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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
September 13, 2012

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Dog-Shaming, Digital Images, Ads

Back in the days when school vice-principals carried a big paddle, which was purportedly used against students who did not respond to conversational discipline, we used to train pet dogs not to misbehave by swatting them on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

We are now a kinder, gentler society, and so when dogs misbehave, we don't hit them (a language they understand), we hold them up to public ridicule. Go to the website and see what I mean.

The Dog-Shaming site consists of pictures of dogs standing or sitting beside signs that list their misdeeds:

"I unravel the toilet paper to get the cardboard tube and I am not sorry at all!"

"I escaped the yard, broke into the neighbors' house, and woke him up by climbing into bed with him and licking his face. Then played with his dog til my owner came and got me."

With this last one, a man was holding the sign in one hand while with his other hand he held the dachshund in place. So arguably the man was declaring his own sins. Which conjures up disturbing images.

If you don't own a dog, come to this site to remind yourself of why your life is much simpler and easier.

It is obvious that in fact this website is about owners of dogs who are proud of their precocious little darlings' misbehavior.

What really disturbed me about the site is signs like this -- which are the rule, not the exception:

"I spent the day in people prison because I ran away at my grandmoms and they could not find my parents."

"I enjoy jumping up and pulling down my dad's gym shorts in front of the neighbors instead of going potty."

"Grandmom's"? "My parents"? The dog's "dad"? Really? And the dog goes "potty"?

Sounds more like a sign for somebody's two-year-old kid, if they took their kid out in the yard to do his business.

But to use babytalk and depict the dog as calling its master "daddy" is a weird combination of anthropomorphism and humiliation. What shames the dog is not that he embarrasses his owner (after all, it's the owner who chooses to take the dog out while wearing gym shorts), but that his owner pretends that their relationship is parent-child instead of keeper-prisoner.

Dog-owners are free to call their beasts by any name they choose; we've been evolving side-by-side with dogs for at least a hundred thousand years, so I suppose "prisoner-keeper" is as incorrect a depiction of the relationship as "baby-daddy."

What really matters is that this website is often very funny. Like the sign in front of a sleeping dog: "I am a 100 lb pitt bull ... and I am ... terrified of the vacuum & thunder -- Hooch."

Or the cheery-looking fuzzball dog looking through a balustrade, with this sign beside him: "I try to kill my family by biting their feet or pulling their shoelaces when they try to walk down the stairs."

Yeah ... it's funny. But it's also true. My post-80-year-old father's frisky dog managed to trip him up and knock him down with his boisterous behavior; dogs that get underfoot when you're carrying burdens or climbing stairs can in fact kill you. But my dad kept the dog.

Anyone who watches Tosh.0 knows that falls down stairs can be surprisingly entertaining, as long as you don't care whether the person lives or dies.

And dogs don't care.

That's not really true. Dogs love you. They can be devoted.

They just don't understand indirect consequences. It's fun to bite at flapping shoelaces. It's fun to watch people fall down stairs. There is no way for a dog to understand that the reason that person no longer brings it food or takes it for walks is that the shoelace-biting led to the owner's neck getting broken.

The pet behavior that hasn't quite killed us yet can be so endearing.

But schoolteachers, take note. Since misbehaving children can no longer be physically punished, and their helicopter parents don't discipline them at home, and you can't even suspend them anymore for shockingly disruptive behavior, if doing so would cause a racial imbalance in the district statistics, try this:

Use your cellphone to take a snapshot of the mouthy student; put a caption on the picture that repeats verbatim the words the student was saying to you; then post it online. Since the child actually said it in front of the whole class, and since the school authorities have determined that it's not bad enough behavior to suspend or otherwise discipline the child, who could possibly object to showing off this "cute" behavior to the whole world?

"Brat-shaming" would be a funny, endearing site, don't you think?

Oh, the parents object? But how can they? They certainly didn't think it was a problem when the child actually behaved that way. Why in the world should they regard it as a bad thing to show the whole world what their little darling says and does in class?

Oh, they'd rather bring back the paddle? Yeah. I thought so.

*

My office is in an attic room, with a ceiling that slopes down with the roofline. The vertical walls are completely filled with bookshelves, just to hold the books I use as references when I work. So I have almost no space for the display of art.

