14 perfectly secret hiding places around your home

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I kind of love this Family Handyman list of hiding places that you probably already have in your own home (or can easily install) despite the fact that it’s presented in unfriendly slideshow format.

Probably the cleverest easy one is the vacuum cleaner bag trick, above (note: I shouldn’t have bought that Dyson, I guess) but some of the other ones are also great, including installing some fake PVC pipe in your basement (No. 11) or a dummy electrical fitting outside (No. 12).

Also, the captions can be amusing. Can your floorboards hold the weight of millions in gold bullion that they suggest hiding in your kitchen?

Some thoughts on the Winnipeg Free Press’ new paywall

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You must register (albeit at no charge) before you can read details of the Winnipeg Free Press’ new paywall, or their rationale for it.

I confess that I don’t know all the details of the Winnipeg Free Press’ upcoming new paywall.

I understand that it’s pay-as-you-go, with individual articles running about a quarter (27¢ is the rate I’ve seen quoted) or that you can get a monthly subscription for about $16.

Micropayments have been the Holy Grail for news since as long as I’ve been paying attention, but the problem has always been that processing fees erode too much of it to make them worthwhile. The Freep is apparently solving this problem by charging your credit card information only once a month, so they’ll only pay the processing fee on one transaction rather than maybe 30 times for each of the articles you’ve read that month.

Having only fairly recently left the Brandon Sun, a stalwart paywall newspaper for lo these many years, I’m favourably inclined to a) pay for news; and b) to find a way to make it easy for others to pay for news.

But paying for news is a hurdle that many newspapers have failed to clear. And while the Freep is trying something quirky and different, I’m still not sure how they’re going to clear the hurdle themselves.

Here are some of the issues I’m curious to see how they’ll address:

1. This is a hard paywall.

Well, it’s a hard registration wall, that’s for sure. As my screenshot above shows, you have to register before you can even read their rationale for the paywall. I’m not sure if they’ll make you pay for every article, or only some of them, or maybe even most of them.

Maybe they’ll only make you pay for their really good, hard-hitting enterprise stuff.

But unless I can “try before I buy,” I think they may end up being more successful in turning would-be readers away than they are capturing and converting casual visitors to subscribers.

They may want to consider some flexibility in their registration, particularly for breaking public interest news — a major flood, for example.

2. The price is steep

At 27¢ an article, newshounds will find their bills climbing quickly. The Freep might find themselves in the not-enviable position of cell phone carriers whose customers go overseas and leave the data on.

I can easily open 10 or so tabs from any middling-to-large newspaper that attract my interest, but I’m seldom going to read more than two or three of them all the way through.

Or, if I’m searching for a particular story, I might click through and discard dozens of stories that aren’t quite what I’m looking for. To a subscriber, that’s no big deal, but to a pay-as-you-go reader, that’s risky.

And I’m seeing some chatter on Twitter that the $16/month price is … ambitious in the Winnipeg market. The Freep, after all, has a popular recurring feature called “Winnipeg Cheapskate.”

3. They risk the temptation of clickbait

When you’re paid by the click, you’re motivated to generate more clicks. That means “curiosity gap” headlines, listicles, and quick “hot takes” on the subject de jour.

That would be a sea change for the Freep, which I think is currently known for its rather more in-depth, thoughtful and time-intensive projects and coverage.

It’s not just the obvious “11 Ways the City Done Messed Up, Number 8 Made Me Cry” style that you see polluting Facebook already. Clickbait could take a subtler approach, like perhaps re-headlining a wire service story so that readers are more likely to click on it.

I’ve done that on metered paywalled newspapers before, thinking that I’m going to get unique reporting and all I get is a reworded headline. That’s annoying when it uses up one of my 10 free articles in a month. It’ll be more annoying if it takes cash out of my pocket.

There’s also the issue of URL shorteners that mask the original link. I might be frugal with my shar.es or wfp.to links but still end up paying after inadvertently clicking on a bit.ly link.

4. News is somewhat fungible

Who will be the first digital subscribers to the Free Press? Competing news sources.

Radio has long been known for its “rip and read” approach to news, but every reporter worth his or her salt has been assigned to chase a competitor’s scoop.

In the old days, maybe that meant finding an original source of your own for their news. These days it suffices to say “There are reports that…” before launching into a paraphrase. Gotta get those clicks. Gotta get those eyeballs.

Will you pay top dollar to read the original an hour early? Or will getting the second-hand version of the facts be enough? I know a lot of people who are currently more than happy with third- or fourth-hand news, so betting on the value of first-hand seems risky.

