Saturday, April 23, 2005

"Those f***ing Germans"

The recent elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger of Munich to the office of Pope has been having a lot of people in the media talking about Germany - its history, its culture, and the complicated way Germans fit both within the fabric of the EU and among themselves in a once-fractured, now-uneasily-unified society. (As a sampler, here's one from the International Herald-Tribune, and here's another from the Moscow-based ex-patriate publication [which is where my own entry gets its title].) As regular readers know, the complexity of the modern German is an obsessive subject of study for me as well, so I have naturally been enjoying reading such a larger amount of articles on the subject than one usually sees in the international press.

This is as good a time as any, I guess, to mention that my latest travelogue concerning Germany, Ach Du Heilige Scheisse!, will be published in electronic form in a mere two weeks, and ready for your online readership and/or eBook purchase. The site where the book will be found is already up, for those who would like to go ahead and look through the several hundred photos I took while there last autumn.

Citizen journalism grows, unsurprisingly gets more complicated

Well, the "citizen journalism" movement seems to be catching on, a little bit at a time at some various places around the web. (In a nutshell, it's a movement to combine the ethics and professionalism of traditional journalism with the excitement and power of amateur blogs.) Unsurprisingly, those who are first embracing the idea are already starting to run into problems.

First, a frustrating article from Wired: How is finding it much harder to exist than they expected. The problem? Who knew that such things as confirming sources and maintaining authorial neutrality would be so difficult to achieve? Yes, I know, it's hard to believe, but journalists actually learn a few things while in journalism school, that people not in journalism school don't know!

And second, an encouraging article from Chris Nolan at the media watchdog site Pressthink: How the web is encouraging the creation of stand-alone journalists. Stand-alone journalists, Nolan is quick to point out, are not bloggers; they are instead people who are simply using the power of blogging tools to deliver traditional journalism (and all that comes with that - confirmed multiple sources, an objective voice, etc), directly to their audience, without the need of a media organization to actually distribute this journalism. He argues that these will be the real saviors of citizen journalism; the freelancers, the self-employed, the unemployed, and all those other formally-trained journalists who will bring a sense of ethics and professionalism to all those amateur citizens who wish to be reporting "the news." Anyway, both articles are fascinating; anyone with a fellow interest in citizen journalism should check them both out.

Commandment Number One: "Don't talk about Fight Club!"

My friend Greg Gillam of the literary website has a pretty hilarious entry up at his personal journal right now, reimagining the Ten Commandments as if written by conservative Catholics. My favorite is Number Seven: "If whitey's so bad, why he in charge?"

Leonard Cohen for the Nobel Prize?

Paul Kennedy, a radio DJ with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, is campaigning for singer/poet/novelist Leonard Cohen to be the recipient of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. Unsurprisingly, the Brits are all over this as well - both the BBC and the Guardian wrote up articles on it this week, and not just a little blatantly reiterarted what a good idea they think it is. Should be interesting to see what comes of it... (Thanks as always to Bookslut for pointing this out.)

New web-based RSS reader - but will it work for mobile devices?

Steve Rubel pointed me today to Rojo, a brand-new web-based RSS aggregator and reader. So far, though, I haven't been able to get it to work on my mobile device's browser ("Blazer" for the Palm Treo), which in my opinion kind of defeats the entire point of having a web-based RSS aggregator. More updates as they become available.

Ugh - I've turned into my simpering hippie parents

Over the the UK newspaper The Guardian, Zoe Williams has an essay up about the new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, and the growing realization that it is her own generation (i.e. mine as well) that has turned into those annoying a**holes who are constantly regurgitating nostalgia for the sake of turning a profit:

"Naturally, realising that you're suddenly the nostalgia generation is strange and unpleasant - you get used to being too young for culture to take your nostalgia needs seriously, and then suddenly you get Hitchhiker's, Doctor Who and Live Aid, all aimed directly at your heart. If you're old enough for your formative years to be the focus of all cultural retro-thrusts, then the chances are that you're the ones in charge, and it's your fault, not your parents' at all, that everything's going wrong."

