Thursday, September 20, 2007

Digging deeper into the Floyd Landis story

Floyd Landis was stripped of this 2006 Tour de France victory on Thursday, bringing to an end (at least for the moment) a story that often sounded more like a soap opera than a news story.

If you want to learn more about that result, you can click on the link above and choose from any of the news stories there. But that's not really why I'm posting this.

I've written before about what a powerful force Wikepedia has become as an information resource. But simply quoting the number of pages it contains or the number of people who contribute or any of the other examples put forward don't really convey what I'm looking for.

The Landis story gives a dramatic example of Wikepedia in action. There is an extensive article on Floyd Landis' situation on the site, which appears to cover nearly every part of the story. There's also a story in Wikinews, which features the decision as one of its current events.

But what really captured my attention, and demonstrates the real power behind Wikipedia, is the Talk Page about the Floyd Landis article.

People that have questions or concerns about the stuff that's on the page can edit the content, of course, just like they can for any article on the site. But if their concerns are more about the nature of the information, or stuff that may be missing, or possible bias, etc., they can post their comments on this page and the editors who are tracking the story will respond.

It's a fascinating back and forth that makes for good reading on its own.

And of course, it's not just for this story. This kind of thing happens every day. To read more about it, check out this post I had about it a few months ago.

It's pretty common to hear that we're in the midst of an information revolution. This is the kind of thing that proves it. The revolution is now.

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More Canadians reading newspapers online

images-1.jpgThere's an interesting story in today's Globe and Mail that says that more Canadians are reading newspapers online, yet the subscription levels of the newsprint editions are not suffering. You can read the story in the Technology section of today's paper, or you can get it here if you want to read it online.

Here's an interesting snippet from the story:
...[O]verall newspaper readership is relatively stable in Canada, in contrast to the state of the industry in the United States where readership, circulation and advertising revenue have been slumping.
And later...
"The industry is actually enjoying a period of relative stability at a time when, in the United States, you're seeing some fairly sizable drops in circulation and ad revenues," said Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley. "Our industry is not in the same kind of trouble." He said many readers are looking at newspaper websites in addition to reading the printed version, but are not replacing one with the other.
I fit that profile. I'm definitely a newspaper reader. We get two daily papers delivered to the house and I've also got online subs to both. In addition, I regularly browse newspaper sites online, like the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Washington Post, etc.

To me, reading a newspaper is not just the gathering of information. I like to feel the paper and scan the stories as I flip through the different sections. I like the pictures. Heck, sometimes I even like to see the ads and the flyers that come with them.

Online, it's a different experience. The news is more targetted. I find I don't read as many stories that catch my eye. I tend to look at the headlines and dismiss a lot of stuff. If it was already on the page, printed right there, I would probably scan the story. But when it's just a headline on a screen, I'll only look if I'm really interested.

I've written before about the future of newsprint (Will global warming speed the rise of digital papers? and What's the future for newsprint?)

Looking back over those articles, I'd say that the issue is far from resolved, nor do I expect that to change any time soon. I still like to grab a coffee and sit down with the paper - the newsprint kind - in the morning. But who knows what's coming? Electronic paper that recreates that experience? An improved online interface, like the kind that the Iphone promises?

What about you? Do you still like paper? Or have you switched over to online only? Let me know what you think. You can leave a comment here (just click on the comments button below) or send me a note. I'd like to hear from you.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How's your Grammar?

GrammarGirl180.JPG.jpgI don't know whether I'd say I'm a grammar geek but I do enjoy the topic, even if my writing doesn't always represent GAGC (generally accepted grammatical constructions).

But I do enjoy reading books like Lynn Truss' (or is it Truss's?) Eats, Shoots & Leaves and I'm never without a copy of Strunk & White close by.

So I have no hesitation in recommending a podcast about grammar.

It's called Grammar Girl - Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, and it's a great way to stay sharp. It's a regular 5-minute show that looks at a particular grammar issue in detail. You can find it on Itunes or you can go to the website, where you can listen, download it and also order a copy of her book.

