Archives » August, 2006

August 31, 2006

Carleton Watkins Stereo Views

Carleton Watkins was one of the Old West’s “big name” photographers. He did most of his work in the 1860s and 1870s, when photography was just starting to become popular and it required those big cameras and glass negatives. Watkins was based in San Francisco, but he lugged his enormous camera all up and down the California coast, into the canyons of Yosemite, and even here to the Comstock Lode. He specialized in stereoscopic photography, and I found a website,, that is collecting as many of his stereo views as they can get their hands on. Included is one entire page devoted to the photos he took at Lake Tahoe, and another devoted to Carson City and Virginia City.

There are some really cool pictures here, and I pulled a few out to post on this page. But you really should follow the links and thumb through the entire collection.

Watkins 4070p
The first Ormsby House

Watkins 4069p
The first State Children’s Home

Watkins 4066p
The Lumberyard (where the RR Museum is today)

Watkins 4075p
Looking down Carson Street

Watkins 1006
The International Hotel in V.C.

Watkins 1025
Piper’s Opera House in V.C.

I put a bunch of these on Flickr too.

August 30, 2006

9 Ways

9 (actually 10) Ways for Newspapers to Improve Their Websites:

  1. Start Using Tags
  2. Provide Full Text RSS Feeds
  3. Work with External “Social” Websites
  4. Link to Relevant Blog Entries
  5. Get Rid of All Registration
  6. Partner with Local Bloggers
  7. Offer Alternative Views of Your Content
  8. Modernize Your Site’s Graphic Design
  9. Learn from Craigslist
  10. Make your content work on cell phones and PDAs

I’d even add #11: Flip the relationship of the paper to the website. I went in-depth on this before, but it basically involves publishing stories to the web first, then making the morning paper a print version of the website, rather than the website being an electronic version of the paper. In this day and age, there’s no reason to “hold stories” until “press time”.

Also I’d add #12: Focus More on Local News.

Placeblogging is Not Journalism

Lisa Williams on placeblogging, and how it’s not trying to be Journalism:

As a placeblogger myself, I don’t look at the site I run and judge it based on whether I think it would be a good newspaper. Placeblogs are about the lived experience of a place, and if we are fortunate to live in a place that isn’t riven by war, famine, or crime, most of that experience isn’t news. One of my favorite illustrations of this is a post that appeared on the community website that I’m the host of. A blogger kept hearing a beeping noise coming from a local elementary school. He wrote, “Does anyone else hear the beeping, or am I crazy?”

Now, it’s hard not to look at an item like this one and not either consider it cute, or sneer at it. After all, if it appeared in newsprint (“Man hears disturbing noise, calls on neighbors to investigate”) it would be pretty embarrassing.
But blogs aren’t newspapers. Cherrypicking the items out of blogs that are pleasing to a journalistic mindset, or sneering at the ones that aren’t, doesn’t bring us any closer to understanding them.

What’s important to understand is that to a placeblogger, such an entry isn’t filler, or fluff: it’s precisely why the placeblog exists – that is, to connect people to each other and to reduce, even a tiny bit, the black-box aspect of our daily life, where we see and hear things and never really find out what’s going on. We’re looking for a connection, with each other and with the world we encounter when we step outside our front door.

She’s trying to find 1,000 placeblogs in the U.S., and she’s halfway there!

August 28, 2006

Hyperlocal Handed Down From Above

Jeff Jarvis points to the site Hartsville Today. It’s a hyperlocal community site where anyone can post stories, but it’s run by the local newspaper so it’s not exactly a grassroots effort. A lot of people have their hands in this pot. The local paper, The Messenger; the School of Journalism at the University of South Carolina; and the New Voices project of the University of Maryland. That’s a lot of heavy firepower aimed at this little town of 7,500, and it makes the whole thing smell more like Journalism students carrying out an experiment on a town that they don’t live in rather than anything rising up from the community itself.

