Correlation vs causation

Computer games are a convenient target for recent incidents.

Comic by Randall Munroe from xkcd,
reproduced under a CC BY-NC 2.5 Generic License.


Today EasyReader – Not so easy

Today EasyReader - Weird formatting

Today has to be commended for providing readers with so many ways to access their newspaper.

There’s the physical copy, available from MRT stations in the morning, and 7-Eleven and Cheers outlets in the afternoon.

If you can’t get those, there’s a $10/month subscription. Get the paper delivered to your doorstep every morning. (They claim the money is entirely for delivery.)

They also provide two online versions – text only as well as a full PDF version. It’s really nice to be able to see the whole newspaper as it appears, context, photos, advertisements and all.

Besides the full content, you can get headlines via email or RSS.

And all these for free!

Now, there is one more way to access the paper online: EasyReader.

While this is to be commended, it leaves a bit to be desired. (It’s beta, but I’ve tried lots of beta software which is a lot more stable.) I won’t go into the download and installation woes I experienced on the first day it was announced, since they’ve apparently been solved.

The good: It provides all the articles with colour photos, no ads included. It loads fast too.

The bad: The first issue is formatting. As you can see from the screenshot at the top, the words of the article are both above and below the photo. Just a tad difficult to read. Increasing the font size doesn’t help.

There also seems to be a bug. If you minimize EasyReader, it becomes a tray icon. If you try to maximise it, you get this:

Today EasyReader - Crashes after opening from tray icon

It happens every time I do it, so it’s definitely a bug.

Last problem: there’s no Mac version. *growl*

Finally, something that is not good or bad. I wonder what the notes function does. I created a note on the page. Will I have access to it in the future? How do I keep track of the notes I’ve written? Can I share the note and the relevant article with others? Now, that would be really sweet.

Providing a free copy and providing unfettered access to the paper online are probably the key reasons behind Today’s high readership, second only to ST. That and the fact that their journalists are as good, if not better, than those at SPH.

It’s early days yet, but I appreciate all the ways that I can read Today. EasyReader, I’m sure, will improve over time and close the gap to ST’s readership. Just don’t get rid of the PDF version!

Another side to the story and Google juice

Often, I am asked: Why blog? Why bother with blogging and bloggers?

1. Blogs offer alternate views.

We are supposed to trust MSM because they have editors and all sorts of checks to make sure that news is accurate and impartial. Can we?

Let’s say you read this article about a project to build artificial coral reefs and relocate corals in danger of peril. Commendable, you might think, as I did. After all, “the dredging would have damaged the corals and muddied the waters, threatening their survival had they not been moved”.

And if you haven’t guessed, there is a ‘but’.

But later in the day, I came across Ria Tan’s post: Large debris on Labrador explained?

The project sounds nice in theory but something somewhere seems to have gone terribly wrong. I would have been none the wiser without Ria’s post, without this alternative view.

2. Blogs have Google juice

Ok, I admit up front that I’m plugging my mum’s cakes.

Still, I’m telling it as it is. This morning, my mum was sharing over breakfast that a stranger found her blog and ended up ordering Sugee Cake from her. (Most of my mum’s customers are through referrals and my aunts’ personal marketing efforts.) Apparently, a search on Google for Sugee Cake brings up a lot of entries from Malaysia. This woman was looking for homemade Sugee Cake in Singapore.

Good thing my mum blogs. Her entry is the 6th in Google for “Sugee Cake”.

The lesson here: Blogs have Google juice. If you have a minority cause, a niche expertise or an alternative pastime, you should blog. It’ll help you be found more easily through search engines and if you play your cards right, you can build a community of like-minded people through your blog.

“I HAVE never, nor will I ever, read blogs.”

Quill and Ink

That’s what Ong Sor Fern wrote in the Straits Times yesterday. Of course, you can’t read the article ‘cos they charge you for to access their site. And their archives only go back seven days. Hey, a newspaper has to make money, right?

You can guess that Sor Fern didn’t have many positive things to say about blogs and bloggers.

Fellow social media observers and practitioners Van, Siva and Ivan have weighed in with responses on their blogs.

Van says:

[J]ust like there are good journalists and bad journalists, there are also good bloggers and bad bloggers. For every book like the Cult of the Amateur (current Amazon rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars), there are dozens if not hundreds of books and other forms of less traditional media celebrating the new, open-source or Web 2.0 culture. Bubbles have burst before, but that’s part of the experience of entrepreneurism.

