Friday, March 31, 2006

Boggling blogging technology

What browser do you use? Different browers will display this blog differently.

I found that out when checking my blog from a client’s office, one that has “standardized” on Windows XP and Internet Explorer. What a risky decision!

I found that when looking at Written Words using Explorer, the Profile sidebar is pushed way down to the bottom of the page—so far that you can’t see it on the screen at first. I thought it has been erased somehow.

Then I looked at the site using FireFox, again from the client’s office, and it looks the same as on my own home-office computer, with the Profile section at the top of the sidebar. Interestingly, FireFox displays the blog in the same way as does Apple's Safari. Two browsers versus one: you decide which is right.

So tell me, which browser do you use? What are you seeing in my blog? Use the Comments button below to tell me.

Bad Blog

Being so new to the blogging scene, I thought I’d check out some other blogs using the Next Blog button at the top right of the screen. Some look good, some bad, some bizarre.
Take this one, for example: the “Healthy 1200 Calorie Diet.”
I don’t know how such a meagre diet can possibly be healthy. Obviously, self-imposed starvation has affected this person’s mind. Read this excerpt, if you can:

you electricity is THE But your in 26 pretty hurt give early among black disorder eating girl teenage white Lottery convicted the wife that just makes each not Open:

Frightening, isn’t it?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Canadian myths

On Friday morning, guest-host Erica Ritter on CBC Radio 2 told a story about seeing the “Canadian Tire guy” on the street and feeling sorry for him, as the actor was recently fired by the company in the wake of intense, nation-wide public hatred of the character.
The Canadian Tire guy
The “Canadian Tire guy” is played by actor Ted Simonette, who for a minor actor is remarkably hard to track down according to a couple of blogs (For example,

Ritter’s point was that seeing the actor in person made her start thinking about some stereotypically Canadian icons and myths. Simonette, she felt, was a victim of a “collective decision” based on a collective myth. Does everyone really hate this guy?

The idea raises other thoughts about Canadian myths. Do we really own winter? Are we all about hockey? “It almost seems unpatriotic to say you don’t love Tim Horton’s coffee,” she mused—even though it’s owned by an American firm, Wendy’s International. And at about the same time that Canadian Tire fired its bearded know-it-all “guy,” Wendy’s announced its initial public offering for Tim Horton’s—which means anyone can own a piece of this supposed Canadian icon.

What about other Canadian myths: are we more polite than anyone else? It seems I get more polite service in restaurants in most places in the U.S. than in Canada. What do you think?

Do we really own winter when the mayor of our biggest city calls out the army because of a snowstorm? Okay, there are those who will say that Toronto isn’t “really” Canada, but still, are we really the best at winter stuff? Most of my neighbours complain about snow and cold winds, and actually prefer spring rains to winter flurries. Our national men’s hockey team did not do so well at the Olympics in Torino (although the overall results were terrific). What does that say about our winter orientation?

Tell me what you think about Canadian myths and symbols. Are you planning to buy a piece of Tim’s, so you’ll be eating your own doughnuts? Will you do it in celebration of the end of that admittedly annoying, phoney, bad actor’s presentation of the superior Canadian Tire shopper? Do you dread the coming of winter, or its end? Do you find that Canadians are more polite than Americans (not counting New Yorkers)?

And does preferring Timothy’s Coffees of the World (a Canadian-based chain) to Tim Horton’s really make you unpatriotic?

Comment early and often.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Print Ads Don't Work, But Then What Does?

A friend of mine with a great blog on publishing has some interesting observations on the changing nature of advertising. It seems advertisers aren't happy with the results they're getting either from traditional print advertising or from new media advertising. Read it at

Apple claims new French law will boost music piracy

Check your newspaper today for the story about Apple complaining that a new French law requiring interoperability for all music downloads will only promote illegal copying.
The new law requires that digital songs be able to play on any device. Right now, you can play songs you buy from iTunes only on an Apple iPod. The law will force Apple, Sony, Microsoft and any other digital music format company to share their software code for free.
Apple has threatened to shut down its iTunes France store, but some analysts say this new law, and interoprability in general, could actually boost iPod sales.
What do you think? Would this lead to more sales of iPods, or will more people just buy cheaper MP3 players, knowing that they can still buy any song for under a dollar?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Scott’s DVD reviews

Rent this …

Not that


Because David Cronenberg’s picture about a gangster who tries to find a new, peaceful life with a family is a satisfying story. It has believable characters in identifiable situations (mostly).

