Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wow, Monday was a pain... I got to work at the usual time to find the move in progress. All of us reporters, the news editor, and the editor-in-chief had been in the recently-renovated downstairs area for the past couple months while the newsroom was redone. What that means is that the walls no longer have cracks and the hallway to the production room is no longer only two feet wide, unlit and stuffed full of office supplies - woo hoo! :) Unfortunately, we're still using the Soviet-era desks. Friday afternoon and Monday morning were move-back days. The construction guys took care of the desks and similar heavy lifting, but there were still piles of books and stuff to tote up. So that was more work than the usual early Monday morning.

While moving, I remember that I was supposed to go somewhere a few days ago, but I went somewhere else instead. Ummm... whoops. Yeah, I got the story filed at the end of today by talking to people who were there and I think it was passable - but still, I went through most of Monday in quiet dread that someone would casually mention to my boss or my boss's boss that they missed seeing me, made all the worse by the fact that I had the chance to fess up with no repercussions at the story meeting, but didn't. I suck.

And when I got to work I found that my computer desktop looks a little different, but more importantly, my "story ideas" file is missing. My computer has been an ongoing problem. Our tech support guy has helped it at least twice now, but after both times it quickly reverted to freezing every hour or so. He seems to be out of ideas and I've found some workarounds, but here was yet another problem.

I left the office to drive to an interview... and the road was closed for construction. Fine, I took a detour and found my way to where I was going (on the second try). And after I get back to Middlebury, I decide to get into the spirit of the beauuutiful day by wearing my sunglasses (nonprescription) and leaving my regular glasses behind.

This gives me a headache for the rest of the day.

I don't know why. Most of the time Sometimes, glasses are optional for me: one eye is pretty weak but the other is fine, so I see out of the good eye at a distance, so the glasses only give me depth perception, which actually isn't that important. I often go without glasses on nights and weekends, and my sunglasses are not prescription. But for whatever reason - the brightness of the fluorescent lights? switching back and forth between near and far sight? the computer screen? - I had to take a break every five minutes yesterday.

So, all in all, the kind of Monday, you'd expect in a "Dilbert" strip. But on the bright side, the rest of the week seems (overall, relatively, knock on wood, argh I should know better) like it will go better.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Oh man, I saw that on a friend's page and I loved it.
Sniff. I feel so left out. Everyone has a strong opinion about Facebook's decision to add that news feed feature. The Forbes article was an AP story on the subject, which was front-page news in the Burlington Free Press. It's even being covered by an Addy Indy reporter, which is pretty unusual for national news. And I... well, don't care.

It doesn't enable stalkers, not in any meaningful sense of the word. It doesn't provide any information that can't be found other ways. And it doesn't solicit any new information either — not only is the compendious facebook database not being shared, it's not even growing (except for usual newcomers). Not that it's a boon to humanity either, of course; it makes keeping in touch with friends easier, but only slightly easier than facebook itself. You know the worst thing it does? It slightly elevates the risk of that "don't post drunk party pictures of yourself online" phenomenon we get warned about in half of all advice columns I see. That's it.

But 600,000 — repeat that number, we're talking about the equivalent of a petition for change to a voluntary service exclusive to a subset of America — joined a group protesting it in less than a week.

I'm not surprised at the inaccuracies in that AP article*, but the least I can do is try to correct it.
The backlash is over Facebook's decision this week to deliver automated, customized alerts known as News Feeds about a user's closest friends, classmates and colleagues.

Literally true, but misleading. The big words — "automated, customized alerts"! — make this sound like a CNN special report, when the news crawl at the bottom of the TV screen would be a much better analogy. The News Feed is the first thing you see when you log on, but speaking for myself at least, I'd normally be on that page for the five seconds between logging in and clicking on the link to wherever I'm going.
Users who log on might instantly find out that someone they know has joined a new social group, posted more photos or begun dating their best friend.