I thought of it today because I found out through Twitter (via Donna Papacosta, host of the Trafcom News Podcast) that Grammar Girl (aka Mignon Fogarty) is featured in a video that's up on YouTube. I've linked to the video below, so you can watch it yourself. And I recommend that you sign up for Grammar Girl. It won't hurt, and you might find it helps your writing too.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Listen to the blog post

I use a service called Feed Blitz (you can sign up on the right, if you want to) to send out an email notification of my blog posts, for those of you who prefer e-mail instead of using an RSS feed.

They've added some new features to their service and one of them caught my attention. They automatically create an audio version of every blog posting I put out.

It's kind of weird to hear a computer reading your stuff, but it seems to work all right. If you want to listen to the previous blog post about Project Censored, use this link, then click on the "Listen" button.

There's probably a way I could put that listen link here, but I haven't figured that out.

UPDATE: What do you know?

Listen to this article

What do you think?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Project Censored - 2008 edition

C2008_final_cover.jpgAs a former journalist, I've always been uneasy with the idea that the media is in cahoots with big government to suppress real news stories. It does happen, no question. But why it happens is often in doubt.

Each year however, I read the reports from Project Censored, which tracks stories of interest that don't get any play in the US media, and I wonder what is going on.

This year's edition is no different. There are some pretty amazing examples of stories that seem worthy of the media's attention but haven't received any. It makes for interesting reading, no matter what you might think is the reason for why you haven't heard about these stories before.

One caveat worth mentioning. I'd say these stories are usually presented from the "left" side of the political spectrum. On the other side of the ledger, there are plenty of stories coming out of the "right wing" side of the spectrum that are also not being widely reported.

If I learned anything as a reporter it was that is always -- always -- two sides to every story. And sometimes more. That's why reporting is such hard work.

Here's the link to a story from the San Francisco Guardian, about this year's Project Censored report.

In case you're wondering, there was a Canadian equivalent, called News Watch Canada. It's run out of Simon Fraser University. But although the web site is still up, the most recent report is from 2001. If anyone knows more about this, please add a comment about it or drop me a line.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Top 20 Most Bizarre Experiments of All Time

elephants.jpgDo you ever find yourself at a party struggling to come up with something to talk about?

No? Actually me neither. I can't remember the last time I was even at a party...

But no matter. Imagine for a moment you are - then here's a whole batch of intriguing stories that will keep your fellow revellers enthralled for minutes.

The 20 excerpts on the site are from a new book called Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments, by Alex Boese.

Boese says that "I scoured scientific archives searching for the most bizarre experiments of all time — the kind that are mind-twistingly, jaw-droppingly strange... the kind that make you wonder, "How did anyone ever conceive of doing such a thing?"

He's right. There are some real wild ones in this list.

Here's an excerpt:
#2: Obedience-- Imagine that you've volunteered for an experiment, but when you show up at the lab you discover the researcher wants you to murder an innocent person. You protest, but the researcher firmly states, "The experiment requires that you do it." Would you acquiesce and kill the person?

When asked what they would do in such a situation, almost everyone replies that of course they would refuse to commit murder. But Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiment, conducted at Yale University in the early 1960s, revealed that this optimistic belief is wrong. If the request is presented in the right way, almost all of us quite obediently become killers.

Milgram told subjects they were participating in an experiment to determine the effect of punishment on learning. One volunteer (who was, in reality, an actor in cahoots with Milgram) would attempt to memorize a series of word pairs. The other volunteer (the real subject) would read out the word pairs and give the learner an electric shock every time he got an answer wrong. The shocks would increase in intensity by fifteen volts with each wrong answer.

The experiment began. The learner started getting some wrong answers, and pretty soon the shocks had reached 120 volts. At this point the learner started crying out, "Hey, this really hurts." At 150 volts the learner screamed in pain and demanded to be let out. Confused, the volunteers turned around and asked the researcher what they should do. He always calmly replied, "The experiment requires that you continue."