I need to look at art. Excellent art. Lots of variety, and from nearly every period. But my office has no place for it.

For years I have compensated by building a large electronic collection of art and photography in every genre, which I display digitally on my computer as "wallpaper." I look at my computer a lot. It's my art gallery now.

In this age of 1920-by-1200 pixel screens, I can have two pages side-by-side on my word processor and still see a third of my screen -- so can see my art cycling through at ten-minute intervals the entire time I'm working. It's my art gallery, and it's an important part of my life.

When I first started collecting digital art, I expanded it to fill the whole screen. When displays were 800 or 1280 pixels wide, that made a kind of sense; at 1920 pixels, it doesn't. Even when I scan it myself, it shows every flaw of the original. The way to get sharpness is to "stand back" by scanning at 1920 or bigger -- and then shrinking it down to make a sharper, clearer image.

By shrinking all my art to be no more than 600 pixels high, and then having my WallmasterPro software tile the art, any corner of the screen that remains visible displays a clear copy of the entire image. That's way better than seeing only a corner of a much blurrier or more pixelated copy of the art.

So I needed to reduce all my too-large, can't-see-the-whole-thing-anyway digital files. That's several thousand.

I didn't want to do it one file at a time, and my CompuPicPro software that I use for image-cropping had been acting flaky lately. (I later fixed it by a complete removal of the program and a new installation of it. Sometimes programs deteriorate with use as files get corrupted.)

So while my CompuPicPro wasn't usable for such large batches, I decided to try the well-reviewed AVS Image Converter program.

AVS Image Converter is part of a package that includes video and sound manipulation and conversion programs, and for all I know those programs all work fine.

But when you use the AVS Image Converter to reduce the size of a bunch of 1920x1200 jpegs to 800x600, the results can be shockingly bad. On hundreds of files, there was serious artifacting -- bands and ribbons of shifted color that wreck the image completely.

This should not happen. CompuPicPro never does that. And so I uninstalled AVS Image Converter as worse-than-useless and went in search of something better.

I found it. In fact, I am so in love with FastStone's family of image-manipulation software that I bought the whole series.

It began with their freeware: FastStone Image Viewer. I downloaded it from their own site, http://www.faststone.org/ , and liked it so well I contributed some money to help defray their cost.

But good as it was, what I really needed, for my massive resizing project, was FastStone Photo Resizer.

Now, they call it "photo resizer" because the assumption is that most people will use it to change the sizes of their snapshots. But once something is an image file -- a .bmp, a .gif, a .jpg, a .png -- it doesn't matter whether it began in a camera, a scanner, or any other source. You can resize it with this software.

It worked beautifully. It was faster than CompuPicPro, and the output quality was every bit as good. It also did file-handling much better than CompuPicPro, so that I resized about 5,000 files in a dozen directories in about three minutes.

That's comparing FastStone with a program that already does a superb job of faithful resizing!

I went back online and downloaded the FastStone MaxView software. This is like the grown-up big brother of the free Image Viewer. This has the same excellent file-handling of the other programs in the family, with the added advantage of being able to go into ZIP archives and pull out images for viewing.

If the ZIP archive is encrypted, it will even prompt you for the password, so there's barely a pause. And yet the encrypted file remains safely hidden.

The remaining program in the family is FastStone Capture. Judging from the fact that the version number is 7.2, while the other software is in versions ranging from 2.5 to 4.6, FastStone Capture may well be the first program these folks created -- and the perfection of its performance suggests they know how to do their job.

It has been a trend in a lot of online art galleries to put up uncopyable images. You can't just right-click and "save image." Sometimes nothing happens; sometimes you get a snippy little message about how the image is copyrighted.

I've never understood this attitude from people who are trying to sell art. It's like refusing to let your books be carried by libraries, or having a self-destruct mechanism in a book that makes it turn to dust if somebody lends it to another person.

I make my living from copyright-protected work, so I absolutely agree with copyright laws. But the way you expand your audience and find new readers/buyers/customers is by letting them read for free.

We book writers know that people borrow library books and read, not just a sample, not just as much as they can read while in the library, but the whole book. They take it home and read at their leisure.

