gor[b] Paul Gorbould: Words and Pictures

27Jul/060

Identical Twins #2: Jinkies!

I've always had a thing for women with huge... lenses. Check out the pie plates on these twins!

Nobody pulls off big glasses like mystery solver extraordinaire Velma Dinkley. Velma may have had them first, but fifth estate host Hana Gartner had them bigger.

That's a lot of glass. Imagine how strong her neck must have been! I believe the left lens was later used to repair the Hubble Telescope.

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27Jul/060

Look up… look waaaaay up

TBC dwarfedThe parking lot next to the Canadian Broadcasting Centre is about to cast two very long shadows.

Next week, construction begins on the RBC Centre, a 31-storey office tower (apparently the first to be built in downtown Toronto in a decade.)

Soon after: the 53-storey Ritz-Carlton, boasting obscenely expensive condos and hotel rooms.

Of course, TBC's measley 12 storeys are already tucked in below the 181-storey CN Tower. (See image, left - I scaled each building to three pixels per storey.)

I hope nobody here has this:

Batophobia

An abnormal fear of being near an object of great height, such as a skyscraper or mountain.

Now, I enjoyed watching the cranes at work during the Simcoe Tower construction during my internship at CBC way back. And during my first year of work at the TBC, I made a point of looking up at the CN Tower and trying to imagine the guy who first pitched the idea:

"I have this idea... What this city needs is an Enormous Pointy Thing! In fact, the enormousest in the world! It'll be really huge. And it'll have glass floors, and a spinning restaurant, and a... um... a radio antenna at the top! Are you in, or are you out?"

Still, though I hate to admit it, ever since working under the thing on September 11th, I look up at these landmarks with a little less amusement.

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Filed under: CBC, Toronto No Comments
25Jul/063

Speak of us devils!

There are indeed more than eight CBCers who blog. Way more.

After yesterday's post, I got a message from Peter Janes, who puts together an interesting site called Planet CBC.

"This site is an automated digest of all known CBC employee weblogs that publish syndicated feeds (aka Live Bookmarks or Web Feeds). The original list was retrieved from CBCunplugged.com but has been updated and modified since then."

Cool. It's a great one stop shop for a lot of bloggers I already read (Maffin, Ouimet, Gushue, Rowland) plus a bunch that I didn't know about. The "Contributors" list alone has 60 sources, though not all of them are current. (But hey, I did discover that Pedro the Locked Out Gnome is still around. Who knew?)

Here's what Peter told me about Planet CBC:

It's a "community of interest" site a la Planet Apache and Planet GNOME. Admittedly a lot of the blogroll are "lockout blogs" which haven't been updated for months, but I'd say there are fifteen or twenty that have continued to post. For the most part I've kept the list to individuals with blogs hosted outside the CBC, with a few exceptions (Tod, Rick Mercer, the "Making the Grade" project, maybe one or two others).

I imagine there's a stick in the mud somewhere who will mutter something about intellectual property, but it won't be me. Putting stuff on the internet and expecting to keep it under your thumb is a little naive.

Interestingly, Planet CBC contains - in order - all the blog posts I've ever made, including those from before I told anyone about my blog. I believe the site is automated to pull and order all posts from listed sites (you can ask Peter to add or exclude you.) But I'm not sure if they get updated with edits (e.g. I see that my old posts don't have the Technorati tags I added yesterday.)

It's another reminder that once you put something on the web, you better be prepared to live with it.

And just as I was about to post this, I received a comment from Ouimet. Along with some kind words, Ouimet explained his/her blogroll strategy:

Personally, I'd love to see more CBCers blog about their work. They don't have to draw blood. They just have to tell us what it's like, what's on their minds, and what's on their plate. I wish there were more of them.

So to that end, I made a "CBCers who blog" list on my own site, to draw attention to them. I know that it's not complete, but I also know not everyone wants to be on it. They might want to keep their blog or their job a secret, or they might not take too kindly to my "endorsement."

Also, some of their blogs are bloody boring.

