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Archive for the 'Fun' Category

YouTube: Here Comes Another Bubble

Monday, December 24th, 2007

Too funny not to share with you guys. Newspapers and friendship bracelets? lol.

Apparently from an a cappella group of techies called The Richter Scales.

NYTimes News Quiz Facebook app is a keeper

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

I have added several — and deleted many more — applications to my Facebook page over the past several months.

That page has grown progressively more crowded as I gave in to the temptation to designate my top friends, adorn my profile with “bumper stickers” and LOLcats, push my twitter updates to my status and even hand out and receive superlatives for my friends.

But my favorite news media application is something I stumbled on this week: The New York Times News Quiz

NYTimes News Quiz facebook app

As you can see, I’m doing well among my friends but have a ways to go among other players. I’m not disappointed or anything, the way I can figure the rankings work more by favoring recent performance and performance over time. I’ve only taken two quizzes so far. I scored 4/5 on one and 5/5 on the other. So I’m doing decent.

I can’t take a screen shot of the actual quiz because sadly — and I mean that as I wanted to take one today — there are none on weekends. But basically, it’s five questions about details of events in the news.

It’s made me realize I actually do pay more attention than I think I do. I just don’t have time to pay as much attention to events on a national and especially international scale as I would like. Ironically, when I was in college and we had news quizzes, I always hated them. I always did well (many of my j-school grades have that fact to thank for the extra boost). But I never felt prepared, I guess, then as now, apparently I absorbed much more than I realized.

Anyway, why do I like this application over others I’ve tried? It has some key components that in my eyes make the news quiz a winner:

  1. Interactivity — I come back every day to take the quiz. Every day it is different. It is not a “use once and look at how pretty it is” application, a la the Washington Post Compass, which was really fun to take but didn’t serve much point after that.
  2. Competition — It’s no fun to just play against myself, I want to know how my friends do and how smart I am compared to them and to other players.
  3. Content accessibility — I suck at all those movie and TV quizzes because I don’t watch TV and have missed many of the movie classics and many recent movies by choice. The news, however, is something that only relies on me having paid attention at all within the past 24 hours. If I did that, I can score decent. If not, I can come back tomorrow and take another stab.
  4. Recommendations — You can’t see it on my screen shot, but every day they recommend five Times stories to read as tips for the next quiz. I like that they’re encouraging people to read the news, even as a means of competition. It goes back to point two and three. I can beat the other players, and if I didn’t today, I can with little effort tomorrow. Over time, that little effort will pay off. Plus, there’s an even better payoff than besting my friends: I’ll be a more informed citizen. And isn’t that the point of the media anyway?

Letters to santa

Monday, December 17th, 2007

I just realized that though I claim to have no experience writing self-evaluations, I am mistaken.

My paper’s letters to Santa just reminded me of that. See, all these are is a quick-hit appraisal of your good deeds over the past year recounted in an attempt to convince the jolly old elf (though in my case, the editors are none of those things) that you are deserving of what you want.

Here’s a few of my favorite submissions, with the part that made me smile in bold. You can read more here and here (and throughout the week at jconline)

  • I hope you have a great Christmas. I want some highlighters. I want a CD of High School Musical 2, $50, three gift cards to Toys R Us and a Wal-Mart gift card. Santa my real birthday is Dec. 20 then five days after is Christmas. Christmas is my favorite month in the whole entire year. It is the bestest month because we get presents and oh yeah I also want some new clothes like sweatshirts and new pants and some new shirts too please. And I want to see you on Christmas Eve and I want a globe.

  • Will you make me soldiers and will you please bring me a dog? And may I have a football game on XBox Santa and one more thing, can I have a brother and a nice sister? Santa your reindeer are cool and P.S. can I have a Wii and a PlayStation? I love you.

