Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Dec 13

Ants amid rainbow tinkertoys

Posted: under Uncategorized.


Ants amid rainbow tinkertoys
Originally uploaded by Wordyeti

Been a little short on the blog entries lately; way too much to process is way too short a time. So be content with this photo entry, taken from the ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier.

I’m thinking about applying some of the more arcane filters & effects in Photoshop to see what I can do with this; it’s already almost abstract in nature.

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Dec 10

Angry Newspaper Union Uses Web 2.0 to Plead the Case

Posted: under Uncategorized.

Journalists use blog entitled “The Stress-Telegram” to, well, beg the audience to pretty please pay attention to them again…

I’m rooting for these guys, I really am.  I useta know a buncha guys at the Long Beach Press-Telegram, back in the days when it was a Knight-Ridder paper, and the Long Beach economy hadn’t yet completely imploded.  It seemed like a fairly decent place to work – then again, my post-collegiate journalistic experience at the time was limited to the Arizona Republic in the Duke Tully aftermath, the Caracas Daily Journal during a “Red Scare” where the publishers bugged our union meetings and threw us to the wolves when then government complained about us not dutifully printing their bullshit propaganda.  So maybe things there were not quite as rosy as they appeared to me at the time … but they certainly sound worse now.

I mean, the posts there have an edge of hysteria and desperation about them. Check this out:

the company’s egregious proposals of zero-substandard wage increases, a
wage freeze anytime during the term of the new contract and its demand
for the right to outsource any and all jobs — all regressive proposals
designed to screw rank and file workers at a time when MediaNews
continues to buy up more papers.

Not exactly warm&fuzzy kum-bay-ya singing going on here. It’s sad to see the effects of the circulation decline (round up all the usual suspects for The Blame Game on that one) are still being felt in newsrooms across the country.  Since most of my case studies have been about newspapers where things are going right, where they’ve decided to innovate and take bold action to try to reverse the course, I haven’t come into contact much with the miserable side of newspapering.  This blog certainly brings it all home, thought. 

The image that keeps popping into my head is of a group of beleaguered refugees in Darfur, gathering around a laptop, furiously pounding out messages about how they’re getting picked off one by one, and that they hope that somewhere out there, someone is listening and gives a shit, and will do something to stop the carnage.  Well, so far that really hasn’t happened in Darfur, and judging by the increasingly shrill and gloomy nature of the posts on The Stress-Telegram, the calvary ain’t exactly coming over the hill for the journalists neither.

On the other hand, I contrasted this rather grim reading with the news item I ran across on TechCrunch about the success the New York Times has had since it abandoned the paywall, and opened up its pages.

According to comScore, it gained 7.5 million readers worldwide from the
end of August through the end of October (November numbers are not out
yet). That is a 64 percent jump (to a total of 19.4 million). Similarly
worldwide monthly pageviews surged 52 percent in that time period to
181 million. Other major news outlets like BusinessWeek.com (4.4
million readers in October), the WSJ.com (3.6 million, with a
subscriber wall), and Wired.com (3.2 million) saw gains as well during
the Fall, but nothing as dramatic as the NYTimes.com.

I keep bouncing between the “too little, too late” position about newspapers – that basically, the U.S. papers had a golden opportunity that ended about 2003, and that there’s really nothing they can do now to stem the bleeding … and a “well, maybe they can survive as brands, but not on paper” guarded optimism.

I guess it’s because I’m still chewing my way through the portentous scribings of what Mack Reed calls “puddle-headed prognosticators” in the WAN “Future of Newspapers 2020″ report.  Like milk in the fridge, I pretty much take on the flavor of whatever you stick me next to … well, at least until I gnaw my way through the turgid prose of the next article.  I need time to digest all this crystal ball gazing, and to formulate my own reactions to the cavalcade of visions of the future.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to a very interesting effort to use Web 2.0 in a way that really does seek to help out people who are being picked off, one by one … human rights workers in danger zones around the world who are trying to prevent more Darfur/Bosnia/North Korea/fillintheblank situations are trying to form a “Befriend a Campaigner in Danger” social network.  They admit that they need to work on coming up with a catchier title – anyone out there with skillz in marketing wanna give them a hand?

Here’s the concept:

Basically, we (as in the BCD team) get in touch with a human rights
campaigner who has access to an Internet connection (personal or
cybercafe) and voice/video recording and downloading apparatus (more
commonly called a mobile phone with a camera! Though webcams are also
great).

We introduce them to Facebook (which is great for building up
social networks) and give them help on how to create a blog and upload
videos and voice recordings.It is then up to the campaigner to
create regular blogs, documenting his (or her) life, his work, his
concerns. Anything safe for public consumption which won’t put his life
in any more danger than it is at present.

