wired nextfest 07 sneak peek: part 1

The other reason I flew out to L.A. this week was the offer to see the future a little before everyone else. I even got to play before those 10,000 school children stormed the L.A. Convention Center. Instead of pummeling you with my entire report, I'll break it down into two more manageable parts. Think of it like splitting the Oreo in half. Well, it's probably more like a Hydrox. With that in mind, let's begin. Kickass Kung-fu gave me the biggest workout I've had in years. Well, except that one time Steve and I played in a pickup basketball game near Davis Sq. The man who invented full court basketball obviously never tried running up and down a court for thirty minutes straight. Is that you, Dr. Naismith? I rest my case.

Anyway, it basically involves punching and kicking air to fend off virtual attackers. I think I even saw them give the school children a 2x4 for a more potent swing. I was getting Streets of Rage flashbacks. If you can sneak a massive lead pipe in, you'll be all set. Oh, and they even included a Mortal Kombat uppercut. Nice touch.

The founder I spoke with, Ari, even thoughtfully listened to my suggestions -- fatalities and projectiles (there's nothing more embarrassing than trying to do a Hadouken and have nothing happen). I'd even settle for animalities.

He also took the above photo for me. Fortunately for me, he didn't capture my attempt at a Tatsumaki Senpuukyaku. I learned my lesson.

The other lesson I learned was even more obvious: Robots -- especially samurai robots -- are not to be trifled with. I've seen that Tom Cruise samurai movie; if human samurai could do that much damage to a gatling gun wielding army, imagine the destruction samurai robots would cause. They'd be unstoppable and anachronistic.

Sure enough, there was a samurai robot in attendance. Behold Kiyomori:
<script src="http://flash.revver.com/player/1.0/player.js?mediaId:396173;affiliateId:114419;height:392;width:480;" type="text/javascript"></script>
It walks and sits, eh? Cool, but why did you give it a samurai sword and body armor? Kiyomori wouldn't be walking around with a katana unless they were training it how to use it -- or it already knew.

We need to find Miles Dyson. Now.

i broke my gmail

"You are almost out of space for your Gmail account."

I never thought this day would come. There is no website I use more often -- no application more important to me -- than Gmail.

And now I've almost hit my storage limit. I never thought that percentage would get higher than 20%, or maybe 30%. But where we are at 97% and I'm getting a cold sweat.

My inbox is suffocating. What if Natalie (Portman) finally replies to my emails and they bounce back. If she decides to attach pictures, there's no way in hell I'll get them.

Get a hold of yourself, Alexis. Just delete all that spam, that's it.

OK, down to 93%. I can breathe again.

I hope none of you ever have to see this message.

If you have, or if you ever do, I'm here for you.

But not at this moment. I need to go lie down.

google wants to pay you to go to the moon

$30 million can be yours if you can be the first to land a robot rover on the Moon. This was the big X Prize announcement at NextFest today. What made it for me was the appearance of Buzz Aldrin.

Shaking the hand of someone who walked on the moon felt pretty much like shaking the hand of anyone, only this hand had been on the moon. Aldrin was cordial, and even entertained my question about whether or not it was all a hoax.

OK, that's not true. Not the part about him being cordial, that was true, I didn't ask him about faking the moon landing. (He didn't strike me as being a very good actor anyway.) Instead, I tried to make small talk and show him just how much we had in common.

Fortunately, I had my Young Astronaut membership card on me. He didn't seem impressed.

A good friend of mine happens to be an aerospace engineer slogging toward his PhD. I keep telling him to join one of these space race startups, but he insists that finishing his degree is his top priority right now. And he has a point, his name is Huu. Having that PhD would indeed allow people (like me) to call him Dr. Huu.

Some things are better than landing on the moon.

won't somebody please think of the children?

At this very moment, NextFest is opening up to 10,000 L.A. schoolchildren. Geeks are an endangered species these days here in the States, so anything we can do as a society to encourage geekdom, the better of we'll be. We need future generations to keep buying that mint condition Star Wars memorabilia so my AT-AT keeps appreciating.

By getting them interested in math, science, and technology at an early age, we combat the inexplicable uncoolness of math, science, and technology. And hopefully we can correct the dearth of U.S. students studying it. As a country, we've long benefited from the immigrants who've come to our universities or our research labs. Many of them decided it wouldn't be a bad place to stick around and start a family. These days, I suspect fewer are applying to our schools, and those that do are less willing to stay.

It could just be because there is more opportunity back home, or living there is just more appealing, but given our pitiful international math & science ranking*, something needs to be done.

NextFest is obviously not the solution, but every little bit helps. A guy just flew in on a jetpack. You should have seen these kids' faces...