Siva makes two pertinent points, highlighting the importance of information literacy and the fact that journalists can be as inaccurate as bloggers when it comes to scientific and technical topics:

[H]er disdain about blogs is the view most scientists hold about journalism efforts here. Colleagues in the community never wanted to talk to journalists during a crisis, for most that we encountered were poor at handling the facts or understanding context.

Over time I have learnt to be pleased when they get it mostly correct and have exercised great patience when they struggle with the facts. The good ones shrug and explain about editors, deadlines and diversity.

Ivan brings up three points, the most interesting of which is his final one, where he questions the method(s) Soh Fern derived her conclusions:

[T]he most telling was the opening statement — where the writer proclaims she has never read blogs.

I’m asking myself this: “If one has never read blogs, then how would one know that the quality is poor?”

Hear-say? Third-party information?

I thought part of verifying information was to check facts for ourselves.

It is a pity that Sor Fern will never read these responses to her opinion piece since she doesn’t read blogs. Perhaps that is another shortcoming of traditional media. It is largely one way. It’s not about conversation. It about people on pedestals telling us what’s good for us because they know.

Newspapers are not blind to this disadvantage. Hence, you have STOMP.

My two cents?

She mentions that the world will be worse off if Web 2.0 replaced print.

I can assure her that there is ample space for newspapers, books, magazines and blogs to co-exist. One of the things we are taught in media studies is that news editors have to constantly leave out content from newspapers due to space and time constraints. No such issues exist with blogs.

Radio didn’t kill the newspaper, television didn’t kill the radio, video didn’t kill television (or the radio star either) and the internet didn’t kill any of the preceding media outlets. Each time a new media form came up, there was a re-negotiation of roles and an re-examination of functions.

In pointing out her reservations about the democratization and proliferation of publishing capacity, Sor Fern pontificates about intellectual property:

The idea that anyone can be a writer/artist/critic is a seductive one, as Keen concedes. But the grim reality, he points out, is closer to 19th-century evolutionary biologist T.H. Huxley’s infinite monkey theorem.

The theory states that if you provide an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters, one will eventually produce a masterpiece to rival William Shakespeare.

The problem is, of course, trying to find that one talented monkey amidst the cacophony.

While Web 2.0 businesses are busy building more typewriters for more monkeys, it is also tearing down the infrastructure that used to support the William Shakespeares.

The idea of intellectual property, which Keen points out has sustained culture creation in Western civilisation for 200 years by paying people for their creative output, has been pulverised in the new information age.

Students plagiarise chunks of writing for their essays. People steal music and movies online. So-called citizen journalists do armchair reporting by cobbling together tidbits from legitimate websites.

I won’t take issue that she implied that I am a monkey with a typewriter. I will take issue with her poor understanding of intellectual property. This highlights what Siva pointed out about journalists not being entirely accurate with technical details.

  • “The infrastructure that used to support the William Shakespeares” ironically did not exist when the bard was alive.
    (If you don’t trust the preceding Wikipedia links, purchase Free Culture by Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig for an overview of the history of copyright. Or you can download a pdf of the entire book for free.)
  • People have created stuff from the beginning of time. Just because. The human drive to create pre-dated copyright law. Copyright served to give authors temporary monopoly right over their works so that they could get a fair return on their intellectual effort. This has temporary right to profit been grossly bastardized by the current copyright regime.
  • Her final statement would make teachers of logic cringe. How did she jump from plagiarising students (not unique to the digital age) to people stealing music and movies online (behaviour that has been around since mix tapes) to bloggers pretending to be journalists stealing content from legitimate websites?
    • What is a legitimate website?
    • Bloggers comment on articles as there is limited space in the forum pages. Also, there may be vested interested in not publishing certain responses. Is there anything illegal about this? Is that considered stealing?
    • What about when “legitimate websites” steal bloggers’ content? (Credit to Gwynne Lim for pointing this out.)

Okay, that’s all. To think I started out only intending to highlight a few points from my friends’ posts. I guess that’s what happens when a monkey starts typing.

Original photo by cgsheldon, modified from here, under a cc by-nc-sa 2.0 license.

The First World Hard Disk

If I was drinking coffee while reading ST Interactive this morning, I would have spewed it all over my monitor and keyboard.

