Tag Archives: Film

Clint, Veganism, and Maligning the Net

Great interview in the International Herald Tribune/NYT with Clint Eastwood, but once again, it’s old media slagging off new media and ending up looking the worse for it.

The interviewer, presumably, asks Clint to confirm that he’s a vegan. Turns out he’s not.  Apparently the writer did his research on Wikipedia, because that’s what he cites as a source:

Despite what you might have read on Wikipedia, Eastwood is not a vegan, and he looked slightly aghast when told exactly what a vegan is. “I never look at the Internet for just that reason,” he said.

Trouble is, the source is not Wikipedia. As anyone who uses Wikipedia knows, any information on there must be sourced. A glance at the actual Wikipedia page would reveal that the source for this ‘fact’ about Clint is, in fact, a fellow old media source, The Los Angeles Times:

People ask him to autograph rifles, but Eastwood is no Charlton Heston. A vegan, he was distressed to hear Hillary Rodham Clinton boast recently about bagging a bird.

This piece was subsequently run in the San Jose Mercury News, the Providence Journal and PressDisplay.

In fact, you won’t be able to see this on the Wikipedia page anymore because it’s been removed. That’s because some new media moves faster than old media: on December 11, the day the NYT piece was first published, a Wikipedian spotted the reference and prompted a discussion, and the removal of the reference on the grounds that a direct denial from Eastwood trumps an LAT piece. (You can see the discussion here.)

In other words, from what we can judge, the journalist involved researched Clint on Wikipedia, and was ready enough to accept that as a source on which to base his questions. When the fact in question turned out to be wrong, he allowed Clint to make a familiar sideswipe at the Internet, and not further research the origin of the myth.

But the story doesn’t stop there. The LA Times doesn’t cite a source. But there are plenty of them—apparently. Clint is quoted on dozens of sites as saying

“I try to stick to a vegan diet—heavy on fruit, vegetables, tofu, and other soy products.”

Sites like GoVeg.com have been happy to include him in their Animal-Friendly Celebrities (although, to their credit, they seem to have removed him. Compare this page with this cached version.)

What’s perhaps most intriguing is the source of this quote. I’ll admit I can’t find it. But it’s been bouncing around the net for a couple of years; this forum cites it in September 2006. I found a  piece in Glasgow’s Daily Record on May 23, 2006 that also listed Clint as vegetarian, although the web site does not seem to contain a record of it. The oldest reference I can find is in the Miami New Times, on October 13 2005, which lists Clint among a number of (supposed) vegans.

In other words, a myth arose on the net, without any straightforward way of establishing its provenance or authenticity, which was then happily picked up by websites, businesses, and organisations whose purpose it served, then found its way into a mainstream news article, before finally being authoritatively quashed.

So yes, in a way Clint and the NYT reporter are right. The Internet isn’t reliable. But Wikipedia is. Or at least, it’s no less reliable than the sources it cites. Which in this case, happened to be old media itself.

Lesson? As a journalist I guess I might too have fallen into the trap of trusting the LA Times. But it’s a timely reminder that there’s no fact too small or apparently established that it can’t stand to be fact-checked.

Just don’t blame the net if you get it wrong. It’s cheap and it’s old wave.

The veteran power of Clint Eastwood – International Herald Tribune

Pig Gelatin Proves Oswald Acted Alone

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Advances in technology—specifically, in blood spatter analysis and crash test dummies—have been harnessed to prove that it was, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald who killed JFK.

Blood spatter analysis has, apparently, been around for a while, but only recently has it gotten good enough to know what the spatter actually means. (More here, if you need to know and don’t mind pictures of spatter.)

Reconstructing the scene for a documentary by the Discovery Channel also involved another key piece of technology: the lifelike dummy. Technically they’re called ‘artificial surrogates’ and they’re made by an Australian company called Adelaide T&E Systems (motto: “engineering the world’s most biofidelic test platforms.” Biofidelic is a fancy word for lifelike.)

The Frangible Ballistic Heads (a great name for a band) are made from three different materials which simulate the brain, skull and external soft tissue (skin), which goes to make the spatter more lifelike. (The brain is made from gelatin made from pig skin and then dyed green, in case you’re trying your own Grassy Knoll reconstruction at home.)

The head was custom-fitted, based on JFK’s hat size. It was then attached to the company’s Hybrid III neck (“for improved response,” according to the website.) This is then attached to the company’s latest product, the Human Thoracic Surrogate, which can be fitted with “loadcells, accelerometers and pressure gauges to facilitate injury scoring,” according to Wesley Fisk, a partner at A&E.

They then brought in a bunch of scientists who did not know that they were investigating JFK, although the mock-up of the Dallas, Texas crime scene, complete with depository, grassy knoll (using real grass), etc, might have offered a clue. They were impressed by the Frangible Ballistic Heads. “The heads they used were quite interesting,” said one of the experts. “They were considerably more sophisticated than anything I’ve seen before.”