*Kids, the lesson here is that if the going gets tough -- quit,

the pej study everyone is talking about, generally speaking

It's officially news now, TechCrunch has written about it. As well as too many other organizations for me to type "a href" for -- even the BBC. Now isn't that the dog's bullocks?

I just wish more of them could have done the fine job that the SF Chronicle did by harnessing the power of histograms.
I believe the oft-repeated statement that the only story gaining traction on social news sites was the iPhone -- while it is an attractive sound byte for traditional media -- is a misrepresentation. Not all news sites -- "social" or otherwise -- are the same. They are reflections of their communities.

I hope that most folks would discern a difference in the reporting from Fox News and The Guardian*. Granted, I could have said the quality of reporting, but I'll leave that judgment up to you.

I've said it before -- I was told that if you say something often enough, it becomes fact -- so I'll say it again. Sites where "empowered readers determine the news" are only more efficient means for doing exactly what "editor-selected news" companies have aimed to do for years.

The news is business. I hope no one really believes social news means the downfall of society -- it's a better means of giving consumers (in this case, of news) with what they want. What's phase 3? Profit. (We're working on that)

This tremendous flow of relevant information feeds the Britney gawkers just as much as it feeds those of us Americans who miss habeas corpus. And some of us even miss habeas corpus just as much as we miss the old Britney.

*Oh, and perhaps I should also mention that The Guardian is owned by the Scott Trust, a charitable foundation (read: it's not legally bound, nor is it actively trying, to make a profit). Coincidence? Yeah, probably...

project for excellence in journalism lowers its standards, analyzes social news sites reddit and digg

Thanks to an article by Joe Strupp in Editor & Publisher, I found a recent study on social news sites from the esteemed Project for Excellence in Journalism. OK, I don't really know if they're actually "esteemed," but it sounded like it.

If Steve and I started another company, I think we ought to have the word "Excellence" somewhere in the name. It just oozes credibility.

Anyway, this study looked at a week's worth of news from three "user-driven sites" and compared them to the top stories on various mainstream outlets.

The results were shocking.


"The result: online users gravitated toward different topics than those from traditional news outlets."

Citing the study, Strupp points out that "In a week when the mainstream press was focused on Iraq and the debate over immigration, the three leading user-news sites--Reddit, Digg and Del.icio.us--were more focused on stories like the release of Apple’s new iPhone and that Nintendo had surpassed Sony in net worth." Ouch. But the actual report is a bit more nuanced than Strupp would lead you to believe.
During that week, the immigration debate led the coverage, accounting for 10% of all news stories in the News Coverage Index. That was followed by coverage of a major fire near Lake Tahoe (6%), the failed bombings in the United Kingdom (6%), events on the ground in Iraq (6%), Supreme Court decisions (5%), the 2008 presidential election (4%), flooding in Texas (4%), the policy debate in the capitol over the war in Iraq (4%), U.S. domestic terrorism (3%), and the missing pregnant woman in Ohio (3%). In all, the top ten stories that week accounted for 51% of all the stories in the Index. Wow, if half the articles in an entire week were about one of ten stories, it explains that tingly feeling I get when serendipity drops a unique reddit link in my lap a couple times a day.

In the user-generated sites, these stories were barely visible. Overall, just 5% of the stories captured on these three sites overlapped with the ten most widely-covered stories in the Index (13% for Reddit, 4% for Digg, and 0% for Del.icio.us). reddit suddenly appears very mainstream... odd...

The immigration debate in Congress, the biggest single story of the week in the mainstream media, appeared just once as a top-ten story on Reddit, and not at all on Digg and Del.icio.us. Granted, reddit has a unique method for sorting its front page, so most of the stories will never get enough momentum (hotness) to rise all the way up into the top 10, but even with that aside, it's clear the reddit community is not mired in the popular-talking-point-of-the-week. Really, I watched CNN today, Britney is fat, I get it, but what about the immigration debate -- or has it been settled? Similarly, the war in Iraq accounted for 10% of all stories in the Index and seven percent in the Yahoo-user material. Across the three user-news sites, it amounted to about 1%. (bold text mine)
So what do you think? If you're using reddit, you're apparently getting broader dose of news, but is that really the goal for building a better source for finding out what's new.

There is some consistency in this evidently inconsistent world of user-driven news.
For the most part, there were no dominant [stories]. The only story with any real traction was the release of the Apple iPhone, and that was just on one site (it accounted for 16% of the stories on Digg that week)
16% of an entire week? Yikes. OK, Britney, you've still got a few more days.

Oh right, I didn't mention that Del.icio.us was included as one of the newfangled social news sites. Again, I've triple-checked my sources on this and Del.icio.us is still is not a social news website -- it's for bookmarking, which it does quite well. This ought to explain why the study found a "0% overlap" with the top 10 stories in the mainstream press. No one wants to bookmark the latest update on the fires threatening their ski lodge in Tahoe.

