Is this the best we can do?

Tonight, on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, as well as on alternative news sites like Newsvine, reddit, and Digg, one story grips the nation: Paris Hilton is going back to jail.

Seriously, what is wrong with us? Look, I’m not saying that Paris Hilton did anything right here. She has been convicted of driving under the influence, and she deserves to go to jail.

But is this really the most important thing that’s going on right now? Is this what deserves our attention as a nation? How about, for example, the fact that tensions are rising between Russia and the United States? How about the fact that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is stepping down? How about the fact that Swiss Senator Dick Marty’s investigation accuses the United States of running secret prisons in Europe?

These are events that are actually newsworthy, and it’s shameful that our media is so rabidly focused on such an utterly trivial concern.

Where Has All My TV Gone?

It seems like a lot of my favorite shows are going on hiatus lately. Heroes, my current favorite TV show, is going to be gone for almost two months. House is going away for another couple of weeks. (Thanks a lot American Idol.) The Office is repeats for the next couple of weeks.

It’s just weird; why the lull in mid-March?

Oh well. It gives me time to catch up on Battlestar Galactica. Or, you know, do something productive.

The Future of the Newspaper

World News Page When I first heard about the New York Times Reader, I thought: “That’s stupid. Why would I want that when my RSS feeds are so much more efficient?” But today, I finally tried it, and it’s amazing.

The NYT Reader is a bit of software available from the Times website. When you run the program, it downloads all of the day’s news onto your computer. Each section–like World, U.S., Business, or Opinion–has a page that lists the relevant headlines for that section. When you click on a story, the reader lays out the information in a newspaper-like columnar format (3 columns at the default font size on my 1024×768-sized laptop, although it reconfigures based on screen size, so a larger screen would have more columns, rather than just wider columns).

Why use this instead of an RSS reader? RSS and the NYT Reader are two different tools with two separate purposes.

RSS is for consolidating lots of news sources into one place, letting you grab information from all over the blogosphere at once. With RSS, I find myself skimming through everything. Engadget and Gizmodo, for example, put out so much content each that I find myself glancing at the headline and the picture, and then skipping to the next story, often in under a second, only stopping to read when something catches my eye.

Article View The NYT Reader is a little different; it’s designed for browsing, not for speed-reading. I find that the New York Times reader is easier to go through at a slower pace, partially because the volume of information is so much lower than a fully-loaded RSS reader.

The other reason is design. HTML and it’s associated technologies are limiting when it comes to layout and graphics design. The Reader’s adaptive columnar layout would be difficult to implement on a web page. Decent fonts are currently impossible with HTML and CSS. Because there’s no cross-platform way for web developers to embed fonts in web pages, they are limited to less than a dozen standard fonts.

The Reader software bypasses these problems and lets the Times capitalize on its long experience with the newspaper format. The Times Reader uses an easy-to-read font and maintains the easy-to-read column lengths. It can scale the fonts to a larger or smaller size, and continues to look attractive even at the largest font sizes. There are no scroll bars anywhere; if you article goes beyond one page, just push the down arrow to bring up the next page. To move to the next article, just hit the right arrow.

You can also easily save or print articles–which print as beautifully as they appear on the screen–and you can highlight and make notes on individual articles. There’s even a “News In Pictures” view that displays a slide show of the pictures of the day; click on a picture, and you can read the associated article.

The only downside: This program requires Microsoft .Net version 3. If you don’t already have this installed, the Reader Installer will go ahead and download it for you, but this process will take a long time. Fortunately, you only have to install it once. From then on, it’s smooth sailing.

The New York Times Raeder an absolutely beautiful program, exceptionally well-designed. I only wish my local paper, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, had a similar service. But since the H-J is a NYT affiliate, there is yet hope!

In the future, when the electronic newspaper finally supplants the dead-tree newspaper at the breakfast table, this is how the news will look.

ANTI-DISCLAIMER: I’ve received no money or incentive from the NYT or any of its affiliates to write this entry. I just think it’s a great piece of software you should try.

This is sad…

The Crocodile Hunter has died.

Queensland state government sources quoted by Australian Associated Press (AAP) said Irwin, 44, whose television show “The Crocodile Hunter” won international acclaim and popularized the phrase “Crikey,” was believed to have been killed by a stingray barb that pierced his chest.