Reminds me of the reaction I have every time one of those car commercials comes on featuring the Clash song "Should I Stay or Should I Go" - "What insufferable money-monger sold out my generation this time?" When I was younger, it was easy to blame the generation before me, and to detest the way they crammed "classic rock" down our throats in an attempt to prove that their generation's music was better than ours; now, though, I unfortunately have no one else to blame but people my own age. It's disquieting, to say the least. (Thanks to Jessa Crispin over at for pointing this out.)

Access RSS, Google Maps, through TiVo

Two cool apps for TiVo owners to check out: one that will deliver your Bloglines RSS feeds to your television screen (thanks to Steve Rubel for pointing it out); and one that will deliver Google Maps (both line-art and satellite-image) to your television screen (and thanks to Gizmodo this time for pointing it out). Man, they really make me wish I had a TiVo, just to try them out.

Hack Google Local results onto CTA maps

Chicagoans, check out this cool hack from Adrian Holovaty: Use Google Local as usual, but have it display results on a CTA transit map. You'll need to be on the Firefox browser to use it, and to follow some simple instructions first; other than that, though, go nuts. (Thanks to Gapers Block for pointing this out.)

An overview of mobile search sites has an excellent overview up right now of the various search engines available in special mobile form (besides Google's, that is, whose recent popularity inspired the article). Of special interest to owners of Palms and PocketPCs should be Maporama, which delivers some of the best and most readable mobile maps I've ever seen. (Thanks to Threadwatch for pointing this out.)

Sorry for the delay; and I'm still seeking 360 friends

Sorry you haven't heard from me in awhile; I was one of the those people getting affected this week by's continual brown-out problems. Anyway, the simultaneous good and bad news is that I've still been archiving interesting things to point out this week, even with the blog being down; I'll be trying to get all 25 or so items up by the end of the weekend.

By the way, I'm actively seeking fellow members of Yahoo 360 who wish to be listed as friends at my own account; I'm interested in trying out the social-networking tools there more, especially since I can access them through my mobile device. I have plenty of invitations to give away still, for those who don't yet have accounts; just drop me a line at ilikejason at hotmail dot com and I'll send you one.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Tips for taking cellphone-camera panorama photos

An electronic zine called "Digital Photography Hacks" has an excellent article up right now, leading amateur photographers step-by-step through the process of creating panoramic photos with their cellphone cameras. The first half of the article gives some great tips on how to actually shoot the component parts (including ways to move your physical body so that it duplicates the actions of a tripod); the second half is an overview of the various "stitching" programs that exist (that is, programs that take all these component photos and stitch them into the final panorama), although you should be aware that you can easily do it manually in Photoshop yourself as well. (Thanks, surprisingly enough, to MAKE magazine for pointing this out. Oh, and here's a page of cellphone panoramic shots I myself took last autumn, during a trip to Germany and Amsterdam.)

Turn photos into comic-book art

Shazam! Step-by-step instructions for turning photos into comic-book images, using Photoshop. The instructions are ridiculously complicated and long - but take it from me, they actually work! (Thanks as always to MAKE magazine for pointing this out; by the way, the article says to use Photoshop 7.0 or higher, but I just used 5.5 and it worked just fine as well.)

Future of PDAs: Thumb-based interfaces?

Tired of using your tiny little stylus on tiny little links to navigate your PDA? Microsoft is developing two brand-new interfaces as we speak, both based primarily on using your thumb instead. Read the full article over at Brighthand. (Thanks to PalmAddict for pointing this out.)

NIN releases multitrack song for GarageBand

Trent Reznor, also known as the industrial band Nine Inch Nails, has released a multitrack version of his new single "The Hand That Feeds" (that is, where each layer of audio is recorded on a separate track, and can be independently manipulated without affecting the other layers). And even better, Reznor designed the file so that it can be directly imported into Macintosh's "GarageBand," a popular piece of software among musicians and DJs. Let the special 12-inch remixes commence! (Thanks to MAKE magazine for pointing this out.)

Wheaton Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Humorless Nerds

Every so often I like to throw up a reminder here at my blog of the brilliance which is Wil Wheaton dot Net. Here's another good excuse to do it again...

