Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Special Thanksgiving W2W News Quiz

What'll he do with all of his time now?

Why are Hassan Rouhani, US Airways, and Popcorn thankful? Take my special Thanksgiving Week to Week News Quiz on Huffington Post San Francisco and find out.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Government Shutdown and Debt Ceiling Blues: Free audio

Here is the link to the streaming audio of my Week to Week political roundtable program from last night, with great panelists Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Josh Richman, and Debra J. Saunders. There was, as you'd expect, much talk about the parallel disasters facing us: Debt ceiling, government shutdown, Obamacare rollout, and BART strike.

People can also download it as a free podcast if they either go to their iTunes Store and search for "commonwealth club" or if they go to the iTunes web page.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Take My News Quiz and Win a Nobel Prize!

Did I say Nobel Prize? I meant win no prize. Typo. My bad.
Okay, this isn't even remotely what the
Nobel medal looks like; but that is a
copyrighted design, and this image is in
the public domain. It's a trophy. You get the

Nonetheless, take my latest Week to Week News Quiz on Huffington Post and see how much you know about the week's news. It's fun. It's short. Did I mention the prize?

Take the quiz

Friday, October 4, 2013

Where Fake Scientists and Beanie Babies Meet

What includes a government shutdown, beanie babies, and fake science?

Why, my latest Week to Week News Quiz on Huffington Post, that's what.

Take the quiz

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Talkative News Quiz

Iran's new president is saying a lot, talking to anyone who will listen. Ted Cruz can't stop talking, even when no one's listening. And why has one big bank been talking to the feds? Find out; it's all in my latest Week to Week News Quiz, exclusively on Huffington Post San Francisco.

Take the quiz

Friday, September 13, 2013

Special All-Syria Edition: Week to Week News Quiz

Bashar al-Assad
Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.
Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr
Well, about 92 percent all-Syrian. You'll see what I mean. Nonetheless, how much do you know about the country at the center of the world's attention (and our president's gunsights)? Find out.

Take the quiz at Huffington Post

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Future Is Here, and it's Meta-redundant

This is precious. An online news story about a new competitor to Google Glass is topped by an ad via Google for sunglasses.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Luke Skywalker's Killing Spree

Some wags have created a calendar documenting the death toll of Star Wars Rebel hero Luke Skywalker.

It's here.

Don't even pretend you're not going to click on it.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What the Heck's a Hyperloop?

You can wait until I produce the fourth issue of Galaxis, my digital science/SF magazine, which will have a report on it. Or you can find out in my latest Week to Week News Quiz, on Huffington Post.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Threats Galore in This Week's W2W News Quiz

Threats from the RNC, from sharks, and BART. Can you handle it? Find it in my latest Week to Week News Quiz over on Huffington Post San Francisco.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Popes Unleashed, Snowden Untamed, & More: News Quiz

Pope Francis has been very busy lately in his travels and his embodiment of Christian humility. Edward Snowden has been busy lately in his travels and his embodiment of ... something. President Obama has been busy lately trying to patch together another grand bargain. What's happening?

Find out in my latest Week to Week News Quiz.

Take the quiz, exclusively on Huffington Post San Francisco.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

America's Cup Takes Off

Emirates Team New Zealand’s Aotearoa suffered a breakdown with a sail during
the Louis Vuitton Cup in July (photo: © ACEA / PHOTO GILLES MARTIN-RAGET)
From the new edition of the Marina Times:
Now for the Action
After legal and political wrangling, America's Cup is putting on a show at the Marina's doorstep
By John Zipperer

People who think that the America’s Cup is an uneventful playtoy of billionaires are given second thoughts when they hear that the large AC72 catamarans used in these races are literally faster than the wind. As everyone in the Marina knows, the wind can be quite fast, indeed. 
July saw the competition get into high gear, with the action spread from the courtroom to the waters. Following the tragic death of Artemis Racing’s Andrew “Bart” Simpson on May 9, teams and regulating bodies quarreled over new rules intended to make the racing safer. As reported in last month’s Marina Times, lawyers got involved as teams argued over changes to the boats’ mechanisms that some feared would advantage certain teams over others. At one point, the legal wrangling got so heated that there was concern that one or more teams might pull out of the races, putting the entire competition at risk...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Google Maps Takes You to Diagon Alley

Who needs to visit a theme park to pretend they live in Harry Potter's world? Now, Google lets you do it from your computer.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My Surveillance Problem and Yours