Prime—why it’s called that baffles me—is a mindless piece of fluff that’s unsatisfying, features unbelievable characters in a situation that almost no one can identify with, and above all, is boring.

Both came out on DVD and video in recent weeks. I rented them both in one weekend (one per night—yah, I know, I’m boring, too). A History of Violence is a gripping story. I wanted to know what happened next, and I was unable to predict the next move. That doesn’t happen in many movies. While Cronenberg always leaves me feeling somewhat disturbed, and usually, a little disgusted with humanity, he didn’t leave me feeling ripped off.

The story begins with two creepy-looking villains coming out of a seedy roadside motel. It’s hard to hear or understand what they’re saying to each other, but the movie quickly moves to awful and disgusting violence. Plenty of blood to satisfy the hard-core action and horror fans, here.

But then it moves to a believable domestic scene. What I particularly liked about the Stalls’ family situation is that it wasn’t the typical Hollywood family farm with a white picket fence and very tasteful, if a little antique, wallpaper. It was a small house without any expensive trappings. Tom (Viggo Mortenson) has a truck that he can’t get to run; his wife (Maria Bello), however, is a typical Hollywood fiction, a small-town lawyer. Why aren’t any Hollywood leading female characters ever housewives or secretaries?

The villains, led by Ed Harris and William Hurt’s characters, are believable, boorish, completely unglamorous. And the ending leaves you some scope to decide for yourself what happens next, without leaving you with the feeling that Cronenberg just didn’t know what to say at the end. No loose ends, in other words.

A highly satisfying story—not a great film, but certainly worth the rental fee.

Prime is the opposite. It begins with characters familiar to us only through Hollywood—complete stereotypes. Uma Thurman plays Rafi (short for Raphaelle, I guess), a high-fashion photographer with a million-dollar apartment and wardrobe. Meryl Streep plays her therapist, Dr. Lisa Metger, and she should really fire her agent. She tries her Oscar-winning best to give this character some depth, but the script just doesn’t give her enough. Bryan Greenberg (who?) plays David, Metger’s son and Rafi’s love interest. He’s a nice Jewish boy with no personality.

The plot is totally predictable: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they find that his family won’t let them be together, they each discover that the other has a couple of human traits that make them irritating, they break up, and then they run into each other a year later and give each other rueful smiles. And, of course (this is a Hollywood story, after all) David gets rich. Over and over again, I found myself thinking, “Isn’t this movie over yet?”

So rent A History of Violence, and stay away from Prime.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Stripe this!

Am I the only one who finds the Old Navy ads aggravating?

The latest ad for “stripes” is just the latest in a long line of aggravating Old Navy ads. At least this one looks professional; the last several seemed to have been shot with hand-held camcorders and edited on a cheap PC.

But the new stripes ad infuriates me. The repetitive song—isn’t it a skipping song?—coupled with the enforced jollity of the dancers makes me think of summer camp counselors. Maybe that’s who they’re appealing to. But how big is the market, even if you include newly certified kindergarten teachers?

I think that the most off-putting aspect of the ad is not just the childish attitude of the young adults, but their eagerness to obey to the song: join hands, everyone! Smile, we're all happy! Their conformity - they're all 21, all the same height, all thin, and they all wear the same expression, not just the same clothes!

I know tribalism is a powerful force, but doesn't it remind you of 1984, and not in the same way that Apple's famous Superbowl ad did?

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Welcome to my blog!

Written Words, the blog, picks up where Written Words, the e-newsletter, left off.

Yes, I know it’s been over a year since the last edition of Written Words. Those who have worked on e-newsletters can appreciate how time-consuming they can be to create and publish. So while I loved doing the newsletter, I just couldn’t keep up.

Now that there are so many easy tools to help publish blogs, well, it just seems natural for a writer. My thanks to Molly Joss and her blog for pointing the way. (Check Molly’s blogs at and

What I hope is that this technology will make it easier for me to make Written Words what I wanted to from the beginning: a forum for review and discussion of all things that a communications professional needs and uses in the 21st century. So take a look below at a review of a great digital camera from Olympus. Coming soon will be reviews of backup software, Adobe’s Creative Suite and other items I’ve been testing for a while, but haven’t had the opportunity yet to write about. I plan to have lots of software and hardware reviews in here.

In the meantime, check out my main web site,, and follow the links to some other samples of writing. And if you have an idea or an objection to share, let me know at

Talk to you again soon!