Milgram had no interest in the effect of punishment on learning. What he really wanted to see was how long people would keep pressing the shock button before they refused to participate any further. Would they remain obedient to the authority of the researcher up to the point of killing someone?

To Milgram's surprise, even though volunteers could plainly hear the agonized cries of the learner echoing through the walls of the lab from the neighboring room, two-thirds of them continued to press the shock button all the way up to the end of scale, 450 volts, by which time the learner had fallen into an eerie silence, apparently dead. Milgram's subjects sweated and shook, and some laughed hysterically, but they kept pressing the button. Even more disturbingly, when volunteers could neither see nor hear feedback from the learner, compliance with the order to give ever greater shocks was almost 100%.

Milgram later commented, "I would say, on the basis of having observed a thousand people in the experiment and having my own intuition shaped and informed by these experiments, that if a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would be able to find sufficient personnel for those camps in any medium-sized American town."


Via: BoingBoing

Friday fun for Sept 14, 2007

Better a day late than never, I suppose.

I ended up without Internet access yesterday, so I neglected to post this. I've got two videos and a weird website for you this week.

Internet People

First up is a little ditty that runs through a brief mention of most of the high points of Internet news over the past year or two. If you're like me, you'll be amazed at how many of these references you get. And if you don't get them, I think you'll still be impressed by this video. Hey, it's Friday (sort of) after all.

Freaking faces

This site is just plain weird. The challenge is to take two faces and photoshop them into one. The results range from fascinating to bizarre to creepy. No real value whatsoever, but fun to flip through.

Here's the link:

Stop motion gone wild

And finally, a video that's just fun. Think about the work that went into putting this together. That's one of the things that's so cool about places like YouTube. They give people the opportunity to get videos like this out to a big audience. Thanks guys.

UPDATE - If you're having trouble getting the video above to work properly, here's the link to the original on YouTube.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How to spend $20 million

I really like reading Seth Godin's blog. He's got a grasp of marketing that isn't matched by anyone else that I'm aware of.

And as it turns out, that list even includes Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO and a legendary marketing guru in his own right.

Recently, Job's cred as a marketing genius took a hit with Apple's decision to drop the price of the Iphone by $200, bringing howls of outrage from the early adopters who bought one as soon as it was available. Although Apple quickly tried to mollify folks by offering them a $100 store credit, the furore hurt Apple's reputation (at least in some peoples' opinion) and obscured some of the other things that were announced at the same time, like the new Nano and the iPod Touch.

In a recent blog post, Seth explains how Apple blew it and deftly points to a few ways that they could have easily handled the situation to keep everyone happy. Jobs and Co. would be wise to consider hiring Godin before their next big announcement, just to make sure they're not screwing up again.

Here's an excerpt:
When Steve Jobs gave a $200 discount to the late adopters of the iPhone, the early adopters were incensed. They were being treated differently, but in the wrong way. My guess is that his $100 store credit and personal note helped a great deal, but it also cost about $20 million in profit. If Apple had thought it through, he could have offered any of the following (and done it during the presentation he did of the new products):

  • Free exclusive ringtones, commissioned from Bob Dylan and U2, only available to the people who already had a phone. (This is my favorite because it announces to your friends--every time the phone rings--that you got in early).

  • Free pass to get to the head of the line next time a new hot product comes out.

  • Ability to buy a specially colored iPod, or an iPod with limited edition music that no one else can buy.

The key is to not give price protection to early buyers (that's unsustainable as a business model) but to make them feel more exclusive, not less.

(Via Seth's Blog.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Blowing the Top Off Mountaintop Mining

In an age of expanding awareness about the dangers our environment is facing, its startling to see stories like this, which point out how relentless our search for fossil fuels has become.

Food for thought. Here's an excerpt:
There as elsewhere in the Appalachian coal country that stretches through Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, coal is produced by what's self-descriptively known as mountaintop-removal mining.