5. Not all news is worth the same

I understand that you kind of have to set a price point, but 27¢ seems like too much for some news, and too little for others.

For some of the Freep’s coverage — say, a firehall land-swap feature that includes an interactive map or a Key of Bart in the article — even $1 would be a bargain.

But for quick-hits like a government press release rewrite, 27¢ is a ripoff.

Apparently, the 27¢ is supposed to buy you “all updates” to any particular story, but I’ll bet that doesn’t mean you get to pay for a story about a car chase and then read all the way through to the conclusion of the court case.

In fact, you might pay to read a story one day only to have to pay again to read largely the same story the next day, topped with something fresh that was held back for the print edition.

News is also worth different amounts to different people. Business folk who can get their office to buy a subscription won’t even notice. But some people — especially those without regular internet access or a credit card — are going to have more trouble.

6. Customized news leads to a bubble

One of the big selling features of the new Freep site is apparently their ability to track what I read, to learn what I’m interested in, and to feed me more of that every time I return.

That way lies madness.

First of all, I’m not a sports fan. But I might be interested in the odd story. Will they never show me a sports story because I so seldom read them? Or will they show me too many because I occasionally do?

And what about editorial judgment? I read news partly because I want to learn what I don’t know. I might never be interested in city politics — but it might still be important for me to know it.

So, what’s my solution?

I hope this is Free Press Paywall v.1 and that v.2 is coming soon. And, frankly, I hope that this technology trickles down to little sister paper the Brandon Sun, too.

Here are some things I’d like to see in v.2:

  • More price flexibility. Maybe some stories are free, others are a dime, and premium stories are a quarter. Feature packages, which could include links to explainers, background and related interactives could be $1 or so. Really intense special projects could even go $2 to $4 and I would support e-book packages of $5 or so. Monthly subscriptions could be tiered along those lines as well.
  • Upgradablity. Maybe I don’t want to subscribe for $16 right now, but if it’s the middle of the month and I’m closing in on having spent that much in pay-per-article, let me roll-up to a monthly subscription. Better yet, let me top out my 27¢ charges when I reach $16 and tell me that I’ve “unlocked the rest of the month for free.”
  • Pay-per-day or -week. I’m sure you can get a yearly subscription (although maybe it’s just billed monthly anyway). But I’d like the option to buy, say, just the day’s paper. Or maybe I’m really interested in an ongoing story — perhaps an election — and I’d like to read for a week. Maybe I’m even just passing through town and only want to read it for a week. Call it the “Tourist edition” and you could even sell special ads around it.
  • Pick Up Print. Not sure exactly how this technology would work, but if I were an online-only subscriber, it would be a neat perk to just be able to walk up to a vendor and grab a print edition for free, maybe once a week or a couple of times a month. Maybe each subscriber gets a bar code in their Freep app that vendors can scan.
  • Payment flexibility. Some people will prefer to sign up anonymously — why not let them pay with bitcoin or something. Wouldn’t it be neat if people could unlock a month free if they had enough good comments? Or a couple of letters to the editor published? Or if they submitted a breaking news video?
  • News algorithm options. There needs to be a way to turn off the news personalization feature. Many newspapers have a “top news” and a “news we think you’ll like” section. Maybe a toggle between Most Recent, Most Important, Most Popular, and Most Like What You’ve Read Before.
  • Less Logging In. If the story’s free, don’t make me log in to read it. Make me log in to comment, to share it, maybe even to read the comments. But not just to peruse it. If everything’s payment required, then maybe, but not if the story’s not even behind the paywall.

So what do you think, am I off my rocker?

Like I said, 1600 words ago, I’m favourably inclined to pay for news, and I hope the Free Press succeeds, although yes, for the rest of those 1600 words, all I did was gripe.

It’s tough, getting people to pay for what they seem to believe is the natural right of a citizenry.

Good luck to the Freep. They’ve always been willing to experiment (see also: News Café) and I applaud them for that.

Now, send some of those big-city resources Brandon’s way.

 

New Movie Trailers To Get You All Jazzed Up

I love a good movie trailer. It really is an art form. There has to be just enough of the plot to get the viewer interested, but too much and there’s no sense in going to the actual film.

Pacing is really important too. Cutting the clips together perfectly, with the right music and sound-bites can really affect ticket sales*.

Here are a few recent trailers that I think meet the above criteria. I’m getting excited for the start of the “real” movie season, now that the studio dumping ground of January-March is over.

Arnold Schwarzenegger having to save his infected daughter from what looks like a zombie virus? Showing some acting range? Um, yes please.

