Around Friday, it struck me I hadn't put anything on Dot Dot Dot, my favourite hobby, in a few days. Try as I might have, I haven't had a free moment until now.
The reason is obvious: I've been flat-out busy with CBC's coverage from St. John's of Hurricane Igor. Well before the storm hit on Tuesday morning, we had planned for a busy time, but nothing of course could have prepared us for what happened, and for what indeed is still happening as I type this.
The shot above is one of the first photos we received from our audience, showing the iconic soccer field in St. Lawrence being over-run by flooding. It's still one of my favourite images.
One thing that amazed me during the week was how the community responded to our coverage, and even in the early minutes helped us out. During a planning meeting on Monday - the best time, in retrospect, we spent that day, as we were prepared for what came - we knew we'd need a hashtag to aggregate Twitter content. I suggested #igornl, so there would be a stream unique to our location and apart from what Igor had done in Bermuda. It turned out to be a success, not just allowing us to learn so much very quickly but for bringing the community together. It was stunning.
We created a special page on Friday afternoon for all the coverage we're doing. Type cbc.ca/igor into your browser, and it'll dedirect.
At our own house, we lost power for the better part of two days. I wrote my column for this week's Telegram on what that was like, and what the implications seemed to be for living a life offline. As it turned out, I was able to keep my phone going - as long as I could keep it charged, one way or the other. I couldn't sleep much at all that first night, as I was afraid I wouldn't wake up in time to get to the plant to start early. I was never so happy to see a bathroom light when the power kicked in during the middle of the next night. A simple alarm clock seemed like a luxury!
Compared to what so many people have gone through, we got off very lucky. Today is a down day, more or less (as long as there's a phone, there's a little work to be done); tomorrow, I'm right back at it.
Stephen Fry writes a lot about himself, but I don't complain. He fictionalized his youth for The Liar then told it straight (no pun intended) in Moab Is My Washpot. The next book is done and will avail of multiple technologies. From The Telegraph:
I started using the digital storage service Dropbox for a few reasons, but the key reason is simple enough: the utter fear that I might lose some things that simply cannot be replaced.
Well, they actually could. But I frankly don’t have the time to put it all together again, and I can’t imagine where my head would be if something catastrophic happened to my laptop.
I back up my drive, I’ve burned CDs, and I’ve even emailed key things to my Gmail account, just so I have the peace of mind of knowing I can get this or that specific thing later.
But I signed up for Dropbox for that extra feeling of security, knowing that not only is are copies being archived somewhere, but (sweet!) Dropbox actually updates those copies, in real time, as I save the primary records.
Dropbox The phrase “the cloud” has gained currency over the last few years, to describe how computing is using networks to store and exchange data. Sure, I rely on my hard drive a lot, but I store many of my things offsite, in part so I can access to them when I sign into another workstation.
For work as a journalist, quite a lot of the files I generate or edit reside on off-site computers, and some never actually download to my desktop. Remarkable, when you think about what constituted normal workflow just a few years ago.
Dropbox and its cousins are convenient for a whole other reason. More and more, many of us need to move relatively massive files (videos come to mind) that are simply too big to send as an email attachment. A quick solution? Setting up a digital drop where someone can log in and securely download the file.
A few weeks ago, Dropbox added a sharing feature for its users (look for the “Get shareable link” tab) that will make it easier to move things about.
Conveniently, the service is free … at least, that is, as long as your storage needs are within limits.
There are other options.SugarSync gets good reviews from users, and it will set you back for five bucks a month so long as you keep your storage pegged at 30 gigs of data. A free trial is free.
A competitor like Mozy wisely pitches its $5/month fee as a reasonable cost compared to the expense and effort of backing up photo CDs and the like.
Shop around: there are plenty of others. You don’t want to back yourself into a corner, but you’re definitely going to want to have a backup plan, too.
Elsewhere this week
Google Sightseeing Google Earth and Google Street View have each changed how we look at the world – specifically, very particular corners of it. Zoom in on an archeological wonder, cruise by a famous address, peer at a place described in your guidebooks … all without looking away from your laptop. Google Sightseeing is a long-running and popular blog, and not officially connected with Google itself. Poke around to see the latest curiosities (a Terry Fox statue, for instance) or browse through the geographic index to see what’s on offer.
Worst Hockey Logos The Anaheim Mighty Ducks, folks, are just the tip of the iceberg of these design guffaws. Imagine what the sods wearing the jerseys must have felt as they tried to skate with their dignity intact.
St. John’s Cricket Club I did not know until given this address that St. John’s even had a cricket club. The members appear to operate fairly quietly, but if you’re curious, look here to get started.
