Monday, April 14, 2008

New developments in a 96-year-old mystery

The New York Times posted this article in the science section today, which says that one of the real reasons behind the disasterous 1912 sinking of the Titanic may be related to the rivets used in building the ship.

I've always been pretty interested in the Titanic, (yes, even before the movie) as evidenced by the fact that I even ventured to click on a link to the science section. I find it really fascinating that even exactly 96 years to the day after its sinking, it is still relevant enough that the Times would publish such a long piece on it.

There are a few reasons for blaming the rivets (well, you know, and the iceberg) for the ship's demise. First is the fact that the Titanic, the Olympic and the Britannic, all sister ships with a very similar and very large, design, were all built at around the same time. Here is a photo of the Titanic next to the Olympia, both in construction:

Each ship required about 3 million rivets, according to the article, and right around the time that the Titanic was being put together was when a relatively bad shortage of "good" rivets occured - meaning that the ship was built using rivets of a lesser quality than would have typically been used. Findings from the wreck show that the high quality rivets that were used were put in the middle of the ship, where it was believed that that most stress would be inflicted. Of course, the iceberg hit the ship on the bow, so having strong rivets in the middle didn't do much good. Another cause that is being suggested is that there was a shortage of skiller riveters at the time, so the work that was done on the ship may not have been up to par with what a more skilled worker could have done.

My favorite thing about this article is the accompanying slideshow, which gives information, provides wonderful images and gives users a close-up view of the rivets in question.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Our class has been spending some time looking at NewsTrust is a non-profit that aims to help people find good, reliable journalism on the web. Members can submit and rate stories that are found online.

The rating system asks the member to evaluate a story based on a number of things, including reliabilty of the news source, how informative the story is, if the context given in acceptible, the style of the writing and accuracy.

NewTrust then presents the best news of the day based on reviews and not solely on publication or popularity.

Similarly, members of NewsTrust also undergo a sort of rating and ranking system. Members are assigned a "Member Level," ranging from level one to level five. What level the member is on is based on their activity on the site, their experience, transparency, validation and ratings given to them by other members.

It is also possible for members to see how they rate other members over time. When you look at a person's profile, you can view the average rating that you gave to them based on their ratings.

That's a lot of rating going on, and it takes a little time to figure it all out. But overall, I think NewsTrust is a great site for getting people involved in journalism. Members' opinions really matter on this site and they do affect what stories get posted on the homepage every day.

There are many more features and things to do on NewsTrust, but I think that the best way to really get a feel for it is to go and check it out. There are discussion boards, which I am a fan of. I also really like seeing how my own review compares with the overall average review on the same story. (I feel like I know what I'm talking about when the two are similar.)

So far, my major qualm with NewTrust is that for some reason, I've yet to be able to successfully post a story. Every time I try, my computer freezes. However, I'm sure that this is the fault of my computer and not NewsTrust.

I only wish that I had starting using this site earlier in the semester. It may have helped me to keep more on top of what was going on in the world of online journalism.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


This election season, MTV is inviting young voters to Think.

The immensely popular cable television network, which is geared toward teens and young adults, has launched the social networking site Think MTV. It includes features that are typical of networking Web sites – photo and video sharing, forums, messaging, groups and “friends” lists. Think, however, also incorporates ideas that most people probably do not associate with with its target audience, which is 18- to 24- year olds, according to a press release: politics and citizen journalism.

This initiative is indicative of a larger trend that that organizations and advertisers alike seem to be noticing: using the Internet and multimedia tools will get the attention of younger audiences.

Last December, MTV unveiled “Street Team ’08,” a group of 51 young citizen journalists, one from each state and Washington, D.C., who were selected to cover the 2008 elections with weekly multimedia reports. In order to make this possible, street team members were equipped with laptops, video cameras, mobile phones and computer software. Their reports, which are in the forms of text, video, photos, animation and podcasts, can be found on Think, MTV Mobile and more than 1,800 sites in the Associated Press Online Video Network.

“Street Team ‘08 is in many ways an experiment, we're trying to see if we can reach more of the youth vote if we start a conversation with them, using the means that they're already using to communicate with one another,” said Kristen Teraila, 24, the street team member representing Maryland and a graduate of the University of Maryland. “Do most 20-year-olds watch the nightly news and read the newspaper on a daily basis? Probably not. But are they online consuming, sharing and creating media everyday? I think so.”

Teraila, who went to school for journalism, recently posted this video story of nearly professional quality about the ability of 17-year-olds who will be 18 by Election Day in November to cast a vote in the February primary elections in Maryland.

