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shameless pleading





November 2008 Issue


Yow. November already? As Groucho Marx once noted, Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

Fortunately, here at The Word Detective, we like to dwell on the past.  As you may know, subscribers to TWD-by-Email (who pony up a measly $15 per year) receive each biweekly batch of columns long before they are published, for free, here on the website.  How long?  In the case of this November issue, these columns were first seen by subscribers back in February and March of this year.  If you notice reader comments on some of these columns, that’s because they’ve been sitting in the special Subscribers’ Content section since last February and March where readers can comment on, add to and sometimes correct what I write.  Every month I roll a big batch of columns out of the Subscribers’ section, down the hall and past the coffee machine, into the public area where the whole freeloadin’ world can read them.  Everything on this website eventually appears here for anyone to read, absolutely free. That’s important to me, and this is the best way I can think of to keep this site free and still buy food for the cats (and resident people).

The problem, from a non-subscriber’s standpoint, is that some of the most pertinent columns I write (often torn, as the TV shows say, from today’s headlines) remain hidden from the free view until months later, long after “Darn tootin'” (the subject of a recent column) has lost its resonance.  The solution, obviously, is for you (yes, you) to quit dawdling and subscribe.  You’ll not only receive the columns immediately from now on, but you’ll also be able to read those still parked in the Subscribers’ section right now (i.e., everything written between late March and mid-November).  That’s like a 21-month subscription for the price of a one-year sub.

[Note:  Fifteen bucks can be a lot of money if you’re retired, disabled, unemployed, or on a restricted income for whatever reason.  If you are in such a situation and would like to subscribe but can’t swing it at the moment, please write to me via the question form.  You won’t be the only one.]

Onward. Speaking of the past, if you are a subscriber to The New Yorker, you may have missed the fact (I stumbled on it by accident) that the magazine has put its entire archive online, all the way back to the first issue from 1925.  This is a good thing for me, as it obviates the need to maintain a Windows (eewww…) partition on my computer in order to use The Complete New Yorker on DVD, a creation that, for all its wonders, may be the single worst piece of software ever written in terms of usability.  OK, I exaggerate, but not by much.  Just the need to keep switching among the eight DVDs to read articles is a major disincentive to actually using the thing.

[more grumbling after the jump]

The bad news is that the New Yorker’s online archive isn’t all that much better.  It uses the same DRM-encumbered .djvu format files as the DVD version (must prevent copying, you know), delivered in a reader application that, for sheer dorkiness, makes the old AOL software look sophisticated.  If you run your monitor at a decently high resolution (above 1024 x 768, it seems), you’re going to need a magnifying glass to see if a page is worth clicking and magnifying to readable size.  To then get from a magnified page to the next page, you must click out of it and go back to the two-tiny-page view, equivalent in convenience to throwing a paper magazine across the room and then fetching it before turning every page. And no bathroom breaks allowed; if you walk away from your computer for more than about ten minutes, you have to go through the cumbersome login process all over again.  And you’d better be sure that you’re really logged out before you try to log back in, lest you get the dreaded “too many concurrent connections” message.

Obviously, putting such extensive archives online is a daunting project, but I must point out that Harper’s Magazine has done a far more reader-friendly job with their archives (going all the way back to 1850).  The page images are in .pdf format, which can be read within most browsers or downloaded for more leisurely viewing or printing. The New Yorker Archive won’t even let you print more than one page at a time. And saving an article to your computer?  Fuhgeddaboudit.  At least with the Complete New Yorker DVDs you can print a range of pages to a .pdf file and mail it to your co-conspirators (or just save it to read in your dotage).

On the other hand, with the online archive you do get to read, albeit awkwardly, the entire run, more than 80 years, of The New Yorker for just the price of a print subscription.  And they claim the whole shebang is still in beta, so I suppose we can hope for a sudden attack of common sense.

And now, on with the show….

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