You can always retrieve that lost e-mail: The Utah Data Center, also known as the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center, under construction near Bluffdale, Utah. Photo: Swilsonmc
From the current issue of San Francisco's Marina Times — perhaps not an opinion likely to be met with love and charity in the land of the aging baby boomer:
My Surveillance Problem and Yours
By John Zipperer  
Bay Area tech companies found themselves in some unfamiliar, muddied waters when it was reported in a British newspaper that a massive U.S. government spy program was collecting daily records on pretty much every user of Verizon. Next came disputed claims that the government had direct access to the central databases of such tech giants as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, and others.  
Edward Snowden, the young CIA contractor who leaked the tech surveillance information, fled to Hong Kong, saying he had faith in its legal system to protect him. He is really saying he has faith in China’s legal system, because ... 

San Francisco's Bad Deal for TICs: Same Old, Same Old

My latest real estate rabble-rousing from the current edition of San Francisco's Marina Times:
Real Estate Investor
City knocks homeowners with TIC deal
by John Zipperer 
On June 11, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to change the tenants-in-common (TIC) condo conversion system. But they took a bill to enable a larger-than-normal group of TIC owners to become condo owners and turned it into a bill that will all but kill condo conversions for the foreseeable future. 
KQED News headlined its report “San Francisco Supervisors Pass TIC Condo Conversion Expansion,” and that’s certainly how the veto-proof eight-vote majority of the board would like it sold. But what the majority, led by Board President David Chiu, did was play opposites ...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Today's News Quiz

Go to Huffington Post if you want to test your wits against the past week's news.

Here's a sample question:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised to raise what controversy with President Obama during his visit to Berlin next week?
a. U.S. internet surveillance
b. Withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan
c. Interest rates
d. Austerity economics

The answer to this and 10 more questions in the quiz ...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Latest Polk Street Redevelopment Develoments

A major component of most of the SFMTA’s plans for Polk Street
is to separate auto and bike traffic (Photo: Earl Adkins)
My article in the current edition of the Marina Times:

SFMTA Pushes for Revised Polk Street RenovationBY JOHN ZIPPERER 
Following an at-times contentious round of back-and-forth with community groups regarding a planned remake of Polk Street’s traffic and parking design, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has issued revised proposals for the redo of the busy street and is looking forward to an early fall demonstration project. 
“The thing we had to work hardest on Polk Street was to meet [the] need for everyone to be heard and to be valued,” said Seleta Reynolds, who leads the SFMTA’s ...

Week to Week Political Roundtable Audio

Here's the audio from my Week to Week political roundtable program this past Monday, June 10, 2013.

Our fun and feisty panel was Dr. Larry Gerston, professor of political science at San Jose State University, political analyst for NBC Bay Area, and author of Not So Golden After All: The Rise and Fall of California; Melissa Griffin, columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, contributor to KPIX TV and San Francisco magazine, and an attorney; and Debra J. Saunders, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and "Token Conservative" Blogger on

We talked government surveillance!

We discussed young people hating the GOP!

We dissected California's screwy voter registration!

There was actual audience hissing!

Don't miss it.


Oh, and here's my Week to Week News Quiz on Huffington Post San Francisco, from the week leading up to our Monday's program.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

R.I.P. Iain Banks, Culture-d Man

Scottish novelist Iain Banks, who wrote science fiction under the slightly different monicker of Iain M. Banks, which surely fooled no one, has died of cancer at the way too young age of 59. He had announced just a couple months ago that he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had very little time left. He promptly proposed to and wedded his partner, Adele.

Banks is the author of numerous books, but most notable to this website is his incredible contribution to the science fiction field, his Culture series of novels set in the far future. Certainly read other reports of his life and death, but do him the most justice by checking out his many intelligent, fascinating, challenging, controversial, excellent Culture books.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Turkey


Turkish prime minister says, in promising to go ahead with plans despite massive demonstrations, "You cannot rule a state with the logic of give and take."

Um, first, republics have people who govern, not rule. Second, you actually DO govern a state with the logic of give and take. So maybe he was correct after all ...

Read more in The Guardian.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Building up not out

My final article from the May 2013 issue of the Marina Times:
The way forward is up. Photo by John Zipperer
Everybody Can Win the LotteryBy John Zipperer 
One of the laziest and most clichéd phrases in business is when something is called a “win-win solution.” With that caveat, we have a problem in this town that can be solved by investment in lots of new multifamily housing units and produce (ugh) a win-win for everyone.  
Anyone who has ever been stuck in a tenants-in-common (TIC) housing arrangement, forced to wait a decade before converting to a condominium, knows the havoc that can ...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Magazines Digital and Print, Latest News

Two reports worth thinking about, if you're at all interested in media in digital and print forms.

