Sunday, 28 February 2010

Ah me, you live and you learn. Seems I've been underestimating my abilities in the copy delivery department. But the fault's not mine entirely. Something has to be laid down to inexperience. When are those stories going to be ready again?

I thought that story C would be complete by mid-March, just after I take mum to Brisbane for her consultation with the eye doctor. Then I promised story D by the end of March, so giving myself two weeks to achieve the ultimate perfection that I demand from everything I produce.

It's not just that I'm flattering myself. The fact that I've already written most of story D is also due to being unused to the "process" of preparing copy for delivery to the publishing vehicle.

The big stumbling block was always story A, which I finally filed yesterday. After returning from Sydney with a computer stuffed to the screen bezel with interviews - the raw materials of the writer - I sagged for two days to recuperate. Then I went online and, because it was a weekday, got sidetracked by the tweetstream.

The interviews sat, ever more pungent and impatient, waiting to be transcribed.

I got into it, finally, near the end of the week. There followed two days of frenetic activity as I completed story A and knuckled down to complete the transcription for story B, an interview.

I blogged about the ins and outs of transcription yesterday.

Now, A and B have been filed and D - the 600 to 700 story due at the end of March - is almost written. There's still plenty to do with story C, but it looks as though that will be done in plenty of time for a mid-March filing.

Barring another slothful Twitter interlude and cataclysmic tsunamis out of Chile.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Transcription is a journalist's most painful task - or is it? Let's see ...

OK, so you've got two 20-minute conversations that you recorded on your trusty magic electronic recording device. It's a piece of equipment without which you cannot do your job. Even if you've got shorthand, there's nothing like having an electronic file that can be safely stored on your computer and consulted when the time comes to reviewing materials. Say, for example, someone tries to sue you.

I don't have shorthand, but that's beside the point. Right now I'm talking up the importance of accurate transcription. Don't bother me with quibbles!

You connect your USB lead to the PC and download that precious volume of digital excellence - the sound file - to your workspace - your desktop computer. You might think that you could use software to transcribe it into text. But no. That won't work. The guy at the Dragon software reseller shop told me that you have to train it to understand your own voice. Even then, it's not infallible. Asking it to recognise the intricacies of a third party's voice is just unreasonable, it seems.


Well, then. You could ship it off to a person who earns a living purely by making transcriptions.

Unfortunately, you're not that wealthy. But, in any case, I'll tell you why it's a good idea to spend the time to do it yourself.

Not everyone has perfect English, for a start. For these interview subjects, it's sometimes necessary to edit speech while transcribing by using the correct word in square brackets. To train another person to do this might take time, which you probably don't have.

Then there are those elements of speech that serve no purpose other than to fill up space or to close a gap between ideas. I'm not just talking about "umm" or "ahh", either. There are a whole lot of "buts" and "and thens" that do nothing to improve comprehension. In fact, if you listen to the way people speak, you'll find that the idea of a perfect sentence is unikely even for the most accomplish master of the spoken word. People speak in chunks, not sentences.

But you don't want interminable sentences corrupting your prose.

So you edit all these perculiarities out of the script. You can see that this is a good reason to do transcriptions yourself. You want to ensure accuracy - so you don't misquote - but you also want to be kind to the reader by presenting crisp, clear prose.

Another reason to do it yourself is that it provides an opportunity to think up follow-up questions. It also helps to remind you of the contents of the interview. This is great for when you're struggling with the finished article and you find that you need a certain type of quote to fill a glaring gap in the flow.

All in all, I'd say to journalists: put up with it, at least for the more important conversations. There are other interviews, of less import to your story or done near the end of the process of composition, that do not need full transcription. In these cases, you may find that you can get by just by listening to the conversation and extracting the bits that you really need.

Not all interview subjects are of equal value. And those you talk to near the beginning of the process are probably more likely to need a full transcription.

Transcription is an essential part, for me, of the writing process.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Today's post is about nature. Swifts, to be precise. There is a family of swifts living in the underground carpark of the building where I live and they've developed a curious strategy that allows them to go in and out through the entrance, which is generally shut securely by a roller door.

If you take the car out in the morning, they're waiting nearby so that they can shoot out the entrance as you drive through. They wait somewhere in the cieling space just opposite the door. The nest seems to be located away from the door at the far end of the garage.

At other times, they apparently listen to the sounds your car makes as you move from your parking slot to the entrance. If you're lucky, they shoot out past the windows as you're driving.

They're neat little creatures. So fast. So self-contained.