  • How are your reindeer? I already know I am going to get coal. I wish I had been good last year and this year. How do you visit all of the houses in one night? I hope on Christmas Eve you won’t be pooped out. How is Mrs. Claus and your elves? How is Rudolph? Some people think you do not exist, but I do so so so much. I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

  • I think you should come to my house and bring me a Wii, a bike and a dirt bike 85 cc. I got good grades like A, B, C, D, because I worked hard and got good grades. I helped my grandpa build a doghouse and I was not expecting money. I hope you think I deserve the things I asked for. I hope I get my presents.
    Yours truly,

  • I think you should come to my house and bring me a Wii, a laptop, and a Spiderwick book. I haven’t bitten my sister. I worked really hard not to. I also did not hit her all year. I had some candy and gave it to my neighbor. I fed the fish at Indiana Beach. I did it so they would not die. I hope you think I deserve the things I asked for. Please come to my house.
    Your friend,

So this isn’t news. But come on, didn’t those make you smile?!

Wikipedia does not know all

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

When I come across something unfamiliar and want a quick synopsis of something, I generally begin by typing it into Google. Usually, one of the top five or so results is a Wikipedia entry.

So when my friend pointed out this doll for sale on eBay going for $1,200 I was floored. Why the heck would anyone pay that, I wondered. Apparently, whoever Sasha is is a big deal.

I turned to Google to find out about these dolls. A bunch of collectors came up and a few eBay auctions, and this quick-hit synopsis of the craze on About.com was very helpful.

But where was Wikipedia in all this?

We often joke in the newsroom that Wikipedia is omniscient (hey I can’t use big words in the paper, so when I can sneak them in conversation, I do). That is to say, Wikipedia is all knowing.

My prior usage of Wikipedia as a quick-hit summary for things when I don’t particularly care about the authority of the information, when I’m just generally curious about something random, like say why an ugly doll would net $1,000+, has always netted decent results.

But I learned that apparently all the entries on Wikipedia haven’t been created yet, as I kind of assumed they had. Sasha Serie is not in their index. I was able to, after trying to think of several combinations including the creator’s name, find out that there is a listing for “Sasha dolls” that deals with this. But it still did not come up in my Google searches, and that entry could use some sprucing up.

Being that it is Wikipedia, I could try and fix it up (maybe add a photo or some annotations — where’s this information from?!). But I won’t because I don’t know much about it and would have to rely on Google to tell me, thus I’d find myself in that perpetual cycle. My favorite part of that entry is this: Those who Google ‘sasha dolls’ or ‘Sasha Morgenthaler’ will find themselves offered a wealth of Sasha-related sites – some historically-oriented, some devoted to their owners’ Sasha collections, some selling dolls or dolls’ clothing. LOL. No links. Just tell them to Google it. Which is kind of ironic for my purposes, being I was trying to Google to find the Wikipedia entry, and now the entry is telling me to Google the topic. Here we go in that cycle again.

In the end it’s irrelevant anyway: I’m not interested in any doll that costs nearly as much as my computer. No thanks. But seriously. $1,200 for a doll?

There is hope for the printed page, kind of

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

This week when I was out giving my career presentation two things occurred that gave me hope for the printed page. Kind of.

I started the presentations by trying to engage the kids and ask whether they read the paper. I was surprised, no seriously caught off guard by the quantity of hands that shot up. I’d say 80 percent of the high school students had their hands up. I was unsurprised to learn many read the sports section first (and several exclusively). Nearly all said they read the local section, at least skimmed it. I’d guess that most skim most of the paper. But I was pretty surprised to learn they don’t read our entertainment and life sections at all. Not one of them admitted to reading TGIF, lots didn’t seem to know it existed. And this was a place that really is on the edge of our coverage area (i.e. not a mainstay of our beats/circulation) but where there is no other local paper. But still, I was a bit caught off when so many kids had their hands up.