Mining companies clear forests from mountaintops, dynamite the peaks, excavate buried coal, and dump the waste into nearby valleys. It's cheaper and more efficient than old-fashioned mining, but the effects of mountaintop removal -- or MTR -- are devastating.

In just two decades, hundreds of mountaintops, more than a thousand miles of stream, and hundreds of square miles of forests have been obliterated by the practice. Opponents say the pollution is also dangerous to people who live in the region.

Here's the link to the story:

Link to Blowing the Top off Mountaintop Mining

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ipods take centre stage

If you've been putting off buying an Ipod because ... well, just because, it looks like you made the right choice. Because today, Apple announced a whole new crop of these cool devices.

promo_touchtour_img20070905.jpgThat means you can buy a shiny new one and be the coolest cat on the block. Or you can head downtown and pick up one of the previous generations at a significantly reduced price. That's what I did the last time new ones came out.

Now I'm not sure what to do. I'm pretty taken with the new I-Touch version (it's an IPhone without the Phone). But I think I'm still holding out for a real IPhone, which I hope will be available in Canada before too long.

What are you going to do?

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Next Killer App

I've been working out of a home office for a few years now and while I far prefer it to the many hours of commuting that I used to do, there are some things that I miss.

The biggest is simply the face-to-face "hallway meetings" that pop up all the time at the office. The kind that happen when someone pops their head into someone's office and says "Got a minute?"

Those little slices of life are what keeps businesses moving along. They're important but unfortunately, they aren't easy to replicate in a virtual office.

Sure, those of us that work this way all the time are able to compensate. We can get a lot out of a phone call, or an email message. Sometimes we use audio or video conferencing to try to simulate the "you're here with us" sensation, but in truth, it's not the same.

That doesn't mean that teleworking isn't important, or useful. I'm not even saying that there are things that can't be done remotely. What I'm saying is, wouldn't it be great if we could recreate those little opportunities to mingle and be creative in short bursts?

So I was intrigued by the latest post from Robert Cringely, called The Next Killer App. He says it's going to be telepresence.

Here's what Wikipedia says about telepresence and video conferencing:
Rather than traveling great distances, in order to have a face-face meeting, it is now possible to teleconference instead, using a multiway video phone. Each member of the meeting, or each party, can see every other member on a screen or screens, and can talk to them as if they were in the same room. This brings enormous time and cost benefits, as well as a reduced impact on the environment from air travel. A good telepresence strategy puts the human factors first, focusing on visual collaboration solutions that closely replicate the brain's innate preferences for interpersonal communications, separating from the unnatural "talking heads" experience of traditional videoconferencing. These cues include life–size participants, fluid motion, accurate flesh tones and the appearance of true eye contact. This is already a well-established technology, used by many businesses today. The chief executive officer of Cisco Systems, John Chambers in June 2006 at the Networkers Conference compared telepresence to teleporting from Star Trek, and said that he saw the technology as a potential billion dollar market for Cisco.

Cringely makes a compelling case for why these systems could soon move into the home market. And what an intriguing possibility that is.

What's more, he makes a good argument for why Apply might be the first PC maker to turn that dream into a reality.
...Imagine one of the new aluminum and glass iMacs only instead of a 24-inch screen make it 42 inches. The familiar iSight camera will be there in the bezel. but this time the camera will have HD resolution. This hang-it-on-the-wall iMac would establish yet another category of computers, which is what Apple loves to do. They’ll sell a million units to the faithful and all it will take is putting an active telepresence system in every Apple store connected to every other Apple store for prospective users to play with. This gets Apple into the big screen TV business with a system that has higher margins simply because it isn’t just a TV but is also a Mac. Look for all this after Christmas along with refreshed Macs featuring the H.264 encoder chip I pre-announced a number of months ago. Look for Apple to also facilitate telepresence by turning it into a service as it has more and more wanted to do. Then imagine that system connected to a 3G iPhone.

I like his thinking. And I'm looking forward to the next phase of this particular story.

(Via I, Cringely . The Pulpit.)

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