Back when News was Physical

etaoin shrdlu are the first line of letters on a linotype keyboard, arranged based on frequency. The phrase is used to mark the end of a column. It is also the title of a short documentary about the last run of the linotype machines at the New York Times on July 2, 1978.

There are all sorts of wonderful details in this 30-minute film. We learn the origin of words such as hot type and mattress and are shown how a “pig” of lead is melted down to cast type forms.

The mechanical crank and whirl of the linotype machines are wonderful sound, especially when contrasted with the castanet-like crackle of the new chicklet keyboards on the the new mainframe terminals shown later in the film. As the 9pm first edition deadline approaches, the “make up men” hunch over their tables side-by-side with page editors physically laying out the paper on full page forms. There’s a wonderful exchange as they figure out how to make the page work, a construction project of words.

Farewell – ETAOIN SHRDLU – 1978 from Linotype: The Film

These days are long gone now but I’m glad for this film which captures a technology that was a wonder of its day.

h/t Open Culture

To Give and Not Receive

This afternoon New York Times readers were assaulted by a full page takeover that unfolded across the front page effectively roadblocking the news of the day with a “special report” layout that was both interruptive and offensive. If this is where they are going with their native advertising, I do not like.

Merrill Takeover

All publishers need to make a buck and, as someone that works in online publishing, I encourage experimentation but the fact that an institution such as the New York Times would stoop to running such an amateur-looking infomercial hints of desperation. While the Face Retirement campaign is innovative (the landing page asks for access to your computer’s camera so it can take a photo of you and “age” you), there page curl takeover is as old as the hills and takes me back to the Dancing Mortgage Man remnant ads we used to joke about at Yahoo. These ads take more than they give.

The add was frequency capped so it only ran once per unique visitor but the CPMs must have been pricey. But I can’t help but think that the hundreds of thousands spent by Bank of America to run this ad could have been better spent in other ways. Instead of invading your senses, wouldn’t both the audience, publisher, and advertiser have been better served by underwriting an open house for heavy users of the site? What about granting a free subscription to the paper for three months in return for some personal information that helps you better market your retirement planning services with glossy mailers? There are so many other ways that you can spend $250k, throwing up roadblock banners just seems lazy all around.

YouTube as a Search Engine

My son was featured in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times in an article (At First, Funny videos. Now, a Reference Tool) about the unforeseen use of YouTube as a research tool. We all associate videos with entertainment but Tyler has taught me that with the addition of meta-data and micro-chunked content, it’s possible to use YouTube as a rich source of reference material.

Tyler's New York Times article

I was contacted by the reporter, who had seen a post on ReadWriteWeb about Tyler’s use of YouTube and wanted to bring the story to the New York Times’ readers.

My father commented, “It is the inclination of succeeding generations to simplify.” Tyler is on to something. For certain things (contact juggling, macarena, or bugatti vs. fighter jet), YouTube is going to explain things to you better and quicker than plain old text search results. You can sort by not only Relevance and Date Added but also using meta-data from community actions such as Ratings and View Count. Finally, using the example from the article, if you search on platypus, embedded in the results is a pre-defined playlist of over 40 video clips all about the animal.

Tyler was pleased to see that the article was in the “Bright Ideas” section. His comment about his pose in the photo was that after over 200 photos his head was feeling a little heavy. Strangely, the local newsstand didn’t carry the Sunday Times so we had to go to a Starbucks to get a copy for the photo above and as a keepsake.

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Go on, cheat a little

NY Times Crossword Promotion

Yahoo has joined up with the folks at the New York Times crosswords to promote the new Search Assist feature with a contest. The idea is that you fill the puzzle out successfully and you too can be entered into a drawing for one of five trips to Hawaii. Thing is, this thing is a gimme. Next to each clue is a link to a “Hint” which runs a search in the pane below against Yahoo’s Search Assist which will serve things up for you right there and then. It’s a great way to show off the new Search Assist and may give you a new reason to work on your crosswords with the browser handy.

I found out about this via a new group on Facebook. Join Yahoo! Pilot if you want to find out about the latest stuff going on at Yahoo! I can’t believe I found something not written up by the folks over at Yahoo! Cool thing of the Day, my usual source for tweaks and trivia about Yahoo – must have caught them asleep at the switch!