Usually I write them and ask them if they want to be added. I didn't do that for yours, but I got the feeling you wouldn't mind.

And indeed I don't. After just two weeks in the blogosphere, I'm learning that it's both bigger and smaller than you'd think.

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25Jul/062

Hearty thanks

I'm learning on the job here, but I'm sure getting a lot of help from my friends, and new acquaintances.

Tech help

First up, I've been busy adding new features and prettying up my blog. Most of the improvements come courtesy of good advice from my online friend MC (pictured, sort of.) His Cutlery Kills blog is a thing to behold.

Among the improvements:

- Added a separator graphic between entries (image stolen from my dear friend Pary ... please forgive me!)

- Added Technorati tags to items

There's a great page on how to do this - it involves using Firefox and clicking on two links (one to add the Greasemonkey extension and one to install the Magical Sheep userscript.

It's really easy, and a nice feature (why doesn't Blogger have this built in?) An added bonus: it lets you change the time/date stamp of your posts. Not that I'd do that, but still.

It apparently takes a while for tags to start showing up in Technorati (even after pinging them), but all seems to be in order now. Unfortunately, it seems Technorati doesn't like the "gor[b]" tag. I figured that if I used non-standard text I'd end up with problems sooner or later, but it turns out it's sooner. Sigh.

I considered changing the blog name to my runner-up option, Gorblog. But that's already being used by a fella called David Gorman. So I'll stick with gor[b] for now, but stop using that tag. Be damned I'm going to re-edit all the old posts to remove it, though.

- Added the "recent comments hack"

This one comes from BloggerHacks. Again, a feature Blogger should have built in. One very minor drawback is that you have to pick a certain date display format for the comments to show up in the right order. Ah well, I win some ground with the tags hack, lose some here.

Promo help

Updating the Citizen's Arrest item, it seems Jay Rosen is either satisfied or bored with our conversation about citizen journalism. So to amuse myself, I've rented Citizen Kane on DVD.

However, our conversation (some say pi**ing match) caught the attention of official CBC blogger Tod Maffin at Inside the CBC. Thanks for the props, Tod! (Particularly for mentioning my CBC.ca prehistory column, which involved actual journalism.)

Perhaps because of Tod's link, I've also caught the attention of CBC mysterioso blogger Ouimet at the The Tea Makers.

I'm listed under CBCers who blog - though there must be more than eight of us. In fact, I know there are... but maybe there are only eight of us dumb enough to use our own names.

Ouimet also mentions my CBC.ca prehistory article in the very interesting Bend it like Gardener item.

Which is nice, because now that the celebrations are over, we had to work rather hard to find a way to get to the 10th site. It now appears when you click on the new About CBC.ca link in the footer of CBC.ca.

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Filed under: Blogging 2 Comments
21Jul/060

Identical Twins #1: The ‘B’ is for Bubbles

I have the good fortune of spending a lot of time perusing the amazing CBC Archives.

Once in a while, when screening clips, I notice someone that looks like someone else. Here's the first one - more will follow, eventually.

It goes beyond the glasses, I think. I just love the juxtaposition of the UN logo/Grade Ten cake! (It'd be interesting to do a survey of which face, or name, carries better brand recognition today. The result would probably make me crawl into a cave and never come out.)

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20Jul/060

Citizen’s arrest

Ouch!

In case you missed it, I quoted NYU press critic Jay Rosen in my piece on Citizen Kane Journalism.

Mr. Rosen dropped by and tore me a new one. You can read that discussion here.

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Filed under: Blogging No Comments
19Jul/068

Citizen Kane Journalism

In my line of work, you can't read 10 words without bumping up against the big debate du jour: citizen journalism.

It's a concept that I've been geeked about for a decade. But now that it's here, I'm among its biggest skeptics.

What is citizen journalism? According to the classic definition, it's simply citizens "playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information."

It's strictly an invention of the internet age. Bloggers tend to think they invented "participatory journalism", but I'm told it dates back to Ronald Reagan's 1988 trouncing of Michael Dukakis.