Then they return it, and I didn't get a dime beyond the royalty for the single purchase made by the library. Was I cheated?

No! Because if I'm any good at my work, the person who read one book will want more, and will want to own the book, and will share it with friends, and ... and by making it possible to fully experience my art for free, I make far more money than if I made it impossible to get more than a brief, tiny sample.

How does this apply to art? Well, I can understand preventing me from freely downloading a large high-resolution file that would let me print out a framable-size high-quality print. That would directly compete with the product they're trying to sell.

But it's silly and churlish to keep potential customers from downloading an image no more than 600 pixels high, which they can then display on their computers for a long time. They can come to really love the artwork. They can decide that this is one they want to live with.

Then they buy the print.

Or they don't. But what have you lost? You didn't have to pay for the canvas or paper, for the giclee or regular ink print job. All you had to do was scan it and put it online, not as a thumbnail, but as a sharp 600-pixel-high file.

The smart artists make sure their website name is unobtrusively in a corner of the art, so that wherever the file goes, there goes the address where prints can be purchased.

Then, if they're lucky, the art will go viral through the whole art-loving online community, and their audience will jump from a few people visiting a particular site (or real-world gallery) to thousands, even millions, who come to love it.

This is how artists like Grant Wood became so famous they were parodied -- "American Gothic" was printed and published and distributed so widely that everyone in America knew the image. It's not Wood's best work -- but it has made his fame last, and has led many to find his even better works.

Many other artists are known only for one or two works -- Flandrin, for instance, is known solely for his "Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer" in the Louvre, which you can see by Googling "Flandrin." Chances are you'll recognize it instantly.

For some reason it has tickled the public fantasy, and while it is unsurprisingly highly valued in the gay community, it is not remotely pornographic, and many regard it as one of the finest paintings to emerge from the 19th century.

Let me show you a piece I love even more. Go to http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/merritt-love-locked-out-n01578, and you'll see "Love Locked Out" by Anna Lea Merritt, a painting showing Amor/Eros/Cupid, traditionally represented as a naked boy, standing at the door of a tomb. It beautifully represents the grief and longing of widowhood -- and it's also a perfect painting from the late 19th century.

Merritt made other fine paintings -- but this is the one that keeps her name and reputation alive.

Now, what if Flandrin and Merritt had prevented their works from every being freely distributed? What if Grant Wood had closely guarded his copyright so that no one could ever see his paintings except the one customer who bought each one?

So the smart artists put up good-sized, easily viewable images that can be copied and spread around with a simple right-click.

And the really dumb galleries make it so that art is displayed, not as an image file, but as a movie file, so that copying is completely impossible. Thus you can only look at the art while you're at their site. You can't live with it and come to love it.

No sale.

Or so they think.

Because FastStone Capture, using the "rectangle capture" mode, lets you take the image and make it into a file. You simply press Shift-PrintScreen while the image you want is fully displayed on the screen, then draw a rectangle around the portion you want to keep and then save it.

I believe in copyright. Even though spreading the art freely would benefit the artist and gallery, they don't understand that yet, and it's their property -- so I don't share such files with anybody. But I name the file with the artist's and gallery's name, as well as the name of the painting, and then it goes into my rotation.

I come to know it better and better as it comes up every few months. I remember the artist's name. I look for more of his work.

And I buy.

Not the original -- if I could spend ten thousand dollars on a work of art, I wouldn't, because there are so many more important things to do with that money. But I'll spend three hundred or five hundred for a print or giclee, if I love it enough to want to give it a place on a wall in my home.

Then it becomes part of the face my wife and I present to the world. Here is an image, a vision, a work of art that we value enough to want to share it with the people we invite into our home.

So some of the artists' whose work I download and keep on my computer end up getting my money.

And the ones who don't -- well, it hasn't cost them anything at all. Nor have they gained from my download, because I have respected their policy enough to share the image with no one.

The lucky ones don't mind being shared. And next week I'll point you to some artist websites where you can see some of the finest artwork (of the kinds I value) being produced today.

*

Print newspapers are dying. That's a fact. The ones that still exist are holding on by the skin of their teeth.