After the fake Oswald shot the fake JFK, they were asked to look at the spatter of all the green-dyed pig-gelatin. Turns out the the key was the lack of back-spatter—the stuff that goes the opposite way you’d expect if you’d just shot someone in the head:

The general lack of back spatter and the preponderance of spatter in another direction are two of the clues, among others, that the investigators used to pinpoint the origin of the shots.

Conclusion: just one shooter.

PS: The program hasn’t aired yet, but already it’s being called ‘baloney.’ Unsurprisingly.

Illustration: T&E Systems

An Answer to Our Scanning Prayers?

 NeatDesk

I’m always amazed at how weak the market for scanners is. The devices aren’t always that good, and the software that accompanies them is generally speaking pretty awful. Those that were once good, like PaperMaster, are now dead.

So it’s good to hear that NeatReceipts, once interested mainly in, well, scanning receipts, is now called The Neat Company, and is about to launch NeatDesk – “the all-new desktop scanner and digital filing system.” It’s got what looks like a pretty cool Automatic Document Feeder scanner that will take receipts, business cards and documents—in the same scan.

I used NeatReceipts and thought it was a good effort—it did a good job of trying to parse receipts, although the user interface was overly complex and the software not particularly stable. Neat Co says the software has been completely overhauled.

The device is going to sell for $400+ once it’s launched. More anon.

The Neat Company – Preorder Sale

Update: Evernote have added PDF preview for Windows. Is there room anymore for Paperport and its ilk? This is a great addition to Evernote and something I think really pushes it into the ‘capture all your cr*p’ category. Good on them.

Songs for Suits

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Things are never so weird they can’t get weirder. Techdirt posts on a legal firm’s corporate song “Everyone’s a Winner at Nixon Peabody” which really has to be heard to be believed. I don’t guarantee it’s a pleasant experience, but it’s the only way to know just how low companies can go to get their staff feeling good about themselves.

But I frankly had no idea how many of these things there are out there. Techdirt links to a sadly now obsolete list of the best from ZDNet. And there’s hardly a big company that doesn’t seem to have one. Some companies trumpet them loudly to the world, with songs, lyrics, videos and sheet music (it would have to be a quiet weekend for someone to get out the Wurlitzer and start playing corporate songs, I suspect.)

Here’s one from Henkel (“And the story of success/Is based on more instead of less”). This was in 2005 named the best corporate song in the world by the Stevie Awards. (I can’t believe I missed that; I’ve not been following the Stevies as closely as I should.) The press release accompanying this dizzying victory quotes Ernst Primosch, Vice President Corporate Communications of the Henkel Group as saying “This confirms once more that we are on the right path with our ‘One! Henkel’ strategy.” It does, Ernst, it does.

Malaysia seems to be particularly keen on them, if these are anything to go by from DRB-HICOM, Penang Development Corporation, Park May Berhad and Kuching North City Hall.

So how do you go about writing and recording your own corporate song? Well, RedBalloon Days, an Australian website is offering a day in the studio for A$6,600 along with professional musicians and writers (you can only imagine what these pros must be thinking about their careers as they try to come up with words to rhyme with Peabody or Henkel.)

Of course, it can backfire. Shell wrote a corporate song that was so bad it was awarded “Company Song So Awful I Was Positive It Was a Spoof” by my BBC Business Daily commentator colleague Lucy Kellaway. She kept a copy of it here (yes, it is to the tune of “We Are the World”.) Lyrics here:

WE ARE THE BEST
WE ARE ALL WINNERS
WE ARE THE ONE’S WHO HAVE MADE THE CHANGE
WE’VE GROWN THE BUSINESS

You gotta love it. But not everyone does. Greenpeace’s blog said the song had become a laughing stock as it was emailed around the world. And Nixon Peabody seem none too happy their song has found its way into the public domain: They have apparently pulled the YouTube version and are apparently trying to get the MP3 file removed from Abovethelaw.com, where it was originally outed.

Which is a shame. This sort of thing, painful as it is, needs to be heard.

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China Cracks Down on Beautified Soccer Hooligans

Further to my post about China’s facial recognition, a system — possibly the same one — will be used to ban soccer hooliganism at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the Beijing News reported on Wednesday. It will even work on those who try to look their best for the occasion: 

If the hooligans attempt to enter stadiums to watch soccer games again during the one-year term, police are obliged to take them away from the games, it added. Face recognition devices to be installed at the stadiums will be able to spot hooligans even if they wear heavy makeup, Liu Xuechao, a senior police officer with the Municipal Public Security Bureau, was quoted as saying. “

For some reason I can’t shake the image of hordes of Chelsea fans wearing lipstick and too much eye-shadow.