It all started when Wheaton read about these Star Wars losers who have already been in line for weeks in front of Graumans Theatre in Los Angeles, waiting for the opening of Episode III and raising money for charity in the meanwhile. Except that the movie's not showing at Graumans, it turns out, but at another theatre about half a mile away. But instead of packing up and moving to the right theatre, the Star Wars losers have decided to just remain camped out in front of Graumans, as some sort of self-styled protest against Graumans not showing the movie. Wheaton thought it was hilarious that not only were these geeks waiting for a movie in front of the wrong theatre, but also refused to go to the right one, much less that they were holding a "political protest" concerning a theatre not showing Star Wars. So, he wrote as much at an entry comment at And, it turns out, the Star Wars losers in line were not very happy about it.

Then, it turns out that there's a whole group of the Star Wars losers who do want to pack up and move to the right theatre, but they're being trumped right now by what they describe as the "popular" clique who are also in line, who are demanding that they stay at Graumans. And Wheaton thought it really hilarious that not only were these losers all waiting in front of the wrong theatre, but that there'd be a "popular" clique and an "unpopular" one within this group of losers. So he again posted an entry at saying as much. And the Star Wars losers in line got even angrier at him.

So then Wheaton tried to smooth things over between himself and the Star Wars losers, by designing and distributing t-shirts for them that says, "I lined up at the wrong theatre for Star Wars, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt." Which, needless to say, the Star Wars losers did not take kindly to at all. And then...

The story just keeps going on and on, and gets funnier and funnier with each new development. But don't take my word for it - go read it yourself, and just see if you can stop from peeing in your pants in laughter by the end. Danger, Wil Wheaton! Danger!

Behind the scenes at "Kingdom of Heaven"

STUDIO EXECUTIVE: So, Ridley, what you got for us this time?

RIDLEY SCOTT: Well, my marketers keep telling me God is hot right now. How about a heroic epic action flick about the Crusades?

STUDIO EXECUTIVE: Well, aren't the Crusades actually one of the most shameful moments in all of human history? When millions of innocents were slaughtered in the false name of a vengeful, bloodthirsty God? Shouldn't we be abhoring the actions of the Crusades, and constantly fighting against a return to those days, instead of making a heroic epic action flick about them? Isn't making a heroic epic action flick about the Crusades kind of like making a heroic epic action flick about Nazis?

RIDLEY SCOTT: Orlando Bloom is attached.


Chicagoist: "'Red' survey a scam"

Eyes have been rolling all over Chicago this week over a recent survey from the University of Central Michigan, which claims that about half of all young Chicagoans find the city's two competing "young tabloids" (the Tribune's Red Eye and the Sun-Times' Red Streak) as having "high" or "medium" value as a news source in their lives. Local hipster guide, however, rightly points out that not only was the total sample size of the survey a measly 112 people, but that the vast, vast majority of them were journalism students, making the survey results...well, maybe a little less than indicative of the population as a whole. (And they forgot to mention, by the way, that both publications are free on college campuses, meaning that the people in this survey don't even pay for the papers they're reading.)

Why are people making such a big deal out of this? Because both Red Eye and Red Streak are patently offensive to anyone who considers themselves intelligent. Designed by a tableful of middle-aged suburban executives who (frankly) are exasperated by declining newspaper sales here in Chicago, both 'Red' tabloids are supposedly designed for "what young people really want from a newspaper" - or at least what a tableful of middle-aged suburban executives think young people really want from a newspaper. The results are so insulting and patronizing as to become a joke among those of us the papers are trying to target - one page of international news, one page of national news, three pages of local news, nine pages of sports and fourteen pages of fashion and entertainment (and not even good entertainment, either - none of the usually excellent articles from the Tribune's "Tempo" section, for example, are reprinted in Red Eye, merely an endless series of articles about Jessica Simpson taking a dump or whatever).

Hey, 'Reddies,' you really want to appeal to young people? Start by ditching these patronizing examples of just how much contempt you actually have for young people. People my age and younger haven't stopped buying your newspapers because they're "too challenging," or "are filled with yucky stuff we don't want to read about, like politics and international events." We're ditching you because you suck, and because it's a hell of a lot easier anymore to simply get the news we want from the internet. Your 'Red' publications are a joke, a pathetic joke to anyone who actually understands youth, and it's time that you people finally woke up and realized it yourselves.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Test: mo:Blog 2.0j
This is a test of the latest version ("J") of mo:Blog, a program for posting blog entries straight to a website from a mobile device, without the need for a browser. This version supposedly fixes the title-field bug associated with Blogspot-hosted sites; they've been saying that for nine updates now, though, so I ain't exactly holding my breath.