The second thing that surprised me was from the substitute teacher who was proctoring in the room where I happened to be. I got there with about five minutes to spare before kids arrived. So we were talking about the paper. He was asking about news stories including the recent election, about our recent redesign, etc. He told me he reads the paper COVER to COVER every day. EVERY SINGLE DAY. He said he spends at least an hour and a half DAILY. Then, when he’s done, his wife reads it. And he moves on to do the same with the Indy Star, to which he also subscribes.

I was also shocked by this. I didn’t know people like that existed. Or that they still existed. No, that they ever existed. I mean, think about that. Two hours a day for him is not uncommon with the J&C. Then he reads the Star as well. He said, he’s retired, what else does he have to do? OK, I’m still kind of amazed these people exist.

Sadly, we didn’t get to talk about the Web site and more in-depth, because the kids started trickling in. But it was an interesting and eye-opening experience for me. As much emphasis as we put on the Web. How many people go through the Web site every day and read every single page? I don’t even think that is physically possible. Our links are ever-changing, our updates stale before they’d get back to square one. Plus all the evergreen databases and stories.

How can we get those kids to be as loyal as that retired engineer, who took up subbing just to fill the time? Whether they’re loyal to our print product or our Web site or our podcast or whatever. How do we continue to keep their attention and their enthusiasm for our product? I know this is an old argument, but it’s been on my mind since that day.

(BTW: The career presentation went so-so. The TV chick presenting after me had a game and free T-shirts for winners. Though I did laugh when she had to give them away to kids who couldn’t play along and name four anchors or four reporters at the station. Not that they could name four bylines in my paper. The difference is, we’d never be so pompous as to ask.)

Picking a personal theme song

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Here’s an interesting, albeit it not journalism related, task that came up in a story today.

It was National Mix It Up at Lunch Day, a concept that intrigued me enough when I got the press release a few weeks back that I actually went out of my way to call the group behind it and inquire on what local schools might be participating. The idea was basically kids sit with people different from them for a day to break out of their comfort zone and maybe, who knows, learn a little tolerance or meet a new friend.

I went to a local middle school for lunch. Rather than just one day of mixing it up, they decided to go for three. And to give the kids something to discuss, each randomly assigned table was given the task of creating a CD of songs that represent them. Basically, each kid had to come up with one song, and then they come up with a title and a CD cover, etc.

I didn’t really focus much on the CD, and mentioned it in one short paragraph in my story. When my editor goes through and is editing it, he calls across the newsroom, “Meranda, what song would you pick to represent you?”

I couldn’t think on my feet. Partially because one of his favorite sports is rolling his eyes at my pop culture choices, which are not necessarily mainstream (not that his are, but his are of an earlier era and mostly out of my knowledge base — and whenever I say this, I think he takes it personally like I’m saying he’s old, which he’s really not, I’m just not pop-cultured enough), and also because it’s hard to pick a theme song!

I said I wasn’t sure, but it’d probably be something upbeat like “Walking on Sunshine” or something ridiculous like that.

He went around the newsroom and asked everyone in turn. None of us were very good at thinking so quickly. So he said he should bring in a song on CD not labeled, and we’ll all try to guess. lol. Don’t know if anyone will actually participate.

Readers: Think on it for a moment, what would your theme song be and why?

When I got home, I started thinking about what my theme would be. Glancing through my iTunes and there was one song that is actually my unofficial theme. It was the song I played on repeat in the weeks before running for editor, and is the most-played song by a long-shot in iTunes. And it something most people have never heard of. I only heard it because once, several years ago, it was offered as a free MP3 download from MTV.com, and I was researching free & legal music for a story I was writing for the Stater. Awesome discovery. The song is “She Said” by Brie Larson. Heard it? Likely not.

Here’s the video. (I’m not a huge fan of the video, but the song is great if you just listen to the lyrics.)

I know it’s cheesy and cliche and so, well, predictable. But it’s honestly the song I put on when I need reassurance or want to cheer up. I’d say this is pretty much my theme song. I’m willing to take risks and fail, and at least I tried even if I don’t make it.