The film also seems to show a more realistic (perhaps) view of how an infection like that would take place.

Michael Fassbender is usually excellent, and this looks like a more humorous take on a Western, which is always welcome. It also stars Kodi Smit-McPhee, who you may remember from The Road. Not me though. I can’t read that book AND watch a movie about it, what am I, a sadist?

I know, I know. Tom Cruise. All that baggage. This is like the 18th movie in the franchise. Plus, the title is so dumb.

But the last Mission: Impossible was actually really good. The Burj Khalifa scene alone is enough to recommend it. And this new trailer is BANANAS. I mean, LOOK AT THAT LAST SHOT. And apparently Cruise does, like, all of the stunts, so give the man some credit.

If you want to see more of that plane scene, and how Cruise did it, check out this link. But aye, be warned. There be spoilers afoot.

There you have it! Just a few films to look forward to this year. And I didn’t even bring up that whole comic book thing.

*I have absolutely no proof of this, it’s just something I believe in, like the Easter Bunny, or that the perfect pair of jeans exists.

Something great to read every month

Although I don’t even have a Spotify account, and we’re “borrowing” a Netflix account, I’m starting to come around to subscription services.

I first fell in love with Tonx coffee — great, fresh-roasted, small-farm coffee, sent directly to your door every two weeks — a couple of years ago, when I subscribed as a Valentine’s Day gift for Amy.

We haven’t looked back, even though Tonx has now been bought by and absorbed into Blue Bottle, and some of the quirky personality has been bled out of it. The coffee’s still great and freshly roasted, although it’s now coming from larger plantations instead of small single-growers. It’s grown, and with that success comes scale, and it loses something of the intimacy it once had.

It’s still a million times better than grocery store coffee, though, and it’s the reason we upped our coffee maker and our grinder. It’s still well worth signing up, even if the Canadian dollar makes it a wee bit more expensive that it once was.

But all that is just a roundabout way to tell you about the most recent subscription I’ve signed up for: The Atavist.

Founded a few years back as a home for long-form, well-researched, deep-dive journalism, it posts just one story a month.

But what stories! They say they range from 5,000 to 30,000 words, and they’re each riddled through with photos and multimedia elements that pull you into the tale.

You can buy any single story for a couple of bucks, but I took out a year’s subscription for $25. The back catalogue has grown to the point where it’s well worth it.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been extremely pleased to read a lengthy story about a former Canadian bank robber who led the Stopwatch Gang until he (mostly) went straight and an engrossing tale about the would-be literary author who instead introduced the pulp staple of zombies to Western audiences for the very first time.

Next up for me will be Company Eight, billed as “The true story of one man’s quest to reform firefighting in America.”

That breadth of content is reflected in the style and the writing — each story is designed completely differently, and has a personality to match the text.

But perhaps I’ve saved the best for last:

There are no comments.

Instead, you’re alone with the story, to read it, to absorb it, to think about it and perhaps to pass it on to a friend to also read, before you can discuss it.

It’s wonderful. Freeing in a way, to not have to come up with a pithy tweet or a hot take. To not be faced with a deluge of other people’s opinions — no matter how learned or not — colouring your own thoughts.

All of which turns out to be appropriate, if you know the definition of the word “atavist.”

Music Monday: Thief

Has a song so bitter ever been so damn catchy?

Thief (aka PJ Wolf) hails from Australia, the land of sunshine and Wallabies, so it’s no wonder his music is such a shimmery brand of electro-pop. Thief is reminiscent of 80s synth, with a decidedly modern approach — which is of course so au courant.

Check out this slow-jam cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.” The steel drums are a nice touch.

 

Critiquing Charlie Brown’s record as a baseball manager

 

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Good ol’ Charlie Brown. How I hate him.

At least, that’s what you might think the fans of his baseball team would think. The notoriously terrible team somehow continues to soldier on, as is the way of comic strips, but as Patrick Dubuque points out, that kind of relentless losing streak might make Charlie Brown the worst baseball manager of all time:

(Charlie Brown) lost hundreds of games, often by hundreds of runs, in a demonstration of stubborn, idiotic courage.

But although the evidence seems persuasive on the surface, Dubuque digs into the statistics in the way only a baseball nerd can.

Perhaps Charlie Brown is merely doing the best he can with an extremely terrible team?

There is evidence for that, of course, but also evidence that, even with a terrible team, Charlie Brown should be making some efforts at improvements:

Perhaps the team has settled into its natural state of defeat, with players and managers happy to blame and be blamed, respectfully. Or perhaps they’ve settled in a natural state, and  a better manager might be able to create a winning culture and the happy chemistry that goes along with it.

