Monday, June 18, 2012

Further Justification For A Wall Tent...

I like wall tents. Always have. The one in the picture is, alas, not mine. It's Greg McReynolds' wall tent, looking right at home on the Cimarron National Grasslands in southwest Kansas a couple years ago. It slept three hunters and their dogs very comfortably, and we had the added bonus of being able to sit around a fire, eat dinner and drink beer under the stars, whereas the night before, exhausted after our first day of hunting and with the sun going down and camp not set up, we just said screw it and tumbled into a cheap, sketchy, astoundingly nasty hotel room in nearby Elkhart. Big mistake.

I cannot imagine, nay, I shudder to think what the researchers in this study would have found in our room that night...

From this story on

Picking up the remote control in a hotel room may also mean picking up fecal matter, a new study found. Researchers from the University of Houston swabbed 19 hotel room hideouts, from door handles to headboards, and found the fecal bacterium E. coli hiding on 81 percent of the surfaces, including the remote control, the telephone and the bedside lamp.

“Currently, housekeeping practices vary across brands and properties with little or no standardization industry wide,” Katie Kirsch, an undergraduate student at the University of Houston and author of the study presented at the General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, said in a statement. 

This study “could aid hotels in adopting a proactive approach for reducing potential hazards … and provide a basis for the development of more effective and efficient housekeeping practices.”

Or, it could aid me in finally getting off my ass and buying a wall tent of my own so I don't have to spend any more terrified, disgusting nights paying for the privilege of sleeping in a petri dish...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Of Summer Sloth, the Fourth Estate and Viral(ity).

First off, apologies for the slow posting schedule the past month. School's out, the family's home and I've been busy with various and sundry "stuff" around the house. The pace will pick up a bit as I get into a summer routine. I've got dogs to train, gunstocks to refinish, fish to catch and vegetables to grow.

And if past summers are any indication, I will more than likely fail miserably at all tasks, instead choosing to sit on the back porch all summer drinking beer and cursing (depending on conditions) either the heat, the wind, or the heat and the wind while drunkenly swearing that next year the family will "by gawd be in Montana and out of this miserable frikkin' hellhole!" Or something to that effect.

Second, there was an interesting article on Salon recently that explores something I and every other reporter who's ever schlepped a beat at a small to mid-market daily have realized for years (and I'll bastardize a famous Tip O'Neill quote to give you the nut of it), and that is: all democracy is local.

What does that mean? I'll use a tired old cliche to illustrate the point...If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Who gives a shit, right? Well, if a civil liberty or Constitutional right is trampled upon, if a public or elected official violates the public trust for personal gain or for special interests and there's no one around to report it, is it really a violation?

Increasingly, (for a variety of reasons related to the general and terribly depressing state of awareness in this nation) it seems the answer would be no, and apparently no one really gives a shit. Otherwise they'd be paying a helluva lot more attention to the sorry (and getting sorrier by the minute) state of local and state journalism, because that, my friends, is where we get down to the true down-and-dirty nut-cuttin' of democracy.

Every time a minimum-wage beat reporter files a local or state-level open records request, every time they attend a county commission meeting, every time they question an elected official and every story they publish as a result of those questions, they're lubricating the engine of democracy at its most fundamental and important level, and the level that most acutely affects all of us. And it's all going away, very fucking quickly.

And when all the local small-circulation newspapers have folded or turned into weekly shoppers, when all the state newspapers have been downsized into toothless irrelevance? Well hell, at least we'll still have Facebook, right?

And on a completely, utterly, sadly related note, here's a fascinating story on 
about what makes things go viral on the Internet.

From the story:

In March, I wrote about Gawker’s new quantity-over-quality experiment. Each day, one Gawker staffer was tasked with pageview-chasing duty, a quest to post enough cat videos, Miley Cyrus pics, and local news ephemera to keep the clicks coming en masse. That staffer’s work would free up others to work on longer, more involved pieces. Pageview duty rotated, because — who could stare too long into the Internet’s bright raw id and not go blind?
Neetzan Zimmerman, apparently. Editor A.J. Daulerio hired him two months ago to focus exclusively on viral content. Zimmerman’s title at Gawker is Editor, The Internet. He is assigned to cover the Internet.
This machine-like person has generated more than 300 bylines for Gawker since he started on April 9. These are not lengthy tomes, usually; nearly every post is just a funny photo or video, with body text barely longer than a caption. The average word count of a sampling of his recent stories is about 200.
Zimmerman sits comfortably atop Gawker’s leaderboard, garnering two to five times more pageviews than his highest-performing colleagues. Zimmerman is so prolific, his posts so magnetic, that Daulerio has now relieved all 10 full-time Gawker staffers of their pageview chores.

I just pasted the first few grafs, but really, the whole story is well worth a read. It is truly fascinating, and as someone who, for the past four years has derived a portion of my income from doing for F&S pretty much exactly what Zimmerman does for Gawker (and at about the same level of substance and gravitas, I might add...) it gives some insight into the mechanics of online information dissemination, as well as confirming my basic suspicion that most of us are happily, blissfully pissing our lives away watching other people being stupid.  Myself included, of course...

Well, I guess it's a helluva lot easier than reading a newspaper, right?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Another Great One Gone...

I've been reading the news this morning of Ray Bradbury's passing. Longtime readers of the blog (all three of you) know that Bradbury has long been one of my favorite authors, and although death is an inevitability for all of us (and even more so when you're 91) it still comes as a surprise when the moment arrives for such a longtime literary icon.

It's hard to peg any one of Bradbury's works as a definitive favorite. Obviously he's best-known for Fahrenheit 451, but Bradbury's total body of work is huge. Few could write a short story like Bradbury, so for me, his collections of short stories are certainly up there, as is The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Here's a link to the New York Times obit and here are a few links to my Bradbury-themed blog posts. The first one is comedian Rachel Bloom's screamingly funny but oh-so-not-safe-for-work tribute ,next is a blog I did on Fahrenheit 451 and e-books and the last is a rather dyspeptic rant I banged out in the wake of a particularly irritating Halloween experience last year (I still rather like that one, and still stand by everything I wrote...)

Bradbury was one of the last of the great fiction/fantasy writers to emerge from the mid-20th Century Golden Age of magazine writing. Hell, he may have been the very last. Off the top of my head I can't think of any others that are still alive, and with the state of publishing, reading, and the general level of intelligence and attention span these days, I rather think we'll not see his kind again, so read 'em if you got 'em. And if you don't got 'em, go find 'em, somewhere in the musty, dusty, forgotten corners of those fast-disappearing used bookshops. Preferably a tattered old sixties-vintage pulp paperback with yellowed pages and early space-age era conceptual cover art. That's the only way to read a Bradbury story.