Graphs speak louder than numbers

With President Obama and Republican leaders calling for cutting the budget by trillions over the next 10 years, it is worth asking how we got here — from healthy surpluses at the end of the Clinton era, and the promise of future surpluses, to nine straight years of deficits, including the $1.3 trillion shortfall in 2010. The answer is largely the Bush-era tax cuts, war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recessions.

(via How the Deficit Got This Big – nytimes.com)

Depressing.

Jawbone’s Up: a sensor-infused wristband and smartphone app

Up-by-jawbone

The CDC says that for the first time in history, lifestyle diseases such as diabetes are killing more people than communicable diseases,” Travis Bogard, Jawbone’s VP of product management, tells Co.Design. “We’re trying to solve that problem.” The Up’s sensors collect data about how much you’ve been sleeping and how much you’ve been moving. That data is then fed into a smartphone app, which also takes in information about your meals. (You enter meal data manually, in part by taking pictures of what you’ve eaten.) Based on all that information, the smartphone program provides “nudges” meant to help you live healthier, day by day. For example, if you haven’t slept much, when you wake up the app might suggest a high-protein breakfast and an extra glass of water.

I can see myself benefiting from one of these.

Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’

Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’

When Darren Aronofsky was 13-years-old, he won a United Nations poetry competition at his Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn school for a poem about the end of the world as seen through the eyes of Noah. And so started Aronofsky’s obsession with the biblical figure. In September 2008 we talked to Aronofsky about his idea for a film based on Noah:

“It’s the end of the world and it’s the second most famous ship after the Titanic. So I’m not sure why any studio won’t want to make it,” said Aronofsky. “I think it’s really timely because it’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what’s going on on this planet. So I think it’s got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist. He’s a really interesting character. Hopefully they’ll let me make it.”

Aronofsky has later revealed that they have a script and even a “big name” actor attached to the project, but that isn’t enough to get the studios interested.

First Look: Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ – via slashfilm.com

Sounds like a Kickstarter project to me! I wonder if that model could be scaled up to support $100million+ feature film budgets? Then we’d finally be able to see if people really do just want to see mindless action movies and romantic comedies…

Proof that paywalls don’t always have to drive readers away

Journalism Online says that pageviews fell between 0% and 20% and unique visits fell between just 0% and 7% (neither figure a huge disaster when you introduce a paywall), while advertising revenue didn’t fall at all for any of the titles.

It’s worth noting that the newspapers concerned didn’t block all content completely from non-paying visitors. Instead, only readers who view more than a set number of pages per month, usually between 5 and 20, have to pay.

The policy is stark contrast from the most high-profile recent paywall launches – those by Rupert Murdoch in the UK for his Times, Sunday Times and News of the World titles. In those cases, all content is completely blocked until you stump up some cash (or at least sign up for a free trial). We’re still to hear exactly how successful this policy has been. Publisher News International released some vague figures that weren’t very enlightening, while the unofficial word is that the policy didn’t start out well.

(via Proof that paywalls don’t always have to drive readers away – thenextweb.com)

Perhaps a paywall like this could work for community sites too.

If you set this meter conservatively, which we urge people to do, it’s a nonevent for 85, 90, 95 percent of the people who come to your Web site,” Mr. Brill said.

(via Journalism Online Examines Pay Model – nytimes.com)

What a brilliant name!

Product placement in movies

[…] did you know the “All restaurants are Taco Bell” scene in Demolition Man was replaced with a horribly-dubbed version that said “Pizza Hut” for the European version?  Or that one of the biggest product placement whores of all time is Michael Bay?  Okay, that second one you probably already knew.

via A Brief History of Conspicuous Product Placement in Movies – filmdrunk.uproxx.com

Wilson

Product placement has a place in movies and television. I’d rather see Michael J. Fox slurping from a Pepsi than have the narrative broken for a few minutes for a commercial break.

Sadly you tend to get both. We’re going to be seeing much more placement in the future too, as advertisers want to be able to market to those who torrent or TiVo their television shows.