See also GoSkokie, or rather don’t see it, because it isn’t there anymore. You can read its story here. That site was also a class project by Journalism students, and they picked a small town on the outskirts of Chicago to build a website for. The site was built, a few contributors were recruited, and presumably all the students got passing grades. When the class was over, the founding students pulled out (because they didn’t have any affiliation with the town, so why should they care) and the site collapsed. Posting levels dropped near zero. The whole thing was hosted on University servers, and eventually the school pulled the plug. Presumably all the community’s work is gone now, maybe stored on a backup tape in a basement somewhere. Probably the most lasting thing about GoSkokie was the final report the students prepared (PDF) before they left it twisting in the wind.

Hartsville Today, coincidentally enough, also has a PDF file about its startup days. There’s a lot of info in there about building the site and going out into the community to spread the word and get contributors. There’s probably a lot I can learn from it. But just the existence of this report is troubling, like it’s a “final report” in the same sense as the GoSkokie project. How long will it be before the school pulls out of its involvement in the site, and leaves it to the community to keep it up? And the site lies fallow so the newspaper finally pulls the plug? The thing about these hyperlocal sites is that you’ve got to have somebody passionate at the center of the thing, at least until you hit a critical mass of contributors. And that person at the center can’t be a Journalism student from five towns over, and they can’t be an editor at the local newspaper that secretly thinks the whole project is doomed to fail. It has to be someone in the community, someone that wants the site to grow and thrive, and is willing to put in the work to make it happen. Like Baristanet and Debbie Galant. Like H2OTown and Lisa Williams. Like Reno and its Discontents and Myrna the Minx. And yes, like Around Carson and me. A community site is nothing without the community, and the best ones are ones that have sprung up from outside the universities, outside the newsrooms, by the people in the community who are being let down by the local papers and want something better, something more.

You’ll notice something else about those sites I pointed to; each one of them has a small number of contributors. In fact, they’re little more than personal blogs with just one or two authors. Maybe it’s because the founders are writers and tech people that have little know-how about going out and rounding up people to contribute. But the thing is that these sites, with their single authors, are still doing better than these sites with dozens of contributors that are birthed out of the hips of a J-school somewhere. That’s because the founders of those “projects” don’t care about the site, or the community it serves. They just care about their grade. Or about the ideal of citizen journalism as a whole, and using the site as a proof of concept. If the site succeeds it’s a trophy they can talk about in their thesis. If it fails, it doesn’t matter because it was just an experiment. Those rubes don’t know nothin’ about the Internet anyway. They can always move on to the next little town and try again.

Maybe that’s just me being cynical and thinking that grassroots media needs to spring up from the grassroots, not be handed down by the establishment. That these initiatives are more examples of Journalists thinking they control the news, and that they’re being nice by giving us permission to be reporters too. In our own little corner. Away from the “real” news happening in the paper.

But I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.


The Amazing Race has won another Emmy. That makes four in a row now; it’s won every single year the “Outstanding Reality-Competition Program” category has been awarded. Of course, these are the Emmys we’re talking about, the body that gives out the same awards to the same people every year (Will & Grace won again? But it was cancelled!). So maybe by now a vote for the Race has become a vote of familiarity; it won last year, so they just give it another vote this year.

Andy Denhart at reality blurred is not happy, mostly because the Race won the Emmy during the same year the Family Edition was on. But I still think The Amazing Race is better than the competition. Survivor is just going through the motions these days, with season after season that just seem to blend together. And American Idol is a fun show, but it’s by no means a good show. So I guess if anyone’s going to get the Emmy, it should be the Amazing Race. They also won Outstanding Cinematography and Outstanding Editing, both of which they really deserve.

And speaking of the Race, the new season starts on September 17, three weeks from now. This is the new Sunday timeslot they’re trying out, after chewing up and spitting out timeslots on Wednesday, Thursday and Tuesday. They’re starting in Seattle this time; that’s the roster of 12 teams in the picture above posing at Alki Beach. All the stereotypical teams are present: the Married Parents, the Pretty Boy Studs, the Gay Couple, the Parent/Child, the Dating Bartenders, the Siblings. It’s like they have boxes to fill when they cast this show every year, and they always hit each one. The only one they missed this year was the Old Couple; I guess Fran and Barry broke the mold on that one. The oldest racer this time is 52, barely a whippersnapper.

