctor injects a dye and watches how it behaves. A goodly amount of blood backed up and swirled about aimlessly with each heart beat. The doctor had confirmation; my mitral valve leaked "like a sieve."

    At the time I was in my late fifties but I had the body of an eighteen-year-old, hey this is my story, and so the doctors hinted that I might be a good prospect for undergoing the first robotic repair of a mitral valve in Canada. Ah, payback for all those years of jogging.

    My valve was repaired by Dr. Alan Menkis at the controls of a da Vinci surgical robot. The incision was only a few inches long and the scar is hidden in a chest muscle crease under my right nipple. No split breast bone. No huge scar. And I'm healthy. My valve itself was surgically repaired. No pig valve, no mechanical valve, no life-long drug regimen.

    And the cost? It was covered by OHIP, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, the government medical plan.

    I could tell you more stories. I could tell you about my fifty-year-old nephew and how he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in his teens. OHIP took care of his treatment. He wasn't my sister's only child to need expensive and very sophisticated medial treatment. Another child required delicate brain surgery. Both boys were treated successfully and my sister and her husband were not left financially strapped. OHIP covered all.

    I could tell even more stories but let's be honest, when I am done you might simply reply, "Well, we heard of a Canadian who...," fill in the blank space with some medical horror story. The problem is that my stories and yours are simply anecdotes. Newspapers and television love 'em; they put a human face to a complex problem. But anecdotal stories are not the whole story, for that we must look to numbers.

    According to the latest figures that I could find that the United States spends 1.5 times more money on health care as expressed as a percent of GDP than Canada. I understand that Americans are living longer than ever, but not as long as people in dozens of other countries, including Canada. But, we can even argue about these numbers. Even if they are accurate, what do they actually represent?

    A recent poll by CTV in Canada reported that "fifty-five percent of Canadians thought the health care system should be more public, only 12 per cent thought it should be private, and the rest thought Canada had struck the right balance between the two options."

    It is all too confusing. All I know is that I am 62, and my heart is still beating thanks to Dr. Menkis, da Vinci and OHIP. I'm happy to be a Canadian.

    Addendum: I did a Google search of the Internet and discovered that a lot of brilliant medical stuff developed in the U.S. is used for the first time outside of the States. It is not unheard of for Canada, France or Great Britain to take U.S. medical creativity and use it to chalk up medical firsts.

    As for the treatment of older folk, my wife's uncle got a new hip when he was in his eighties and his wife, also in her eighties, got a new knee. She is now in her nineties and looking at having her other knee replaced. OHIP, the government plan, picks up all costs and there is no dispute over age.

    Monday, July 27, 2009

    Newspapers, not such smarties

    When considering a name for this blog, I thought of calling it "Rockinon: Musings." In some ways, it was a better name as I write about stuff I think about, like newspapers. I like newspapers. I read them. I worked for two of them. And now, I muse over them.

    When I worked at newspapers, I just grumbled, mostly quietly—now, I blog. I get to grumble openly, loudly, and often. I've been surprised to discover that journalists don't like public grumbling. I get what I would call public-hate-mail for my innocuous observations. And now to today's small grumble. I'm sure some journalists' will soon have their knickers in a knot over this. All too weird.

    Paul Berton, editor-in-chief of The London Free Press, claimed, "Newspapers may be increasingly late to breaking news parties, but they have the advantage of getting more (if not all) the facts right." I'm sorry to tell you Paul, you're late to many stories and often wrong.

    The London Free Press can't even get a story about the changes in Smarties right. I blogged about this problem of inaccuracy before here and again here. Paul, the columns you write for the paper are all too often error-filled. You, like your staff, are spread too thin. My guess is that the paper cannot spare an editor to edit your column and we both know how important that second pair of eyes can be.

    It has been more than four months since Nestlé changed Smarties. Nestlé no longer uses artificial colouring. Their website states the improved candy was "available starting in March 2009." The London Free Press broke the news today, the end of July, in their "monday minute" column. The Free Press, in keeping with the fun nature of the column, doesn't capitalize the "M" on Monday.