They make no noise. All you know is that, suddenly, a small, dark form careens around the car as it heads into the open space beyond the driveway or, obversely, as it returns to the nest that is secreted inside the garage.

Either way, it's a treat. I feel privileged to know there are swifts inhabiting the building.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Anything to get roof insulation off the front pages, it seems. That's what the Rudd government tells us by releasing a "white paper on counter-terrorism" "that was originally promised at the end of last year", according to the ABC. The Age tells us:

The paper warns that since 2004 there has been an increase in the threat from home-grown terrorists - people born or raised in Australia who have been influenced by violent jihadist messages from overseas.

But in response to the threat from home-grown terrorists, the government has announced that it will "will target people from 10 countries for stringent new visa checks in a push to prevent terrorists getting through the security net".

The government will spend $69 million over four years to bring in biometric checks for visa applications from high-risk countries.

There's a list of countries in existence, but they won't release it to prevent keen plotters scurrying into Australia before the necessary technology is in place at airports.

It's all quite craven, when you think about it. Despite the fact that interested individuals living in Australia can easilly glean tons of info about terrorist techniques using the Internet, the boffins have decided that to prevent home-grown plots hatching it's necessary to put in place additional immigration checks.

"The nations will be announced over the next year," reports The Age without asking any difficult questions about the timing of this bizarre, confusing announcement. Not only does the story contradict itself - home-grown terrorists to be combated by screening arrivals - but the timing of the announcement should send shivers up the spine of any self-respecting journalist.

To combat Tony Abbott's poll rise, federal Labor is turning to the divisive tactics of Howard. Shame.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Back home, the energy expended over the past week is taking its time returning. There's a batch of ten interviews to transcribe and emails to send out. More importantly, there's the angle for the first story to consider.

I've been reading other journalists' accounts of the Media 2010 conference and so far there's been a few summations but little in the way of appraisal. Not sure how I'll handle the detail, but my feeling is that the piece should be a combination of the two approaches.

Maybe I'll lead with a quote from one of the main speakers and develop the theme of confusion among media operatives as to what to do in the face of dramatically falling revenues. Then there's the announcement that Fairfax had a lift in profits for the first half of the financial year. That story came out today.

Another thing that happened today is that Fairfax redesigned its web pages. The changes may warrant a video describing what's happened, but I think the average user will feel that it's more of a tweak than a redesign.

I can work that into the story, too. It's not that I'm deliberately focusing on Fairfax, but News didn't comment on the conference, as far as I can see. So it's a matter of using the material I gathered and doing my best.

Wait a few days and there should be something new. Right now I need a nap to recover from the rushing around of the last few days. It's good to be home.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Fairfax Media's headquarters is a bustling beehive of activity situated, comfortably, opposite the Sydney CBD's western margin near the water. Approached from the front, the building offers a spare, windy aspect to the viewer or visitor. Once inside the lobby space, however, the steady stream of journalists who pass through the automated security gates reassures you: this is a place of business.

My business, today, was to interview a senior executive of Fairfax Digital, which operates the digital assets of the company including its masthead websites.

To reach the pretty aerie where Jack Matthews, Fairfax Digital's CEO, works during the day you first have to present at the front counter, give your name, and secure a security pass. This neck-worm item can only be signed over once you've initialled the part of the register that references a fairly long statement detailing health and occupational safety guidelines.

Antisocial behaviour is not tolerated at Fairfax HQ. The list is instructive, and gives you an idea of the atmosphere that can develop between a journo and his or her subject when the chips - as they say - are down. No shouting or threatening conduct, for example. Fair enough.

There was nothing of this nature in the air as I met with Jack, a wiry middle-aged man with a narrow, open face and an air of good physical fitness. We sat down in the large conference room overlooking the city. I turned on my recording device.

I worried about the blog post I had made in relation to an interview Jack had given a week or so before. The post took issue with some of the things he said. Jack assured me that, although he had read the post, there was no problem on his part.

It was an ineresting interview, and the article I write in the next two weeks will contain a lot of what transpired. The main point of interest for me is how newspapers are fighting falling revenues.

After the interview, I scooted outside and caught a cab to take me across town to the Shangri La Hotel in The Rocks, where my next subject was waiting. Nic Fulton is Reuters' chief scientist and is based in Sydney.

After Nic, I spoke for about 17 minutes with an interesting man from Associated Northcliffe Digital, and English media company. Richard Titus also has a deep and abiding interest in solar vehicles.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Regular readers of this blog should be aware that I'm currently out of town and busy with research for a number of new stories. I plan to be back with new posts by the middle of next week.