At that time, the argument goes, "the public" (more on that in a moment) grew disillusioned with politics and the press. The burgeoning internet gave them the tools to do something about it.

The internet gave non-journalists the ability to communicate quickly and broadly, checking facts, dispelling fiction, spreading the truth – or at least a version of it that big media had no interest in promulgating. Publishing was no longer limited to big buck corporations and a controlling elite.

[I imagine someone said the same thing around the time of Gutenberg (pamphleteers were the first bloggers) - but I digress.]

Sometimes it works

It's difficult (and stupid) to ignore the numerous occasions when internet community got the story out quicker, or better.

Matt Drudge broke the Lewinski Scandal; Bloggers revealed the true extent of opposition to the war in Iraq; Wikipedia became the defacto source to follow the unfolding story of the 2005 London Bombings. And if you want to see if something is true or false, you'll do better at The Smoking Gun or Snopes than anything traditional media can offer.

So far so good – I'm a fan of quicker and better. Who isn't?

Try it, you’ll like it

I got my first taste of participatory journalism last year during the CBC lockout. I helped put together an employee website called CBC On The line. Within a week we were posting hundreds of news stories, profiles, and photos from locked-out CBCers across the country. An even more ambitious project, CBC Unlocked, actually offered a news service that competed with the skeleton crew CBC.ca site.

Even more impressive was the replacement journalism offered by bloggers. Dozens of high-quality blogs sprouted overnight, along with Flickr galleries, podcasts and more. Tod Maffin's CBCUnplugged and mystery manager Ouimet's Teamakers blog became the highly addictive first stops for everyone on both sides of the fight.

It should be pointed out, however, that locked-out journalists are not your average citizen. I didn't see anything similar when transit workers or hockey players had labour disputes of their own.

Skill set aside, there's ample enough proof that non-journos can and do play an active role in "collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating" etc. But is this really the end of the reign of traditional journalism?

Some would seem to think so. Who can forget Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson's chilling online feature EPIC 2014 depicting the whimpering demise of journalism to the new tools of the cyber age.

In the year 2014, The New York Times has gone offline. The fourth estate's fortunes have waned. What happened to the news? And what is EPIC?

I figure EPIC 2014 will prove as predictive about writing as 2001: A Space Odyssey is about travel. But there's a seed there, no?

Online, there's an endless gung-ho enthusiasm for this new people power (sorry, "empowering the users", to use the BloggerCon term.) In a piece provocatively titled The People Formerly Known as the Audience, Jay Rosen details the new manifesto:

The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.

Brash new world

The situation has certainly changed. Anyone can publish. Writing can be fun, and blogging can be addictive (which is why I'm writing this blog now instead of working)

But I also know that what I’m doing right now isn’t journalism. I’m a journalist. I know the difference. (As the aforementioned Ouimet recently wrote, “You're not a citizen journalist until you find yourself on vacation with a camera in your hands, watching a tsunami. And even then, the job lasts only a few minutes. If you survive.”)

A few months ago I commissioned writer Cory Doctorow to write a piece on this subject for the CBC.ca 10th anniversary site.

In his article, Doctorow bids good riddance to the media-as-gatekeeper world. He argues that we’ve gone from a media-controlled “select then publish” model to a “publish then select” model.

In essence, all the smart people in the world are free to put something out there, and it’s up to us to pick what we want to believe. And if they aren’t credible, they are ignored, or they fix it:

Wikipedia gets it wrong all the time. So do bloggers. But then, so do newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. The interesting thing about systems isn't how they perform when they're working to specification, it's what happens when they fail....if you find an error in a Wikipedia entry, you can fix it yourself. You can join the discussion about whether a blogger got it wrong. Automated tools like Technorati link together all the different blogs discussing the same topic, turning them into a conversation.

Here’s the thing, though: as the number of voices in the conversation expands, the need for good old-fashioned reliable professional voices become more and more pressing.

As I pointed out in the discussion of Doctorow's essay, the need for experts and gatekeepers is becoming more important, not less.