    I hope the reader is having fun because I know The London Free Press staff isn't. They are stretched so ridiculously thin, as are all the staff at all the Sun Media/Quebecor Media papers, that they simply repackage a bit of stale fluff and report almost word for word the company's press-kit claims. This plagiarism is bad writing and bad journalism. Both the paper and the press release talk about "the trend to healthier lifestyles" driving the change.

    Sadly, there is actually a bit of a story here, but even months late to the party The London Free Press had no time to discover the story. Tell me again, why we need big media—like Quebecor with their big layoffs resulting in thin staffs unable to perform.

    So, what was the story missed by The London Free Press? Answer: Some colours have gone missing! Temporarily there are no blue nor green Smarties. Nestlé states on their website, "It’s proving very difficult to find a non-artificial blue." This eliminates both blue and green Smarties from the line-up as green results from a mix of blue and yellow.

    The other missed story is the claim about Smarties being part of a trend toward a healthier lifestyle. Smarties? Give me a break. Nestl
    é itself states, "Save sweet and fatty treats for special occasions." When it comes to kids and lunch box ideas, even Nestlé nixes Smarties.

    You can get 22% of your daily fat from a box of Smarties.
    My mother, back in the '50s, understood what is truly meant by a healthier lifestyle. She gave me apples, navel oranges and even carrot sticks.

    By the way, I don't get my knickers all in a knot over serving a child a few—very few—Smarties. But, a few go a long way. They are not my idea of a healthier lifestyle.


    Saturday, July 25, 2009

    Who will shed a tear for the beaver?

    A few years ago I wrote a weekly column for The London Free Press. In the course of writing the column I came across the story of how the Canadian beaver, or to be accurate the American Beaver (Castor canadenis), was introduced to the tip of South America, the Tierra del Fuego archipelago.

    Walking along the Thames River below the presently kaput Springbank Dam I noticed downed trees, their stumps bearing the distinctive teeth marks of the Canada's largest rodent and smallest lumberjack — the beaver.

    If you like wetlands, beavers are environmental engineers. If you like the world just the way it is and want to keep it that way, beavers are environmental vandals.

    Argentina and Chile share the beaver infested archipelago at the tip of South American. The beaver were introduced in the 1940s by fur traders eager to start a beaver pelt industry. Beaver fell out of fashion, beaver fur coats are no longer in, and the beavers were left to tinker away at their two most popular pastimes — dam building and family building, not necessarily in that order.

    Chile and Argentina don't always agree but when it comes to the beavers they both see them as vandals. Forests, decades old and ripe for lumbering, are being wiped out, drowned by beaver ponds and not downed by South American lumberjacks for profit.

    Hated and despised our beavers are caught in the swirling currents of angry lies being spread to support their eradication from their adopted homeland. Our beloved beaver is being compared to the plague of rabbits destroying Australia or the crayfish infestation laying waste to the Nile River in Egypt. It just can't be true, can it?

    Take the Egyptian crayfish, known as the cockroach of the Nile, they have their defenders. The abundant crustaceans eat the Nile River snail known to carry bilharzia, a water-born disease affecting millions of Egyptians. Deaths from bilharzia have decreased in recent years along the river where the crayfish are most common .

    If you have ever been to New Orleans, you know that the little crustaceans are good to eat — a Cajun delicacy. Boiling them in water spiked with Louisiana hot sauce, gives their white, sweet meat a gentle spicy heat. Six of the little tails, they're similar to lobster tails but smaller, leaves the mouth warm and longing for a cool, heat-quenching beer. We must teach the Egyptians to eat crayfish, and to drink beer. In the end, they'll thank us for both.

    And those rabbits in Australia, well there are very few people who have a good word for those bunnies, millions and millions of bunnies to be accurate. Even the fence builders, who benefited so greatly in the past from the building and maintaining of thousands of miles of rabbit-proof fencing criss-crossing Australia, had nary a good word for the varmints.

    It's ironic that the pack animal credited with making the building and maintaining of the thousand mile fences possible was the camel — another species foreign to Australia, and like the rabbit introduced in error.

    So, what of our beavers, are the South Americans enjoying hidden benefits? Or, are they just plain bad news, like the rabbits in Australia — or the rabbits in our tulip garden, according to my wife.

    She assures me the little rabbits that frequent our backyard are the reason her tulip beds are so sparse. Singing quietly to themselves, "When you eat the tulips do you eat the red ones first?" they wipe out her spring-welcoming flowers — red ones first. Honest!