Given what little on-field evidence there is to go on — no, say, box scores — Dubuque does an admiral job of teasing out the ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses of some of the lineup, and of Charlie Brown in particular. Read the whole thing.

It also makes me wonder, for perhaps the first time, what thematic link one could draw between baseball in in the strip and its name, Peanuts — the traditional snack of the game.

Next up: Charlie Brown as the worst football kicker of all time? Or the worst kite-flyer?

Image unrelated: Post-apocalyptic Charlie Brown and Snoopy, via io9.

 

I could watch the incredible precision of this watch being made forever

The intricacy of watchmaking is fascinating, and it’s a real treat to see the pieces being assembled in one of the world’s most intricate. It’s sort of a miracle of workmanship that chimes the hours, half-hours and quarter-hours, all mechanically.

And I’m not joking, I could watch that bevelling and polishing all day.

I couldn’t find a price for the watch on the F.P. Journe website, but Uncrate says it’s a cool half-million plus.

Out of my league, I suppose.

Maybe I’ll save up for this one instead:

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It’s made from an AK-47, so you’re not just wearing a precision timepiece, you’re also helping disarm the world.

And at just $195,000, it’s a (comparative) bargain.

My birthday is in the fall.

 

Whiplash meets Animal

For those of you who haven’t seen Whiplash yet — why not?

It’s well paced, clocking in at just over 100 minutes, beautifully directed and shot, and incredibly well acted — I think Miles Teller is going to be a pretty big deal soon, and J.K. Simmons just won an Oscar for his performance.

I never thought a movie about the competitiveness of jazz drumming could be so thrilling.

Those who have seen it, know that many of the scenes between Teller and Simmons are super tense. This mashup of Whiplash, and arguably the most famous drummer EVER, makes this particular scene a little more bearable.

(h/t to the AV Club)

Sam Smith, who?

I was taught from a pretty young age that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

So I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I watched a video by St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and by the voice that came out of the person I was watching.

I hadn’t heard of the band before, and only came across their music when their song “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” was playing in a bar. It was so arresting, so pained and reminiscent of 60s soul that I immediately pulled out my phone and soundhounded (is that a verb now? I think I just made it one) making sure I wouldn’t forget about it.

Here’s the video I settled on:

What.

What is that voice coming out of this white man from Alabama.

It’s like Paul Janeway is channeling every single soul singer to ever grace the Earth — and maybe Aretha too.

And I feel a little silly for assuming anything else.

Looks like they’re going on a European tour pretty soon, which makes me a little sad. They won’t be performing anywhere near Canada. Guess I’ll have to go to Coachella to check them out.

 

Short Film Friday: Paperman

It’s Short Film Friday on a Saturday!  Okay, okay…cut me some slack.  I’ve been busy.

Don’t worry, though.  This week’s installment is a doozy!  It’s probably been floating around for a while and you may have seen it, but it’s new to me.  (See above note re: being busy).  And anyways, even if you have seen it in the past, it’s worth seeing again.

From almost the first short, you can tell it’s a Disney production.  It just has that old-school Disney vibe to it.  The characters look like they belong in 101 Dalmations or something — gorgeous, gorgeous animation.  The choice to present this short film in black and white is interesting, too.  It lends itself to both the setting of the story, but again hearkens back to the Disney films of old.  Online comments make a big deal about the lighting, but come on…it’s animation, not a set.  Commenting on the beautiful animation takes into account the lighting by the very nature of the way it was produced.

At the same time, however, there is a CGI element.  Instead of detracting from the classical animation, it adds to it.  No animator myself, I suspect the CGI makes possible some of the shots that would have been in the past nothing short of nightmarish to produce.

Finally, yes.  Yes, this is a saccharine-sweet story.  I know, I know.  But we’re closing in on Valentine’s Day and although I don’t buy into the Hallmark holiday itself, I wanted to let all of you know just how much I love you.

Paperman is my gift to you.  Enjoy.

Short Film Friday: Foxy and the Weight of the World

In the past, Short Film Friday has been heavy on the whimsical and light on the emotional.  This short film takes a small step to rectify that situation.  Foxy and the Weight of the World is the story of a small dog sharing her master’s last moments of life.

This short film is but one of the many that debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  Because my rare posts on Absurd Intellectual apparently do not provide me with an all-expenses paid trip to Utah, I was unable to attend this year’s festival.  If you are like me, you too will appreciate the fact that the Sundance Institute has a YouTube channel where many of the short films from this year have been posted.  If you like short films, you’ll want to check it out.