Get off of my back, stop sayin’ that
Cause I’m not afraid a heights
I may never get where I’m goin’
Yeah, but then again I might
You can’t get inside my head
Can’t be my safety net
I’m standing on the edge, yeah

I know it’s a long way down
But you can’t walk the wire
For anybody else
I might hit the ground
But at least I’ll have a story to tell
She said, I gotta find out for myself

A few entirely random thoughts that sum up today

Monday, October 15th, 2007

I don’t have anything profound to say today, but there are several random things floating around my head that I figured I may as well share. Feel free to add your own. This could be a fun game.

  • UPDATE, I forgot the most important lesson of today. What happens when you go to make cop calls and get a busy signal. You hang up and finish calling the rest and then head back to the busy number? What happens when that number still rings busy. And half an hour later? Still busy. So, then you call the city (housed in the same building), and guess what, it’s busy? Well, I decided something was up. But since I couldn’t just call down there to find out, I did what any enterprising, curious reporter would do. I walked there and found the IT director. Something was majorly up, apparently there was a huge statewide phone outage. Our police, city and the two city school districts both went without phone service until about 3 p.m. as did several other businesses in our community. Just goes to show, there really will never be a true replacement for face-to-face, shoe-leather reporting. There’s no way I could have worked that story through the phones.
  • Over the past few weeks I’ve done two different stories involving outages with two different phone companies. In light of this, I really think phone companies need to evaluate their media relations. Neither of the phone companies made it easy to a) locate a media representative, b) locate any live person, c) get a phone number that didn’t start with 1-800 and end with my hanging up after getting stuck in a loop of computer mis-guided menus. To sum up my editor’s response to the first of these stories, “The phone company doesn’t have a phone number on its site?!” And then a laugh and attempt to prove me wrong, as if I would seriously admit both my computer savvy and Google prowess had let me down without first ensuring it was worth throwing in the towel. I’m just saying. In both cases, I now have the phone number, name and e-mail of the person I need to talk to should anything else arise. But why make it so difficult?
  • I learned a new word today: akimbo. Apparently it means to put your hands on your hips and bend your elbows. (Think annoyed teenage girl yelling, “But mooooommmm!”) I’m only including this here because I told my editor I would blog about the new word I learned. lol. He used it to describe the “sassy” pose one of the girl’s auditioning for the Purdue Play Boy edition had in her photo.
  • This story, which I first saw on Romensko (and first commented on in my education tumblelog — which is off to a good start, thanks for asking) makes me nervous about ever writing about the ISTEP or other major tests. The reporter wrote a light feature about the testing and inadvertently included the essay topics that many students hadn’t yet written about! Now all the kids have to retake the test. Although, reading his explanation, I’d have to say I do understand he didn’t know he couldn’t include the topics — and really he shouldn’t have been let in the classroom and the teachers and administrators should have flagged it for him not to repeat test questions. Still, I’m not sure I like his defense. I think he’s trying to point fingers by his blog post, and really what it boils down to is, yeah, that’s hella embarrassing and really messes with a lot of kids, but take responsibility and go ahead and say, “I screwed up.” Not doing so is just as embarrassing.
  • I have decided that while I could work the 6 a.m. shift, as in I am capable of waking up, getting dressed and being at work to start posting and picking up cops stuff from overnight, I reaaallly don’t envy the guys who have that regular shift. Yes, it would be nice to have a set shift that didn’t fluctuate from 8 to 4 through 3 to 11 virtually every day depending on meetings and assignments, and getting off (theoretically) at 2 p.m. is so appealing. But if a wonky schedule and a few late nights a week is the price to pay for getting to work during daylight hours, it’s worth it for now. I am way too tired to actually do anything with the rest of today. And as I told the business reporter when he came in at 7:30 a.m., I’m too young to be up at 6 a.m.
  • That’s all I can think of for now.