A new kind of news network

 Posted by on 24 October 2011  Modern Life
Oct 242011
 

 

I just read a fascinating piece on Jon Stewart in Esquire magazine. Although the article is a little downbeat, tracing the evolution of Jon Stewart from someone poking fun at media personalities to becoming one himself (with all the “selling out” baggage that implies), I found the most interesting line to be buried way near the end.

This is Stewart talking to fired NPR newsman Juan Williams:

“If somebody wanted to start a twenty-four-hour news network that would focus on corruption and governance as opposed to the politics of it, do you think that that would have a chance to be successful and change the way debate occurs?”

Huh. Now isn’t that an interesting idea? Sure, in Esquire, they portray it as one more step in the de-Jon Stewartification of Jon Stewart himself, but I think the idea’s got legs.

I recently (and to much furor) postulated on Facebook that there was very little difference between sports journalism and entertainment journalism, and I made an allusion to TMZ that drove every sports fan I know absolutely nuts with rage.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that a lot of journalism, period, is reduced to the common dramatic elements that I was calling out in sports and entertainment journalism. Political coverage, for example, is often limited to breathless coverage of what chances a bill has to be passed, not whether it would be a good law, or what its consequences would be.

I’d be curious to see if a news show (let alone network) that devoted itself to covering governing rather than covering politicking would be able to make a go of it.

Telling stories would be harder. You’d have to hire really great reporters, able to craft compelling stories out of difficult raw material. You’d have to pay them well and you’d have to give them the time and resources to cover stories in the depth that they require. Are there enough viewers and advertisers to make that feasible?

I don’t know. But I hope so. And I think Stewart might be the only person I can think of with the juice to get it done.

Read the whole profile: Jon Stewart and the Burden of History – Esquire.

May 012011
 

With drag-and-drop ease, the website Stolen Camera Finder says it will search through the Internet for other pictures posted that have your camera’s serial number embedded in the file’s metadata.

Of course, if you take and post a lot of pictures, there will be a lot of chaff and little wheat — you will have to look through a lot of your own pictures to find some taken by the thief. But, cool idea! It’s like looking for a camera’s fingerprint, and could give you an excellent start at finding your camera.

If you’d like to help out the website, I also appreciate that he’s asking for donations using Flattr, which I blogged about when it was new.

Follow this link to find out more, or to install the free browser extensions that will help build a database of web photo IDs (wait — that sounds a little Orwellian).

(via BB)

Mar 082011
 

I have heard of fair trade shoes made of recycled materials before, but Oat Shoes are a leap past even that. They’re made entirely of hemp canvas, bio-cotton, cork and certified biodegradable plastic. From their site:

OAT Shoes is a brand-new initiative in shoe design combining attractive style and biodegradable materials to produce sneakers that not only look good, but leave no mark on the environment when you throw them out. Bury them in the garden, woods or compost, water regularly and flowers will bloom from your old kicks!

I cannot seem to find, on their website, any information on whether flower seeds are actually embedded in the shoes, or whether they just biodegrade into good soil — and let’s be clear, biodegradable plastic has kind of a spotty record or actually, you know, biodegrading.

But still — cool!

Mar 022011
 

I have a friend, an artist who goes by the name Dirty Wett, who is one of the people I most admire, though I’ve never told him so. For as long as I’ve known him (geez, well over a decade now) he has been uncompromising in his ideals and his desire to pursue his art.

Recently, he embarked on a new project, wherein he is making small pieces of art, and then stashing them for people to find later. He’s calling it “Tweet-Seeker Art.” Here’s his writeup of the project, where he says:

My intentions are to stash these gifts in a place where the seeker might find more than just a piece of art. Maybe it’s a bit presumptuous, but whether it’s the view, the vibe, the atmosphere, the architecture or some strategic act of attaining the piece itself, I’d like to facilitate an experience that simply encourages one to seek.

So, over the past few days, as he inked and coloured and completed a small piece of art, I followed along with the process as he talked about it on Twitter.

Then, finally, he Tweeted out that he had stashed it, and he included a photo of where it was located.

Hey! I recognized that spot. And it happened to be just three blocks from where I was about to head anyway!

So, although it was bitterly cold with a biting wind, I took a short detour, walked up to the abandoned sign outside a vacant church, and found a piece of real actual art, protected by a ziplock, tucked gently away. That’s me finding it, above.

Of course, like much art, a photograph doesn’t do the piece any justice at all. “Jovian Julie” is delicate and textured in a way that pixels can’t convey. I feel proud to have found her, almost like I was rescuing her from the cold.

