Saturday, August 1, 2015

BattleBots recreated in Legos

ABC’s robot-fighting show “BattleBots” aired its season finale on Sunday with Bite Force vanquishing the heavily favored Tombstone.
In honor of that epic battle, my kids and I created a Lego diorama featuring the two finalists.

Here’s hoping the show gets renewed for another season.
Since ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co., maybe the next season can feature Star Wars robots fighting each other. (Disney also owns Star Wars.) See photo below of C-3PO defeating R2-D2 in a death match.

This is the latest in a series of Lego dioramas of reality TV shows.

Here is a list of previous ones.

2014 Winter Olympics recreated in Legos (Feb. 22, 2014)

Lego diorama of the Weather Channel’s ‘Prospectors’ (Feb. 11, 2014)

Lego ‘Gold Rush’ diorama (Sept. 22, 2013)

Lego ‘American Ninja Warrior’ diorama (Aug. 23, 2013)

Lego dioramas of reality TV shows, including ‘The Voice’, ‘AGT’ and ‘Wipeout’ (Oct. 7, 2012)

More Lego recreations of reality TV: ‘Billy the Exterminator’ and ‘Hillbilly Handfishin’’ (March 25, 2012)

Lego ‘Finding Bigfoot’ (March 5, 2012)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sponsored content, aka native advertising, sparks controversy

The use of sponsored content or native advertising appears to be growing. While it provides a new revenue stream for media companies, it also could be damaging their reputations.
Native advertising is online advertising that looks like a regular article on a website, but is actually written by an advertiser to promote their product.
A recent survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that a third of news consumers in the U.S. and U.K. feel tricked or let down by sponsored content or native ads.
Half of news consumers surveyed grudgingly accept sponsored content because they understand that it helps provide them with free news. But more than a quarter think less of the news outlet that publishes native ads, Poynter reported last month.
New media outlets like BuzzFeed, Gawker Media, Huffington Post and Atlantic Media have aggressively pursued native ads. Old media like the New York Times and Washington Post also have gotten in the game.
Even the satirical news website The Onion runs sponsored content. But at least they do so with a sense of humor and an in-your-face attitude.
“Commerce is the blood that feeds the black heart of avarice. Enjoy this #sponsored content,” the Onion tweeted with a weblink earlier this month.

Art: Joy of Tech comic lampooning native ads.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Journalists my age learned to write on typewriters

Journalism memory lane: Part 1 

When I was in journalism school at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, we didn’t have personal computers. We used typewriters.
That was 1982-84 in what was then called the College of Communications. (The university changed the name in 2008 to the College of Media.) The school offered degrees in print journalism, broadcast journalism and advertising. My bachelor’s degree is in print journalism.
There were computers on campus, but they were big IBM mainframes in which you had to feed paper punch cards. Students had to sign up for time to use them and they were mostly for engineering and business students. I never used them.
The university also had a ground-breaking networked computer system called Plato.
But let’s get back to my low-tech journalism writing courses.
We typed our articles for class on 8 ½-by-11 sheets of paper on typewriters and used copy-editing markup symbols to make corrections.
To write term papers for my classes, I often used the Atex computer system at the college newspaper, the Daily Illini. I’d print the assignments out on a dot-matrix printer that was fed perforated paper. My assignments would come out in one long strip and I’d have to tear off each sheet at the perforations before handing them in.
Our graphics class had a pagination machine for printing out camera-ready copy. You’d type in your text, along with codes for font styles, sizes and column widths. The machine would print out headlines and body copy suitable for physical cut-and-paste layout.
Columns of text and headlines had to be cut by hand with a small blade on a plastic board for positioning on a layout sheet. Text, photos and graphics would be run through a roller that would apply hot wax to the back. Then you’d paste it on a blank newspaper grid to assemble the page. When finished these page designs would be photographed and etched onto printing plates.
This was before personal computers and desktop publishing software. Now, all layout and design is done on the computer screen.
The paste-up method of newspaper design was used for about a decade after I graduated.
I learned photojournalism at the University of Illinois the old fashioned way as well, with 35 mm film cameras and chemical baths for developing negatives and prints. There were dark rooms with special gear for projecting light through negatives onto photo-sensitive paper. It was a delicate and time-consuming way to make photos.
Newspapers were still a healthy business in the mid-1980s, although they had been on a slow, steady decline.
The biggest change in the industry while I was in college was the launch of USA Today in September 1982. It revolutionized how newspapers looked. Newspapers across the country copied USA Today’s style, including its generous use of color photos and graphics, informative charts, and short stories that didn’t jump to inside pages.
Newspaper journalists at the time derided USA Today as McPaper. They said it dumbed down journalism by reducing long-form articles to infographics and bite-sized stories.
The transition to PCs would be the next big change. But that wouldn’t come for another decade for most newspapers.