The idea is to create
a following of readers who have become interested in the life of this
person, much as they would be with any blogger (and given it’s a
blogger who is campaigning for people’s lives at great personal risk,
this is pretty interesting stuff!) Then should the campaigner report
that his life is in greater danger (on his page or directly to his
contact in BCD, which for this description is myself), we update his
blog with instructions for people across the world to respond in the
same way that other support networks do, by petitioning the government,
police and other authorities to investigate, to press government
representatives into action and so on, until the danger for the
campaigner is past.

If the campaigner should stop updating, a
friend, fellow campaigner, NGO rep, family member or other trustworthy
contact could be notified and asked to visit the person’s house. If he
is not present they can then inform us and we’ll raise an alert to
those in his network. The same goes if the campaigner should continue
updating in text but stop providing video/voice blogs – this is just in
case someone has gotten hold of the campaigner’s Facebook details and
is masquerading as him.

I realize that I’ve gone rather far afield from my initial subject and impetus for a blog post – but I think that a social network built with technology dedicated to helping out those who stick themselves in harm’s way is a helluvan idea, and one that I have seen happening in fits and starts, at a grass-roots level, in Moscow/Russia. 

They have hit upon a key here to helping themselves – using a blog to chronicle a person’s life, telling the story of that person’s life, and not just the big romantic Struggle Against Injustice, but a blog about all the little minutia of daily life … well, that can really work wonders.

A little girl did that in Amsterdam about 60 years ago.  Her name was Anne Frank, and what differentiates her from the other 12 million people who went into the ovens is that we know her story, because of the touching diary, written in her own voice, that survived her… and that has made millions of people since know and care.

I think they are onto something here, and I think that I am going to try to help out – well, help out in ways that are more than just a simple blog post.

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Dec 08

Universal Studios Tour = Apokolips

Posted: under Amusement Parks, Migraines.

Some of you may be skeptical of my equating the Universal Studios Tour with the mythical hellplanet maintained by DC Comic’s uber-badguy, Darkseid.  So I admit right off the top, that there are perhaps not Lakes of Fire ™ into which the insufficiently profligate tourists are cast, in which they writhe and burn until such time as they surrender their Visa and MasterCard numbers to the cashier, thence to be laden down with bulky plastic sacks of made-in-China souvenir crapola … but said Lakes of Fire ™ are surely on a PowerPoint Presentation somewhere in The Black Tower of NBC/Universal. 

Sample dialogue: "Say Bob, can we get some numbers on what kind of uptick we can expect once we implement the secuestration and torture segment on the adults standing in the Shrek 4-D line? I mean, the electric bills for warming up the hot irons are going to be a significant fixed expense … what? No, we can’t go with coal-fired braziers. We made a commitment to "Go Green" this year.  You don’t want the treehuggers all over us, right?"

I wouldn’t mind it so much, if there weren’t constant blaring marketing messages at VOLUME LEVEL ELEVENTY-JILLION coming at you from speakers fiendishly concealed in every flat, level surface. I really want to bring in one of my audio-expert friends to check this out – record it, and try to zeef out all the noise and music until we get down to the subliminal messages that I just know are there… probably something to do with flickering images of The Pirate Bay on our retinas along with short blast of 11hZ sound waves to instill intestinal-deep panic at the thought of using BitTorrent to download Universal products illegally.

The park has changed since the first time I went there in the early 90s.  Back then  it was still a total shuck&jive to fleece tourists out of their coin, but at least here and there, it had a kind of cheesiness that, well, I don’t know – at least it seemed a little more authentic then. There were parts of it that were interesting to people like me, who grew up worshipping movies and wanting to know more about the process of making them.  The tram rides actually stopped a couple of times, you got out, walked around, got to go thru a few soundstages, saw actual actors kicking back and smoking (horrors!) and heard the guides point out what a grip was, and how the old-time directors used their ingenuity and camera angles to make the same cheap-ass building fronts look like four totally different towns. 

That’s all been replaced by this:

Universal_studios_018This is a shot from the Jurassic Park splash ride – which in summer months, might be a refreshing change from the oven-like heat of The Valley, but on a chilly December afternoon, is like being waterboarded in Antarctica.

This is the part where they pretend they’re dropping a truck on your head.

Shortly after this, giant mechanical T-rexes rear up and try to chomp down on the little raft.

I dunno – maybe it’s because my first time at the Universal tour, we got to get out of the trams and wander around on the set of Back to the Future II, where they had transformed the familiar City Square into the hover take-off and landing zone seen in the movie. 

Maybe it was the fact that all the parking lots were empty there.  The writer’s strike has hollowed out the back lot; there are maybe three shows still running on the fumes of the scripts wrung out of the exhausted writers during the summer. 

My next post (and I know I’ve been terribly neglecting this blog, but a month of travel and a week of playing tour guide will do that) will be about the evidence, literally in My Own Back Yard, of how the writer’s strike is having a much bigger ripple effect on L.A. than has been noticed in the regular media.

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