Any subject can be made interesting, and therefore any subject can be made boring.
--Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, January 27, 1999

College starts tomorrow. Later today, actually; I'm behind schedule again, and it's technically Thursday as I write this. I'm not ready for this yet. I still don't have a job (although a couple of potential employers are supposed to be calling me back, so there's hope... but at least one of them might hinge on me switching my course schedule around, and if he doesn't get hold of me pronto, I'm not going to be able to do so in time). I still haven't revised any of my essays for the upcoming annual writing contest. I still haven't written the winter issue of a camp newsletter I write, which really should have been done a couple of weeks ago. It's 1 AM, and I have my first class at 11 AM, and what am I doing? I'm writing a journal entry, that's what I'm doing.

Sorry; I just needed to get that out of my system.

So I went back to the college paper today. We finally have some new blood. We were severely understaffed all last semester, so this is a Good Thing. On the other hand, that means a bunch of editors are learning the joys of PageMaker for the first time.

I use Microsoft Publisher, myself. In fact, my first act this semester was to take the old Op/Ed template from PageMaker, and recreate it in Publisher. This, on the surface, is rather out of character; as a rule, I despise Microsoft, and will use almost any excuse to (a) put them down, and (b) avoid using their products.

Here's the thing: I agree, wholeheartedly, that PageMaker is a much more powerful piece of software than Publisher. Publisher is easier to use, sure, but it's nowhere near as versatile as PageMaker is, provided that you know what you're doing.

But that's the problem. Nobody in the office really knows how to use PageMaker.

Oh, sure, they have the basics. Passed down from editor to editor, they know how to make text boxes, and put pictures in, and put captions on, and how to correct some of the screw-ups that invariably happen when trying to do any of the above. But that's about it. They don't know the first thing about any of the advanced features that make PageMaker what it is. I doubt more than two others in the office even know what "leading" and "kerning" are, and I seem to be the only one who's thought of modifying the body text style to avoid having to use one particular kludge for tabs that everybody else uses.

So... if they're only going to be using the basics anyway, why not use Publisher? 'Cause Publisher does a marvelous job on the basics, even if it is a Microsoft product. Okay, true to form, it wasn't until the third release (Publisher 97) that it started working properly. Publisher 2, in particular, had a nasty tendency to trash files at the drop of a hat. But Publisher 97 and 98 are stable, and really, really easy to use. There isn't a thing currently being done at the college paper that can't be done as well on Publisher, with half the effort.

Furthermore, because the basics are so easy with Publisher, it's possible to move on to more fun, advanced features that none of my fellow editors will ever get around to doing with PageMaker, 'cause it's hard enough for them to get the hang of the basics. You can switch the number of columns, add cool borders, rotate text to any angle, and do all sorts of other neat stuff, with about two clicks of the mouse.

I've tried converting some of the other editors, but haven't yet had any luck. Their loss.

The only decent argument I've heard for using PageMaker is that it's good experience for the eventual acquisition of jobs in publishing. The only catch is that, in that case, we ought to be using Macs instead of PCs, and Quark, instead of PageMaker. But since virtually all of us have PCs at home, that didn't stand a chance. A pity, really. You can't beat a Mac for graphic design.

On Monday, the New York Times had an article on Brill's Content, which basically stated that the magazine is realizing that it started out taking itself too seriously, with too many long, boring, densely-written articles that there's just no audience for, and that it's starting to come around and publish lighter, reader-friendly stuff. The tone of the article implied that the magazine still had a way to go in that regard.

This is the second such article I've seen; the first, in Salon Magazine, made the same claim; that the magazine had no sense of humor, and needed to lighten up.

Please, no.

I am a subcriber to Brill's Content. In fact, Brill's Content is the only magazine I subscribe to; the other magazines I'm interested in can be found at my local library. (Aside from Games, which I haven't seen anywhere in awhile. I hope they haven't gone under again.) And I've been watching it go downhill in recent months, and I guess now I know why.

I don't want the magazine to get fluffier. I loved the minute-by-minute analysis of how the Lewinsky thing played on all the networks. The "legalistic writing heavy with drowsy detail and profiles that run on so long that even the articles' subjects themselves have said they could not wade through them," as the Times would have it, are exactly the sort of thing I crave.

Instead, what have they started filling the magazine with? Well, there's "Stuff We Like," two pages of fluff featuring books, magazines, and websites that Content staff members like. This I need? And, in the latest issue, there's a six-page profile of Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle. It was a good article, but what is it doing in Content?

If this trend continues, I'm not going to be renewing my subscription, that's for sure. I want hard data. I want probing analysis of media activity. I want full details of every scrap of evidence on the paper trails, and if that means boring, dense prose, so be it. I have other sources for fluff.

Darn it, who wants a friendly watchdog?

Brillian Disclosure: Shmuel works for a college newspaper that has never been mentioned in Brill's Content. It is possible that he feels bitter about that, although it's not likely. He solved today's New York Times crossword (edited by Will Shortz) during supper, earlier tonight. We should also note that he met Deborah Gibson at a CD signing, and she was in The Manhattan Project (as an uncredited extra) with John Lithgow, who was in Footloose with Kevin Bacon. That must fit in somewhere.

Incidentally, I'm sorry about giving away so much of the plot of Allende's The House of the Spirits. I'll make sure to give you plenty of warning next time I do anything like that. (And thanks for pointing out the problem, Mary Anne!)

Oh, I almost forgot! It seems that InternetTrash is going to be switching ISPs, and installing their own dedicated lines. This will supposedly improve their service, but it also means that it's going to be down for a couple of days in the near future. So if you can't access this site anytime soon, that's probably it. I'll be here when they get back.

Come to think of it, maybe this is a good argument for a notify list. So... if any of you want to be informed when I put up new entries (or when the site gets back up, if it goes down), let me know, and I'll send out updates. Can't hurt, I guess.

For that matter, somebody wrote in asking about my essay on the "f-word." If any of you want to see it, let me know. I'd be interested in getting more feedback on it, as I'm hoping to get it published, but that's not an absolute requirement.

Anyway, that's it for tonight. I'd best be off so I'll have a chance of making it through tomorrow. Two classes, followed by writing my column and putting at least one section together. (The poetry will probably wait until next week.) Oughta be fun.