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Catering to the Uncommitted Diner

Here’s an idea for restaurants. It’s hard for us walk-in customers to get a good sense of what the restaurant’s food is like and whether it’s worth staying. Silly, really, because the people best positioned to help on this are sitting all around us actually eating the stuff: the other customers.

So why not encourage the prospective customers to wander around looking at people’s food and asking them whether they’re happy or not?
‘Excuse me, that looks nice, what is it? Any good?’
‘Yeah, it’s not bad, but I wish I’d ordered the fish. I heard some guy over there say it’s excellent.’
That kind of thing. Arm the prospective customers with a fork too and they can go around the restaurant not just requesting information but also soupçons from diners.

Of course, customers may not be happy to be interrupted by complete strangers prodding at their food and questioning them about it mid-mouthful, but if the maitre d’ had made it clear when they arrived that this might happen they can’t really complain. Well, maybe they can; there’s no guarantee the customer will say nice things about the food.
‘This steak tastes like a car drove over it. Don’t eat here. Get out while you can. There’s a McDonalds across the piazza.’

I can see all sorts of beneficial side-effects from this: complete strangers chatting with each other, whole colonies of inter-table conversations breaking out. People would come from miles around just for the ambiance. Chaos for the waiters, of course, but at least prospective customers get a chance to figure out whether it’s worth taking a table.

While I’m at it, here’s another solution to a similar restaurant problem: the ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’ issue. You’re looking at the menu, you’re looking at the dish the diner at the next table is eating, and you can’t find it to order. You don’t feel comfortable asking the diner what it is they’re eating, but you also don’t want to confess that to the waiter.

Restaurateurs: Why not put little signs on the tables when your waiter serves the dishes? The signs could be as unobtrusive as all the other junk you put on people’s tables. It could say something like ‘I’m having the red duck curry. It’s on page two.’ You could even leave a place where the diner could give it points out of 10 (that might keep prospective diners wandering in off the street from prodding your food, as well as help prevent the person at the next table lean too far out of her chair trying to guess what you ordered.)

How about it?

It’ll Soon Be Firewall Day

This Thursday, in case you didn’t know, Personal Firewall Day. I was pretty excited about the idea too until I realised there were no parades and opportunities to dress up. Still, it’s a great way of trying to persuade people that having a firewall in place on your computer is no longer a luxury, or something that nerdy types do. Everyone needs a firewall. ZoneLabs, who make probably the best (and free) firewall on the market, point out that

— Vast numbers of home and business computers are unprotected while on the Internet. In fact, many consumers upgraded to new computers over the holidays–they need to be quickly protected with the latest patches and security updates, or they’ll be vulnerable right out of the box.
— The FTC reports 9.9 million cases of identity theft in the U.S. last year, making it the fastest growing crime in America, affecting an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 people per year.

The bottom line is that it’s very easy to get infected — within seconds, literally, of connecting to the Internet — and it’s very hard to get uninfected. Future versions of WIndows — including the next XP ‘service pack’, which ships this year — will have a firewall activated by default, so this problem may not be around that long, but it pays to be safe.

News: Beware The Zodiac Cometh

 After months of hype Tapwave have officially launched their Zodiac Entertainment Console, which looks a bit like PocketPC sideways.
 
 
The Zodiac, the blurb says, “addresses the on-the-go lifestyle needs of technology enthusiasts, providing both fun and function in a sleek, handheld product.  Zodiac was designed from the ground up for a high-performance mobile entertainment experience centered on games, music, pictures and video. It also offers the added benefit of running a Tapwave enhanced version of the Palm Operating System (5.2T) and provides immediate access to the more than 19,000 existing applications.” Dude.

News: New Version of Diskeeper Available

One excellent piece of software that’s worth having on your PC is Diskeeper, an automatic disk defragmenter. It’s not an exciting branch of the software world, but disk defragmentation — your files ending up in little bits and pieces all over your hard drive — “cripples system performance while also causing needless wear and tear on disk drives”. For once they’re not exaggerating.
 
Diskeeper is now into version 8, out today. I haven’t checked it out yet, but it’s the kind of software you install and then just forget about. Indeed, it has a feature called “Set it and Forget It” which does all the defragmenting you need on the fly. Well worth checking out.

News: Psst! Wanna Buy a Segway?

 It’s the modern crime, and the modern sting. The Register reports on the “first, known Segway sting operation” when police in New York arrested a 24-year-old student on felony scooter theft charges.
 
 
Yili Wang entered a Starbucks in Queens, hoping a Segway expert he met on the Internet could help get the gizmo going. Wang apparently forgot to ask about the keys for the machine when he purchased it for the, uh hem, bargain price of $75 off a man in East Harlem. There’s even a video of the arrest (no the picture above isn’t from the video. That’s my mum talking to the delivery man).