Product review:

Olympus Camedia C-8080 Wide Zoom digital camera

It’s been many months since Olympus graciously lent me their 8-megapixel camera, the Camedia C-8080 wide zoom. I have to admit, this is a truly great entry-level professional camera. It’s the kind of camera that can occasionally make an amateur with limited photographic talent and make him look like a pro.
First, capturing eight megapixels per picture taken means you get very clear, sharp and rich pictures, with lots of detail.

This camera offers almost everything that the professional photographer needs besides high resolution:
- Manual focus and user control of the auto focus
- Sequential shooting
- Controls over metering
- Exposure compensation settings
- Noise reduction
- Panorama and macro mode shooting
- Histogram display
- White-point balance control
- Sharpness control
- Hue and saturation controls
- Remote control

Naturally, it gives you the option of complete automatic shooting or manual controls, choosing aperture or shutter-speed priority.

The camera saves in RAW as well as in JPEG and TIFF formats. It has slots for both xD memory chips and Compact Flash cards, and you can put one of each in at the same time. An xD card fills up awfully fast when you’re shooting at 8 megapixels—according to the manual, a 32 MB xD card will only hold two RAW files at 3264 x 2448 pixels. Fortunately, you can buy a Compact Flash or xD card with up to a gigabyte of capacity now for under a hundred bucks, so if you get a camera like this, splurge on a fat card.

It also has everything the amateur wants: auto focus, built-in flash, video capture and playback. The dial at the top that a professional uses to select aperture or shutter speed priority also has a number of settings for shooting portraits, landscapes or sports without a blur, even for shooting at night or in other low-light situations. (Even a pro would appreciate this—yes, he or she knows what settings are needed for every situation, but isn’t it nice to have the shortcuts available? There is also a “My Mode” setting which allows you to save your own personal selections and reuse them later.

The camera records the date and time each picture was shot—useful for pros as well as tourists who might wonder, years later, if those vacation shots were taken in 2005 or 2006?

Time to whine
So when you break it out of the box, at first glance it’s hard to think of anything else to ask for. But a few things come to mind pretty quickly:
- First, the lens is integrated; you can’t unscrew it from the back for a wide-angle, telephoto or true maco lens, so the 8080 is not a true SLR
- The user interface is a little difficult to understand. Buttons aren’t all organized in an intuitive order. Beside the 2 inch/5 cm display on the back there is an “OK” menu button surrounded by four smaller buttons for selecting items from a menu; two centimetres above that is a thumb-dial for selecting other items from other menus. Do we really need both? At times, I had to resort to actually reading the manual to figure out how to work the camera. I know, that may not seem like a harsh criticism, but when it comes to software, my ability to figure out the interface without the paper manual is a little litmus test.
- I don’t know what the real range is for the zoom lens, but I’m always disappointed by zooming — I never seem to get close enough. How much do you have to spend to get a really good zoom?
- The camera is rather big for a digital camera. This could be due to Olympus’ desire to emulate a traditional film camera as much as possible, or because you just need that much size to accommodate that kind of quality, or some combination. Still, the camera is a little awkward for carrying around, limiting its appeal to the serious amateur.

On the road
To get a real feel for the camera and its capabilities, I took it on a couple of trips. Granted, the uses I put it to were strictly amateur-tourist, snapping shots away, and most of the pictures show that.

Still, it does capture great images. Take a look at the lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Look at the detail in the ceiling, the floor, the displays. It’s gorgeous. Or the tigers: they look much closer than I’d ever really want to be to a tiger. And take a look at the landscape, shot in western Quebec. There is a lot of range in colour and depth here: more than enough to satisfy the professional.

The lobby at Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World, Florida, captured by the Olympus C8080.

The Olympus C8080's zoom got close enough to these tigers with lots of detail. But sometimes, the maximum just wasn't quite close enough.

A long-distance landscape shot like this shows lots of detail (photo by Nicolas Bury).

The video function works fairly well. Images are grainy, as video usually is, but this seems worse than the results from my camcorder. The lighting is too bright, too. Olympus needs to tweak the settings here to get better results.

Summing up
For the serious professional, the C8080 is a very good, versatile choice for getting into serious imagemaking. You cannot swap lenses, but you have a lot of range in distance, portrait and action photography.
It’s a bit bulky, but some people feel that gives it a more serious feel. After all, this is not for taking mindless snapshots: it’s for capturing great images.
In the end, that’s where the camera stands up: absolutely great, rich, deep and sharp 8-megapixel images.