Apparently they’re “shaking things up” by travelling east-to-west this go-around, rather than the usual west-to-east (or in the case of the Family Edition, generally-around-in-a-circle-with-a-side-trip-to-Panama). This means that from Seattle they’re heading out over the Pacific Ocean, instead of the Atlantic like they usually do. I guess for a show that’s filmed in twelve different countries every year, “keeping it fresh” isn’t much of a challenge.

I’m also noticing a pattern evolving with The Amazing Race, where the odd-numbered seasons are the good ones, and the even-numbered (with the exception of #2) are not so great. It’s like the exact opposite of the Star Trek Curse. So does that mean that #10, which starts in a few weeks, is destined to be a dud? I guess we’ll have to wait until it airs to find out.

August 25, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

Linda Holmes (Miss Alli from TWoP) writes a review of the movie Little Miss Sunshine:

I have often wished that I could install something on my TV that would add Greg Kinnear’s face in a little box up in the corner, reacting to everything that happens.

The review is on her new blog, Listen Read Watch, which already in the last week has had more posts than her other blog, Frolic and Detour, had in the last six months. I’ve subscribed to it because, well, because I have to. She’s my Imaginary Internet Girlfriend, so I have to read everything she writes.

And I’ve wanted to see this movie ever since I saw the first trailer. Why can’t movies come out on DVD sooner?

August 24, 2006

Nine Twelve Eight Planets

Poor Pluto; it can’t get a break. Last week I wrote about the International Astronomical Union and the new rules they had come up with for what is and what is not a planet. They had developed a category called “plutons” which encompassed all the Pluto-like bodies out there (of which there are quite a few), and said they were all planets. It was looking like these new definitions would hold up when they were voted on this week, and we’d end up with 12 planets, and the possiblity for hundreds more. Well, those rules got voted down, and completely different set of rules got voted in instead. All the plutons, including Pluto itself, were put into a category known as “dwarf planets” which is distincly separate from the other eight, “classical” planets. As usual, there’s plenty more from the Bad Astronomer, along with some frustration.

Let me once again reiterate that trying to define what a planet is is very, very silly. The very fact that all this is so bizarrely confusing is good evidence of this.

I’m really torn over this. Scientifically, this whole debate is a tempest in a teapot. It’s ridiculous, and serves no purpose. How is scientific knowledge furthered in any way by debating and resolving this?

On the other hand, it’s gotten a lot of interest by the public, and it’s been positive interest so far. People are talking about what it means to be a planet, and given the abysmal level of science education in the US, it’s great that folks are actually talking about astronomy. Maybe it’ll lead to some of them looking into it more, and that’s a good thing.

And now, finally, just maybe, we can actually get back to studying these objects instead of arguing about what to call them. There’s much to learn about them, real stuff, interesting stuff. The planets – however many you may think there are – are waiting. Let’s get going.

August 22, 2006


The band OK Go makes their own videos, and they’re more fun to watch than any of those professional videos that costs millions of dollars.

Here It Goes Again:

A Million Ways:

Thanks to Myrna for pointing this one out.

RSS-less Offenders

Now that I’m using an RSS reader, I’m becoming frustrated with sites that don’t offer RSS feeds. Even before I started using the reader, I knew RSS was a must if you had a frequently updated page. This site has offered it since March of 2004. But now I’m able to single out offenders, and it really gets under my skin.

One such site is Mice Age, the home of Disneyland pundit Al Lutz. He’s kind of a polarizing figure on the online Disney community, but I’ve been reading his stuff for years because it’s obvious he loves the park and loves reporting on it, even when the news isn’t so good. He only comes out with new articles every two or three weeks, so that’s why his site would be perfect for RSS. Just subscribe to the feed and forget it, and when there’s something new it will come to you. But there’s still no RSS there, so I have to keep hitting the site every couple of weeks to see if there’s something new.