And while some would like to say it's because of the liberal bias of most newspapers, causing them to lose readership, the truth is that political bias is almost irrelevant to a newspaper's profitability.

That's because what people read is [a] comics, [b] op-ed-page letters to the editor, and [c] advice columns, including horoscopes. However, what pays the newspaper's bills are [a] want-ads and [b] display ads.

So yes, if readership falls off, then the ad rates go down and the paper makes less money. But what's been killing papers lately is that no matter what the ad rates are, people aren't buying want-ads, not like they used to -- not even close.

The reason is ... Craig's List.

That's right, it wasn't Matt Drudge and it wasn't Salon.com that wiped out newspaper profits. It was online ads. This is not somebody's "fault." Nobody did anything wrong. It's just that on Craig's List, you aren't paying by the word.

On a newspaper's printed page, every word of your ad costs money. The newspaper publisher has to pay for printing on paper. They pay for copies that are sold and read -- and they pay for copies that are unsold and unread.

But the online publisher of Craig's List pays only a tiny fraction of that cost for computer memory space, and pays nothing at all for copies. Any number of people can view an ad, and it costs the publisher not a penny more.

The economic realities are what they are, and newspapers must adapt or die. Everybody's trying to figure out a way to make money online. The trouble is, nobody can tell if display ads online really work; spamming annoys more than it sells, if you're a reputable company that wants repeat business; and places like Craig's List don't have to pay anything at all for content -- they aren't publishing things like my 3,000-word review columns.

And let me remind those tempted to tell John Hammer that he can save a lot of money by dropping my column: Hammer doesn't pay me anything. The cost of my column is the price of paper, ink, and distribution. But that's an amount that Craig's List doesn't have to pay.

And while the Rhino's printing costs go up in direct proportion to distribution, the cost of putting classified ads online only goes up slightly when huge numbers of people start coming to the site.

Thus when my friend wanted to sell his beloved but ancient Lincoln Town Car, known to him and his friends as "Air Force One," he created his ad online, because he had the space to turn his ad into a work of art. Here is that ad:

"I drove this 1995 Lincoln Towncar from Greensboro to Winston-Salem every weekday for the past six years, to law school at Wake and then to my job in Winston. When I bought it six years ago, it had only 70,000 miles; it now has 188xxx.

"FAQ:

"1) Does it smoke? No. Exhaust is clear.

"2) Does the check engine light come on? No, all is in order.

"3) Does it have air conditioning? Yes, nice and cold.

"4) Do you have to charge the air conditioning regularly? Yes, at least once a year, usually once at the beginning of summer and another time at the end; however, I just charged it, so you should be good to go for now.

"5) My name starts with "M"; is this car good for me? Yes, someone keyed an "M" into the hood on the lower driver's side. This car is perfect for you.

"6) Don't the air shocks in Lincoln Towncars go bad and leave the trunk dragging in an embarrassing fashion? Yes, and that already happened to me; the shocks have been converted to conventional shocks. Hence the "check air suspension" light will come on when you start the car, but you can disregard it, because the air shocks are no more.

"7) I have pet bats who like to hang on the headliner; will I be damaging a pristine headliner if I buy this car? No. Children shredded the headliner in this car, so basically nothing your pet bats can do will harm it.

"8) Tires? Newish, from Costco within the past year. Michelin X, I think.

"9) Brakes? Within the past year or so, by Midas. Stops very well, no pulling.

"10) I live in a very, very safe neighborhood and I don't like locking my car; is this car good for me? Yes. When you lock the driver's door, it still opens. That's new as of the past month or so. At least it will start honking if someone opens the door, though it is mostly likely that you will set it off yourself. I recommend using the driver's side door keypad before each entry.

"11) I am on a diet; is this car good for me? Yes. The driver's window only rolled down if you pushed down hard on the driver's window switch for a long time and now it doesn't roll down at all. So, if you're tempted by drive-through, you won't be now, unless you're willing to debase yourself by propping the door open with your foot and reaching around the door.

"12) I am really fat, though; will I fit in this car? Yes. It's big.

"13) Does this car make any weird noises? Yes, a reee-eeee-eee noise. Battleground Tire tells me it is a belt tensioner, which they will charge $85 for parts and $85 for labor to replace. However, I've driven with that noise for a few months and, well, it still works. If you are good with math, you should calculate in the price of that repair when deciding whether to buy this car.