First, there's news in Folio: of a survey of users of tablet computers that finds that about 25 percent of them prefer to read magazines in digital format on their tablets rather than in print form. This is being reported as a large number for digital, but frankly my response is: Isn't a quarter kind of a low amount? We're not talking about the public at large, just tablet computer users. And at this late date, when more than a third of American book-buying is for e-books, only a quarter of tablet owners would prefer a mag on their tablet? I seriously would have expected that number to be well over 50 percent. Huh.

In other news (also from Folio:), there's a report on print magazine readerships largely being either flat or up.

Now, as I've noted here on this blog (and here) before, I'm a fan, producer, and user of both digital and print. Love 'em both. But I always love counter-intuitive data like these two reports, especially when it can be used to argue against the people who swallow the hype kool-aid without contemplation.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Paul Krugman vs. Michael Kinsley

I won't claim to be half as smart about economics as is Paul Krugman, but I'm pleased to see his slap-down of Michael Kinsley.

Read Krugman's blog post below for his economy- and austerity-specific comments. But what really caught my attention was his dead-on remarks about Kinsley and New Republic weaknesses, which I've been saying for years (to nobody who cares, naturally).

Krugman on the attacks on his writings: "... I suspect it has a lot to do with the famed TNR/Slate premium on being 'counterintuitive,' which in practice meant skewering supposed liberal pieties."

And: "[T]his is not a game. We’re having a discussion about policies that affect tens of millions of people. And you have no business participating in this discussion if you’re so busy trying to sound clever that you can’t be bothered to do your homework." Echoes there of Harlan Ellison's famed comment that you're not entitled to your opinion; you're entitled to your informed opinion.

Most of you won't understand how dead-on his criticisms are of Kinsley and TNR, but for those of us who have read a lot of both, we can appreciate having a Nobel laureate in our corner.

Read Krugmans New York Times blog post.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The History Behind Mother's Day

The home of Mother’s Day founder Anna Jarvis is now listed
on the National Register of Historic Places photo: Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD
Happy Mother's Day — my latest from the current edition of the Marina Times:

The Meaning Behind Mother's Day Cards and Flowers
Mother’s Day is a rare holiday that is celebrated worldwide but was begun here in the United States. Almost uniquely, it is a major American holiday creation that does not involve overeating or exploding things. 
How did that happen? Its roots are intertwined with the women’s peace movement and the growing political role of women in the late 19th century. 
The holiday as we know it today started ...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

When Parking Spaces Become Currency

My latest cover article in the Marina Times:
Signs of dissent on Polk Street; photo by Earl Adkins

Polk Street back-and-forth intensifies
By John Zipperer 
Concern over plans by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to make major changes to Polk Street has stepped up, with more meetings, petitions, and community organizing taking place to sway opinions in the neighborhood and among city leadership.  
SFMTA is planning to remove potentially hundreds of parking spaces along Polk Street and replace them with ...

The Boba Fett Factor

Digital Life and Design finds the one positive from the Star Wars Christmas Special:
Boba Fett Is Born: How a Star Wars Special Reshaped TV from DLD on

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

3,000 and Counting!

Have I mentioned that this issue features my reviews of Prometheus, The Long Earth, Measuring the World, and more? Still don't care? Then how about a visit to CERN? An extensive episode guide to the original Battlestar Galactica? A quirky look at the wuxia strains in the Star Wars films? What are you, a robot? How can this not get you excited? Read Galaxis!

That's 3,000 views of this third issue of Galaxis, BTW, in case you were wondering about the blog post headline.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Iain M. Banks: Time Is Short

Iain Banks, the brilliant Scottish novelist, has announced that he has been informed that he only has months to live and that The Quarry will be his last book.

In a post on his website titled "A Personal Statement from Iain Banks," the author writes that he is being felled by cancer:
The bottom line, now, I'm afraid, is that as a late stage gall bladder cancer patient, I'm expected to live for 'several months' and it’s extremely unlikely I'll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.
Banks, born in 1954, wrote mainstream novels as "Iain Banks" and used the cleverly secretive moniker "Iain M. Banks" for his science fiction books, many of which featured the far-future galaxy-spanning drama of the Culture civilization. Banks' most recent Culture novel is The Hydrogen Sonata.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Values in the Sky

Better to build up than over wetlands and forests. (Photo: John Zipperer)
In which I brush off the slow/no-growth crowd. From the April 2013 issue of the Marina Times:

Values in the SkyBy John Zipperer 
Someone commented to me recently that he didn’t see where much more new building could take place in San Francisco. The City, already heavily built up and undergoing still more construction, seemed to be full to bursting. Certainly this city – one of the most densely populated in the country – couldn’t get any more dense, could it?  
It can, it will, and it must ...