    I hate to admit it but our beavers are building an environmental disaster in South America. The best I can say is that contrary to the belief the beavers having no natural predators at the tip of South America, some are claiming the crocodiles (should we say caiman) of the region are benefiting from our national rodent and have the beaver on their menu.

    The beaver, in cutting down trees and large shrubs, in damming the region's wild streams, causes large ponds to form, providing habitat for fish and crocodiles. The Argentinian national park in Tierra del Fuego may have more beaver than in the past, of course in the past it had none, but it also may have a few more crocodiles with the beaver-induced expanding crocodile habitat.

    If the beaver is successfully eradicated from the tip of South America, and that is the plan, at least the crocodiles will shed a tear.


    Home Concert Featured The Laws

    I'd never heard of home concerts. Friday night my wife and I attended one at the home of Christine Newland and her husband Walter Bietberger. Christine is the principal cellist for Orchestra London in London, Ontario. They are a cool couple and I'm not surprised that these two brought live music into their home and shared the experience with friends.

    Christine and Walter's home concert featured The Laws, the husband-and-wife singer/songwriter team of John and Michele Law from Wheatley, Ontario. Their appearance, along with that of Nashville guitarist Brent Moyer, was not a one-off, unique event; no, it was part of a movement which is opening new venues to performers. One musician remarked Friday night, home concerts beat playin' bars.

    There is a Canadian website, from the east coast, dedicated to home concerts — Acoustic Roof — but this is not simply a folksy Maritimes' movement moving west. I found references to home concerts being held everywhere from Arkansas, in the southern States, to various towns throughout Canada.

    The Laws have performed on stages throughout North Amercia and have completed three music tours of Australia. They have been featured on Entertainment Tonight Canada and the PBS series Legends and Lyrics. The PBS site compares The Laws "to some of the greatest duos of all time... The Everly Brothers, The Louvins and Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons."

    In the words of host Christine Newland, it was "an incredibly magical evening."

    And now, listen to The Laws . . . and if you only have time for one, my choice is Away about Michele sleeping in her husband's shirt when he is away. My wife smiled when Michele talked about the obvious inspiration for the song. My wife liked to iron my shirts when I was away on an out-of-town assignment, or simply working the night shift.

    Visit Reverb Nation for more of the music of The Laws and to purchase. Enjoy.


    Friday, July 24, 2009

    Something to look forward to . . .

    The sign at the LCBO, Liquor Control Board of Ontario, said, "Sale." I am always attracted to that. I never, and I mean never, buy a wine that is not on sale. Hey, I'm retired. Truth be told, I often use a box cutter rather than a cork screw to get at my wine.

    It was a small bottle of 2007 Anvers Fortified Shiraz from Australia that caught my eye. I like Shiraz — but I was not sure about the fortified kind. Sometimes fortified wines taste more of alcohol than grapes, not good. But, I picked up the bottle and read the label: "The exotic perfume, spice and blackberry flavours will develop great complexity with careful cellaring over the next 20 years."

    I translated that to mean that the alcohol and grapes would get to know each other very well given two decades of co-habitation. The alcohol would give up its individuality and cooperate with the grapes to produce a rich and coherent presentation. For this to occur all that was required was time — lots of it.

    I had an idea. I felt inspired. I bought the wine.

    Once home I did my customary Internet search. A site associated with the LCBO had this to say about the 2007 Anvers Fortified Shiraz: "This delicious fortified Shiraz displays rich and concentrated flavours (imagine the fruit-sweetness and flavours of Shiraz magnified a few times) with a slightly viscous texture. Sip it alone after dinner or enjoy it with fruit cake or briny blue cheese." Rod Phillips gave it four stars and agreed that it could be cellared, but it could be opened now, no problem. Perfect!

    I'm 62. My father died from a heart condition, as did my mother, plus many of my uncles, my father's brothers. I have had open heart surgery. O.K., it was a failed mitral valve but it was a heart problem. My grandfather and one uncle died from cancer. Using most life expectancy calculators, I am good until about 79. After that I'm on borrowed time.

