Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Low risk of sexual side effects

Tonight we watched Law and Order, brought to us by SmithKlineGlaxo and their new miracle drug, Wellbutrin with its "low risk of sexual side effects." It's meant to treat depression. The ad showed all these happy people at a party, centered on the fifty-something guy smiling as he carried a sizzling wok full of some kind of gourmet food out to the guests by the pool. Isn't life wonderful in modern-day America? You can cure your depression with a pill and it has a low risk of sexual side effects! Never mind the caution that it "may cause seizures."

Excuse me, but your commercial makes me depressed. Maybe I'll ask my doc for some Wellbutrin tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The foul stench of hypocrisy

I feel sorry for Terry Schiavo's parents. They don't want to let go of their daughter, and who can blame them. Still, how can they watch their child languish for 15 years and seek to prolong her misery?

Now that the pandering right-wing Congress and president have weighed in, I'm again struck by the hypocrisy of our so-called leaders. More than 45 million Americans don't have health insurance, yet these meddlers legislate that someone be kept alive against her will at what must be a tremendous daily cost. They piously rushed to Washington from their Easter vactions, so they could insert themselves into this intensely personal decision. I wonder where they stand on the right to life of 30,000 Iraqis killed in their deceptive war. Or how they feel about gutting Medicaid and food stamps for the legions of poor children while giving tax breaks to rich people and corporations.

Nothing surprises me anymore. With each passing day I become more ashamed of our country.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What are these men doing?

What are these men doing?
Originally uploaded by michael j nolan.
I guess you'd expect the people who attend an interactive conference to be wired. You get the impression they'd evaporate if the network went down.

In spite of the virtual communication taking place here, everyone at SXSW made real human connections too. The friendliness factor is part of what makes this event more interesting--and more productive--than most others.

I don't understand these things

Philadelphia has branded itself as the "City of Brotherly Love" for hundreds of years. But this is an example of brand equity that's been lost. It's a promise that's as empty as "Clear Skies Act" or "Healthy Forests Initiative."

I returned late last night from five days in sunny, optimistic Austin, Texas. As the plane landed, I was less than enthusiastic about greeting the dirty, cold city that's my new hometown. Over dinner Eileen and I caught each other up on what had taken place in our lives while we were apart. She told me that in the time I was gone, more than a dozen people were murdered in Philadelphia, including a 9 year old boy who was shot while he was sitting in a relative's van outside a store.

This morning's Inquirer carried another installment about the explosion of violence, with footnotes about a couple more shootings that occurred last night. There was a story about how our mayor, John Street, is very alarmed and is going to seek some legislation that would make it harder to register guns. (He faces stiff opposition in the Republican-dominated state legislature.)

There was also a map of the city detailing where the killings have taken place. Usually I can take comfort when I see such maps, because they confirm that the neighborhoods I frequent are "safe." But this time I was chilled to see that the murders were spread out over the entire city, including two that were just blocks away. I thought once again of the young woman who was clubbed to death with a baseball bat this winter in front of the Whole Foods store on South Street. That's where I buy organic yogurt and free range chicken. I thought about my wife walking to work each day.

Other stories in the Inquirer today told about the trial of Philadelphia city officials who were wire-tapped by the FBI over the last couple of years and found to be spending most of their government "service" devising ways to line their own pockets through rigged contracts, inflated billings, ghost employees and other such goings-on. For weeks the paper has printed lurid transcripts of the mayor and his lieutenants making their backroom deals. In one Street talks to his point-man about selling seats in the city's suite at Lincoln Financial Field to the highest-bidding campaign contributors. This is the same mayor who wants to do something about all the violence. It's surprising he has enough time to worry about such things in between meeting with his lawyers and lobbying against the city council's proposed "ethics" reform law.

A little graft here and there wouldn't be so bad if Philadelphia wasn't broke. So broke that last summer the mayor closed swimming pools and recreation centers in many poor neighborhoods to save money. Thousands of kids suffered through the sweltering summer with no opportunity to play and exercise and cool off and engage in wholesome, structured activities. This in a place where the city treasurer routinely approves invoices from city suppliers like one for $89,000 worth of services that had been marked up to $300,000. In a place where the mayor's brother pocketed twenty-five cents for every soda sold at the airport for his company's services. A company with no employees.

None of these nincompoops see any connection between their greed and the death of that 9 year old boy last week.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Full frontal nerdity

Originally uploaded by michael j nolan.
Here's why I love what I do for a living: I get to go to geekfests like SXSW and hang out with nerds. These nerds are brilliant, funny people who are shaping the world of the Web with their thinking and actions.