I'll be posting a new story on the state of the digital media and newspapers generally some time toward the end of the month. The story will appear in Anthill magazine, which regularly carries my work.

Another story in the offing is on sustainable tuna, which has just been put on sale at Aldi in Australia. Most tuna in cans you see in the supermarket is sourced from - we aren't told. Tuna stocks in the Atlantic are severely depleted and the huge fishing boats that once harvested tuna there are now active in the Pacific - our local area. Some people think it's important that we suport sustainable fishing. Not just sustainable, but selective, so that non-target species are not killed unnecessarily.

I'm also working on a story about chillies, which is slated to appear in the April edition of Good Fruit & Vegetables.

Just to mix things up a bit, there's a young Philippina living in Tokyo who has agreed to let me ask questions about the social entrepreneurial Stitch Tomorrow initiative she's launched.

Finally, there's a story I've been working on for a long time on the prevalence of problem gambling among members of the ethnic Chinese community.

Thanks for visiting and see you then.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Google has reversed the method you use to follow people in Buzz, but the change may already be too late for this newcomer to the social media space.

In the blog post linked above, they outline a complete reversal from the auto-follow method initially deployed in the software. Behind this decision are howls of protest that echoed through cyberspace as people got some nasty surprises. One blog, which since I read it seems to have been placed in protected mode on Wordpress, contained a post titled 'Fuck You, Google'.

Many people, like me, entered the interface, decided it sucks big time, and left - never to return again. I'm afraid that Google's eagerness to "leverage" its major-league Gmail subscriber base into another site ripe for ad placement and eyeball-collection has backfired in spectacular fashion.

I'm afraid that an auto-post function for blog posts from blogs hosted on the Google-owned Blogger are just not going to be sufficient inducement to make me change from the trusty Facebook interface. I can tolerate having to make a few clicks when posting a link from here to there.

What I can't tolerate is the greed that underlies Google's decision to start Buzz. With profits last year of US$23 billion, Google's got enough clout already. I feel no compunction to support their business model. I think their search and mail are adequate for my needs - this is, after all, why I switched to Google as soon as I discovered it in 1998. I opened up a Gmail account as soon as it began to be offered. I got hold of a Wave account as quickly as possible, too.

Wave is a tool. Buzz wants to be everything to you, and I resent that Google thinks that their current grasp of my attention justifies their reach for yet more of my time. A friend on Facebook posted a comment on a link I put up: "Google needs to adopt a 'don't be stupid' policy."

Agree. And I won't be using Buzz. Period.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) is a proposal being drafted by parliamentarians living in the small, island nation. They include Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who entered parliament in April 2009 and prior to that "worked as a writer, artist, activist, web developer, designer", says her website.

IMMI seems to offer a way to both prevent the kind of economic problems Iceland has experienced recently, and to boost the economy. But what sort of legislation is being talked about?

Wikileaks members talk about assembling best practices from around the world including, for example, the US Constitution's First Amendment. By combining the best ways to encourage fearless journalism from a variety of countries, Jónsdóttir and Wikileaks hope to make a Shangri-La for journalism -- a place where reporters can write without the threat of damaging or unpleasant consequences exercised through legal instruments by parties interested in events being described.

As Wikileaks activitist Julian Assange points out in the YouTube video posted on the Nieman Journalism Lab site, the idea of creating a journalism-friendly jurisdiction in Iceland came to Jónsdóttir after Wikileaks members appeared on a TV talk show, where they introduced the concept.

The BBC has also covered the developing story.

Wikileaks is a non-profit organisation that aims to make information public that governments and corporations do not want to see released into the public sphere. It is funded by donation.

Icelandic parliamentarians who've taken on the project see economic opportunity in a world, which is quickly evolving, where the cloud will perform many of the tasks we currently carry out on our computer desktops. Software applications located in a cloud environment are served remotely and users sign in with a password.

Other options include hosting news sites under Icelandic domain names.

Coupled with Iceland's attractions for companies looking for cheap, non-carbon cycle electricity and cooling for their internet server farms, such legal protection could be very attractive to "cloud computing" and publishing services.

Riots took place in Iceland last year following the 50-percent devaluation of the currency in the wake of massive banking losses brought about by speculative banking conducted on the back of laws which attracted many overseas banks to do business in Iceland.

Icelanders are now looking for a way to both prevent a repetition of the troubles through better reporting, and to encourage overseas investment in their tottering economy.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Jack Matthews, Fairfax Digital CEO, was interviewed by yesterday and it's a very interesting recording that, in about 17 minutes, covers a fair stretch of new ground. He spoke with Sean Greaney.