It was warm(ish) today in St. John's, but, boy, did the temperature drop at suppertime. Nicholas went out for a bike ride, and came back a bit chilled and with red cheeks.
"Time for the first hot chocolate of the season," he announced. "Which is kind of weird because it's not even winter."
It is, however, almost fall. I made chicken korma for supper, with a full pot of basmati rice on the side. As the sauce simmered, the vapors from the stove were both hot and delicious. It was quite warming.
September's always been my favourite month. Fall's on the doorstep, and it doesn't take much to get me to embrace autumn.
The Oatmeal, which I like so much I made an entire category about it on Dot Dot Dot, has a store, with all kinds of stuff (like a coffee poster, featuring the above detail, among others.) And they ship! And my birthday is coming up - well, in a lot of months, but Christmas will be here sooner!
A funny thing happened with the traffic on my blog in July: it went up, and a lot. And it's stayed there, it seems. A typical day before would be 1,100 page views and 800-odd visitors (not to be confused with 800 odd visitors, although that may be true also). Now, a low day has fewer than 2,000 visitors.
Which has been interesting, because as regular readers have probably noted, my posting activity has been scattershot lately, owing to some other projects and commitments.
So, is the lesson here something like "Post less, and get more traffic"?
Um, no. It's much more simple than that. I owe the vast majority of the traffic to a design change with Google's image search. If you've noticed, Google now presents a large array of images when you search for any word or phrase, and this has been the trigger, it seems, that pushed the traffic up.
If you've landed here because you were looking for, say, Banksy, welcome. Look around. And come back often!
This is what a candle looks like, sort of, as it burns itself down. Photographer Caleb Chartrand calls this Fifteen Hours, and it's part of this portfolio of images that make use of physics, lighting and a camera. And, it should be noted, there's no Photoshopping.
Sometimes you know something so well that you can’t imagine it could possibly be different. But when you’re shown a new way, and the benefits are instantly obvious, it can be a bit thrilling.
We’re all creatures of habit, but our online patterns are hardly cemented. You may prefer, say, the same type of breakfast cereal through your life, but your online preferences are going to change sooner or later. (Still using Alta Vista to look stuff up?)
A few weeks ago, my eyes were pointed to a service that has breathed new life into a service I’ve been using for years, and for which I now have a whole new appreciation.
Feedly I’ve been using Google Reader for the better part of five years, and was practically an apostle for it after I first set it up. Reader is what’s called an aggregator, and it was the first tool that managed my RSS feeds that was a genuine pleasure to have.
RSS – really simple syndication, to use one definition – is a workhorse of the web, pushing out content to the people who want updates. It’s not obvious, but it’s integral to many news sites, but is used for many other applications, from news releases to newsletters to personal sites.
Google Reader allowed me to synthesize all that data into one central place. Best, I could toggle to it while using other Google apps, like Gmail or the family calendar.
The hitch? Well, being a creature of habit, I got accustomed to the same look and feel … and got, well, a little bored. I just haven’t been using it nearly as much as I first did.
Enter Feedly, which takes your Google Reader feeds and hands it back to you, looking fantastic.
“A fun, magazine-like start page” is how Feedly pitches itself in bold print, to visitors who’ve come to kick the tires. Fair description, to say the least.
Like a good magazine, Feedly knows that design is as important as the content itself. Thus, some images are given a notable display, the fonts are clean and sharp, and columns are put to sharp use. It’s a lesson that makes perfect sense to me, almost three decades since I first learned the basics of composing a page and falling in love with typography, and learned that how something is presented is absolutely key to how it is understood.
After a quick install, my categories all moved over, including all my feeds and preferences. But this is no duplication: it’s a completely new, and better experience
In an instant, Feedly made skimming through my daily news diet a pleasure.
So, if you don’t use Google Reader (or Feedly), you might be scratching you head, and wondering if you’re missing something. Bottom line: you are.
I’d recommend giving Feedly a shot. After all, if you’re reading a column about online culture, and have made it this far, I bet you spend enough time looking at screens that you could use some help organizing things.
So, let’s say your interests include headlines about Boston’s sports teams; releases from your alma mater; newsletters from the company that handles your investments; social-media mentions of the company where you work; a few political blogs; and, um, reports about your favourite rock band.
Or, maybe you’re into mountain climbing, hand-crafted sweaters, Italian football stars and gossip magazines.
It doesn’t matter. The range of interests is enormous, and can be as customizable and unique as you are.
Like something you see? Copy and paste the URL into a field to add it to your menu. Set it up in a particular category that you can name and edit. Twitter feeds, by the way, are easy to add, and exploring for new content is a slice.
Give it a shot. I hope you get half as excited as I am.