Part 2: Before there were PCs at newspapers, there was Atex.

Photos: IBM Selectric typewriter (photo by Flicker user Tomislav Medak); front page of first issue of USA Today on Sept. 15, 1982. 

Before there were PCs at newspapers, there was Atex

Journalism memory lane: Part 2 

After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1984, I worked for eight years for the Small Newspaper Group at papers in Streator, Moline and Rock Island, Illinois.
Like many newspapers at the time, they used the Atex computer system of servers and thin-client computers.
We had green-screen terminals at our desks to write our articles, which were stored in another room on a central computer.

To create a story in the system, you’d fill out the fields at the top of the screen, including byline and “slug” or name for the article.
The Atex system generally performed pretty well, but occasionally your terminal would crash and you’d lose all of your work since you last saved it. Writers were encouraged to manually save their work by entering a “save” command. But this was back of mind on deadline sometimes. I can remember having to start from scratch after losing nearly complete stories that I hadn’t saved. Talk about stressful.
In the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s (before the Internet and the widespread adoption of PCs), research for news articles was a lot more time intensive. Courthouses, for instance, only had paper records and handwritten docket books. Searching for criminal files and lawsuits was a manual process.
Even newspapers’ own libraries were antiquated. Articles were clipped and filed by subject. Reporters had to call staff librarians to dig up old articles in the “morgue.”
Writers were encouraged to keep their own files, including clipped articles, to save time on deadline. Of course, maintaining these records was a great time suck too. I used to spend my weekends getting organized.

When filing stories from the road in the late 1980s, I used a company-owned Radio Shack TRS-80 portable computer. It was popular with journalists because it was study and reliable. Reporters affectionately referred to the machines as Trash-80s.
The TRS-80 featured a tiny monochromatic screen on which you could view a few lines of text at a time.
You could file a story electronically by attaching acoustic couplers to the ear and mouth pieces of a standard phone and dialing into your company’s computer system. There was no Internet to route files at the time.
Since cell phones weren’t around, reporters had to use pay phones or another landline to check back to the office, dictate stories or file electronically.

Part 3: Early notebook PCs and America Online: The start of modern journalism.

Photos: A Winston-Salem Journal reporter enters her story into an Atex Systems terminal in 1981 (top); the glowing green screen of an Atex terminal (photo by Flickr user Lowell B); Radio Shack TRS-80 model 100 portable computer (photo from Photoree); TRS-80 with acoustic couplers (photo from Fast Horse).

Early notebook PCs and America Online: The start of modern journalism

Journalism memory lane: Part 3 

When I reentered the workforce in 1992, after taking a one-year break for graduate school, personal computers were being rolled out broadly in the publishing industry.
Smaller publications seemed to be first to make the plunge into PCs and desktop publishing. Bigger periodicals had large investments in systems like Atex and learning an entirely new method of publishing would be a major disruption to operations.
But the change was inevitable. Desktop publishing with PCs meant that publications could get rid of paste-up workers. Everything would be done digitally. PCs were more efficient and capable than the systems they replaced.
In the early 1990s, the battle between Apple Macintosh computers and Microsoft Windows-based computers was still raging. Art departments at newspapers preferred Macs. Editorial departments sided with Windows machines.
The first computer I ever purchased was an Apple Macintosh PowerBook 180. The gray laptop had a 16-level grayscale display, 33 MHz microprocessor and 4 MB of RAM. With an internal fax modem and ClarisWorks software, the purchase set me back $2,145.
Before that, I had a Magnavox all-in-one word processor and printer.

It was a big deal when software was developed to share computer floppy disks between Mac and Windows machines. That way you could transfer text files from a Windows PC at work and read it on a Mac at home. Compatibility issues were a serious problem.
The next big shift in journalism was the arrival of Internet communications services. Early online services of prominence were America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy. Initially they took a walled garden approach to delivering the Internet to customers. They wanted customers to stay within their news and e-mail services. The floodgates to the open World Wide Web didn’t occur until the Netscape browser appeared on the scene in mid-1990s.
In the early days of the commercial Internet, I used mostly AOL and CompuServe. They were dial-up services and they were painfully slow.
When traveling you had to find local access numbers to dial into or pay long-distance toll charges. AOL and CompuServe had international access numbers too. But when those numbers were busy or unavailable, I would occasionally have to call long distance back to the States to file a story electronically.
Today we take for granted how easy it is to get the Internet on notebook computers.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots didn’t start showing up until after 2000.
In the days before Wi-Fi, you had to make sure you had a dial-up modem for your notebook PC. And you had to find a landline phone where you could unplug the phone cable from the wall or the phone itself to plug into your laptop. Then you had to configure the system to dial the Internet access number. That meant having to dial a 9 to get an outside line from a hotel or business and a 1 for long distance in the U.S. You had to manually type in those instructions to the configuration software. Sometimes it was trial and error to get it to work. It was a royal pain in the butt.
And Windows notebook computers weren’t very reliable back then. I had a number of company-owned notebooks die on me.
I especially remember a Texas Instruments brand laptop that failed on a trip to Hong Kong. I made the mistake of picking up the notebook with one hand from the corner of the machine. I felt the plastic chassis bend and heard the motherboard inside crack. And that was the end of that PC.
Today notebook chasses are super sturdy.