JM: Clearly, social media is no longer a phenomenon. It's a basic part of the media landscape and we need to have a way to utilise that to our benefit. We're not going to do that by trying to replicate Facebook.

SC: So the future of Fairfax Media is to become more niche?

JM: I've said for some time that the advantages of big news organisations like Fairfax -- and News Ltd would fall into this category as well -- is that we have the ability to be both broad and deep. The old portals, you know, the walled-garden type portals, were very broad but not very deep, because those portals didn't actually create content themselves.

This underscores the fact that social media has got news companies on the run. I wonder if anyone else felt that Matthews' voice went a bit husky at this point under the strain of its own momentum? Do you feel a sense of frustration?

Let's just return to what Matthews said immediately after the above.

Clearly, the rise of search has led to the atomisation, or the disaggregation, of information. That has given rise to depth - you know, very narrow, deep sites. I think that companies like Fairfax can combine the best of both. We can have big networks of lots and lots of people. But when you're in our network we have the capability of delivering to you very, very deep, kind of more niche, or micro sites built around a specific community.

It seems that Fairfax doesn't actually know how to monetise content in the context of social media platforms, especially considering the way people on them select what they want to read. The flexibility metaphor he uses contains a breath of whishful thinking.

And I wonder what are those "micro sites built around a specific community" he talks about? Are they bulletin boards - a technology and a social media solution that has been around, more or less, for 20 years? Will Fairfax set up moderated BBs to cater to those "like minded" individuals? Surely not.

Does this mean social media has to do with like mindedness? Isn't microblogging site Twitter about talking with real people in real time.

Greaney's next question, about monetisation, lets us know exactly where Fairfax stands. It's all about protecting transaction revenues. Matthews says in the interview that royalties from transactions are actually higher than those coming from display ads. This is the main reason why Fairfax has said nothing about paywalls, unlike noisy News Ltd.

And in future? Matthews says that most of the company's present development effort is being channelled into mobile devices. I wrote a post about the Fairfax iPhone app announcement a few days ago.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Is it just Queensland that names roads after fat-cat public servants and politicians grown rank with patronage and stiff with institutional slough? The sunshine state has done it again, naming the massive Gateway Bridges after Sir Leo Hielscher.

This is the state with the Bruce Highway - named after a politician - and the Nicklin Way (a Sunshine Coast road) - ditto.

Hielscher's bio says he was born in 1819 and joined the public service at the age of 12, starting out as a runner in the department responsible for writing receipts in the early colonial administration. The young Sir Leo was an excellent receipt writer, the bio goes on. Soon, he would rise through the ranks to become a key player in all legislation and every administrative determination made in the state.

It makes for fascinating reading. Apparently, the great Sir Leo was once chastised by an under-clerk for making too many copies of a Very Important Document. Instead of the usual triplicate, the energetic young man decided to add value by making a third copy - not for the records, but to impress a particularly gamine lass who worked in the printing shop.

Fortunately, this misdemeanour didn't mar Sir Leo's inexorable rise to the top of a competent and dedicated cohort of administrators working in a number of different departments. It was this breadth of experience that enabled Sir Leo, toward the end of his career, to generate support for difficult-to-implement legislation and policies that he, himself, helped to develop.

Rah rah rah - Cheer the jolly fellow! Cheer and cheer and cheer!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Fairfax will launch iPhone apps for news "within six months" reports the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers' Association. PANPA has published a video transcript of an interview with Darren Burden (pic), Director of News and Platforms at Fairfax Digital. Burden says:

The key benefits of applications over a mobile site is that [with] an application you can use the native part of the phone, and you can get into things like address books and things like that if you use apps. And you can also really control the look and feel, whereas if you're building an optimised iPhone site you're sort of dictated [to] by the browser.

Marc Frons, New York Times CTO of Digital Operations, says there is no silver bullet to reverse the slide in advertising revenues among media companies.

There have to be many, smaller silver bullets. I do think the iPad will be a very important device in the portable reader category. I think it has the potential to redefine that category and help build it. I wouldn't sell Apple's marketing muscle or ability to create an ecosystem short. They do an excellent job as they've proven with the iPhone.

I would expect the iPad to have a similar trajectory. I think it would be one more thing. I think it'll be the iPad, it might be the Kindle, it might be the Plastic Logic device, it might be the Sony e-reader, or the Barnes and Noble e-reader, [even] e-readers that haven't been created yet.

Durden points out that one advantage an iPhone app has over a masthead website such as is that it may attract readers who don't read their news through a browser.

Fairfax is looking at different ways of paying for the news app, including a one-off payment for the app, a subscription type service, and a software upgrade.