We're Number 1 – in Housing Unaffordability

Don't bother telling me "unaffordability" isn't a word. That's unpossible.

Here's a quick real estate market report I wrote in the April 2013 issue of the Marina Times; and my apologies to any kind souls in Ogden-Clearfield, Utah, whose hearts are I'm sure pure and families shine like gold.

We're No. 1 – in Housing UnaffordabilityBy John Zipperer 
Consider it the price you pay for not having to live in Ogden-Clearfield, Utah. By the end of last year, San Francisco became the metro area with the lowest percentage of its households earning the median income able to purchase a home, according to the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB).

Technically, NAHB rates the city in the category of “San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, California,” which is a rather large stretch of land. But ...

Micro-Apartments Come to the City

38 Harriet's micro-apartments get a lot into a small space. (Image: Panoramic Interests 2011)
In which I let out my inner commercial real estate and urban planning geek. From the April 2013 issue of the Marina Times:

Micro-Apartments Come to the City
By John Zipperer 
Micro-apartments. Twitter-apts. Mini-flats. There are many descriptive names one could come up with for the small apartments that we will soon be seeing more of in San Francisco. But judging from the opposition, you would think they were named like the media names disastrous East Coast storms: Apartmogeddon, Frankenapt, Apocalyptment.  
Scary thoughts aside, in November 2012 the Board of Supervisors passed legislation by Supervisor Scott Weiner ...

The Latest Site for Parking, Biker Clash

Big changes are in store for Polk Street (Photo: BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons)
In which yours truly reports on a meeting about traffic. Bikes. Shopkeepers. City planning. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll maybe read it.

From the April issue of the Marina Times:

Polk Street Latest Site for Parking, Biker Clash
By John Zipperer 
Whether they got there by car, bike, bus, or on foot, locals filled the basement hall of the Old First Presbyterian Church on March 18 to discuss plans to remove parking spaces to make room for expanded bicycle lanes on Polk Street. By the time they were done, the head of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) said his organization is “committed to going back to the drawing board to achieve the goals of the project.” 
The proposal, part of an effort by the SFMTA to use Prop. B money to improve streets and safety, set off a heated debate in and around ...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

David McDonnell's Starlogging Once Again

It's appropriate — both where Mr. McDonnell has reappeared and that I would note it on this blog.

David McDonnell, the longtime workaholic editor of Starlog magazine from the early 1980s to its demise in 2009, has reappeared with a column on called "Starlogging with David McDonnell." As McDonnell had noted in past editorial columns of Starlog, it was he who kept up and even increased the amount of Trek coverage in the pages of the magazine, so his regular appearance on a Trek website is fitting.

And, of course, this blog has more than its share of Starlog news, issue-by-issue chronicling, and just general permeation with Starlogginess. Copyright that term.

Anyway, it's nice to see David McDonnell again.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Local Lyle Lahey

From the latest edition of the Marina Times:
Home away from home: Lyle Lahey's local powerBy John Zipperer 
Breathing is difficult for me right now, but it’s not because of fear or excitement. I have just returned from a week in my childhood hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin, where the temperatures were in the single digits (Farhenheit, alas) and the air so dry that my head decided that breathing was an option it could skip.  
The reason for my trip to Titletown was the sudden death of my stepfather, Lyle Lahey, at the age of 81. I spent a week with my siblings...

Mystery Housebuyer Strikes Again

I'm not sure who this genius is, but here's the latest column by the anonymous Mystery Housebuyer in the Marina Times:
It's already time to deploy the agent
March 2013 
Here’s a true story. Recently Judi found herself deciding to exchange her large ranch-style home for a smaller, easier to maintain condominium. She didn’t know how soon she would be able to get it on the market, so she wanted to delay contacting her real estate agent. My advice to her was to not wait; arrange a walk-through of Judi’s house now, even if the eventual sale is half-a-year away, because the agent’s input and knowledge could save Judi a lot of time and money.  
I’m not an agent — I’m not even in real estate — and neither is Judi, so I don’t write this column as a shill for any industry. But I do believe that ...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Starlog Cover Fun

Okay, you're taking a break from all of the bad news about the sequester. What's a person to do? Here's something: See how many things you can find different on these two magazine covers. Start ... now.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lyle Lahey, 1931-2013

At about 7:15 p.m. Central Time, on Friday, February 8, 2013, Lyle Lahey passed away. Known to many in Wisconsin as an independent (and ever-opinionated) political voice, Lyle was also my stepfather.