    Often heart problems, and always cancer, give us a warning they are stalking us. When I get the word, "Ken you have an incurable heart problem," I'm ready. I'll head home, stopping off for some nice cheese and fine bread. I'll set the table, put out wine glasses for my wife and me, and open my bottle of Anvers. I will toast my wife good-bye and tell her how much I have enjoyed our years together. We'll sip our wine and share a grape-nectar flavoured kiss.

    If I don't get the word, we'll open the bottle on my 79th birthday, nibble fine cheese, enjoy some black, nicoise olives — they always go well with Shiraz and remind us of our time in Provence, in the south of France. We'll blow the dust off our copy of Bergman's The Seventh Seal, cuddle up, and have a toast celebrating life.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    You meet the nicest people on a Honda. . .

    Today I discovered on The New York Times site an article entitled "For Honda in America, 50 Years of Going Its Own Direction." Boring, I thought, and I almost past it by. But, I have a soft spot in my heart for Honda as I owned the biggest, the meanest of Japanese machines back in the mid '60s - I owned a Honda 305 Super Hawk.

    If you owned a Yamaha 250 back then, you are probably choking right now. "Biggest? Meanest? Get real!" Yes, that is what I imagine you are thinking and you'd have a good argument. But this is my story after all, and your bikes, with their powerful two-stroke engines did leave a lingering trail of blue smoke as we listened to the "Bwahhhhhhh" roar of your departure.

    To many my Honda was simply the big, very big, brother to those plastic marvels, the Honda 55s. Those were the scooters sold under the slogan, "You meet the nicest people on a Honda."

    My best friend had a Honda 55, and he was nice. Me, I wasn't so nice; I bought a Honda 90. It was a motorcycle and not a scooter. It was black, not red. I thought I was a biker and not a . . . , uh, whatever people who rode scooters were called. Whatever the word, I knew it had to be something derogatory. (The little scooter has had the last laugh, it is still in production on four continents.)

    The Honda 90 didn't live up to my expectations. After a year we parted company. I was moving up. I ordered a Honda 305 called the Super Hawk. This was a twin cylinder, overhead cam, 33 h.p. monster. It was black.

    When it came and we got better acquainted, there were some misgivings. It was, as the NYT's said, ". . . without flashy or distinctive styling," it defined "the leading edge of ordinary." Unlike the Yamaha bikes with their red and cream colour schemes, my bike was dull. I painted the gas tank and chromed the front fender. But a tarted up Honda was not a classy, flashy lady but a just an overly made-up tart.

    I had a lot of adventures with my Honda. In the end, we did bond. I actually rode it from Windsor, Ontario, to Daytona Beach, Florida, for spring break in its first year. Like I said, we had some adventures.

    But, what I most recall about the Honda company was its attempt to enter the car market with the small 2-seater, 4-cylinder, chain driven, S600 roadster; there was a sedan but I recall only the roadster. Chain driven! I thought of it as a glorified motorcycle - well maybe not glorified.

    How Honda, the company that made a chain driven car, grew into the company that we all know and admire today has puzzled me since the '60s. Read the NYT's story and you'll find the answer.

    If you don't have time for the NYT's article, let me condense the answer down to this: Soichiro Honda.


    Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    Where were you when. . . ? Watching TV?

    Two days ago, I blogged on a column "Where were you when. . . ?" by Paul Berton, editor-in-chief of The London Free Press. I pointed out how the paper, like many others across North America, messed up the Challenger disaster photo big-time. The Free Press was forced to pull the original colour plates and replate for the city edition. For details see my earlier blog.

    I must now add that the black and white picture at the bottom of the Challenger disaster front page is not as presented. In the haste to get the best images from the disaster on the wire, AP erred when captioning the photo. Here is the correction from the New York Times:

    Editor's Note: A picture on Jan. 29, published after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, showed the parents and sister of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher astronaut. Under the heading ''Family in Shock,'' the editors' caption said the family was watching ''as the space shuttle took off and exploded.'' In response to inquiries, The Times has reviewed its film, frame by frame, against television tape of the sequence, from liftoff to the announcement of the explosion. The review shows that the published photograph was in fact made slightly before the explosion. The suggestion that the family was reacting to the explosion was mistaken. (The London Free Press used the word "reacts" in their cutline.)