But I also feel like I found it too fast. Like there should have been more anticipation, more challenge, more chase.

Plans are afoot for a Winnipeg art stash, I hear, but in the meantime, I’m trying to come up with a way that I can keep things going. Can I think of something that I could stash as well? Could I give up “Jovian Julie” for a second round of stashing?

I have always liked the “take something, leave something” vibe that I got from geocaching, so perhaps I will learn from that.

I’ll let you know what I figure out, and some hints as to where I leave it. But you don’t have to wait for me — why not go out yourself?

Feb 102011
 

Oddly, although I spent my childhood bent in toil over a gigantic vegetable garden, and although my father is justifiably proud that he has managed to grow myriad apple, pear and walnut trees in Manitoba’s climate, I had never heard of the technique of espalier.

It cropped up in a column that I was copy-editing, and it wasn’t explained — just tossed out like everyone should know the word — so I quickly Googled it and read up on the technique on Wikipedia.

Thnk Bonsai trees — but bigger. These are real-life trees (often fruit trees like apple or pear) that are trained to grow in just two dimensions, to make them flat, like a wall.

In fact, sometimes they are used in place of a hedge. Or sometimes they are placed flat against a wall or the side of a building for aesthetic reasons. This placement of the tree can help shelter it from cold winds in areas that might otherwise be too northerly for it, or the wall can be used to reflect and contain what heat there is.

Also, I learned that a tree trained to espalier will produce fruit at lower, easier-to-be-picked heights. This is something that my dad could definitely stand to learn.

Cool stuff! The picture above, taken by Graham Bould, is from the Wikipedia article, and is a fruit tree in England. Love it! The picture below, taken by Matthew Trump, is also from the Wikipedia article, and shows a more artsy espalier technique, in in the garden of the Cloisters in upper Manhattan.

Dec 222010
 

Pop your package of beer-making ingredients into this special cask, just add water, and pop it away for a week, then come back to perfectly brewed beer? Sounds awesome.

It’s about $150 and it makes 10 L of beer at a go, so you could get a fast payback, that’s for sure.

Is it too late for Christmas? That’s okay, I’ll forgive you the belated gift.

(thanks, Andrea!)

Dec 192010
 

If you hate Christmas shopping but love mathematics, you’re in luck. Over at Wired, Garth Sundem has detailed a formula that you can follow so that you spend exactly the right amount of money on each person’s gift. Then you don’t end up buying your brother-in-law a $50 gift and running out of cash before you get anything for your girlfriend.

He says:

1. Define your total budget. Be realistic. For this example, I’m using $500.

2. List everyone for whom you need to buy a gift.

3. Now next to each person’s name, give them an importance rank from 1-10 (10 high).

4. Sum all the people, multiplied by their ranks. It should look something like this 10(wife)+8(kid1)+8(kid2)+3(dad)+3(mom)+1(in-laws)+4(nephew)=37(total)

5. Set your total equal to your budget: 37(total)=$500

6. Solve for (total): total=$13.50

7. Multiply this “total” by each person’s importance to see how much you should spend. In this example, your wife gets 10*13.5=$135, and your kids get 8*13.5=$108.

With only $500 in your pocket, and without time at this point to dilly dally with another shopping trip, you’ll be forced to stick to it.

Of course, this only works if you can follow your budget perfectly. If you instead find the perfect gift for someone but it’s a few bucks higher than you’re “allowed” to spend, it will throw all the other gifts out of whack.

Also, in any realistic universe, finding a gift that is to-the-penny exact on your budget will be much more stressful than shopping in the first place.

I would add some fuzziness. Also, this would be interesting to figure out after Christmas, when you reconcile the receipts, and see how close you come to the ideal budget.

Dec 162010
 

I am both enthralled by this art project, and saddened that it’s come to this — we need an ati-billboard to remind us that the natural environment is worth looking at.

My friend and co-worker Colleen pointed me towards this piece in the Design Observer:

Out in Washington State, Daniel Mihalyo and Annie Han, of Seattle’s Lead Pencil Studio, recently put up a piece along the Canadian border that is stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful. [[there is] a story about it in the new issue of Icon.] To counter the visual clutter along the road into the United States—countless billboards of garish, cheesy advertising fouling a once pristine landscape — they’ve created their own billboard, a negative billboard that frames the ever-changing sky. The structure itself is an evanescent thicket of steel rods, left incomplete along the top edge so your mind can fill in the shape.

Giant billboards are some of the most invasive forms of advertising, especially when you consider that they are strictly visual and mostly stationary. They’re just so huge!