I don't remember the first time I met Lyle Lahey, but it was probably during a visit to my mother's office at Brown County Publishing in Denmark, Wisconsin. There, lots of talented albeit underpaid professionals assembled a number of local newspapers and one magazine; the magazine was my mother's brainchild; the newspapers were where Lyle worked as a political cartoonist, editorial page editor, and designer.

At some point, Mom must have taken me down to her friend Lyle's office, and there, amidst his drawing board and reference material and stacks of books and magazines and newspapers, was the tall, lanky political cartoonist whose work I saw every day in the Green Bay News-Chronicle and stories of whom I had heard my mother retell.

Over the years, I saw Lyle numerous times, and he eventually became my stepfather. I knew people in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who subscribed to the News-Chronicle soley because of Lyle's political cartoons. I had a (friendly) argument with a friend in high school who was certain Lyle's last name was pronounced laHEY and who didn't believe me when I said I was pretty sure my own stepfather pronounced his name LAhey. For 35 years, Lyle produced political cartoons on a daily basis for Brown County Publishing and the Green Bay News-Chronicle. He rarely took vacations, he never stopped (he had high respect for Bill Watterson, but I think Lyle thought him to be a bit of a weakling when Watterson called it a day after 10 years of "Calvin and Hobbes"), and he did something that artists almost never do: When he had to decide between producing material that was blander and more commercial so it could be syndicated nationally, he chose to stick to local topics because he felt that the people of Green Bay, Wisconsin, deserved to have a cartoonist who addressed their issues.

Lyle also, many years before, created "Bunky," a weekly comic strip in The Farmer's Friend (another Brown County Publishing newspaper). A year ago, I suggested republishing his "Bunky" comics through the magic of Amazon's print-on-demand service; he and my mother gave their blessing. Now, it's an imperative that that be done. Lyle's desert-dry sense of humor is perfectly transmitted in that strip's mixture of a befuddled space alien, a farm boy, and a sojourn to Maoist China.

Lyle Lahey was the man who sent home from the office a couple dozen issues of Omni magazine for me to devour. He was the man who helped my mother come to terms with it when I came out. He was the man who brought home library books of early Superman, Little Nemo, and (the greatest of all) Krazy Kat. He was the man who was the staff political cartoonist for the smallest daily newspaper in the country to have its own political cartoonist. He was the man who shared copies of Car Design and Comics Scene magazines with me, because he knew we both liked the publisher and I really knew nothing about cars. He was the man who shared Harlan Ellison and thriller books with me. He was the man – the stepfather – who got along great with my father; they traded stacks of car magazines each time they saw each other at frequent family gatherings.

And, like a generation so removed from my own ironic generation, he said what he meant and he took you seriously when you said something serious.

Lyle was a good man, a better man than I am or ever have been. He was, in the best sense of the term, an old-fashioned man. He read widely and a lot; he cared about what he talked about, and when you spoke to him, he always focused on what you were saying.

No man is perfect, but you won't get any admissions from me of errors in Lyle Lahey.

 Rest in peace, Lyle; you've earned it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Art of Making Magazines

Ten minutes ago, I finished reading my copy of The Art of Magazines, a fun and fascinating book from Columbia University Press. A slim book (Amazon calls it a 200-pager, but this paperback has just over 180, even if you count the blank pages at the end), the book is subtitled "On Being an Editor and Other Views from the Industry."

Page count aside, it's a book every aspiring and practicing editor and writer (and publisher and entrepreneur) should read. Forgive the occasional typo (an odd failing to find in this type of a book, especially considering its chapters on fact checking and copyediting) or some of the out-of-date comments in the chapters; this book's central messages are applicable to every writer, editor, and publisher in print and online. For that matter, it should also be mandatory reading by those Silicon Valley types who are eager to drive a stake through the heart of magazines, when what they're really saying is that they want to drive a stake through the heart of professional journalism.

The Art of Making Magazines is comprised of 12 chapters, all but one of which is a speech given by a high-profile magazine industry professional as part of the George Delacorte Lecture Series at the Columbia School of Journalism. The one exception is a Q&A conversation between moderator Victor Navasky and Vanity Fair Design Director Chris Dixon.