Frons says that The New York Times is looking at the unique properties of the iPad, in terms of delivering news. "You can imagine all sorts of applications that we haven't even build yet in addition to the ones we have.

Our goal is to have full functionality on all of these devices, to have the level of portability and personalisation that you have in a newspaper. To me, the beauty of the iPad and devices like it that [haven't] yet been born, is that they really speak to the needs of doing what a newspaper does so well now.

[It's] portable, inexpensive, convenient, highly personal with all the advantages of the web, you know [like it's] instantaneous, great updating facility, ability to play video, ability to share [and] communicate.

That's a really unbeatable combination. It just has to be cheap enough and fast enough and portable enough to really take off. I don't think we're that far away.

PANPA says that Fairfax has looked at demonstration software for how their apps appear on the iPad. Durden thinks iPhone apps are "fantastic" because people are comfortable using their phone to browse for information.

Frons will join other global media-tech experts at the Media 2010 conference - which is presented by Fairfax Digital - in Pyrmont on 19 February.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Here's a bit of German TV tabloidism to get your Tuesday arvo juices pumping. An 'alien' baby was found in Mexico by some ursine farmer who proceeded to drown the frackin' thing. Anyway, the little creature's corpse eventually ended up in the capable hands of a bunch of scientists who proceeded to "run tests" on it.

The Sept 2009 video clip has, not surprisingly, been filtched by many and placed on pages loaded with crap ads. This site is the website of news publisher Bild, so it should stay there for a while.

But here's the thing. Why wasn't this 'alien' discovery more broadly publicised? I certainly recall no mention of it in my extensive media travels. But there are signs it's a hoax.

For example, from the Bild story: "Mexican UFO expert Jaime Maussan (56) was the first to break the story." So a sky ponderer was the first to publicise the story? Hmm.

It gets worse, however.

Mexican TV revealed the almost unbelievable story - in 2007, a baby 'alien' was found alive by a farmer in Mexico.

He drowned it in a ditch out of fear, and now two years later scientists have finally been able to announce the results of their tests on this sinister-looking carcass.

At the end of last year the farmer, Marao Lopez, handed the corpse over to university scientists who carried out DNA tests and scans.

There are a lot of questions in this story. How long did the farmer wait before he handed it in? Which university did he hand it to? Where are all these scientists based who are carrying out tests on the thing?

Other websites add to one's concern about the value of truth. On the Now Public website, we find this:

According to the scientists' report, the alien baby can stay underwater for a long time, has the skeleton of a lizard, and has rootless teeth which are totally unlike humans' teeth. However, it does have some similar joints to human. The brain of the alien baby is huge, particularly the rear section, which makes the scientists believe that the creature had very high intelligence.

OK, so there are a lot of scientists doing tests on a dead body said to have been found in Mexico by a farmer. But it turns out the farmer has died, burned in his car.

According to American UFO expert Joshua P. Warren (32), the farmer burned to death in a parked car at the side of a road. The flames apparently had a far higher temperature than in a normal fire! Now there are rumours that the parents of the creature Lopez drowned were the ones who in turn killed him out of revenge.

You see, the area where the 'alien' was discovered is frequently visited by crop circles. So you've got the angry alien parents descending to earth once more and carrying out a targeted hit on the ignorant peasant who drowned their precious child to death.

Why didn't they go after the scientists? Because they - like us - didn't know where they are based?

Anyway, at least we ignorant foreigners are appraised of the quality of Bild as a magazine, because the only news outlet to cover the story in Australia was The Daily Telegraph; so that's a relief anyway. Bild is so proud of its story that it won't even let the Tele display its video on their website.

So, forget about Hobbits in Indonesia, this lil' baby was lost, found and lost all in the blink of an eye.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Crikey media blogger Margaret Simons got her nose put out of joint when she got word of a new freelance writer contract being touted by Pacific Magazines.

As a result of her ruminations, Margaret put out a call to freelancers on her blog to send in details of what they receive as compensation for their work. The results were assembled and published today. They make grim reading.

While Simons says in another post that the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (the journalist's union) recommends a per-word rate of around 90 cents, the market in reality can be a lot less bountiful for freelancers.

Freelancers on the dedicated Google Group and on Twitter continued the discussion, ruminating that the pro-blogger economy has hurt freelance fees, that freelancers should uniformly refuse to work for nothing, and that exploitation of student-journalist labour has increased as the market tightens.

It's not that long ago that I bumped into an ex-teacher from my postgrad uni days, who told me this was the worst time he'd known to be a journalist.

