Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Headlines Imperil Clarity

As the Internet increasingly becomes the medium 'o' choice for information, the newsmongering industry ought to look anew at the way it calls attention to what we old hacks call news. Headlines are not what they used to be when typography mattered.
Tabloid headlines used to be built with type big enough to fill the width of the page, thus giving us such gems as
And broadsheet newspapers are typically designed with the most prominent story getting the fattest type, which accounts for ambiguity in 72-point revelations such as this:
Pregnant Women Can Fly, FAA Says
(Move over Dumbo, says I)
My own employer imposes a 63-character count, allowing no more than three characters short of fill, on stories that stand alone. And in my earlier days at The New York Times, we had single-column, multiple deck heads that could not have word echoes (saying the same word twice in the whole headline), which sent everyone scrambling for a thesaurus full of three-letter verbs.
So I know, after four decades at this, that headline writing is more an art than a skill, and that the myriad rules of different news media must leave the audience scratching its collective head, so to speak, at what we must mean when we leave out words of clarity for the sake of brevity and design.
But I sometimes wonder why headlines have to be so fuzzy on web news portals, where the imperatives are more flexible and, one would hope, there is room to be more precise. MSN, the Microsoft news portal, draws from many other media for its news package. As a guitar player and longtime fan of Carlos Santana, I had to stop for a second look at the headline that told me "Mets Reach Deal to Acquire Santana." Of course if you allow that headlines are supposed to be devices that hook the reader and get him or her to read the story beneath them, the MSN head (via Fox Television) did the job.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Brighten Your Mood

Remember mood rings? Back when I had more hair and less tummy, they were the thing to have to show you were in a mellow mood (blue). The setting of the ring worked on the principle that activates liquid crystals in TV display panels. If the stone is black, you're stressed. It's basically a thermotropic reaction that makes changes in the liquid crystal molecules in relation to the temperature nearest the stone--that of your finger, for example. So if your fingers get cold, it can seem you're in a foul mood even when you're happy.
One little factoid you can use as a conversation-stopper next time there's a party is that your typical body surface temperature (as opposed to your body temperature) is about 82 degrees Farenheit or 28 degrees Celsius. So if your body surface is in that range, the mood ring stone would be green. The happier and warmer you are, the more the mood stone tends to dark blue.
Another quick and colorful way of defining your state of mind is in an even older gimmick called the color quiz, which is a way of measuring your anxiety or mellowed-out-ness by your color preferences. It's no less silly than phrenology or necromancy, I guess. Actually, since today has not been a particularly good day as I near the end of a not particularly good week, the response on my instant mood assessment through the color quiz was not a surprise. Here's what the colors I picked say about me:
Your Existing Situation
Volatile and outgoing. Needs to feel that events are developing along desired lines, otherwise irritation can lead to changeability or superficial activities.
Your Stress Sources
Resilience and tenacity have become weakened. Feels overtaxed, worn out, and getting nowhere, but continues to stand his ground. He feels this adverse situation as an actual tangible pressure which is intolerable to him and from which he wants to escape, but he feels unable to make the necessary decision.
Your Restrained Characteristics
Insists that his goals and realistic and sticks obstinately to them, even though circumstances are forcing him to compromise. Very exacting in the standards he applies to his choice of a partner.
Your Desired Objective
Longs for tenderness and for a sensitivity of feeling into which he can blend. Responsive to anything esthetic and tasteful.
Your Actual Problem
Tensions and stresses induced by trying to cope with conditions which are really beyond his capabilities or reserves of strength have led to considerable anxiety, and a sense of personal (but admitted) inadequacy. He seeks to escape into a more peaceful and problem-free situation, in which he will no longer have to assert himself or contend with so much pressure.
Your Actual Problem #2
Needs to achieve a stable and peaceful condition, enabling him to free himself of the worry that he may be prevented from achieving all the things he wants.

Doesn't that sound familiar? I guess it's another way of saying I'll be glad when the weekend rolls around, so I can relax and recharge.
You can take the test here:\

And check the interactive mood ring here:

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Frog Prince

It's not easy to explain how memories are made. Certainly we don't remember everything that has ever happened to us or passed before our eyes or between our ears. You know what it's like to bump into someone whom you know you know, but you can't put a name to the face. "I'll never forget whatshername" is a common affliction, and it doesn't mean the forgetful person is being thoughtless. It's just that we are human, and memories get overwritten with other experiences and, darn it, we forget.
I find, though, as the years advance, that it is possible to keep the archives limber and responsive, and often that is done by getting new things to remember, which then link to older memories and so on back deep into the vault. It may be a reason why, as the year begins, I smile. I have new things worth remembering. So, naturally, I want to reinforce those good things and keep them coming. Meanwhile, perhaps by comparison or just because of random synapse zapping, I dredge up a forgotten happy moment from an otherwise not-so-happy situation and that reinforces the new happy memory.
Happiness abounds, in other words. I think love has something to do with it. Loving and being loved. It's a happy thought, isn't it.
Don't forget.