What an interesting way, then, to make an artistic statement: to make the viewer mentally erase one of those billboards by providing, instead, a frame, and filling it with the natural vista behind. It reminds me of the artwork in Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo,’ which showcased photos from which all the advertising had been erased — leaving blank circles, squares and ovals where ads and logos had been.

Instead of just blank gray spaces, though, this one gives the viewer a great gaping hole, something to look through and see what would otherwise be hidden.

I like it.

Nov 262010
 

Well, isn’t this an interesting set of numbers, as Americans celebrate Black Friday deals that are so extreme they’re drawing shoppers from this side of the border in droves. According to a study of West Michigan’s Kent County commissioned by a local-shopping advocacy group, if you spend $100 at a locally owned store, between $68 and $73 of those dollars will stay in your community, to recirculate and be used to invest in things that are near, and perhaps dear, to you.

The story is different if you shop at a store that’s not owned locally — perhaps a chain or a big-box store. Some of the money sticks around, through wages and taxes, but far fewer — only about $43 of every $100 you spend.

That’s because non-local stores are much less likely to spend money on things like local advertising (the design and printing will be down at HQ) or local services like accounting. And, I’ve previously read that big box stores like to tout their donations — they do sometimes give big money to lots of local charities. But even if they give 10 times the amount a local store would, what if they’ve put 15 stores out of business?

I don’t always shop local — in fact, I love perusing deals online, and I’ve ordered plenty from websites. Sometimes it’s something that I just can’t get in my own hometown — a specific poster or funny T-shirt, for example. But other times, I’ve felt no compunctions in ordering a computer or a flat-screen TV from an online retailer, where I can save hundreds of dollars at a pop.

Sure, if bothers me, sometimes, that the money won’t be going to my local town — that it won’t help invest in a livable community, just by circulating around and around — but I can’t always justify the extra cost, especially on a big-ticket item.

So, the numbers in this chart allowed me to quantify the savings of shopping non-local against the investment of shopping locally. Yes, these are numbers specific to West Michigan, but I’m going to presume that they are at least somewhat applicable in a more general sense.

Even if I shop at a non-local store, the chart reassures me that $43 of every $100 I spent is going to stay at home. But I could have a nearly 60 per cent greater impact by keeping my money at home — an extra $25 to go around and around in my community.

Let’s crunch the numbers — if I’m a committed shopper at non-local stores, I would need to spend $158.14 in order to have the same impact as spending just $100 at a local store would have.

Alternatively, if I spend just $63.24 at a local store, I would have the same local impact as spending the full $100 at a non-local store.

Or, let’s say we split the different. If I spend $50 at a local store for every $50 I spend at a non-local store, I’ll end up investing $55.50 back into the local economy. That’s significantly higher than if I spent it all non-locally, and yet it still lets me save a fair bit of money if local stores charge more. That’s especially true if you pick and choose where to spend your money with care — spend it at local stores where the price differential is least, for example, or where the local investment is greatest.

When I buy local, I try to buy things that actually make a difference. Coffee beans ain’t exactly local where I live, but I try to buy fair trade coffee from a  local shop. I try to patronize farmers’ markets. I try to buy from a local bookstore downtown (though I find I’m reading fewer books and more stuff online). I even try to go to a local mechanic, when I can, and not a chain.

There’s more about the dramatic increase in economic activity when you shift to a local store here, if you’re interested. The chart and link to the study is here.

(via Andrew Sullivan)

Nov 232010
 

Krystal D’Costa has a fascinating post up at Anthropology in Practice delving into the true heart of a baseball. Literally. From ripping out the stitches to unravelling the yarn to cutting open the rubber core to reveal the cork within, this is practically a baseball autopsy.

And, while it tickles the “take it apart” urge inside me (my parents couldn’t buy clicking pens when I was a boy), the post is more because it also delves a bit into the history of the game (cork? rubber? wool?) as well as into the sources of all those products and the labour that makes them.

Baseball may be as American as apple pie, but the ball they play with is global to the core.

If you’re interested in the anatomy of a baseball, click here.

(via @anthinpractice)

Nov 192010
 

Over at Scientopia, they’ve got a fantastic roundup of a lot of recent research into the mystery of orgasm. And yes, it really is a mystery to scientists (no under-sexed nerd jokes, please).

I cannot possibly recommend enough that you dig into that post and start reading.

So yes, everything you wanted to know about the biology, biochemistry and physiology of orgasm (is on another blog). Sorry ’bout the link-bait title.

(From @carnal_carnival, via @anthinpractice)