20 Jan 2003 raph   » (Master)

Mainstream media sucks

You'd think that Saturday's peace marches would be considered fairly important, given that we are on the brink of war. But the Contra Costa Times (the Sunday paper we get) saw fit to run a one-column story below the fold, with the headline "Thousands in S.F. rally against war", as opposed to a 5-column above the fold report on a ball game, headlined "Ground Zero".

Most media reports of the march accept the police estimate of 55,000, while the organizers estimate 200,000. In this age of helicopters and instant high-powered image processing, the magnitude of this discrepancy is surprising.

It turns out that crowd estimation is quite a tricky business. There's an excellent paper on the efforts to count the number of marchers at the Million Man March in Washington in October 1995. I ran a few sets of numbers myself, and came up with estimates ranging from a minimum of 80,000 to a maximum of 180,000 (the number of people who can fit in Civic Center Plaza). The estimate I have the most confidence in is the number who filled Market Street from Embarcadero to Civic Center. Given four feet square per person (which I consider very conservative), 2 miles by 120 feet, that works out to about 80,000.

The energy at the march was great. Heather and I are happy that we could be a part of it. What really struck me was the diversity of the crowd. While there were a few lefty radicals in evidence, mostly we saw ordinary folks of all ages, largely white but with plenty of other races represented. The message is clear. Lots of Americans don't want us to go to war. One of my favorite signs read simply, "Why?"

I'm sure the story about the Raiders was really good.

Mainstream media sucks more

From Dave Winer, I came across a blog on the situation in Venezuela. It's beautifully written, and conveys events with clarity, compelling narrative, and passion. These qualities are not highly respected in mainstream journalism, particularly the latter. The presumption is that journalists should be impartial and objective, so actually having an opinion on something is frowned upon, much less expressing it publicly. Thus, the New York Times, for which Francisco was a beat reporter, brought up "conflict of interest" concerns, which Francisco felt the best way to resolve was to resign.

Meanwhile, wire service reports are, as usual, bland, if factually correct. There's no way anyone without a personal interest in Venezuela is going to learn what's really going on from reading about it in the papers. They'd probably get a pretty good idea, though, that the instability there is responsible for an increase in gas prices here in the US.

So here's a clearcut case, I think, where blogs are simply better than mainstream journalism. I wish Francisco and all the people of Venezuela the best through the present crisis.

New laptop

Heather needs a laptop - the Thinkpad 600 is starting to go flaky. We settled on a 14" iBook. A big reason is the battery. Heather often goes to cafes to write, and often finds it hard to plug in, so reasonable battery life is very important. Even going by the specs, the iBook is about twice as good as IBM's R series, and given IBM's past performance, the latter could well be a lot worse after a few months of real use.

It's not a perfect machine. To me, the biggest drawback is the low resolution of the screen (91 dpi). The CPU is slow by modern standards (800 MHz), but not having to burn battery to fuel a multi-GHz chip is a Good Thing. Running Safari, it ought to be plenty zippy, certainly a dramatic upgrade over RH 8 Mozilla on the TP600.

With Jaguar pre-loaded, it'll take considerably less time to get up and running than a PC-class notebook, and this way we won't be forced to buy a Windows license.

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