Readers (I know you're there, mate!) who frequent this blog will know what I've been working for lately. But things are looking up. Sort of.

Today, for example, I did a bit of biographical composition for a budding filmmaker who contacted me on Facebook. Kudos to me, but nix in the lucre department.

Then I got an email from an interviewee on a recent story telling me that my editor in the magazine had said that my article was "impressive" and that he would consider taking more from me in future.

These are seemingly insignificant signs of life, but they're not helping to load my dinner table with groceries, or even contribute toward my next carton of Marlboros.

I continue to pitch, plan, and wait for the boodle to drop sweetly in.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Pete Warden, a Brit living in Boulder, CO, has put together a visualisation of relationships between US residents on Facebook. He uses only public Facebook profiles.

Facebook allows users to choose whether to make their profiles public or private. A private - or 'locked' - profile is visible in its complete form only to Facebook friends. Therefore, private profiles cannot yield this kind of information to someone who is not a friend. Obviously, Pete is not friends with everyone in the US.

Pete has also analysed the analysis on his blog, PeteSearch.

The blog analysis includes a color-coded 'relationship map' that segments the US mainland into areas of relevance, based on the Facebook profile links. It's actually a lot of fun to read what Pete thinks about the way people living in the US link to one another.

But it's the Facebook profile link map that yields most pleasure. It has clickable nodes, for each major conurbation, that yield a lot of interesting data about friends, likes and names.

For example, by clicking on the Houston, TX, conurbation link, you can see which cities are most likely to contain friends of Houstinians. Your click also shows what Houstonians most commonly are Facebook fans of, and what first names are most popular in the city.

Looking at the entire continent, the links between east and west coast are striking, along with those between people living in the major urban areas of Chicago and Atlanta.

A similar, data-rich map of Australia would be wonderful to see.

Pete has also done an international map, but this does not take into account the precise location of the Faceoook profile, just the country. The resulting visualisation, therefore, is not very accurate in terms of locality. For countries such as Australia, where most of the population lives in the south-east corner of the continent, the result is relatively data-poor.

I urge you to go and have a look at Pete's work. You'll likely spend a good 15 minutes just mooching around the graphic. Pete's blog post is not too long and is also worth visiting and reading.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Too many updates suddenly appearing in your Twitter profile? Then you're a victim of tweetflation - the term was first used by Sydney user @smurray38 yesterday, when the phenomenon started to be reflected in the twitterfeed.

Naturally, you're upset. After all, people who view your profile apply a quick calculation to the numbers they see there. By comparing the number of updates to the number of people following you, they can gauge your popularity. A low tweet count and a high follower count is a sign of popularity.

Some of those hit by the miscalculation were demonstrably upset.

From @jessmcguire: ... lied to by the one thing we should be able to trust, a social networking site :(

From @alyssatasker: what are we going to believe in now.... :(

Others engaged in a bit of verbal sparring.

From @julie_posetti (who has a small baby at home): Breast-tweeting inflates the stats my end - but not that prolifically!

From @smurray38: Maybe Twitter is gearing up for an IPO and needs even more amazing numbers of Tweeters and tweets to impress the market

This last was in response to a challenge from @julie_posetti: So how many times have you tweeted now @smurray38? I challenge you to invent a conspiracy to accompany Twitter HQ tweetflation.

There were some outrageous hypotheses, but most were trying to come to some understanding of how the updates suddenly ramped up.

From @smurray38: @julie_posetti Yes, tweetflation is occurring across the board; doesn't seem to be confined to any one app, so must be at Twitter HQ

In any case, there was crossness mixed with consternation across the board.

From @Tzarimas: What's with the incorrect tweet count? Mine says I've done 3x more tweets than I actually have. #tweetfail

From @smurray38: I marked 5000 tweets in total a few weeks ago, now I have 19686 ... well now 19687

I saw tweets like these all day yesterday, as the scourge migrated from one account to another. Committed tweeters like @julie_posetti and @smurray38 may have been irritated and dismayed, but there seemed little alternative at hand to just getting back to business as usual.

It seems that people are very forgiving of their favourite software, especially one as important to their lives as Twitter. Patiently waiting, however, they'll all be keeping an eye on their update totals to see when the error is corrected at Twitter headquarters, and life returns to normal.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Review: The Baader-Meinhof Complex, dir Uli Edel (2008)

Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck, pic) is a journalist who becomes radicalised in the late 1960s through exposure to first-world country Cold War tactics and the friendships she forges with leftist political radicals. Even before meeting Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and his woman Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), Meinhof has been writing aggressive screeds damning right-wing hypocrisy and aggression in Vietnam, Iran, South America.