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Tweaking Twain

A new edition of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, scheduled to be published in February by NewSouth Books, substitutes the word “slave” for the “n-word” and “Indian” for “injun” throughout the book.

The publisher has been accused of censorship and altering a classic of American literature for the sake of political correctness. Early argues that this is just another case of tinkering with texts in order to create a version that best serves its audience.

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How Andrew Plotkin raised $31,337 on Kickstarter

There’s no easy answer here. Andrew ‘Zarf’ Plotkin is a big name in interactive fiction, and without his reputation backing up his idea, it would probably have failed. Still, he has some smart suggestions:

Some subjective factors that I can’t measure, but which I’m sure helped:

  • Say up front what you want to do, why you want money, and how that money will be converted into something awesome. (A list of features is not exciting, of itself. Describe an experience.)
  • Have a great video. I wrote a script, and then my co-conspirator Jason McIntosh and I whaled over it. Jason threw away a bunch of stuff and added a bunch of stuff; then we filmed it. Twice.
  • Think about your audience and who wants what. I have contributors who want an iPhone game, contributors who want interactive fiction, contributors who want to support my open-source projects, and contributors who want to support me. These are not all the same people. Rewarding all of these groups appropriately is non-trivial, and there has been some discussion about the way I did it.
  • For a game project, include a demo. (I realized this only barely before launch-day! The demo that I posted represents two intense weekends of work; I hope that’s a good omen for my production rate in 2011.)
  • Don’t be afraid to plug yourself and your CV. I know you’re all saying “how could you fail to promote yourself?!” but I had to be chivvied into it. (Thanks, Jason Scott.)
  • Contrariwise, don’t be a jerk. Actively don’t be a jerk. Say thank you to everybody, early and often.

via Andrew Plotkin: How I raised $24,000 on Kickstarter – money.cnn.com

Related: Hadean Lands: Interactive Fiction for the iPhone – kickstarter.com

10 innovative business models of 2010

Here’s a handy list of the business models featured:

  1. Kickstarter.com
  2. Airbnb.com
  3. Quirky.com
  4. Free with in-app sales
  5. HumbleBundle.com
  6. PayWithaTweet.com
  7. Spotify.com
  8. Groupon.com
  9. Flattr.com
  10. PatientsLikeMe.com

Not every interesting revenue model was included. Some of course missed our selection. I personally didn’t choose penny auction concepts like Swoopo and others. People that joined one of our workshop sessions knew already that these concepts are quite fraudulous. Auction platforms like this aren’t very sustainable. Recent figures already showed that Swoopo is indeed in decline. Other emerging concepts like Quora aren’t on the list either. Although everybody is talking about this relative new content platform, they didn’t figure out what business model to roll out. Sounds very Twitterish, not? If I had to include 1 extra revenue model to this selection, I would go for Gilt.com, which has another interesting approach for selling ‘online deals’. Read more about their margins, cash conversion and so on here.

via 10 business models that rocked 2010 – boardofinnovation.com

I’ve blogged about the Humble Indie Bundle before. Kickstarter really does deserve to be at the top of that list. Though you can support projects from anywhere in the world, you have to be in the US to raise funds. There are lots of imitators though, including IndieGoGo. Flattr is a concept I’m probably going to try out soon too.

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Link

These animations by the RSA are wonderful. I haven’t seen them all yet, but these two were also very interesting:

  • Smile or Die: Acclaimed journalist, author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich explores the darker side of positive thinking.
  • Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.

What does it feel like to be stupid?

Tonight I joined Quora (It’s like Yahoo! Answers for smart people) and spotted the question What does it feel like to be stupid?