The online world is certainly moving toward becoming an enormous storehouse of stuff, more than any person can handle individually. The two strategies for dealing with it are either search it (viz Google, Gmail, YouTube, etc.) or get someone (or some thing) to recommend what's relevant. But you need to do one or the other, because the vast majority of what is out there is crap (or, to be kind, uninteresting to you.)

While there's lots to be said for marquee bloggers, voting and send to a friend, there's also a role for professionals. People whose careers, reputations and paycheques rely on being knowledgeable, cultivating connections, getting the facts right, and seeing the bigger picture. The rest of the internet can add an incredibly valuable layer to those underpinnings - fact checking, comparing, linking, outing bias, etc. - but it doesn't replace it.

In essence, the louder the conversation gets, the more obvious the need for a moderator becomes.

Old dogs, new tricks

Lately, people have been envisioning traditional media as that moderator – using their expertise, resources, credibility and profile to become a facilitator of citizen journalism. We Media nicely outlines the proposed partnership:

We are at the beginning of a Golden Age of journalism — but it is not journalism as we have known it. Media futurists have predicted that by 2021, "citizens will produce 50 percent of the news peer-to-peer." However, mainstream news media have yet to meaningfully adopt or experiment with these new forms.

Historically, journalists have been charged with informing the democracy. But their future will depend not on only how well they inform but how well they encourage and enable conversations with citizens. That is the challenge.

For the CBC.ca 10thsite, I worked with Clive Thompson, another great writer who offered a similar take:

So this is how journalists in the future will capture the protean attention-span of society: They'll make it easy for the online world to engage with them.

And, interestingly, they won't try and dictate what the most "important" stories are. Indeed, they'll have to relinquish the very idea that they have the cultural inside track - that they are the ones dictating the agenda of society's attention span. That's because the internet has a way of figuring out what it finds most interesting - and half the time it's never what we journalists would expect.

In Canada, some see the CBC as the perfect vehicle. Says Michael Geist:

Canadian stories are being told in record numbers, yet they are not found on the CBC. The Internet is their home.

The CBC has developed an impressive online presence, yet the majority of the content is based on the traditional broadcast model that places a premium on control. The next-generation CBC would do well to partner with the public by loosening restrictions and encouraging the dissemination of Canadian content from a broader range of sources.

I asked Doctorow for his view, and he concurs:

A public service broadcaster that wants to truly provide a service to the public can do better than merely producing yet another account of events. It can provide tools to help its audience explore the story as it emerges.

I have to ask, though: Has anyone actually seen this work?

Contrary to what the “former audience” claims (and they don’t really claim to have stopped tuning in to the old boys’ networks – they just want a piece) it isn’t through lack of interest.

There have been some worthy experiments, some – not enough – at CBC. There are new voices on air, new columnists online. ZeD put new filmmakers on television. Some have been intriguing; others came off as Amateur Night at the CBC.

I’m all in favour of freeing up more resources to facilitate Canadian content online, and CBC is uniquely positioned to do so (I have no idea at all why private networks would bother – nobody has sufficiently demonstrated that there's money in it.) Never mind the fact that all such projects that I’ve worked on – and there have been a couple – have failed miserably.

The internet was always supposed to be a two-way street, and not just as “CB Radio for the 90s”.

And the CBC mandate does call on us to “actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression.” Whether or not it's a good use of Canadian tax dollars is another discussion.

Chariot of the Proletariat?

But shouldn't this unstoppable people's revolution be able to get by just fine without big media?

The two things big media has always had in its favour are resources and audience. But it no longer has a monopoly on either. We are not living out some twisted version of media Marxism, where the great unwashed first need capitalism to build the means of production, but then takes it over.

The new technology has eliminated barriers to entry. And if the content produced is interesting enough, the former audience should, in theory, become the new audience of new journalism.

Except that it hasn't. Of all the millions of websites, blogs, podcasts and so on, it's a pretty thin slice that can compete with news and information prepared by professionals. There are exceptions, but it's an awful lot of work to find them.