Home planetarium - 10,000 stars, 200 bucks

Takayuki Ohira, inventor of the popular 'Megastar' line of planetarium systems for museums, has just released a home version (surprisingly enough called the 'Homestar') that will retail for $200. The press release is in Japanese, but you can read the Googlified English translation here; according to it (and take those Google translations as you will), the system projects over 10,000 known stars and will be available come July. (Thanks to Gizmodo for pointing this out.)

Satan endorses citizen journalism

How's this for irony? Professional maggot Rupert Murdoch, who has single-handedly done more to wreck American journalism than any other individual in this country's history, is now embracing citizen journalism. It's better read than explained; the transcript of his recent speech on the subject (to the American Society of Newspaper Editors) can be found here. (As always, thanks to Dan Gillmor for pointing this out.)

Thomas Paine: World's first blogger?

Chris Daly, a journalism professor at Boston University, has pretty much the most fascinating essay I've read yet about whether bloggers should be considered journalists as well. His argument is basically that the pamphleteers of the American Revolutionary period served almost the exact same purpose, and distributed their work in almost the exact same way (allowing for technological differences, of course) as current bloggers - and since the US's policy concerning freedom of the press was designed with these exact pamphleteers in mind, it shouldn't be a stretch at all to apply these freedoms to bloggers as well. He uses as a great example Thomas Paine, author of the 1776 series of pamphlets Common Sense, a major influence on the Revolutionaries during the Colonial period. (It's been estimated, for example, that a whopping 25 percent of the entire American population read it in its first year of publication.) And once you start looking at the details behind that publication (and pamphlets in general), the similarities between them and blogs become almost eerie:

--Both blogs and pamphlets are cheap to print and distribute;

--They both contain provocative, almost rant-like essays at times;

--It's almost impossible for authorities to track down the authors of either, if the author chooses to remain anonymous;

--And the vast majority of both bloggers and pamphleteers are amateur writers, not professional ones.

Now, Mr. Daly also goes on to point out a major difference between journalists and bloggers as well; basically, that there's a difference between "freedom of the press" and the specific "shield laws" under so much debate these days, which offer extra protections for journalists above and beyond what the Constitution lays out. Shield laws and the like, he argues, didn't come about until after the invention of "reporting" in journalism - that is, of a shared ethics code among established journalists, one that includes the unbiased writing and multiple source-checking that we now think of when we think of "journalism." Bloggers may not specifically be entitled to be protected until modern shield laws, he opines, but this in no way should affect bloggers from being classified as journalists, as the Founding Fathers viewed the industry. I'm not doing the essay very much justice here, frankly; you should just go and read it yourself, because it really is an eye-opener. (And thanks to Dan Gillmor for pointing this out in the first place.)

Williams on web-based business apps

Ev Williams, co-founder of both and, has an interesting entry up at his blog right now, detailing some of the business-based applications Odeo is currently using for internal management. The surprising thing, even to him, is that the vast majority of them are web-based applications - meaning not only no installations or software crashes, but also the ability to access the programs wherever on the planet the staff is. He lists the various apps in this entry, describes what they do and links to their main sites; small-business owners might enjoy checking it out in detail.

AP covers the LBC

Congratulations to my friends at the Lit Blog Co-op, who were recently the subjects of a very entertaining article by the Associated Press (which, for those who aren't familiar with press services, means that the article will eventually be reprinted in hundreds of newspapers around the country). I was especially tickled to see a quote from an acquaintance of mine, Richard Nash of Soft Skull Press, who actually seems more excited about litbloggers than the litbloggers themselves. Best of luck, LBC! (Oh, and for those who missed my earlier entry on the subject last week: the LBC is a group of 20 litbloggers who have decided four times a year to collectively recommend a recently-published book that they believe is getting overlooked by the mainstream media. The idea is to see whether online book reviewers can have the same impact on book sales as traditional paper-based ones. I have a feeling, frankly, that they can; we'll see what happens come this May, anyway.)