The speakers range from writer John Gregory Dunne to editors Ruth Reichl, Robert Gottlieb, Michael Kelly, Roberta Myers, Peter W. Kaplan, and Tina Brown; from fact checker Peter Canby to copyeditor Barbara Walraff; from art director Dixon and publisher John R. MacArthur to publisher/businessman/poet Felix Dennis. Get this book and read every one of those chapters; they will not only tell you how magazines are really put together (for better and worse), they will give your professional and creative imagination a boost for how to do things differently and better.

Reichl provides a pretty exhaustive run-through of what a high-powered magazine editor's day is like (and how little of it actually has anything remotely to do with editing), and as such she gives readers a good sense of how the editor-in-chief position has changed as technology and markets have changed. At the far end of the book, Felix Dennis also touches on the technology-and-changing-markets theme, but his is a more inspiring (albeit over-the-top) take on the subject; he says there will be a continuing need for good writers and editors even if ink-on-paper periodicals die off.

He also succinctly sums up something that is a theme through many of these talks, but he says it better (hence my use of "succinctly," I guess) than the others. He urges writers and editors and publishers to pay attention first to the reader, and only then to the advertiser. "My advertisers are welcome to attend the party. But they are not the guests of honor," Dennis writes. "They are welcome to a glass of champagne and piece of the cake, but I am married to my readers and not to my advertisers."

With that advice, along with his statements about the need to produce something the readers actually want to read and not something they're receiving simply because it's too much trouble to cancel their subscriptions, Dennis echoes a theme I've played on this blog numerous times, especially in its early years when I focused more on magazines; it's something that is central to a digital-only magazine I produced a couple years ago called Magma (hey, read it free).

Think about why people actually read magazines, or would read magazines if they're not; think about why magazines are failing even though the highly paid MBAs running them are doing everything by the book to cut costs and reduce article size and maximize revenues; think about why you would spend time reading a 5,000-word article and what you could get out of it that you don't get out of a 400-word blurb on a website; think about how many magazines have death wishes because their editors and publishers and owners don't know what they're doing or why readers should want to buy their publications, invest time and energy (and become emotionally connected) with it.

If The Art of Making Magazines has a major flaw, it is that it is very New York-centered in its chosen speakers; in fact, it is very Condé Nast-centered. What's missing, of course, is what most magazine writers and editors will experience: the small magazine, with no copyeditor, everyone including the publisher proofreads, and readerships in the tens of thousands rather than the millions. Also not included is someone speaking about the work of editors, writers, and publishers in business-to-business publishing, or in non-profit and associations publishing. There are some very successful publishers and editors in these ignored markets who could have given very valuable advice to the Columbia students and to readers of this book.

But in the end, the narrow focus is not any more of a hindrance to benefiting from this book than are the typos. The value is in the advice shared and stories told by the speakers – and in any degree of perceptivity that may be employed by the reader.
The Art of Making Magazines was edited by Victor S. Navasky and Evan Cornog, published by Columbia Journalism Review Books, an imprint of Columbia Journalism Press, and released in 2012.

The Newest New News Quiz

My latest Week to Week News Quiz, available in two different locations:

Huffington Post San Francisco

The Commonwealth Club's website

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The New The New The New Republic

I just purchased the February 11, 2013, edition of The New Republic magazine, the first issue since its redesign and editorial overhaul.

In high school and college (waaay back in the late 1980s), this was a magazine to which I was addicted; later, it devolved into something from which I was repulsed; and now it is something by which I am intrigued.

After I read this issue, I'll post my updated thoughts. But just from the flip-through-and-admire stage I'm at right now, I'm optimistic. There just might be a subscription to TNR in my future, once again.

Mad Bad Ad

I don't hate ads. I rather like a well-done ad, and I have sympathy for honest attempts that are nevertheless failures. It's difficult to get out your message in a short and eye-catching way that doesn't distract from your advertising goal.

What I do hate is full-blown, expensive ad campaigns by big companies using big ad firms that nonetheless result in stupid, self-defeating ads. Case in point: Verizon's campaign, currently adorning a ton of San Francisco subway stations and – I'm sad to say – probably other places, too.

The ads feature various statements over photos (that might or might not be stock photography; if they're not stock, they sure do look like the type of "office group, semi-casual" shot from the stock companies with which every editor and graphic designer is very familiar). At the bottom of the ad is the Verizon logo. Most of the statements are innocuous or at least mildly annoying (such as the one, partly visible in the image below, about mad scientists doing bad things and good scientists saving the world), but there's one that is completely ridiculous. It says "When you believe more, you sleep less."

