Sep 17

People overcoming things

We’ve been in this weird debate off-and-on over much of the last year about whether there is anything redemptive in sports. I really think it started as the slight souring of one person’s opinion until that person saw it was getting a reaction out of people. And when you get a reaction, of course, you go all the way with it. So this conversation has morphed and twisted and disappeared and reappeared several times over the last year. And it has done so to the point where The Yankee and I will be watching some sporting event or reading some athlete’s story and she looks at me and says “SEE!?”

Like I’m the one that offered the offending opinion. I was not. Sports are silly, but there’s plenty of redemption in them. Redemption is sort of the theme of many sports, and one of my favorite humanistic themes in general. And while the following anecdotes, all from this glorious, long weekend, don’t really offer redemption, they do tell the tale of worth in sport. I commend them to you:

Aug 17

And now, I will vent

I’ve had views like this …

… for about seven years now. It is a nice view. You understand the topography differently. You learn to be patient with yourself. You see the world at a different pace than you do from behind the windshield. And you see some things, too. Turkeys and deer and people doing odd things and strange sites you just might overlook when you’re moving at car speeds. Why, just last Friday three separate people — all supposedly adult human beings — walked right in front of my bike’s path over the course of a five mile stretch of my life. (I’ll bet you a dollar that happens at least once again tomorrow, because why look both ways when crossing the street. EDIT: It did.) And then Friday ended with a big truck whose driver couldn’t hardly be troubled to demonstrate an appreciation for the dynamics of a four-way stop while I was in the middle of the intersection. He got a well practiced European reaction I learned from watching pros racing.

Granted, the four-way stop thing is problematical because the local K-Mart closed last year and, consequently, no one has any idea where they are supposed to get their driver’s license anymore. Plus, people aren’t always their best driving selves anyway. And I’ll grant you what is likely just a limitation of habit and the human brain and the internal filtering system: sometimes drivers just don’t see a cyclist because that 15-pound frame with a human on it isn’t a two-ton truck, which is what they are actually looking for. On a bike, then, you accept this, and you have to always be on guard for it, and aware of a lot of other road rage, silliness and stupidity, too.

Which brings us to yesterday. I was out and about, enjoying a nice slow day on the bike because some days have to be slow days and the weather was nice and you soak those in. I’m on a road that ends in a T-intersection. I take this route every day when I’m traveling to the house from the office no matter if I’m driving or riding. You go down a little roller and then up the other side and there’s the stop sign.

Yesterday, while I was on my bike, I reach that spot with three cars in front of me. One car goes and there are two cars in front of me. The second car goes and so it is just me and a Fiat. And this guy turns on his left blinker, so I go to the right, which is the direction I’m going to turn anyway. And then this guy turns right …

Almost flattened me. And for all of that I caught up to him at a red light a block later. If you know that guy, give him the what for for me.

Aug 17

Eclipsed by the hype

Today was my third eclipse. At least the third that I can recall. My first was in elementary school, when they took great pains to coach us into not looking up. We made the little cardboard pinhole thing and it was underwhelming. (It was only a partial eclipse where we were.) Then, in middle school, I was working one summer for a teacher and we were outdoors and watched another partial eclipse. It was underwhelming.

But this time, so much more of the sun would be eclipsed! A vast, vast majority of the sun where we are! And the hype machine had, of course, reached Mayweather-McGregor proportions. I’d said I wouldn’t bother, but if you hear the drumbeat long enough you’re liable to start dancing. So I got my gear and got ready:


Today was also the first day of classes for the fall term and everyone wisely avoided making ominous omens out of the two parallel events. But we put the eclipse up on the big screen for any curious folks who wanted to save their eyes and enjoy some really top-notch air conditioning:


And when I was walking into the building from elsewhere a student let me borrow his little eclipse card the school was distributing to several thousand people:


If anything, that’s just a terrific demonstration of the “size of the sun” in the sky. That’s in partial eclipse, but look how tiny it is, compared to what you normally think of as the sun’s size, which is really just pure radiation beaming down onto our heads and into our eyes — with which we are, I am told, never to use for solar contact.

