Monthly Archives: December 2011

#Longread of the year: Fear and Self-Loathing in Las Vegas

An utterly brilliant piece of journalism plucked from Longreads’ end of years lists: The Daily’s Zach Baron spends a week in Las Vegas re-enacting Hunter S. Thompson’s famous steps, a la 2011.

The standfirst: “In 1971, Hunter Thompson first published ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ in Rolling Stone. Forty years later, The Daily’s Zach Baron revisits the piece and the town in which it was born, chasing Thompson¹s ghost through crazy desert car races, a dying local economy and a massive and menacing hacker convention known as DEFCON.”

Attempting to write about the Gonzo era – and in Gonzo spirit – could so easily have gone wrong. Instead, Baron pulls it off rhapsodically. Why does it strike such a chord? This passage sums it up:

“[T]he eerie thing about reading “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in this foul year of Our Lord, 2011, is the dispiriting sense of recognition that runs up the spine.”

Read it. I implore you. Stick with it to the end (it’s a monster).  Journalism tends not to be done like this any more. Bravo.

Fear and Self-Loathing in Las Vegas

Flipboard, Taptu, Zite… and the rise of Curautomation*

Image: luc legay on Flickr / Some rights reserved

It’s noisy out there. Links fly at you from all angles – news sites, email, Twitter, Facebook, yadda, yadda. Inevitably, from time to time, the wood and the trees merge into a thick internet soup. Any web addict will be familiar with this brain fog. Pawing at our keyboards, sweating, outnumbered, sinking. WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?!?!?!?

RSS readers were supposed to fix this. Sign up to your favourite feeds and wait for them to roll in. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who has abandoned their Google Reader to fend for itself. I was a gluton. I signed up for too much. I figured Twitter would replace it – the wheat would rise to the top, and my stream would deliver me the goods, naturally. But this is too much too. I tried culling the people I followed, but there are too many interesting folk out there.

Which is why I’m excited about a (quite) new breed of app that aims to filter through the noise. They curate, then automate. Curautomate. Sorry. Quixotically, I’ve downloaded three of them. Flipboard, Taptu and Zite all pretty much do the same thing – inviting users to select topics they are interested in (News, Design, Tech etc.), after which we can sit back, relax, and trust the app.

Flipboard for iPhone

Flipboard is probably the sexiest, with its eponymous vertical flipping interface. You choose your subjects, or sync your Twitter account, and it renders it all beautifully. Flip, flip, flip….

Taptu for iPhone

Next up, Taptu. Again, it invites you to choose your feeds, based on subjects or sepcific publishers, even breaking down into sub-sections such as the Guardian’s tech section, the Telegraph sports section etc. Each article is presented within the app, with “related topics” stapled to the bottom of pieces, allowing you to add to your chosen feeds, and, um, up the noise. Oh.

Zite for iPhone

And finally, Zite. It plugs into your Twitter account and chooses the subjects it thinks you are interested in. It was fairly spot on for me, offering travel, tech, social media, journalism, world news and a few others, which I added to. From there, your topics are arranged horizontally – swipe to see the next batch. Swipe, swipe, swipety swipe…

I like. But I’ve already made things a bit noisy. And perhaps therein lies a problem. Your noise-reduction app is, ultimately, only as good as your noise-reducing discipline. These things are supposed to dampen our habits, like methadone for the interweb, muffling the babble, but I managed to make them into mini cacophonies within hours of downloading. Must try harder.

And, just to add to the irony, I’ve started working on my own little noise reducer, more on which soon. There’s a market in stemming the flood, and I predict it will soon be flooded.

*Please note that I am well aware of just how wanky the word curautomation is. Let’s get it trending and then gamify** the shit out of it.

**Please note that I am well aware how how wanky the word gamify is. Let’s get it trending and cloudify*** the shit out of it.

***Please note that I am … ok I’ll stop now. For more wanky words, click here.

Uncle Jeff & Stanley Matthews’ autograph

Uncle Jeff, at the wheel

My Unlce Jeff has been going to West Ham since the 1950s. I’ve been going with him since the early 90s. On Saturday, we went to Reading to watch our team be rubbish. He’s always telling me stories about how football used to be, and on this journey I decided to record one of them. At some point in the 1950s, uncle Jeff tried to get Stanley Matthews’ autograph. It didn’t go to plan.

NYT’s Reveal – A mirror into the future?

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Impressive stuff. More on it at NYT Labs.

Envisioned as a key fixture in your home, the mirror uses face recognition to call up personalized data, including health stats, a calendar, news feeds, and other information relevant to your morning routine. Voice commands switch between views, and gestures (via an embedded Kinect) activate content, including fullscreen video messages from other mirror users. An RFID-enabled shelf responds to objects that are placed on it, such as medications and personal care products, revealing personalized data. The mirror will recognize certain behaviors, such as when you schedule a trip or fail to get enough exercise, and recommend contextually-relevant content. If you’re interested, you can tap your phone on the mirror to sync the article for reading on the run or on our Surface Reader application. Read more

Agao and Chinese web censorship


Excellent piece on censorship in China from the NYT

No government in the world pours more resources into patrolling the Web than China’s, tracking down unwanted content and supposed miscreants among the online population of 500 million with an army of more than 50,000 censors and vast networks of advanced filtering software. Yet despite these restrictions — or precisely because of them — the Internet is flourishing as the wittiest space in China. “Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity,” says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. “It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption.”…

So pervasive is this irreverent subculture that the Chinese have a name for it: egao, meaning “evil works” or, more roughly, “mischievous mockery.” In its simplest form, egao (pronounced “EUH-gow”) lampoons the powerful without being overtly rebellious. Read full article

Drone Journalism

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This video drone footage of recent riots in Poland has been causing quite a stir. I did a bit of research into it. Turns out, doing what this enterprising Polish man did is illegal in the UK, sadly. A company based up in Yorkshire licenses them in the UK for mostly building surveyancy purposes – getting footage of hard-to-reach industrial plants, big chimneys and suchlike. This will set you back up to £2,000 a day. You also need a license to fly them, despite the fact that they are under one metre in diameter, smaller than some model aircraft. Crucially, you also can’t fly them over crowds, like our Polish friend did. Oh well, never mind.

There is, however, another way. Earlier this year a CNN journalist strapped an inexpensive camera onto an AR Parrot Drone – an iPad/iPhone controlled helicopter-type thingy invented to help users have a AR-fuelled pretend plane battle, if you’re in to that kind of thing. Anyway, the CNN journo got some wobbly, but intriguing footage of storm damage after the Tuscaloosa storm, with kit of a combined value of $550.
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Oddly, I’m not the only person who has become a little obsessed by the potential of drone journalism. The College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln established a Drone Journalism Lab in November:

In the lab, students and faculty will build drone platforms, use them in the field and research the ethical, legal and regulatory issues involved in using pilotless aircraft to do journalism. [About page]

And finally, a tutor at St Martins Scool of Art in London has been getting in on the act too:
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This stuff really seems to be taking off.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.