    Note how the New York Times used television tape to clarify the situation. The dog (television) wags the tail (the newspapers) again. Now, what was Paul saying about, "Newspapers may be increasingly late to breaking news parties, but they have the advantage of getting more (if not all) the facts right."

    I wasn't going to mention the following, but since I have had to revisit the column, let's look at some other stuff said in Paul's column.

    First, Paul writes: "It (video of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon) was made possible by the electronic media, and, conveniently enough, by the fact the camera was somehow on the moon and rolling before the big step became a news event."

    Forty years after the event and The London Free Press does not know there was no camera magically "somehow on the moon." Geesh, shades of moon landing hoax stories or the moon landing conspiracy theories. The historic event was telecast live from the side using a television camera ingeniously attached to the lunar module.

    Wired has an excellent story on how the filming was accomplished. Briefly, a young electrical engineer at Westinghouse, Stan Lebar, was given the task of developing a camera that could capture the most memorable moment of the 20th century – the Apollo 11 moon landing. The goal was to send back a live television feed so that everyone could watch it – particularly the Soviets.

    Paul tells us, "Those on Twitter were clearly the first to learn about the miracle plane crash on the Hudson River last winter."Yes, but . . .

    According to CNET News, "TwitPic, an application that allows users to take pictures from their mobile phones and append them to Twitter posts, went down after at least 7,000 people attempted to view the photo of the airplane taken by Janis Krums." (Krums, by the way, is a man, and not a "she" as reported by The London Free Press days after the Hudson River landing.)

    "According to Noah Everett, the founder of TwitPic, . . . the resulting traffic was too much for the site's servers."

    According to Silicon Alley Insider, "Thirty-four minutes after Krums posted his photo, MSNBC interviewed him live on TV. . ." Twitter was first out of the gate, but it was the mature technology of television that won the race and made the world aware of Krums amazing photo. As usual, newspapers were not in the race.

    Let's do a little creative editing and let Paul Berton win the last round by quoting his closing words, "Newspapers may be increasingly late to breaking news parties . . . " Well said, Paul.

    Today's Word: Spurtle

    My wife keeps a funny stick in one of our kitchen drawers. It looks somewhat like a fancy wooden spoon that someone has ruined by sawing off the flat, scooped end. When I cook pasta, I often stir the pasta with this stick to prevent the pasta from sticking.

    The other night my wife was handy as I cooked the pasta and so I asked her about the strange stick. "It was your late mother's," my wife said. "She called it a spurtle. She used it for stirring her morning porridge."

    "Spurtle?" This had me heading for the dictionary. Ah, spurred, spurt, sputnik, but no spurtle. I knew it wasn't a word. But, I checked Google just to be a hundred percent sure. It was there.

    In fact, there was a whole dictionary of words that aren't in my dictionary. I found oxter (an armpit), lum (a chimney stack), and foosty - as in, "Ach! The breid's gone foosty (mouldy)."

    If you're interested in knowing more, check out the Illustrated Scottish Words on the Net.

    Porridge making champion Ian Bishop, 2008 Golden Spurtle winner, with Miss Scotland.

    Sunday, July 19, 2009

    Where were you when. . . ?

    "Where were you when . . . ?" This is the question posed by editor-in-chief of The London Free Press, Paul Berton, in his Saturday column. Maybe I could be so bold as to answer his question with a warning, equally original: "Be careful what you wish for . . ." or in this case, "what you ask for."

    Berton asks the expected: "Where were you when you heard President Kennedy had been shot?" Where was I? I was between classes in high school, waiting to enter Mr. Allen's French class. The exiting students whispered the news to us. Some of the young girls were sobbing as they left Mr. Allen's room and all the young boys were stone faced. Some were wet-eyed.

    My wife was in her high school cafeteria. Her high school principal announced the event over the school's PA system. She recalls the boys sat quietly numbed while the girls cried openly.

    Paul goes on to ask: "Do people still find out about big breaking stories from newspapers, the way they probably did about the attack on Pearl Harbour, the bombing of Hiroshima, or even the assassination of JFK?"

    This is my answer: Ever since the first historic radio signals crossed the Atlantic early in the last century newspapers have been losing ground. They were rarely, if ever, first out of the gate with the big story.