S’pore ready to become a top First World nation: MM
ST 24 Feb 2007 | Peh Shing Huei & Sue-Ann Chia

THE architect of Singapore’s move from Third World to the First believes the country is ready for the next step up.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said last night that Singapore can move from the lower half of the First World to the top half in the next 10 to 20 years….

But Singapore’s transformation would not be possible without economic growth. To do so, Singapore needs to attract investments, and keep corporate and personal taxes low.

And Singaporeans must welcome foreigners here, as they are the ‘extra megabytes’ and Singaporeans, the ‘hard disk’.

First things first: ‘First World’ is antiquated – and tenuous – terminology. It is Cold War era lexicon that never quite made sense then, and definitely doesn’t make sense now.

Generally, First World countries refers to capitalist democracies. The implication is that these nations are ‘developed’. Hence, First World . The term that you hardly ever hear, Second World, refers to command (economies) communist states. Following this definition, two countries in the world qualify: North Korea and Cuba. And Third World, refers (broadly and inaccurately) to ‘developing nations’, presumably all the countries who aren’t democratic or communist.

From definitions, we move on to analogies.

Gahmen speeches are full of them, and usually they are used to good effect.

However, the hard disk analogy is off the mark.

A hard disk is an important part of the computer, but it is just storage space.

Are we receptacles to be filled? Is this an inadvertent reflection of our education system? Who is the CPU ?

In any case, I suppose it’s a step up from being a cog in the clockwork.

Have a good weekend, fellow megabytes.

Different Strokes


Despite their reservations, I suspect anonymous posting is one of the things UK ministers will not be advocating after their review of the latest online developments.

Ministers wake to the potential of people power on the net

Plan to put information online for web groups
Mass forums may boost economy, officials believe

Patrick Wintour, political editor
Saturday February 10, 2007
The Guardian

The government is planning to link up with the power of consumer and civic movements on the net by offering funding, permitting civil servants to post information on sites, and releasing information currently locked up in Whitehall.

Ministers believe web movements are rapidly transforming the power relationship between government and society.

The Cabinet Office strategy unit director, David Halpern, has declared that these new phenomena are likely to increase productivity across the economy, partly by driving out inefficient providers, and making consumers more informed.

Ministers also believe such movements will help people to make more considered choices on schools, hospitals and universities.

The government plans to put more information on the net, including health and safety records of restaurants, and local planning applications.

Whitehall officials regard it as inevitable that information-sharing forums will develop to discuss the quality of public sector performance, including individual GPs and teachers, as well as bad garages, rogue builders, and holiday destinations.

A two-month review inside the Cabinet Office, including ministers, communicaitons officials, and outside experts such as Tom Steinberg from mysociety, is to be established next week, for the government to consider how to respond.

Ministers were shocked when over 750,000 people petioned against road user charging on the Downing Street e-petition website set up late last year. They are discussing whether it is sensible for government to pull back from setting up its own sites if they are going to compete with existing innovative ones, such as

They are instead thinking of providing funding for grassroots sites dedicated to information sharing.

Sally Russell, director of the six-year-old, highly successful netmums, said: “It is ridiculous that the education department had been planning to set up its own version, Parents direct, duplicating how we can be a voice back to government.”

Explaining the government’s interest, Pat MacFadden, Cabinet Office minister, said: “This is not about technology, but about asking how empowered citizens can drive these services in a way that has not happened before.

“Polling evidence suggests we have a 20-year phenomeon of people becoming ever more demanding of government, yet ever more disengaged.

“So we in government have to ask how we can help this movement, work with it, and yet not smother it.

“We have been decent at putting services out there online, but the challenge now is take it to a new plane so there is a mutual conversation that helps drive choice and standards.

“We need a more sensible debate on how all this information government holds can be used to empower people, rather than have this stupid caricature of CCTV cameras in every home. We have to ask whether information or data sharing is an aid to empowerment, as I believe, or the next step to the big brother state.”

But sources say there is a debate inside Whitehall on the extent to which government should fund bottom-up initiatives, or instead launch its own more tightly controlled websites. One concern is that if bodies like Revenue & Customs set up sites, they would be seen to endorse all that appeared on a forum, including advice that was illegal or wrong.

One ministerial source said: “There is a new mass movement out there, better educated, more demanding, and we have to see if, in a light-touch way, we can help.”

Any anonymous comments?

Original photo by Trystan, modified from here, under a cc by-nc 2.0 license.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,