Several attempts were made to get comments from those directly involved with creating and running Think, but no communication could be made beyond MTV’s public relations specialists.
MTV is no stranger to encouraging its young viewers to get politically involved. MTV News first started covering politics during the presidential race of 1992 through their “Choose or Lose” campaign, which has also geared up to cover every presidential election since. These days, when users go to, they are automatically redirected to the section of Think dedicated to Street Team ’08. The implication is that citizen journalists are the new Kurt Loder.

Scott McLean, 18, a high school student from Millis, Mass., confirmed Teraila’s speculation about what young people are doing on an everyday basis.

“I look at videos online pretty much every day.” he said. “My friends do too, and we send each other things that are funny or interesting. I’m on YouTube and CollegeHumor all the time,” he said while sipping on coffee in a Boston Starbucks, his laptop, logged on to YouTube, sitting on the table in front of him.

McLean is not alone. Research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project has concluded that 57 percent of online adults have, at some point, used the Internet to download and watch videos, and 19 percent do this on a daily basis. Among broadband users who have high-speed connections both in the office and at home, the number of regular online video viewers increases to 74 percent. Fifty-seven percent of the online video viewers reported sharing links to video with others, and 75 percent reported receiving links to video from other people. The most active participants of video-watching adults were classified as “young adults,” although no further specific data on this was given.

Members of the street team span across many demographics. Some are journalism school grads, some are totally new to multimedia, some are liberal, and some are conservative. All are young, intelligent and easy for most 18-24-year-olds to relate to.

Before the street team got to work, Erica Anderson, 23, the team member from Washington, D.C., posted this video blog on YouTube about the research she was doing in preparation and her anticipation of the intensive orientation that all street team members attended, where they learned what was expected of them and how to operate their new equipment. In her blog, Anderson says that she wants to get in touch with more people who are younger than her, specifically, she says, 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds.

So, is Think on the right track to getting young voters’ attention with videos and other forms of multi-media? Is this the way to get more young people involved and interested in casting their vote?

“The answer unfortunately is that nobody really knows yet whether these tools are ‘pushing the dial’ on young voter participation or not,” said Aaron Smith, a research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “This is one of the big questions of the election.”

Although there’s no way to know for sure if initiatives such as Think will be successful in increasing young voter participation, they can’t hurt the cause, said Smith.

“To a somewhat greater extent than older adults, young people have internalized technology – they’ve grown up with it, gone to school with it, it’s the primary way they communicate with each other and learn about the world,” he said. “So when they want to do something or get information, the Internet is often their default starting point.”

MTV’s Think is a good example of the growing trend in companies and causes reaching out to youth audiences via the Web and multimedia.

Focus The Nation, an organization associated with Think and dedicated to global warming solutions, has also jumped on the multimedia bandwagon in order to get the attention of the younger crowd. The organization is the host of a grant competition called Project Slingshot. Applicants to Project Slingshot, who must be between the ages of 18 and 25, will submit their ideas for a global warming solution, and the three winners will be given a grant of up to $10,000 to carry out their ideas. Unlike similar, but more traditional programs, Project Slingshot is accepting audio and video entries, in addition to essays. Project Slingshot also uses its own commercial video as promotion, giving the details about the contest with interesting graphics and animation. The commercial can be found here.

“Part of the way that media is changing is that it’s just sort of expected to have multi-media in all communications, it’s just part of being in the Internet age,” said Alex Tinker, program manager for Focus The Nation. “So, we thought it would make sense to have that kind of information included in the application process so that applicants would be able to express the way they think their projects should be handled in the way they see fit.”

Tinker says that having information and the video about Project Slingshot on Think has been beneficial. “It has certainly helped to make people more aware,” he said.

In addition to providing a platform for discussion and networking, Think aims to educate its users about issues, candidates and voting, putting it a step ahead of sites like MySpace and Facebook for those who want to discuss and learn about politics more seriously. Although those sites do have potential for hosting discussions of politics and important issues, and some people do use them for those functions, their most common use is for entertainment and socializing. Think, on the other hand, is portrayed more seriously and makes it clear that its main focus is politics, making it a great place for anyone truly interested in learning and debating.

MySpace offers this Politics News section, but it’s difficult to find on the site unless you’re looking for it. On the main page, there is a small “news” link that is barely visible in a box among about two dozen other small one-word text links.

“I’m on MySpace all the time,” said Anjelica Carlsen, 20, of Virginia Beach, Va., “And I never saw anything about news. I doubt anyone notices that. Anyway, isn’t it a little too late for anyone to start taking MySpace seriously? Even if I did know it was there, that is definitely not where I would have gone for news.”

The MySpace news section also does not offer anything unique that would make it stand out from any other mainstream news site.