    The assassination of JFK was a radio and television story. And after they broke the shocking story, word of mouth quickly made all the world aware. When JFK was shot in mid-day in Dallas Texas most newspaper presses were sitting idle, the press rooms empty. Newspapers were not slow out of the gate, they were not even in the race.

    Try googling Paul's question. It's interesting. It appears that no one, absolutely no one, first learned of Kennedy's assassination from a newspaper. From my admittedly shallow research, it appears radio gets the nod here. A quick investigation into Pearl Harbour sees radio declared the winner here, too.

    Now, Paul's mention of Hiroshima raises other issues more complex than just "where were you when . . .?" A lot has been written about the press and the handling of the Hiroshima story. If you're interested, a good place to start is with Greg Mitchell's piece The Press and Hiroshima: August 6, 1945, republished from Editor and Publisher.

    Paul goes on to share his recollections of the Challenger disaster and how he first learned of the explosion from the front page headline in the Toronto Star. Let me share my recollections of the Challenger disaster and how the newspaper coverage was not only bested by television but, in many cases, lead into embarrassing errors by an unearned faith in the accuracy of the televised image.

    According to MSNBC the belief that ". . . millions of television viewers were horrified to witness the live broadcast of the space shuttle Challenger exploding 73 seconds into flight . . . " is actually a myth. "What most people recall as a 'live broadcast' was actually the taped replay broadcast soon after the event." (Many now argue the Challenger didn't explode, or blow up as apparently the Toronto Star reported, but I'll let you google that.)

    But whether television broadcast the event live or not, what is clear is that newspapers were left out of the loop. Newspaper newsrooms everywhere scrambled to put together a story by following it minute by minute. Newspaper reporters and editors around the world were glued to newsroom television sets.

    When it came time to place the front page picture, many newspapers were horrified to discover the AP image by Bruce Weaver showed the shuttle apparently exploding against a night-black sky. The disaster occurred against a blue sky; The editors knew this, they had watched the actual event on television. Editors across North America were howling: "The sky was blue, damn it! It wasn't night!"

    Back then, in 1986, it took the better part of half an hour to receive a colour transmission at a newspaper. The entire process for publishing colour pictures in the paper was long and tedious. After a transmission, all that an editor had in hand was a collection of three black and white pictures called printers. The pictures were identical except in tone and the labels magenta, yellow and cyan.

    These paper printers were labeled cyan, magenta and yellow and were sent to the back-shop by editorial to be proofed. As you can imagine a lot was necessary to transform three black and white images into a colour picture in the daily paper. To give editors and the press crew an idea of how the image should look when printed, a proof was pulled. This involved three, overlapping coloured images: one cyan, one magenta and one yellow and all on a transparent base. Making these took time. As I said, this was a slow, tedious operation.

    By the time the editors had proofs in hand, they were sitting on deadline. The deadline at a newspaper is well named. If you are the editor in charge of the front page, you do not miss deadline. The press must roll on time. The papers must be delivered to the waiting trucks on schedule. Release your page late too often and the newspaper will release you.

    Editors everywhere were in an awful bind. The Challenger disaster had to go front with art and they knew their front page picture, the one they must use, was incorrect. The sky colour was wrong. There was no time for a corrected transmission from AP and as this was in the days before Photoshop — there was no easy way to turn the sky blue.

    The solution decided upon at The London Free Press was to take the magenta and the yellow printers and opaque the negatives. Opaque was a special water-based paint used in the back-shop on negatives. Once opaqued, an area would not print. The Free Press would turn the sky blue by using only the cyan printer.

    This was a quick solution. Unfortunately there was no time to pull another proof. With fingers crossed, the colour plates were sent to the press room and the big Goss letterpress rumbled into action. As the press rolled and everyone saw the first papers, hearts stopped.

    The editor in charge of the front page ran into the newsroom waving one of the first papers. "We've got dog shit on blue linoleum," he bellowed in anger. "We've got to replate for city!"

    The flooring picture went out to the district but was pulled and replaced for the city edition. This time the original image was used as transmitted. The sky looked black but it was better than the alternative.

    The truth is the blue-black sky is correct. It is an accurate representation of the image captured by many of the photojournalists shooting at the disaster. Transparency film, used by photojournalists at the time, records images differently than electronic television cameras.

