A couple reasons the SF Chronicle sucks

This was an actual front-page story a few months ago. It reads like filler text some editor wrote late at night as a joke that accidentally ended up making it through the edit process and getting printed. Frankly, that's the only excuse for this horribly written story getting published at all, much less on Page 1 of a major metropolitan newspaper.

And if that is the reason this story ended up where it did, then it is a perfect example of why we had a rule at EGM that filler text had to be all XXXXXXXXs. This was both extra work and decidedly unfun, eliminating as it did the opportunity for snarky editors to fill copy in as a joke that was to be replaced later with the real text. But at least it made it completely obvious to any editor reading the page, at any step in the process, what was real text and what still needed to be filled in.

The other possible explanation, which I suspect is the real one -- that this is a fair story to run on Page 1 because of its legitimately local appeal -- is really no more mitigating. The story is so badly written that readers have virtually no reason why they should even keep reading past the jump, much less look up the guy's blog or follow him on Twitter for pete's sake. I mean I subscribe to the damn Chronicle, read it fairly regularly, and still had completely forgotten who this person was. Why the hell should I care that he's now a "real journalist?" Especially when the story I'm reading, ostensibly written by a "real journalist," is so clearly an example of...bad journalism. It's so meta it's giving me a headache to think about.

I really hate their headlines. You can find examples of their weak headline writing every day, but today's example illustrates a crucial rule I learned from Merv Block (a fabulous writing teacher I had at Columbia Journalism School): Don't start with a question or quotation. Now, Merv Block is a pro at writing for broadcast, but in newspaper writing, the headline is basically the same as the first line of a broadcast news story. So to ask such an inane question as the headline is basically asking anyone who answers no to just move on and quit reading.

And I kinda suspect a LOT of people answered no to that question.

Now, obviously I support the Chronicle's fundamental mission or else I wouldn't subscribe. But the more bad headlines and crappy stories I read, the harder it gets to feel bad about the sad state of newspaper publishing in San Francisco. While I'm criticizing the Chron, though, I will say that I really like the local columnists, and if the paper is going to survive at all, I'd think it'll do so by providing great local coverage -- stories that are better reported and more thoughtful than what you can get anywhere else.


My last bio! (Review Crew Spoiler Alert!)

My farewell EGM Review Crew bio recently went to the printers, and since it was my last one, I feel like I can pull back the curtain a bit FOR THE FIRST TIME. (I know, totally overdramatic there, but what can I say? I had dinner at a one-Michelin-star establishment this evening and I'm feeling giddy.)

See, every time my picture appeared in print, it caused me a bit of...anxiety? excitement? perplexedness? I wanted not to care, but it was so very hard not to care. I mean, multiple hundreds of thousands of these pictures were being printed, and for many of our readers, that bio was the only chance they had to connect a name beside a review score to an actual human face. And dammit, I wanted that face to look good. (Or at least I wanted it to represent who I actually was that particular month.)

So I pretty consistently -- for 6+ years -- put a significant effort into my bio pictures. I don't think this was that unusual, though I may be the only one man enough to admit it. Some of the guys were very mellow about it. Others were as fussy as I. But almost everyone had to do at least one or two takes. Even Dan "Shoe" Hsu, the king of devising the perfectly complementary pose that worked ever-so-harmoniously with his bio text, often had to do a couple of takes. (Also, while I'm at it, why not give props to various photographers over the years. Mike Cruz, Demian Linn, Joy Fremont, my husband, and many others who pinch-hit month to month...it ain't easy being the one responsible for capturing the Review Crew's mugs and I always appreciated those people who were patient with my many many takes. And our wonderful art director Mo always made sure to color-correct everything so that everyone's skin looked easy, breezy, and beautiful. And hell, while I'm giving props, why not mention Crispin Boyer, my go-to guy for putting in the funny. And Mark MacDonald, whose SOCOM-themed bio in my early days really...well, as you can see, once I start giving props, it's hard to stop, so I'll just cut it out now.)

But my final bio really took the...cake. Literally! I mean this one required multiple props, staging, creative and art direction, and, perhaps most importantly, America's Next Top Modelesque posing. I ended up with several options, and picking which one to go with was pretty tough. Did I make the right choice? YOU BE THE JUDGE.


Rock Band and the Story of Stuff

I love music games, but Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour offend me on an environmental level. Games that come in boxes so big you can't carry them in a backpack shouldn't be allowed to come out every year. It's just completely not cool. It's the same with iPhones and iPods. I love the improvements they are able to make so quickly, but it's so wrong to expect, tempt, or even want people to buy new versions of perfectly good stuff every year or even every other year (for particularly expensive items). I know that you don't have to buy the new peripherals or upgraded versions, and I guess I'm hoping that most people don't. But I'll be the first to admit that it's hard to play with my old crappy Rock Band 1 drums when I know the new kit has so many needed improvements (quieter pads, mainly, but also the better attachment for the pedal so it doesn't fall off so easily). If the better drums didn't exist until two or three years from now, though, I'd probably feel perfectly satisfied with my old ones. What would be so bad for them if they just put out new drums every few years and rolled all the upgrades into the rarer, better versions? I suppose that's just completely at odds with our consumer culture though.... There's this longish but really well done little video about this problem called The Story of Stuff.

At least USB as a standard means the controllers are compatible with the different franchises. Proprietary controllers would simply be unacceptable.