Moving on, here are some more select quotes from the study, chosen for optimal amusement:
"Seven in ten stories on the user sites come either from blogs or Web sites such as YouTube and WebMd that do not focus mostly on news."
WebMD? I have a feeling this is from bunch of del.icio.us users bookmarking herpes symptoms now that Paris is out of jail. See, I can make pop culture references.
"The three user news sites differed from one another in subtle ways. Reddit was the most likely to focus on political events from Washington, such as coverage of Vice President Cheney"
I wouldn't really call it subtle. We certainly have days with lots of politics on the front page; I think it was that week that we learned Cheney neither belonged to the executive nor the legislative branch. Today doesn't happen to be one of those days, but I'm a little disappointed they didn't find any evidence of Ron Paul support on reddit. Heh, it's probably just more evidence of the anti-RP conspiracy...
"Digg was particularly focused on the release of Apple’s new iPhone"
I hear it's a popular phone (it can save lives! Use the "911" widget). I guess it was also a slow news week...
"Del.icio.us had the most fragmented mix of stories and the least overlap with the News Index [of mainstream news outlets]"
Hmm, this appears to only be reinforcing the fact that Del.icio.us is indeed not intended to be for news. I'm sorry for belaboring this, but I think I've found a solution.

I've been told that images help convey messages almost as well as catchy slogans or jingles. Since I have neither the energy nor the ability to come up with a good slogan or produce a jingle, I'm settling for a useful graphic. Print it out and put it in a drawer. If you're ever feeling anxious about what, for instance, Del.icio.us is all about, refer to this chart. In all seriousness, it's great seeing the PEJ showing interest and researching this. Don't settle for my synopsis, read the entire report at Journalism.org. I only hope they avoid including Del.icio.us in future studies regarding social news sites. And if they want to study social bookmarking, I can save them the time and cost of conducting the survey by saying that Del.icio.us has no competition there.

Incidentally, if someone at the PEJ would like to send me a shirt as compensation for my above service, I'd be happy to return the favor with some reddit gear. I'd wear it with pride -- and maybe only a bit of irony ;-)

dancing balmer zune ad

How is it possible that I learned about this video only twenty seconds ago? And now I can't... stop... replaying...

UPDATE: Christian Kittle, creator of this video, you are a fantastic human being. I just wanted you to know that.

keep bear cubs away from shredder: a look at the greatest warning label ever

I've had this shredder for a couple months and didn't notice this warning label until I was boxing it up for the move last week. I can't imagine what those Brooklyn movers were thinking while they saw me snapping this close-up.

Actually, I can imagine what they were thinking: What a stupid warning; who would be foolish enough to allow a bear -- let alone a bear cub -- near their new cross-cut paper shredder? (Cross-cut for added security, just ask Oliver North).

Even as cubs, these creatures are known for their ferocity. I've seen Grizzly Man, these beasts hate office supplies. You think those guys in Office Space did a number on that fax machine? Imagine how a grizzly would react to the imminent threat of a machine that slashes 10 sheets at a time.

But really, why the teddy bear? The only reason I stopped trying to drink the bleach in our laundry room is because my mom put those "Mr. Yuck" stickers on it. Then my dad started putting it on anything in the fridge that he didn't want me to eat or drink. Where is the "Mr. OMFG MY HAND IS A BLOODY PULP OF GROUND CHUCK!"?

That would keep the kids away much better than a cute teddy.

easy as pi

I'm in L.A. this week as a prop to sell some ads on reddit. Today was my first presentation to folks interested in buying ad space (much less pressure than pitching to people you want to buy your company) and I feel pretty good about it. But I knew this week was going to go well as soon as I checked into my hotel.

I have a remarkable skill for forgetting simple things like my keys, days of the week, and hotel room numbers. I'm the guy you see jabbing one adjacent room after another with my keycard, muttering Klingon cursewords. And that's sober.

Last night, when I was handed my key and told my number, I smirked. This I wouldn't forget -- jetlag and all.

in space, no one can hear you troll

Back on Earth, things have gotten a bit lonely for the word "reddit." We've overcome similar mascot shortages in the past. I trust this will be no exception.

Jeremy, who built our do-it-yourself reddit polling widgets ("So easy, Alexis can use them") suggested I re-post the aforementioned poll instead of just linking to it like a n00b (not a direct quote).

Hmm, copy, paste... Look how easy that was!

Here again are the hottest | newest | top-rated suggestions for a plot. They're sorted by top-rated this time. Go ahead and vote; if you still think they're all terrible, submit your own.