Teraila says that this is another reason that Think has been successful with young people.
“I think the way we're approaching our election coverage on Think is more of an invitation to join the conversation and less of a mandate to sit and listen, which is why so many young voters are turned off by mainstream news coverage,” she says.

And Think really does seem more like a friendly invitation to participate than a boring lecture or dry political coverage. Actually, the only “boring” and not-so-interactive part of the site was this section, which provides clear directions on registering to vote, finding out about primaries, candidates and local representatives. Boring? Sure, but information like that is a necessary evil.
Having young, multimedia citizen journalists on Think seems to be working to get people involved. The site’s forums are active and street team member’s blogs and videos seem to generate a decent amount of traffic, considering the amount of active participation in forums and groups – especially considering that there is still over eight months until the election, and the street team just got to work in January.

“The main thing I want people to take away from my work is the desire to start a conversation,” says Teraila. “The more people talk about this election and the issues that concern them, the more invested people become and then they're more likely to vote or even get involved in their communities through volunteering, which is what we hope Think will inspire people to do.”

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Google Shuts Off the Lights

I went to Google this morning, continuing my efforts to finish the paper for another class that has managed to consume my life, and the image that I saw slightly confused my only half-awake senses. It looked a little something like this:

Actually, it looked exactly like that, since that is a screenshot that I took. (And yes, I still use AOL at home. I know I'm the only one. I just can't let go.)

For a second, I thought that something really strange happened to my computer settings or something, and panicked a little bit because that would mean I might have to get dressed and go to ResNet. It turns out though, that the explanation was just a click away, as it so often is.

Google changed their display for a day in an effort to make people aware of a global conservation effort called "Earth Hour." Today, March 29, 2008, everyone around the world is encouraged to turn off their lights from 8 PM to 9 PM in their local timezones. (Also, Google says that making thier homepage black actually requires the same amount of energy as having it white. Thank God they cleared that up.)

I can definitely applaud this effort on Earth Hour's part, and I'm sure it will certainly help them that Google got involved and confused probably thousands of other half-asleep people this morning. However, this reminds me a lot of that "Don't Buy Gas On [DATE]!!!" message that gets passed around through e-mail and pops up on message boards once or twice a year, claiming that a national "strike" in buying gas will cause the government to lower the price of gas.

According to Snopes (and please take a moment to giggle at their headline,) that gas-out thing has never been successful and in recent years hasn't even drawn enough participation to be considered newsworthy. Snopes also says, "The premise behind all these messages is inherently flawed, because consumers' not buying gasoline on one particular day doesn't affect oil companies at all. The "gas out" scheme doesn't call upon people to use less gasoline, but simply to shift their date of purchase and buy gas a day earlier or later than they usually would. The every same amounth of gasoline is sold either way, so oil companies don't lose any money."

So, my question is, will Earth Hour be any different? Don't these things have pretty much the same premise behind them, and in turn, the same flaw? Northeastern has had competitions between dorms in the past to see which buildings could use the least power (although I halfway think that has more to do with Northeastern not wanting to shell out for the electricity bill than wanting to save the environment, but that's another story,) with the winning dorm getting a pizza party or something to that effect. But I don't remember ever hearing about the winner, or the event having high participation from students, besides the student group that organized it.

Also, in theory, the no-gas-buying-day kind of sounds like it would work better than the Earth Hour thing. At least the idea behind not buying gas is to not buy any gas. With Earth Hour, you're just supposed to turn off the lights, not all your power. So, I could turn off my lights for that hour and consider myself a participant at the same time as I'm watching TV, listing to the radio, charging my cell phone, heating something up in the microwave and on the Internet using my computer's AC outlet power. Hmm..

So, I wonder if this will really have any kind of effect besides to get peoples' attention. Granted, getting peoples' attention is a good goal to have. But it would be even nicer if this actually proved something to people, like that the lights they keep on in their homes actually do make a difference.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Local Photography on 9Neighbors

The site is a great resource to help people in the Boston area feel more connected with their community. The news section includes interesting local stories and the site is searchable by neighborhoods or topic (such as Red Sox.) It has all the makings of a great citizen-based community networking site, but my favorite part of this site is the photography section.

People upload their photos taken around Boston to the site and share them with other viewers. I think that it's really cool because it gives residents, even those who aren't particularly artistic, a chance to notice and appreciate how beautiful this city actually is.

Some of the photos, such as this one of a snowman (I love the caption,) are funny, while others are beautiful sites that you might not think could be found in a city, such as this sunset overlooking the pond in Jamaica Plain.