"15) What about mileage? Well, if you lock it in at 65 on the freeway, you can get 26. But it gets 15 or so city. That's a reasonable consideration, but on the other hand, I now have a Golf TDI. I get 40 mpg, but I also have a car payment. I'm not money ahead; said another way, you can buy a whole lot of gas with the money you save buying this car vs. a $5,000 car.

"14) Any other problems? Yes. (a) the battery is old. If you don't drive it for three weeks, it won't have the juice to start again. Drive it within that time, though, and you're good. (b) There is a rusty spot in a picture below. Just surface, but it's kind of ugly. (c) It has 188k miles; that's a lot. (d) It has AM/FM stereo and tape, no CD.

"I adore this car. It's hideously out of fashion, but when you're behind the wheel driving somewhere with tons of room for you and your family and a trunk big enough to carry all of your strollers and bags and whatnot, with V8 power, it's a good ride. You'll be glad you're not in a Civic.

"Also, on those rare occasions in snows here, you can get all Dukes of Hazzard with the rear wheel drive.

"I will likely shed a genuine tear when you drive it away because it has been that wonderful. I hope you, the eventual purchaser, are similarly satisfied.

"The car is parked on the street at [address] in Greensboro, NC, if you want to check it out. But don't even bother looking at my sweet conversion van. Those 30 pinstripes of awesomeness are all mine and completely priceless."

Don't bother cruising around looking for the car; it's already sold. My point is, my brilliantly funny lawyer friend could write an 804-word ad.

My other point is, that ad did not help pay for publishing my column. I pointed this out to my friend, and he reminded me that I just got through reviewing Basic Economics, and so I know the principle that in a profit-and-loss economy, loss is just as useful as profit in arranging for the best allocation of scarce resources with alternate uses.

In other words, "Bite me."

So what do print publications -- especially completely-ad-supported free papers like the Rhino -- do about this?

Well, if John Hammer were what passes for a liberal these days, he would start looking for government subsidies -- or for tight restrictions on the ability of websites to put up local want-ads. In other words, he'd demand that the government enforce the status quo and prevent competition.

But John Hammer is not a liberal. He believes in a free economy. He believes in it even when it's wounding his business.

The free economy made videocassettes a huge business; and then it made that business completely disappear when DVDs took over; and now DVDs are disappearing in the face of downloaded and streaming movies and TV series. You get rich on the upswing; you lose if you don't bail out fast enough when the market disappears.

The videocassette companies were not mismanaged; neither were the DVD providers. They were doing a superb job. But the technology changed out from under them.

That's just how economies work -- especially industrial economies driven by innovation.

So John Hammer will do what real businessmen do in a free economy -- he's look for ways to compete. Because Craig's List does not provide what the Rhino provides -- not just the best, but the only serious coverage of local news and issues in the Greensboro area.

People still read the Rhino -- in greater numbers than ever. Craig's List and other online want-ad sites aren't causing people not to read the Rhino. They aren't even trying to compete in that market.

The Rhino is still delivering readers' eyes to the advertisers, and the ads still work as well as they ever did. You just can't spend 800 words in a printed want-ad telling the story of the thing you're trying to sell.

So it'll be instructive over the next months to see just what newspapers do to keep providing news to readers who still want to receive it, but who have no idea how much it would actually cost to buy that newspaper if it weren't subsidized by advertising.

Mark my words -- you've always paid for newspapers, even free weeklies. You paid by placing ads, and you paid by buying the things those ads were selling.

Now, though, to keep getting newspapers, you're probably going to have to pay in a different way. The question is: what way, and how much will the market bear? It'll be interesting to find out, my fellow consumers. We get what we pay for!

*

People put up signs saying, "Don't walk on the grass," "Don't throw trash in this mailbox," and "Don't lie on this waterbed."

So in a furniture store in Germany, they put up that last sign, and then made it so people got an instant explanation of why they should have obeyed! This video is all in German, but just remember as you watch it that people were warned!

http://www.youtube.com/embed/9wm-Ge8LL7o?rel=0.


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