Part 4: Journalism at the dawn of the digital age.

Photos: Apple Macintosh PowerBook 180c laptop (photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons); Magnavox VideoWriter Word Processor (photo from Click Americana.)

Journalism at the dawn of the digital age

Journalism memory lane: Part 4

Personal computers, the World Wide Web, e-mail, cell phones, digital cameras, digital voice recorders and other tech advancements make things so much easier for journalists today. At the same time, now everyone has access to the same tools and can play journalist. (Hence the rise of bloggers and citizen journalists.)
Simple things like finding information on publicly traded companies or even corporate contact information used to be a chore. I remember poring over paper files at the Securities and Exchange Commission office in Washington, D.C. With the Web, there’s no need to leave the office for that any more.
Reporters used to spend a lot more time on the phone checking facts that now can be easily verified online.
Reporters also used to have a lot more paper clutter on their desks – files and documents they needed to research and write articles. Now that clutter has become digital – documents stored on PCs, bookmarks in Web browsers, and data in the Internet cloud.
The arrival of always-on, high-speed broadband Internet connections in the mid-1990s was a big deal. Getting a T-1 line at the office was a major coup for your workplace. Of course, now T-1 speeds are pokey.
My first e-mail account was through Rocketmail, which was purchased by Yahoo in 1997. I later abandoned it after it became inundated with spam e-mails. Today I use Web-based e-mail accounts from Yahoo and Google.
Old habits die hard and it took me a long time to switch from microcassette audio recorders to digital audio recorders for interviews. That switch happened maybe six years ago. I got sick of dealing with piles of microcassette tapes.
Other things that have gone bye-bye over the years include newspaper clips (why bother when your articles are searchable online?), Rolodexes and business card holders (LinkedIn and web searches have replaced those).
My first cell phone was a Motorola bag phone around 1990 that I used only in my car for “emergencies.” Voice minutes were expensive then. I didn’t use it for work. Using a cell phone for work didn’t happen for another 10 years or so.
Technology, like PCs, the Internet and mobile phones, has made journalists much more productive. But the news cycle has gone 24/7 and we’re always reachable.

Photo: Sony microcassette recorder (top); Rolodex business card file. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

This website’s LFL coverage is ‘molto bello’

If you want to read about U.S. lingerie football, you have to visit an Italian language blog.
From its very start in 2009, the Lingerie Football League (rebranded Legends Football League two years ago) has gotten scant news coverage in the U.S. The LFL, a women’s 7-on-7 tackle football league, is ignored as a novelty by sports journalists and seen as too racy for entertainment coverage.
But the progressive Italian blog Very Special Girls (warning: contains nudity) continues to provide regular coverage of the LFL, now in its sixth season.
Very Special Girls appreciates the athletic prowess of the players as well as their beauty. It also notes when there are wardrobe malfunctions, a common occurrence when you have skimpy outfits consisting of sports bras and booty shorts.
In fact, Very Special Girls has become the go-to website for LFL wardrobe malfunction photos since Tech-media-tainment gave up that distinction to comply with Google’s AdSense rules.
I still think it’s newsworthy to note that LFL uniforms are not functional. Bikini tops are often pulled down and shorts are routinely grabbed by tacklers, creating Coppertone moments of exposed buttocks.
This year, I’ve noticed that shorts worn by LFL players seem several sizes too small. They tend to ride up on some players, looking like thongs.
If the LFL ever wants to be taken seriously it needs to adopt uniforms that show less skin and provide more protection.

For an archive of LFL wardrobe malfunction photos check out the Soup.io blog LFL Wardrobe Malfunctions.

Photo: Seattle Mist players cope with super tight bikini bottoms during an LFL game against the Los Angeles Temptation on June 6, 2015. (Photo from Very Special Girls.)

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