Now, to quote our Battlestar Galactica friends, what the frack does that even mean? And, moreso, what the frickin' frack does that have to do with a telecommunications company? Is there some widespread backlash against the concept of sleep that is sweeping the nation but unknown to me? Are people afraid of Freddy Krueger? And how is believing related – in any way – to sleep of any sort? And what are those five people in the photo doing that is related to either believing (are they in some sort of party indoctrination session?) or sleeping (are they fortifying themselves with lots of caffeine because of some typically boneheaded corporate directive to avoid sleep)? If they'd tied it to dreaming, it might work: When you believe more, you dream more. Or, When you believe more, you sleep less but dream more.

Whatever. They're not paying me to come up with a working statement.

But even after going through the effort to correct their work on this terrible ad, we're still left with the question of how it relates to Verizon. (And the "Powerful answers" tagline below the statement does absolutely nothing to enlighten.) Does Verizon have a belief-based phone service? If you believe your iPhone 5 will give you the correct location for that restaurant, you will sleep less because you'll spend more time driving out of the swamp Apple Maps directed you to? Really? What was the thinking behind this ad? And why is sleep bad? Why is believing good? Any intelligent person is going to say that it matters what you believe in – actually, any intelligent person is going to say that it's more important what you know than what you believe, but I'm sure Verizon's challenged ad team didn't think it through that far.

Again, I don't hate ads. But Verizon has an advertising budget that most smaller companies can't match with their entire gross revenues. And they certainly didn't have this major ad campaign created by a high schooler who just wanted to try something quirky and new.

Advertising is very much like what we editors do every issue: There are no coincidences or unthought parts of a magazine cover. Everything that is there – from the image to the cropping to the state of the person's hair to the colors to the expression on their face to the direction of their stare to their gender to their age to the overlaid text and on and on – is there for a reason, and often the most important aspect is that certain things are not done because if you did them, people would focus on them and undercut whatever you were trying to communicate (which is, usually, "Buy this magazine").

I'm focusing on a bad entry in a weak ad campaign, and I have to occasionally remind myself what company is even being advertised. And then I'm confused all over again, because none of it makes sense.

So, I hate stupid ads. And this is certainly one of them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

All the World's a Stage

If this is the inside of your home, you need a
home stager. Photo: Irving Rusinow, Dept. of
Agriculture / wikimedia commons
I can't imagine who would have written this unsigned article, but here's an interesting article on home staging from the latest edition of San Francisco's Marina Times.
All the World's a Stage
By Anonymous 
On the HGTV series Buying and Selling, families simultaneously try to sell their homes and buy new ones. It’s a high-stress process, but they get help from the show’s hosts — Jonathan and Drew Scott, well known from their other show, Property Brothers — about how to find new homes and, more important, how to get their current homes ready for sale. In short, they get schooled on staging their homes to create the best impression for potential buyers.  
Home staging is quite an industry. Just go to ...

The History (or Histories) of Valentine's Day

A 1961 composite illustrating traditional
Saint Valentine's Day.
Illustration: Library of Congress.
In the February 2013 issue of the Marina Times in San Francisco, I investigate the history of the February 14th holiday.
The Stories Behind St. Valentine's Day
By John Zipperer 
Hearts, cupids, boxed chocolates, and mailboxes stuffed with greeting cards are all signs that we’re approaching Feb. 14 or, more formally, St. Valentine’s Day. Americans will purchase 145 million valentine’s cards this year, the Greeting Card Association estimates, and we can add to that an uncounted number of electronic greeting cards. 
The holiday brings to mind childhood viewings of Charlie Brown’s V-day travails, and probably a mixture of ...

Anti-Boom and Anti-Bust

My latest article in San Francisco's Marina Times newspaper:
As San Francisco Leads a New Economic Upswing in the State, It's Time to Act UnnaturallyBy John Zipperer 
The $25 million man, as I called him, was the symbol of California’s boom-or-bust economy. In the early 1990s, when California was struggling through one of its cyclical busts and commercial real estate in particular was hit hard, this man was $25 million in debt.
The $25 million man was a commercial real estate developer and consultant. He had rung up his debt during the go-go times of the late 1980s and very early 1990s, but when the market swung back — as it always will — he was ...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

News Quiz Time: Clinton and Kerry and McConnell and More, Oh My

It's my latest W2W News Quiz.

Here's a sample question: How did Senator John Kerry begin his comments to the Senate committee overseeing his secretary of state confirmation?

a. "I've never seen a more distinguished and better looking group of public officials in my life."
b. "Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago."
c. "I'm John Kerry and I am reporting for duty."
d. "Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us."