In this photo you'll see, from left to right, Curt Cloninger, author of Fresh Styles for Web Designers and a new book that promises to be very cool, Hot Wiring the Creative Process. Curt did a session here day before yesterday that was so popular people were sitting on the floor and lining the walls.

Next to Curt is Eric Meyer, the author of a couple of outstanding books on CSS (Cascading Style Sheets.) CSS is the right way designers use to make web pages look and work great. Besides being as smart as they come, Eric is funny too. It was him that coined the title of this post.

I'm standing next to Eric, and next to me is Charles Wyke-Smith, my long-time friend and also a New Riders author who's just finishing up his book on CSS called Stylin'.

The irrepressible Molly Holzschlag is next to Charles. Named "one of the twenty five most influential women on the Web," Molly has written 34 books in 8 years. Her latest, co-authored with Dave Shea, is The Zen of CSS.

Next to Molly is the brilliant designer Doug Bowman. He hasn't written a book yet, but everyone thinks he should.

It's hard to believe so many books about a subject such as CSS could sell, until you see all these geeks with their laptops, posting to their blogs and instant messaging people right while the sessions and panels are going on. This is a very tech-savvy crowd, and it represents the tip of the iceberg of the changes that are rocking our world.

And who would've thought that the oysters Rockefeller you could get in Austin Texas would be fabulous?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

South by Southwest

I'm in one of my favorite places at the moment, Austin, Texas. I'm here on business at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. I've come here to what's known as SXSW since 1999, except for a couple of years after the dot-com bust. But now that we're in the beginning stages of what people here are calling "the New New Economy," interactive media is getting hot again. So I'm here supporting my existing authors who are the stars of various panels, and seeking new ones to write about the next big thing.

Conferences like this are a flurry of interesting panels, going out to lunch and dinner with people, and then nights full of parties in hip Austin bars. This is the part of my job I like best: schmoozing and socializing, learning about heady new things and trying to envision what the future holds for all this web stuff.

Many of the panels are about blogging. You wouldn't think there'd be that much to say about blogging, but there is. Everything from the impact of blogs on the traditional media, politics, culture. My head is spinning with ideas.

Soon I hope to post some pictures of the goings on and maybe some of Austin. It's a sweet place.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bricks & rocks

Bricks & Rocks
Originally uploaded by michael j nolan.
I always liked the colors, shapes and arrangement of the bricks and rocks in this photo. I found them like this on a Lake Michigan beach in Northern Indiana a couple of summers ago.

I wonder if the bricks all came from the same building? When was it torn down? How in the world did they get in the lake? What kind of a storm would have the power to wash bricks up onto a beach?

Musings on the works of man and the forces of nature...

Monday, March 07, 2005

Philadelphia promise

Today feels like the first day of Spring. It's 65º and the last scraps of snow in the park and along the sidewalk are melting.

My brother Ed and his wife Susan came from Maryland this weekend to attend the Philadelphia flower show. On Sunday we spent some time in and around Independence Square, taking in the historic sites. These always inspire me; you can feel the optimism of revolution and new beginnings all around.

We visited a portrait gallery and looked into the eyes of George & Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Merriweather Lewis, William Clark and other lesser-known luminaries of that era. The era's accomplished painters were able to capture their subjects' personalities as well as appearances. What an exciting time to have lived, when the quest for human dignity and freedom was in full flower. People were inquisitive and wanted to learn as much about the world as possible. Education was highly valued, and society's progress seemed assured. A clear line of demarcation between religion and government was established.

Somewhere things went wrong. The trainwreck of a government we have these days would surely cause the founders to shudder. The corruption, double-talk, raw-nerve political "discourse" and opportunistic wars would make them angry, I think. They'd see "No Child Left Behind" for the bullshit it really is. They probably wouldn't like the blurring of boundaries between church and state by tax funded "faith-based" initiatives.

Ed, Susan and I turned the corner and headed towards Washington Square. A strong chill wind, one of winter's last gasps, made us shiver as it gusted through the bare branches of the trees growing over the unmarked graves of countless Revolutionary War soldiers. I wondered how the soldiers who had given their lives to overthrow the craven King George would like the new "King" George and his followers. What would they make of the two faced liars, and the born-agains, home-schoolers, government haters and war-mongers who support them? Would they feel that giving up their lives was worth it?