Don't get me wrong. There are surely plenty of ways that the professional and amateur strata can work together, and I hope to be a part of whatever experiments come next. The symbiosis has potential – when it comes to storytelling and audience, each level has a lot to learn.

But enough with the delusions of grandeur, on both sides. Traditional media can't ignore citizen journalism any more than it should simply hand over the keys to the shop. There's a relationship to forge, but it isn't peer-to-peer.

Blaming "the media" is a tired cop-out. If citizen journalism wants a permanent place on the news map, it had better earn it.

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19Jul/061

Too obscure?

Y'all get the name Gor[b], right?

Last name: Gorbould. High school nickname: Gorby. Gor-b.

And of course the web forum code for bold is [b] - Gor-bold.

Too geeky? *

Maybe I should have stuck with Gorblog, or one of the other rejected monikers in the header at the top of the page.

Meh, I'm not wedded to it.

* Even geekier:
I initially tried using the HTML code, Gor < b >, but Blogger wouldn't accept it. In fact, I had to try six different tricks to display the code in this sentence. Pre, Code, XMP and Plaintext tags all get interpreted as HTML. The trick that works: use the numerical code for the angle bracket characters (even the letter codes didn't work for me.) For reference, they are #60 and #62. Even then, you have to publish from the "Edit HTML" view for it to work (don't flip back to Compose, or you'll lose it again - and it'll screw up if you edit the post later.) There's a list of the numerical codes for characters here, but even better is the cool pop-up blogger keyboard.

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Filed under: Blogging 1 Comment
16Jul/062

The Reviscerator

Ever had one of those small talk moments? You know, when you're hanging out with a group of people you don't know that well, and talk turns to worst summer jobs?

I always win those conversations. Always.

Growing up as I did in a small town in Southwestern Ontario, like most of my peers I took any summer job I could find. A young man can put up with just about anything for eight weeks - ask a treeplanter - particularly if there's a year of university debauchery at the end of it.

I admit that for several summers, I held the one plum job our town had to offer: a six-week stint at the local General Motors warehouse. "The General" paid summer students union scale, which was around $15 an hour - twice what you could make anywhere else. I drove a forklift in their receiving department, loading mufflers and transmissions onto rail cars for distribution across Canada.

Nothing wrong with that gig. It was the ones I took to fill the remaining summer weeks that sucked so hard.

Here's the short list:

  • Asphalt shoveller
  • Garbage man
  • Scarecrow
  • Line painter
  • Machine shop floor sweeper
  • Changer of 18-wheeler tires
  • Reviscerator

Reviscerator? Yeah, that one needs some 'splaining.

To fill in the remaining weeks between school's end and starting at GM (only the employees' kids got the whole summer) I grabbed short-term jobs via the local youth employment service. Most were tolerable - landscaping, clerical, factory stuff. But one fateful day I took one that was decidedly intolerable.

It was at a poultry processing facility called Cold Springs Farms (don't be fooled by their pastoral website - it's a nasty business. But check out the "Humour" section under "Turkey Tidbits" - am I the only one alarmed by an animated turkey doing standup? "Did the pilgrims eat turkey with their fingers? No, they never ate their fingers!" Ba dum-dum.)

I and a few other students were sent to an icy room, to toss frozen turkeys into carts for shipping. They were cold and hard (and if you dropped one, they'd slide the length of the room) but not terribly unpleasant.

frozen turkeyThat was bearable for a week at $7 an hour (though we had to buy our own $40 steel toed rubber boots on the first day.) We hadn't seen the rest of the factory, and considered ourselves lucky.

Then, on Friday, I was summoned.

Someone had fallen ill on "the line" (whatever that meant), and I was to fill in for the rest of the day. I was led down a series of progressively warmer hallways, winding up in a house of horrors.

The room was dark and Dickensian, with a conveyor circling overhead. From the conveyor dangled long and dangerous looking hooks. Onto each of those was affixed a (non-frozen) turkey torso. A man wheeled up to me with a giant bucket of white envelopes. These, he explained, were giblets.