It's not difficult to see why someone like Meinhof might be attracted to the extreme activities of a group of urban terrorists.

In the beginning of the film, we're shown a motorcade that is bringing Shah Pahlavi to Bonn for a state visit. We keep in mind that Meinhof has already been shown as the author of a strong condemnation, in the press, of Pahlavi.

A group of people holding placards stands behind a row of police and a string of barricades. Then another group arrives, this time on the other side of the police and the barricades, closer to the gleaming limousines conveying the shah to the theatre. They chant slogans in support of the corrupt monarch.

Once the shah has been escorted inside, his supporters turn and approach the protesting students, breaking the signs off their placards as they walk menacingly toward the huddled crowd. With the sticks they hold, the shah's supporters lay into the unprotected students. The police do nothing.

Then, suddenly, once a ruckus has been generated by the venal puppets of the corrupt regime, the German police rush the barricades. Instead of collaring the aggressors, however, they begin to beat the protestors with their truncheons. It's a bloodbath. Clearly, the entire scenario has been orchestrated by the German administration to embarrass the student protest groups.

Finally, a student is shot dead. A cameraman crouches over the supine form as a woman brings a bloody hand away from the man's recumbent head.

Given this form of cocksucking bullshit, it's no surprise that some students become far more radicalised than the state had bargained for. When leftist radical Rudi Dutschke (Sebastian Blomberg) is assassinated by a young fascist, the stage is set for a broader confrontation between the state and the radicals.

The Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction) - aka the Baader-Meinhof group - begins its crusade against the forces of the evil Right by setting a fire in a department store. After training at a militant camp in Jordan, however, they upscale their work and start robbing banks, blowing up military establishments, and killing judges.

The violence and the isolation of the terrorists made me think about why such groups are so attractive. The RAF inspire hundreds of followers, who go on to carry out acts of violence even when the original leaders are standing trial while incarcerated in Stammheim Prison.

Perhaps, I thought, Ned Kelly appeals to Australians so strongly because of that sense of total isolation from the protection of the world. All of us, certainly, feel this sense of isolation every day of our lives. Why wouldn't we sympathise with terrorists?

Meinhof's conversion comes when she's involved in a scheme to liberate Baader from captivity. Under the ruse that she's working with the terrorist on a book, Baader is brought to a cultural centre to meet with Meinhof - whose cover has not yet been exposed. If she wants, even after Baader has been freed, she can go back to her normal life.

Instead, she eyes the open window of the room where the two prison guards are nursing their wounds. Baader has just leapt out the window along with the friends who freed him. What will she do? Meinhof chooses, and quickly jumps over the painted sill.

The movie is tightly-scripted and well executed. There's violence and there's history. In fact, the movie provides a good backgrounding in the rise of modern urban terrorism. Baader's profetic words, when he's being interviewed by a functionary of the state toward the end of the film, echo down the years.

Things would, indeed, get a lot worse.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Like a modern-day Juliet, Kaihana Hussain did everything possible to be near her lover, Ben Brady. The question under consideration right now, in Brisbane, is whether killing her parents is to be included in that simple, harmless word 'everything'.

The jury has heard that Kaihana was caught chatting online with Brady in 2006. Following this revelation, Kaihana told her father that, if necessary, she would convert to Christianity from her native Islam. He said "you will not find me as your father" in that case, the court heard.

"I was very angry," Mr Hussain said.

But the provocation didn't stop there, as 16-year-old Kaihana was found talking long-distance with the 20-year-old Brady. The next day, Kaihana had left Adelaide to visit Brady in Sydney. The father and mother - Mr and Mrs Hussain - travelled to Sydney to fetch their wayward daughter back.

But Dr Hussain said he then gave permission for his daughter to move to Sydney to attend school.

"At that time I accepted that she wanted some more freedom ... but we told her not to be with Ben," he said.

A short time later, Kaihana and her mother travelled to their native Bangladesh for a family wedding and in early October 2006 returned to the Gold Coast where Dr Hussain had re-located the family upon his daughter's request to "start fresh".

Unfortunately, this dream was never to come to pass. Kaihana was adamant about her love for Brady and so, one night, the police arrive to find Mrs Hussain dead from knife wounds and Mr Hussain bleeding from wounds sustained by his daughter's hand - as he contends - or from his own hand - as his daughter contends.

The case certainly appears to be a crime passionnel. Kaihana says that her father killed his wife then injured himself to make it look like Kaihana attacked him. The public prosecutor says that Kaihana attacked her parents because they continually thwarted her desires regarding Brady.