I checked the site today, and coincidentally there was something new. Brand new, in fact, an article for August 22nd. (How did I time that one?) In this update he talks about the new guy who was promoted to President of Disneyland, and how he’s a rubber-stamper who will do whatever the higher-ups in the company tell him to. And the lackluster “Year of a Million Dreams” promotion they’re starting in a couple of months, where guests will be chosen at random to receive prizes like free mouse ears (don’t laugh…it was going to be free churros and sodas until they raised the stakes).

He also has details on the Halloween decorations that will be going up in October, pictures of progress on the new Finding Nemo submarine ride, and plenty of commentary on how Disneyland isn’t such a great place to work anymore. In fact, 80% of the people hired to work at the park quit or are fired within just a couple of months. Ouch!

So it’s great site, but who doesn’t have an RSS feed these days?

August 19, 2006

Monorails, Viaducts, and the Westlake Park Phenomenon

For years Seattle residents debated over whether their monorail system should be expanded to become a true mass transit system. It was a heated contest, with much fighting over taxes, financial issues, and the environment. In the end they decided to do nothing and leave it the way it is.

But since no one can live for long without a controversial issue to latch onto, the next big debate has sprung up in Seattle. And this is one where they can’t just decide to “do nothing”, because that could end up with people getting killed. It all centers around the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a double-decker raised freeway that was built in 1953 along the Seattle waterfront. To keep the story short, it’s falling apart. A strong earthquake in the Puget Sound area could bring it tumbling down to the ground just like the freeway in Oakland, leading to massive death and injury. Not to mention great embarrassment for the city. So the viaduct clearly has to be torn dorn before it falls down on its own. But what should be done after it’s torn down?

Copyright © 2006 Under The Light/Gary Sutto

This is where the debate starts. Some folks, like Ken at The Urban Blog, think it should be rebuilt pretty much the way it is now, with modern materials and techniques to make it earthquake-sound. Other folks, like the Mayor of Seattle, want to route Hwy 99 into an underground tunnel along the waterfront. They say the viaduct is an ugly barrier that separates the waterfront from the rest of downtown, and rebuilding it will keep them separate. Seattle without a viaduct would be a more attractive and vibrant place, just like San Francisco is now with the Embarcadero Freeway gone.

Two options, and Seattlites have to pick one. I’m glad I’m too far removed from the mess to have an opinion.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I read the post Why “the Rebuild” is not a practical solution over at the City Comforts Blog, and it jogged my interest in the project. David Sucher says that what he called the “Westlake Park phenomenon” will doom the rebuild, even if there’s wide public support for it at first. Westlake Park was an area of Seattle where there were also two options. In the late 80s, the city wanted to tear down a block of buildings and had the option to either leave the space open as a park, or build a shopping mall and office complex on the site. They chose the office complex, and got to work on the demolition. But once the residents were able to see what the area looked like as open space, and admire the views they had from the spot down to Lake Union, they suddenly changed their minds and wanted to have the park built instead. The city already had a legal obligation with the developer, though, and had to go ahead with building the mall. That’s how Westlake Center got built (which, coincidentally, is the end of the line for the monorail. See how it all comes full circle?)

So, David’s point is that even if a majority of Seattlites support the idea of rebuilding the viaduct, their minds will change once the old one is demolished and they see with their own eyes how having an open waterfront really benefits the city. There will then be huge public support for the tunnel, and the city will have to change course, probably at great expense. Go read his post. It’s an interesting trip into the psychology of crowds and the inability to visualize something, and gauge your emotional reaction to it, until you’ve actually seen it.

Also read this comment thread, where there’s a sparkling debate going on about the viaduct options.

Anyway, no matter what happens, the viaduct as we know it today is going away. So photographer Gary Sutto has started a project, located at, to document and capture how the viaduct looks today, in what are probably the last years of its life.