The answer to this – plus 10 other questions - can be found here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lucas and Musk and Weinbaum and Hatch and More

I've been hearing from readers near and afar about the third issue of my free digital science fiction & science magazine, Galaxis. Reminds them of the best of the old Starlog magazine. (Everyone knows I like to hear that kind of compliment.) Filled with great info. Give us more.

And so on. Blushing, I am appreciative of all of the people who have emailed, posted, and Facbooked about this third Galaxis issue.

And for those of you who have been waiting for an invitation, here you go. Here's a list of the entire table of contents (and you can click on the image below and see the entire magazine full-size on your computer).

Will We Ever See Blood & Chrome? The fans loved it, SyFy shelved it
Classic Battlestar Galactica Complete episode guide
SpaceX in Space Elon Musk makes private space travel work
The Magicians Meets the TV Gods Lev Grossman’s books get to TV – almost
The Wuxia Road to Star Wars Fans have heard the story’s roots lie in classic Japanese cinema. Look a little further west...
Star Wars in new media A guide to new generations of viewers catching the saga on Blu-ray & in 3-D
Can You Hate the Creator? Are the George Lucas-haters for real?
Another Earth There are those who believe that life out there began out there
FICTION: A Martian Odyssey 
Stanley Grauman Weinbaum’s pathbreaking short story about extraterrestrials
The View from CERN The center of the physics world—the center of the universe, in a way—is in Switzerland
The World According to Charles Yu The author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Viewscreen Would Harry Potter lead you wrong?
Launch Tube Lucasfilm and Disney tie the knot, SF politicians, memories of Ray Bradbury, & more news
Imagery Patrick Stewart, and more Culture
Worldly Things Tablets, watches, and oodles of Google
Webbed Website resource
What to see, hear, and do
Game Set The Galaxis Crossword Puzzle and SF Quiz
ReviewScreen Prometheus, The Long Earth, The Incal, Chez Max, Measuring the World, Moebius & more
Next Issue 
The future in Galaxis

To read, click on the image below or go directly to page for Galaxis 3.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Just Think About All the Unemployed Death Star Workers

I, personally, am very happy and proud to be living in a nation where the presidential administration, even after making a bone-headed move like promising to respond to any ridiculous petition that gathers 25,000 signatures (which is nothing in the age of social media), employs someone who writes a response like this.

Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget and the writer of the response, is a nerd, and my hero. Or he made great use of Wikipedia when he was writing the denial of the petition.

Republicans might complain that Obama missed an opportunity to add a Death Star to the military budget, and Democrats might complain that the White House passed up a great public works project that could have put to work thousands of people during the construction (not to mention afterward – someone was going to get the franchise for the Burger King in the Death Star food court).

But I have to agree with Shawcross that in these budgetary tough times, we have to put the Death Star on the back burner. Besides, we'll be too busy building a real-life starship Enterprise.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What to Look for in 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown
My 2013 political preview article from the new edition of the Marina Times:
What to Look for in 2013By John Zipperer 
At the beginning of every year, millions of Americans try to estimate how the new year will shape their lives. Psychics have their brief annual moments in the media spotlight as they’re asked to make claims of significant events in the coming year. They’re usually wrong, but it amuses people to think the future is predictable.  
I’m not a psychic, so I will not try to tell you the change in GDP or the Super Bowl final score. But for everyone who follows the news and ...

The Season Is the Reason

Agent Kevin Kropp.
I can't imagine who wrote this anonymous article in the new edition of the Marina Times:
REAL ESTATE | The Mystery Housebuyer
The Season Is the Reason
By Anonymous 
Sometimes it can be very profitable indeed to be out of step with everyone else. Just like heading to your favorite restaurant or shop during off-hours can get you a good selection with little hassle, shopping for a home during slow times of the year can have a big impact on whether you find many homes or even have many competing buyers.  
 “Slow times” is a relative phrase, ...

Ashes: A Queen in Waiting

The plaintiff, Ashes. Photo by John Zipperer.
My latest contribution to the pets section of Marina Times:

Ashes: A Queen in Waiting
By John Zipperer
An American vice president whose name I forget once defined his job as consisting of little more than checking on the president’s health each day. Still alive? OK, I’ll call back tomorrow.  
Such is the life of Ashes, a cute tuxedo cat who bides her time while her nemesis, an old Maine Coone cat named Charlie, rules the roost.  
Ashes came into our house quite by accident. ...