The case continues for three weeks.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Freelancers are not mercenaries. Got it? But I dig the military terminology, which makes me want to shave my head, listen to heavy metal music and scream 'Hoo Yah' every time I get a new tweet.

In fact, sometimes freelancers work for nothing. Log knows, I do. In fact, I haven't been paid yet, although I've had 11 feature stories published. There's two in the pipeline, of which one is due to be delivered without payment because the editor snagged a media pass to a conference and offered it to me.

I want to be paid for the other one, but does anyone have ANY idea how hard it is to secure payment for a story when you're just starting out as a journalist?

Nope, didn't think so.

I'll tell you how hard it is. It's stand-on-one-foot-and-hop-for-five-kilometres hard. It's squeeze-a-blackhead-when-your-fingernails-are-wrapped-in-band-aids hard.

It's frightfully hard, chaps.

But I won't buckle. I just called an editor who told me that his freelance budget had been cut to zero last year. Am I going to cravenly offer the story to him for nothing but a by-line in his esteemed rag? Nope.

Good for me.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

It's been almost three years since the committal hearing of Kaihana Hussain, who the prosecution at the current trial, in Brisbane, says stabbed her mother and seriously injured her father - with a knife.

When the story first hit the headlines in November 2006, Hussain was 17 years old. Now, at the beginning of the three-week trial, she is aged 20. As far as I know, in the interim she has been living with a family in Adelaide.

Hussain's family moved from Adelaide to the Gold Coast, where the attacks occurred, in September 2006.

Hussain had been corresponding with a young Sydney man, Ben Brady.

The crown prosecutor, Michael Byrne, SC, says she wanted to kill her parents because they were thwarting her desire to be with Brady. Byrne also says the parents did not want to allow Hussain to convert from Islam to Christianity.

Hussain was born in Bangladesh but went to school in Adelaide.

Monday, 1 February 2010

We say the weather "has closed in" when it pours torrentially for days, when going to the shops becomes a small adventure, and when playing board games takes over from playing superheroes in the park. For a child, this state of affairs can seem claustrophobic, constrained. For me, today, it feels comfortable, secure.

I shut the louvres in the bedroom last night and slept with a thin blanket for the first time in months. This morning, I put on a long-sleeved shirt for the first time since log-knows-when. I've got my coffee. The browser's fired up. What do I read online?

First, there's Alexandra Adornetto writing in support of Tony Abbot's call to conservatism among young women. The leader of the opposition very effectively took over the public debate last week, when comments made in reply to questions from The Womens Weekly headed like crazed lemmings for the minarets of the broadsheets. Teenagers should guard their virginity, he said. The response was cacophonic, with most female commentators telling the politician to mind his own effing business.

Adornetto, on the other hand, makes a strong case for caution. But if you read her piece, in The Brisbane Times, with care, you'll find that all she's advocating is that the girl should wait for a guy who will call her in the morning.

This seems like sound advice. The alternative, she says, is a drunken hump on the nature strip outside the house where the party had taken place. Not recommended, she says. She also says that this has happened to people she knows.

Adornetto hit the headlines back in 2006 when, aged 13, she wrote a novel that went on to be published by Harper Collins.

The soft-focus viewpoint of my day continued when I read a piece by Christian commentator Greg Clarke over at The Punch.

Clarke's nominal standpoint would be about as different from mine as chalk and cheese, but I found myself agreeing with what he wrote about artist Chris O'Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa). I'm a big fan of O'Doherty's. I own four of his paintings, for a start. When a new illustrated biography of the painter appeared at the end of last year, I snapped it up.

What Clarke says is that O'Doherty, who often depicts Jesus in his work, is more like a true Christian than many nominal Christians. The iconoclastic painter, he says, seeks the actual essence of Christ, rather than relying on received wisdom from church elders to guide him.

He has problems with the institutional church and “hopes there are better ways of doing it than by being enthralled by some authoritarian religion, which does all your thinking for you”. It’s as if he is still on a journey to find the naked body of true Christianity underneath its strange and off-putting costumes.

So what's happening today, with the rain pummelling the balcony tiles and the wind howling like a banshee through every crack and cranny it can find in my building's fabric? Is this an epiphany? Is this the voice of my mother coming to me when, aged 10, I had escaped from some dreadful childhood scrape? Is this a turning point?

Probably not. It's just that, sometimes, the universe seems to contract, become less foreign. Many seek out this state in an effort to make it a permanent characteristic of their world. For me, an unrepentant sinner, it's like a gift rather than a right.

And while I cherish it when it happens, I don't demand it everyday.