The best answer is from an anonymous user who suffered from an arterial problem which reduced the blood supply to his heart and brain, making him forgetful, slow, and easily overwhelmed…

However, once I got used to it and resigned myself, it was great. Even though I knew I had a worrying illness, I was happy as a pig in mud. I no longer had the arrogance of being frustrated with slow people, I abandoned many projects which reduced a lot of stress, I could enjoy films without knowing what would happen (my nickname before this used to be ‘comic book guy’ if you get the reference), and I became amazingly laid back and happy go lucky. I got on with people much better. I developed much more respect for one of my friends in particular who I always considered slow – it turned out he is much deeper than I thought, I just never had the patience to notice before. You could say I had more time to look around. The world just made more sense. The only negative, apart from struggling to perform at work, and having to write everything down, was that I no longer found sci-fi interesting – it just didn’t seem important. (I’m not joking, although it sounds like a cliché.)

(via What does it feel like to be stupid? – quora.com)

He did recover, and you will be pleased to learn that he regained his love of science fiction.

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European news agenda

More than one million news articles in 22 languages have been analysed using the latest technology to pinpoint the factors that influence and shape the news agenda in 27 European countries. 

Every day hundreds of news outlets across Europe choose which story to cover from a wide and diverse selection. While each outlet may make news choices based on individual criteria, clear patterns emerge when these choices are studied across many outlets and over a long period of time.

They discovered that chosen news content reflects national biases, as well as cultural, economic and geographic links between countries. For example outlets from countries that trade a lot with each other and are in the Eurozone are more likely to cover the same stories, as are countries that vote for each other in the Eurovision song contest. Deviation from ‘normal content’ is more pronounced in outlets of countries that do not share the Euro, or have joined the European Union later.

Professor Lewis said: “This approach has the potential to revolutionise the way we understand our media and information systems. It opens up the possibility of analysing the mediasphere on a global scale, using huge samples that traditional analytical techniques simply couldn’t countenance. It also allows us to use automated means to identify clusters and patterns of content, allowing us to reach a new level of objectivity in our analysis.”

Professor Cristianini, University of Bristol added: “Automating the analysis of news content could have significant applications, due to the central role played by the news media in providing the information that people use to make sense of the world.”

(via European news agenda – cardiff.ac.uk/news)

Sadly though, there is no elaboration on exactly which shared interests countries have, and exactly what kind of issues outlying countries are more interested in. (Most likely, news about non-EU countries’ that share their other borders.)

The big potential use I can see for all of this is the automated discovery of potential stories of interest – a feed of ‘stories my local media are not reporting’. It would be interesting to see if the same techniques could work for the entire news output of a single country, so we could get an analysis of stories across the UK.

It seems the researchers really went above and beyond what should be possible for their study…

[…] the team was able to analyse 1,370,874 articles – a sample size well beyond existing research techniques.

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Humble Indie Bundle 2

It’s Humble Indie Bundle time again. This time the bundle has five indie games on offer: Braid, Cortex Command, Machinarium, Osmos and Revenge of the Titans. You really can’t beat the deal:

Pay what you want. If you bought these five games separately, it would cost around $85 but we’re letting you set the price!

All of the games work great on Mac, Windows, and Linux.

We don’t use DRM. When you buy these games, they are yours. Feel free to play them without an internet connection, back them up, and install them on all of your Macs and PCs freely. There is no time-limit on your downloads.

You can support charity. Choose exactly how your purchase money is divided: Between the game developers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or the Child’s Play Charity. Also, if you like this deal, a tip to the Humble Bundle itself would be much appreciated!

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Google’s reading age tool

Google have recently added the option to filter your search results by reading level. This could be a great feature for teachers. The virtualeconomics blog has turned this tool onto UK newspaper websites, with some interesting results:

No big surprises that the Sun, Mirror and News of the World sit together at the bottom of the list, or that they’re joined there by the commuter freebie Metro; nor that the FT contains almost no “basic” language pages and the most “advanced”. But the middle of the table is more interesting, with the Guardian scoring much the same reading age as the Daily Mail, and the Independent sitting at the top of the qualities isn’t necessarily what I’d have guessed.

via Google’s reading age tool – comparing UK newspapers – virtualeconomics.co.uk

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