OK, I know it's a little pathetic how Ziff Davis Alumni like to blog about how their new jobs offer such mad benefits as multiple flavors of tea and plastic spoons. But my new employer? Totally offers lots of tea, dozens of types of flavored coffee (the futuristic kind where you insert the pod and it makes whatever mixture you want), and spoons, forks, and all other manner of corporate-sponsored utensils. Pretty rad.

New York was awesome. I loved being in Rockefeller Center the night of the election. They had the electoral map projected on the ice skating rink, and whenever a state would be announced for Obama everyone would cheer. The weather was unseasonably warm, which gave the whole evening a more festive atmosphere. And when the actual announcement came projecting Obama for the win, people just started cheering out of every window, honking horns, dancing in the streets and smiling everywhere. It was really something special.

Amy and I took a bunch of pictures, and at first I just snapped a few mundane shots the way I would document any other event. But then I made us walk back and at least try to get some really good ones, because it was obvious that, one way or another, the night was going to be a real moment in history. I know our country and our political system face problems that run much deeper than the presidency, but I'm so happy that someone with such a diverse heritage, who is such a symbol of unity and hope for so many, has made it to the country's most powerful office, and with such dignity and character.

Plus, how completely awesome is it that we managed to elect someone, at this point in our history, whose name rhymes with Osama and whose middle name is Hussein? That alone tells you something about the changing face of this country.


In-Flight Entertainment

Flying in the post-9/11 environment is no fun, but one way it has gotten seriously, noticeably better is with all the entertainment options now available to fliers -- and I can't quite express how annoying it is that all these cool diversions became available after I had kids. I can’t enjoy any of them!

Downloading whole TV shows off iTunes or Hulu and watching them on your laptop, which happens to be fully powered by your personal seat outlet? It's amazing! I could be catching up on, oh I don't know, Arrested Development or season 2 of The Wire (though I've watched the rest of The Wire, that's the year I kept nodding off in the middle of the show). Or gorging on VH1's reality TV shows, movies on demand, and the latest pop sensations through my in-seat entertainment center. (I flew Virgin America.) To say nothing of all the portable video-game treats available these days. (Donahoe and Mike Cruz have convinced me it's time to play Phoenix Wright parts 2 & 3.)

But guess what I got to "enjoy" during my recent 5 1/2 hour flight from SFO to JFK?

OSWALD. OSWALD. AND MORE OSWALD. (Or, as Alex says it, "WA WA!!!") Here's the description that comes up for that web page in Google: "Oswald's a decent sort of fellow. A thoughtful guy. A good friend. Never mind his eight arms or his bright blue colour - Oswald is just like you!"

Yup, after watching 16 episodes straight of Oswald on the flight, I can tell you in great detail what a decent, thoughtful fellow this wholesome blue octopus is. (But for your sake, I won't share. "Decent" doesn't exactly mean "interesting.") Oswald is so decent, you kinda wanna punch him (or worse), at times. Well, not really -- anything that keeps a kid happy on a long flight is magical. And I know I and everyone around me on the plane were pretty grateful for Oswald, the thoughtful octopus.

But I'd much rather have been watching Arrested Development.


Working Mom's Score

Vill-Con Pix
Photo courtesy of Matt and Ruth and their awesome green-screen Halloween pic project

Wow. I got lucky this year on the whole kid's Halloween costume thing. The past two years, I've been able to find, quite nonchalantly and almost accidentally, pretty awesome get-ups for Alex at the extreme last minute. I usually shop at this store that has really great kids costumes, and I guess I thought the third time would be a charm; even though I was shopping even later than usual, I hoped to repeat the feat this October 30.

But it was not to be. The place had, like, three costumes left, not in the right size and a bit too girly for my little man. (Yeah, we're in San Francisco, but I think he's still too young for cross-dressing. Call me old-fashioned.) I tried not to panic, but I started to get really mad at myself for leaving so little time for shopping. The stakes get higher, after all, the older a kid gets. During the infant years, costumes are largely optional and mostly for the benefit of the parents. But toddler Alex had a Halloween playdate scheduled with his cousins, and I knew they would both have great outfits. Plus, Aunt Mary is a wonderful photographer and I seriously felt like the president of the RNC trying to get Sarah Palin ready for the photo opp of a lifetime.

After about 15 minutes of frantic rushing around, looking high and low for strategic items that could be fashioned into something resembling anything, I ended up at the 8th Circle of Halloween Hell, the Target Clearance Aisle. (The SPIRIT Halloween Store is the 9th Circle, in case you were wondering.) The place had been gutted; three shopping carts overflowed with sad remainders of formerly two- and three-piece sets. Desperate shoppers shambled about, arguing over a pair of tattered Capt. Jack Sparrow pants here, a princess tiara there. Compounding the confusion was the fact that half the costumes were actually for dogs. (I'll admit, I considered getting Alex a doggy lobster suit, but I just didn't think it would be big enough.)

And then, glimmering in a pile of detritus, I saw it: a Yoda costume in Alex's size. Sure, it was missing a crucial component, as in, the...Yoda part (someone must have snagged the mask). But I didn't care.


I mean, Yoda's so, y'know, been-there, done-that anyway... "F- Yoda," I thought as I madly zipped over to the Star Wars aisle in the toys section and grabbed a blue lightsaber. My little Padawan would definitely choose the light side path. The costume was complete, during normal business hours no less.

I gotta be honest, though. The brush with mommy failure made me completely forgive my mom for the Halloween pictured below.

Historic Halloween

I'd always wondered what was going on with my get-up in this picture (though isn't my brother the Empire State Building amazing?). Now I totally understand.