Giblets are the edible offal of a fowl, typically including the heart, gizzard, liver, and other visceral organs. The term is culinary usage only; zoologists do not refer to the "giblets" of a bird. (Wiki)

My job, it was explained to me, was to take these bags of giblets and use my fist to ram them into the body cavities of the bird corpses circling overhead.

Nice.

It took a while to get used to the repetitive, vaguely proctological motion involved. Care was needed to avoid skinning your knuckles on the inside of the ribcages. Occasionally, a bag of giblets would burst and the various parts would go skittering around underfoot (presumably to be cleaned up at shift's end, which thankfully I never saw.)

turkey gibletsBut never mind that - the thought that stuck with me as I became proficient at "reviscerating" these birds was that the internal organs were not going back to their original owners.

I don't know what that should seem so wrong (any more than beheading, de-feathering, eviscerating, or any of the other pre-me steps I can - in hindsight - thank God for sparing me) but it bothers me to this day. It's like one of those ancient burial superstitions - to be cooked and eaten along with another's innards just seems wrong.

At the end of this shift, I was cornered trying to flee the building. "Play your cards right, and you could have a full time job here," a supervisor told me. "The woman who cuts the main vein out of the turkey necks is going on maternity."

I threw that bright future away, and never looked back (though my dad used the rubber boots for years, happily mucking about in the swamp behind our house.) I still shudder when I drive through Thamesford - and every Thanksgiving.

I'll be the first to admit that there are probably worse jobs out there - I know people who have worked in animal husbandry with better stories. And there are people who process fowl for a career, not for a week.

I actually consider myself very lucky to have worked such jobs. Keeping one or two "rock bottom" experiences in your pocket can be a source of strength and perspective. No matter how bad a day I have at work, no matter what I'm asked to do or how I'm treated, it sure as hell beats processing turkeys. That which doesn't kill you....

Plus, I've made hay on that story for years. Just last Friday, I told it to two friends at lunch (well, after we had eaten) to great guffaws. On Sunday I ran into one of them at the park with our kids. He turned to another parent and said, "This is the reviscerator I was telling you about!"

Remind me to tell you about the scarecrow gig one day.

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Filed under: Bad jobs 2 Comments
14Jul/060

Where in the world was Paul Gorbould?

My colleague Erich and I were comparing how many countries we had visited, and that got me wondering if I could map out where I had been on various trips. Sure, I could get a world map graphic and draw a few X marks on it, but surely there must be something cooler....

And there is. Enter Google Maps, which wisely - wonderfully - welcomes the world to hack it to pieces and reconstitute their code in just about any way you like.

Hacking code is not something I'm good at. Fortunately, you don't need to be. DYI instructions aren't hard to find: start with Help, then on the #2 top question, "Can I add maps from Google Maps to my site?"

You'll need to sign up for an API key, but that's dead simple. From there, read through the documentation, copy some sample code, and start messing around.

The documentation will help you add things like zoom and pan controls, as well as markers. Another big help I found was a site called Google Maps API Version 2 Tutorial, which is where I figured out minor tweaks (e.g. forcing the Satellite view to show by default.)

You can try my map out here: http://www.gorbould.com/maps/

Once you learn the code for placing a marker, the only trick is to get the geographic coordinates for each location. Wikipedia has a good page on Obtaining geographic coordinates. But the tool I found most useful was the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names Online - just type in the city name and country, and hit search.

Anyhow, my "Where's Gorbo" map is obviously still a work in progress, but it has potential. My next steps will be to add an anecdote and snapshot of me in each location. Oh, and to ask my mom if she remembers when I went to each place...

Another nice thing is that the map is updateable, should I ever get to travel again. The way things are going, by that time I'll be so old that I'll need this map to remember where I've already been.

[Feel free to grab the map code from my site and do with it as you will - view the source code and grab the bit that comes after (!-- BEGIN GOOGLE MAPS CODE HERE --). You'll just need to replace the API code with one of your own.]

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Filed under: Teh Internets No Comments