    Would all those editors have been panicked by the oh-so-dark sky if they had not viewed the actual event themselves on television? I doubt it.

    Friday, July 17, 2009

    Too Big to Succeed

    Numerous newspapers are on the financial ropes. All too often newspaper executives simply blame the Internet; it steals their ad revenue and their readership base, coaxing away readers with information gleaned from the venerable old news-providers themselves.

    I believe the Internet may not be at the root of their financial crisis. It's size. Newspapers, or at least the chains that control them, have become too big to succeed, or at least too much in debt to succeed.

    Take the Tribune Co. in the States — Sam Zell brought $315 million to the table to leverage control of a company valued at $13.5 billion. Just 353 days later the now private company filed for bankruptcy in a federal court in Delaware. Source: Newsosaur.

    What went wrong? According to the Wall Street Journal, the Tribune Co. was unable to service its massive $12 billion in debt. Under Zell, the Tribune became the second most leveraged of the 20 largest public media companies in the States, carrying a debt load 9.2 times the company’s operating earnings.

    Such massive leveraging immediately resulted in the company's bond issues falling deep into junk territory, raising borrowing costs. Considering it took only a year under Zell's leadership for the Tribune to enter bankruptcy, such massive leveraging seems to have immediately thrust the entire media operation deep into junk territory, not just their bonds.

    In a financial bind like this a company can either increase profits or decrease costs. Under Zell it appears the approach of choice was to decrease costs with layoffs, more layoffs and yet even more layoffs. I call this the employee-as-ballast theory. It is followed by many in the publishing business; jettison employees and watch the company soar, not!

    Closer to home, we have Quebecor Media in Canada headed by PKP, Pierre Karl Peladeau. Once called the King of Convergence by the CBC, PKP is the gentleman many credit with guiding Quebecor World, once the world's largest printer, to financial ruin, bankruptcy, insolvency.

    PKP's own Canoe carried a story calling Quebecor World the "insolvent printer" in June, 2009. In early 2003 the stock reached $35; the last time I checked it could be picked up for 2.6 cents. Under PKP's leadership the world's largest printer lost 99.9 percent of its value!

    In June 2009, the following was reported: Chicago-based printer RR Donnelley tendered an unsolicited bid to purchase Quebecor World, the insolvent (Sun Media's term) printer. This bid was rebuffed, but later in the month Mark Angelson, a former RR Donnelley CEO, was named chairman of the printer reorganized to "satisfy" bankruptcy code requirements.

    Quebecor World and Quebecor, the owner of Sun Media, are now totally separate companies with a shared past but unlinked future. I thank an alert reader for this additonal information.

    PKP has brought his magic touch to the world of Canadian media. In 1999 Quebecor gained control of Toronto-based Sun Media for about $1.3 billion, creating the second-largest newspaper company in Canada. The layoffs started almost immediately. The little paper that grew began to wither, shades of Sam Zell.

    In 2007 Quebecor Media bought competitor Osprey Media Income Fund in a deal worth about $517 million. Quebecor executive vice-president Luc Lavoie said Quebecor intended to respect the traditions of its new titles.

    A couple of years later the Cobourg Daily Star, founded in 1831, the Port Hope Evening Guide, founded in 1878, and the Colborne Chronicle, founded in 1959, were closed — replaced by a new Sun Media print and online newspaper, Northumberland Today. So much for tradition.

    Again, the layoffs started almost immediately. Quebecor sees its now truly paper-thin newspapers as lean, mean, fighting machines. Others see the often century-old papers simply as gutted, like dead fish but with greater stench.

    An ad builder and two graphic artists were laid off by the Sault Star and the pre-press department closed, said Elaine Mills, president of the Local. "They took all their computers out on Sunday and moved them to Barrie."

    Mills gave an example of the cumbersome nature of the Sun Media/Quebecor Media approach called "centres of excellence" by the chain and called outsourcing by those losing their jobs.

    A classified adviser who was working on a monthly real estate section had to fax every ad, along with a cover page, to Barrie where it was being produced. Dozens of faxes had to be sent and the phone lines were often busy on the receiving end, turning it into a hair-tearing chore. For full detail, see the CWA Canada article on the hollowing out of the Osprey chain.