Elsewhere this week
Netflix comes to Canada Well, not yet. But soon, and how, this is going to mean something major for countless thousands of Canadian movie-watchers, not to mention the video-rental stores that have relied on their business. Netflix has built a solid business model south of the border since the late 1990s with movies-by-mail, but everybody is more excited about where their business is rapidly going: online. Indeed, the Canadian business will exclusively offer on-demand content, particularly movies and TV shows, almost certainly at a flat rate like 10 bucks a month. Couch potatoes, you’ve been warned.
Several weeks ago, I caught the debut episode of Rubicon, which AMC has placed in the plum spot of Mad Men's follow-up. The plot is convoluted and ambigous, but then again, it's about espionage and conspiracy, and what's in the shadows (there literally are plenty of them in this show, where as much attention is paid to the lighting as the casting). In the first episode, we see Will (an analyst at a fictional intelligence agency) notice a bizarre coincidence in multiple crossword puzzles ... just after we see a powerful man put a gun to his temple after seeing a four-leaf clover.
And so it began. I've seen six episodes, and I'm basically in for the haul. While the show can be confusing, and paying close attention to the many details seems required, it has plenty of assets - not the least of which is Miranda Richardson is a recurring role, the purpose of which has not yet been made quite clear.
I was trying to describe Rubicon to one of my friends. I fell on the old habit of picking out threads from other shows. That is, it has the secretive tone of the X Files, the conspiracy adoration of Lost, the spy-vs-spy thrills of Spooks/MI5, the attention to government detail of The West Wing, the ensemble drama of ... well, you name the show.
So far, so good. I hope AMC keeps it around; it's not, after all, an easy show to love.
It’s hard to believe now, but for many years summer time was the dead zone in the movie industry. In the age before air-conditioning, a summer night’s out at the movies often meant going to the drive-in, and the fare there? Well, the trashier, the better.
But since Jaws and successive blockbusters, this is the time of year when the most exciting (and definitely not necessarily the best) movies come out.
This week’s web column celebrates popcorn season with a spate of sites all about the movies.
Body Counters “We count bodies, so you don’t have to” is the working motto of this site, which scores (if that’s the right word) the number of deaths that appear in specific movies. For some popcorn junkies, that’s a key indicator – not of quality, but the likelihood they can check their brain at the door, kick back and relax.
Cin-o-matic Here you’ll find a list of new and upcoming releases, presented in a table stacked with data: a numerical summary of critical reviews, ratings, run times, release dates, and so on. Best option: you can customize your own lists.
Roger Ebert on Twitter The world’s most famous film critic may have lost his ability to speak aloud, but Ebert is far from silent. He’s still writing, daily, and some of his funniest lines are released through Twitter. Look also for links to blog posts and published work.
Movie Brain This iTunes app – designed for the iPhone, but it works on an iPad, too – is like taking a database into the videostore. A web connection is not necessary, which is a bonus if you’re watching your minutes or have a wifi-enabled device. Look up titles, get instant information on the cast, and sample what others (including the Rotten Tomatoes critics’ aggregator) have to say about a movie … before you plunk down a penny to see it. Search for it in iTunes; it costs just two bucks.
Rotten Tomatoes Speaking of which, this venerable site is still going strong. Its value comes from consensus, of sorts, by sifting through multiple sources to get an idea of whether a movie is good or not. I’ve found it a pretty good guide through the years.
Imax Almost 20 years ago, I saw an Imax movie for the first time (Blue Planet, a documentary on the planet, filmed from the unique views of space shuttles), and it was a transcending experience. I’ve made a point of seeking out Imax movies when I travel. I have a dream that St. John’s may one day get one of those vast theatres; in the meantime, the official site is a bit of a peek into what we’re missing.
Ferdy on Films If the clout of film critics has waned through the years, there’s nonetheless some terrific writing online. This is one place where you’ll find solid, informed criticism.
DVD Verdict DVD Verdict takes its title pretty seriously, with subheadings like “the facts of the case” and “the evidence” laid out for each, um, case. Yes, it can get a little grating, but the sheer volume of content is worth keeping this one around.
Internet Movie Script Database IMDB, or the Internet Movie Database, is a key entertainment reference; IMSDB is more than just adding a letter. It collects scripts of numerous movies and posts them here. Other than raising a copyright flag, I’d point hardcore fans here, just so they can immerse themselves.
Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics Ever seen a movie where an assassin with a silencer fires a weapon and it goes “fut-fut.” Sounds familiar, right? And, well, not at all possible. The title of this site gives away its point of view on explosions, lasers and whatnot. It’s interesting stuff, but the design is insultingly tough on the eyes.
Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, is getting plenty of attention about his new novel, Freedom. How do we know he's important? There's a parody Twitter feed - Emperor Franzen - that's pretty hilarious.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.