This photo of the Swan Lake in the Common is one of my personal favorites, even though the quality isn't great.
I was really happy to find this section of the site, because I probably never would have looked for something like Boston photography on my own, but I'm glad that I saw it. I think that images like these can help you to really appreciate where you live.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

R.I.P. Alpha Omega

Last week, I was walking through the Prudential Center and I spotted something a little out of the ordinary. The Alpha Omega kiosk was taken apart and the sign that had been hanging down from the ceiling was lying on the floor.

Thinking that it may have been an accident, and therefore possibly newsworthy and interesting, I snapped a few pictures of the scene on my cell phone.
There wasn't anyone around that I could ask about it, so I went home and after searching for a few minutes, found this article from the Boston Business Journal, which explains that the kiosk (and other store locations) are simply closing due to bankrupcy. (Of course, I should have noticed that all the cases were empty before I got all excited and assumed that something unexpected had happened.)

Alpha Omega is (was?) a luxury jewlwery retailer, which specialized in watches. I can't say I'm deeply effected by its closing (unlike the closing of all Jasmine Sola locations, one of which was also in the Prudential Center, earlier this year) having never actually shopped there myself, but I am curious to see what kiosk will take its place.

So, I guess I didn't really capture breaking news like I had hoped, but now we know the fate of the Alpha Omega kiosk.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"What I did over my spring vacation"

I spent my spring break in France. One of my best friends recently moved there, so I was able to go and spend a week visiting her. We spent five nights in the city that she lives in, Aix-en-Provence. It's a small city in the south with beautiful buildings and statues. I'm not sure what the people who live there actually do, but it seemed to me like their lives consisted of sitting at outdoor cafes, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. (I don't say that like it's a bad thing.) No one there ever seemed stressed out or in a rush.

My friend has been living there for about a month and a half, so she knew a couple of people who she introduced me to. For the most part, her French friends are men in their mid to late 20s. They were really nice to me, and with my barely comprehendible French skills and their basic English skills, I was able to get by in a conversation with them most of the time.

One thing that I thought was interesting was that more than once, I was asked by a person that I had just moments before met and could barely understand, "Barack or Hilary?" I thought it was interesting for a few reasons. I had always heard that people in other countries knew more about American politics than most Americans did. And for the week, at least, it was true for me! While I was there, I wasn't watching the news because I couldn't understand it, and I only had access to the Internet twice. I got my updates on the recent primaries from random French accquaintences of my friend. These people knew who each and every state had chosen up to that point in the race.

I also thought that it was interesting how open they were about their political leanings. I guess that sort of thing varies from person to person, but in the United States, I don't think that I've ever had someone I just met ask me which candidate I supported. I suppose I wouldn't mind if they did, but it's just not something that I think happens a lot here. Finally, no one asked me at all about the Republicans. Literally everyone who asked me about politics asked me the same question, "Barack or Hillary?" I thought about telling someone that I was going to vote Republican, just to get their response, but I decided that my very poor French skills were not really conducive to using sarcasm and then having to explain myself.

My friend and I also spent a day in Nice, which was absolutely gorgeous. I wish the weather had been just slightly warmer so we could have gone to the beach. Instead, we got our lunch at a huge outdoor market (cheese, baguette, fresh strawberries, wine) and walked to the top of a hill (mountain? I don't really know...) overlooking the city and the beach and ate our lunch there.

After that, Carnival de Nice was beginning for the day, so we went and watched that for a while. It was basically a parade and a giant silly-string fight. We got into an epic battle with some little kids, spraying silly string and tossing confetti at each other (I'm still pulling the pieces of confetti out of my purse.) It was cool how informal the parade was. People could just cross the street and walk in between the floats. There were no barricades at all and the people on the floats were not at all immune to getting sprayed with tons of silly string. You could move around the crowd without knocking people over. The floats all looked older and more worn down. The whole thing was really different (and more fun) than something like the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York. It was probably even less formal than the last Red Sox parade we had here in Boston (although that one was a lot of fun, too.)

And of course, what's a trip to France without a visit to Paris? Unfortunately, we only got to spend two nights there, but we saw a lot. I'm going to post pictures some time soon.

It's really nice to be back here and be around people who I can understand. I've been back since Saturday night and I still catch myself almost saying "Bonjour" and "Bonsoir" and more than once when I've bumped into people accidentally, I've said, "Excuzez-moi!" Language is really something that I used to take for granted in my every day life, but a week of not being able to clearly communicate with anyone besides my friend and her roommate, who is from North (or was it South?) Carolina, I definitely see how important it is. I couldn't even watch TV for a week!

For me, one good thing came out of not being able to talk to most people. I wrote, and wanted to write a lot more than I usually do. Probably because I felt like I had no other way to say the things I was thinking. Hopefully that's something that will stick with me!

I'm going to try and post my pictures sometime tomorrow or later this week. Au revoir!