    Years ago, when I still worked for a paper under PKP's control, I was asked by the business section to take a studio photo of a voodoo doll stuck with pins clearly labelled CEO, VP, etc. I jabbed the doll with one of the large pins and joked, that one is for Pierre. Man, I wish I still had that doll.
    Since writing this in early 2009, CanWest Global Communications Corp. in Canada put its newspaper division under creditor protection on Friday, January 8, 2010.

    A group of lenders led by Canada's five largest banks agreed to take ownership of the newspaper operations under a “pre-packaged” financial restructuring under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. CanWest continues to search for other buyers, hoping for a superior offer.

    The Asper family, which controls CanWest Global, no longer has ownership of the newspaper operations under the restructuring proposal. The family got into the newspaper business in 2000 when CanWest agreed to buy the former Southam Inc. chain of papers from Conrad Black.

    The group, saddled with $1.3-billion in debt, includes many of Canada's leading daily newspapers, such as the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun. The National Post newspaper is not included in the bankruptcy filing.

    Read the whole story in the Globe and Mail here.

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Dual Flush HET Toilet

    Add: We are redoing our ensuite bathroom (Feb. 2016) and have discovered that the dual flush toilet that we like so much has been discontinued. Damn. I use the dual flush now and I guess I will simply keep using it in the future. Our new toilet for the ensuite will be low-flow but not dual flush. I was not impressed with the newest dual flush models.

    On our visit to Europe some years ago my wife and I were impressed with the continental bathrooms. O.K., we liked the art and architecture, too, but to a green nut the bathrooms were really memorable.

    The European toilets invariably offered two flush modes: one for liquid waste and a second, larger flush, for solid material. The showers had low-flow heads and were often in the corner of a fully-tiled bathroom. There were no glass enclosures to become soap-scum stained and no shower curtains to harbour mould. You were expected use your head and aim the low-flow handheld shower away from the centre of the bathroom. This simple act prevented water from spraying wildly into the room. Of course, there was always a large drain in the tiled floor.

    When we redid our bathroom recently, I tried to imitate the green Europeans. I won my battle over the toilet, it’s dual flush, and all the water fixtures are low-flow but I had to accept a shower door and a bathtub. My wife is a traditionalist, bathrooms must have bathtubs; the plumber agreed. The plumber also nixed the idea of a shower without an enclosure and his simple glass wall approach wowed my wife.

    Before deciding on a dual flush toilet I did some research. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, in most homes toilets account for 30 percent of the total indoor water usage. I learned that CMHC partnered in the study “Maximum Performance Testing of Popular Water-Efficient Toilet Models (MaP)”. This study, using a soybean paste product, has tested about 730 different toilet models and published the findings.

    Based on the MaP findings and ready availability, we chose the American Standard Dual Flush HET FloWise toilet. HET stands for high efficiency toilet. This ultra-low water use toilet requires only 6 litres or 1.6 U.S. gallons of water for a full flush. The more frequently used liquid waste flush requires only half of that — 3 litres or .8 U.S. gallons of water.

    The FloWise model we chose has a right height design — better for seniors — an elongated bowl and slow close seat. It performed very well in the MaP tests. Where rebates encouraging water saving are offered, this model qualifies. In Ontario, at the moment, there is a $100 rebate available. Ask your plumber about rebates and you begin saving immediately.

    We went with a low-flow Moen commercial handheld shower head. With a flow rate of 1.6 U.S. gallons per minute this unit uses 30 percent less water than the industry standard. And energy costs are also reduced because of the resulting drop in hot water demand. All the voting is not in but I must confess there has been one complaint. (I can live with that.)

    Our other choice for reduced-water-use-plumbing-fixtures was the Lahar Collection from Delta. These are water smart certified and quite beautiful.
    If these changes cut our water usage as I much as I hope, we will try to take advantage of the government rebate programs and update the plumbing fixtures and toilet in our ensuite bathroom.

    (Addendum: We just got our water bill and it is down 20.5% compared to the same period last year. I would not chalk up all the savings to our new plumbing but the new shower, dual flush toilet, and water smart fixtures have definitely played a role in cutting our water consumption.)

    Hope this information has been of value,
    Rockin’ On