Again, literally true, but lacking context. Everything in that sentence after "find out" is old news. Worth mentioning in some form for people new to Facebook, but should have been treated as background. The only piece of news there is "instantly"... which is a change from "within minutes". The horrors!
"It's making it so much easier for people who want to do stalking to stalk," said Facebook user Igor Hiller, 17, a freshman at University of California, Santa Barbara. "Facebook users really think Facebook is becoming the Big Brother of the Internet recording every single move."

Stupidity by critics doesn't prove the opposite case, but it sure as hell doesn't help. "Big Brother"? The KGB was Big Brother. Echelon and TIA were like Big Brother. Domestic warrantless spying programs are sort of like Big Brother in some ways. Anyone who says that a mere change-tracking new feature of a voluntary, free service is like Big Brother must have slept through his freshman English seminar and not taken history at all.

So people care about this. Spurred by an honest-to-God protest outside their office, Facebook has already scaled back the News Feed. But why do people care so much? Maybe because they lack perspective, like Mr. Hiller. Say what you will about geeks like me, but no one protested outside Blizzard's office when they announced a dumb new profession like "Jewelcrafting" in the World of Warcraft. Maybe they don't really care in the first place. "The Largest Facebook Group Ever" has united 860,672 people as of 3:15 p.m., for no cause at all, so it can't have been that hard to get the protest group — to put it in a familiar metaphor, maybe the opposition is a mile wide and an inch deep.

My personal theory, though, is that the News Feed reminds people that using Facebook in the way and to the degree that many people do is, though not actually antisocial, a big deviation from normal social habits. A reminder they don't like. In the entirely unscientific sample of the News Feed I've seen, the people supporting it are (mostly) the ones who are geeks and proud of it, so to speak, and those who aren't, don't. Am I correct? Is it my own circle of friends? My misanthropic filters? Who knows, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

* Hey, reporting isn't an easy job, and it looks like most are either consequences of the medium or honest mistakes. I do wonder about this, though:
"Anytime you're confronted with new information about yourself in a public place, it's surprising," said Andrea Forte, 32, a Facebook user and Georgia Tech doctoral candidate who studies online communities. "My initial reaction was mild dismay."

And that's the end of the quote. Sooo... what was her reaction once she had a chance to think about it? The writer doesn't say. Wouldn't that be a whole lot more relevant than her gut reaction?

Monday, September 11, 2006

It seems everyone else is doing it, so what the hell... During the first semester of my freshman year, on Tuesday, my first class wasn't until 11:25 if not later. So on Sept. 11, 2001, I played computer games until around 10 a.m. When I wandered out of my room, I saw half a dozen people around a TV in the room of someone else on the hall. I stopped to rubberneck, and hey, that smoking tower on CNN looked familiar...

My first class that day was an English literature class focused in part on the literature of war (how appropriate). So soon after the attacks, class discussion was mostly uninformed speculation. Later that day a couple friends and I tried to go give blood, but the place we went was closed. As far as I can remember it was just the confusion of trying to put together a, you know, blood drive on less than a day's notice. There was one a week or so later, but I didn't go.

Some time that morning I talked to my mother, and the first words out of her mouth were "are you OK?" I found this a little annoying, because Rochester, N.Y. is even farther from New York City than Middlebury, Vt. The main topic of our talk was what, if anything, would happen to my cousin's wedding. It was scheduled for the coming Saturday, Sept. 15 — in Manhattan, since that was where he and his fiancĂ© lived. (At least, I think it's where they lived. They're distant relatives, sort of my dad's step-cousin once removed, and I think the wedding was the first time I met the groom. But anyways.) Was the wedding still on? If it was, would we be able/expected to go? In the end, the wedding happened and we went, but the honeymoon was postponed a few months because both bride and groom were doctors of some kind.

So, not much of a story or a personal connection. People are saying accurately enough that this will be my generation's version of JFK being shot or Pearl Harbor being bombed, and they're probably right, but mostly just because America wants it that way. For 90 percent of individuals, it was meaningful to their own lives because they knew within a day that in 2006 or 2011 you would be asked "Where were you?"

But then, I think "9/11 changed everything" is one of the more destructive ideas in modern America. I'd change the writing or some sweeping summaries in these previous posts a bit, but overall, I think my earlier comments on the subject put it pretty well.