Also, I made a video. This is 360 degrees, as I am still playing around with the camera to see what it will and won’t do. (Audio is a consideration, I realized this time out.) So move it around and see a few things:

I would have started the video a bit earlier, and caught more of the eclipse, but I encountered the two most clueless people I’ve met in some time. They whelmed me, but not overly so.

Aug 17

What we did this weekend

Last spring The Yankee qualified for, and this weekend participated in the USAT Olympic Distance Triathlon National Championship. She’s awesome. Here are a few clips from the big race:

She almost hit a PR, and finished with a smile, despite some serious sun and legitimate heat. It was a great race!

Aug 17

The Agars, Buzzfeed and our garage

John Agar Sr., wanted to do something with his son, John Jr. John the younger has cerebral palsy and, while they were looking for a thing to do, they found the 5K. Dad would push son 3.1 miles through the course. They got lapped by a power walker. So they resolved to train harder. And these guys are something special. I could tell you, but John’s sister Annie is about to show you:

They race all over these days, the Agars inspire and delight and even challenge Michael Phelps to races. Phelps, who was last seen in a simulated race against a shark, hasn’t taken them on yet.

This is an interesting idea. Buzzfeed is going to do a Twitter broadcast. I’m trying to work this out in my mind. Poynter tells us about it:

BuzzFeed News is launching a morning show on Twitter later this year, and it’s hiring a team to get it off the ground.

The next broadcast from the company that brought you exploding watermelons and a live goat ambush is a weekday newscast aimed at “an audience that wakes up hungry for the latest in ‘fire Tweets,'” according to a May 1 press release from Twitter (which also announced streaming shows with The Verge and Cheddar).

The winner here is Twitter. I’m not sure it is the right idea for Buzzfeed — curating the ideas of the many seems like a return to an older distribution model in a different envelope — but maybe at a place like Buzzfeed it doesn’t have to be the right idea just now. Maybe you just have to have the idea, because that’s going to lead to The Idea. I don’t know what The Idea there is going to be, but they have plenty of sharp people on board and it’ll develop over time, or strike as an epiphany.

Wouldn’t you like to have The Idea first? It isn’t hub-and-spoke. It isn’t TMZ and it won’t be a gatekeeper style. It won’t be the old Buzzfeed kitten and listicle model, either. And again, you can’t curate everything coming out of the firehose. A small portion of the success of the social media monsters can be attributed to the implications there. Even if you tried, it would be a Kardashian tweet here, a sports blooper there and today’s best pet or kid video. And then you’ve got a host basically reading tweets to us as a show. And the hashtags. (Don’t read hashtags allowed.) Or, slightly better, you get a panel laughing and reacting or maybe even contextualizing the content. A super smart version of that might be viable. You might create the Twitter broadcast version of some of the better network or cable shows — but cooler, for a social media program. But then there’s gravitas, name recognition, the boring logistics of “Can you get that person on?” And then, if they are good, can you get them regularly? Are they in demand for network appearances? And which show would you choose if both sets of producers called?

All of these traditional — or newly traditional routines, if you will — will present the same issues here. But I think, for them, it has to drive you back to Buzzfeed. Why would a site who made their name as a part of the evolutionary media disruption go exclusively to social media, another ripple from their point of view? There’s something to be said for presence and branding, of course, but that’s not the big goal out of this. Maybe it is an offshoot of a new growth pattern, a new revenue stream for the company that seemingly fell well short of their projections last year. Maybe they’re starting their own gif-driven social media platform.

Or what if this is successful? What if the website, which grew on those lists and rewrites and became an earnest newsroom and, to some, an influential juggernaut, ultimately spins off their video programs.

I have a notebook sitting in a closet where I doodled out the mass media fragmentation models. It basically went from four big blobs to a bunch of lines and dots. And it seemed, back in 2006 or so when I was writing in that book, that all of those dots and smaller blobs and indistinct triangles and other shapes would naturally one day coalesce again. I thought of it as a natural reaction to funnels at the time. Maybe it is a corporate response to market forces and the silo-ification that is bound to happen. It has happened before.

This I wondered about while straightening up in the garage this evening. But the boxes in the garage didn’t give me the answers. I’m down to watch and see. I did not have The Idea.

Today, that is.

Update: My friend and Knight Fellow Andre Natta chimes in, because he’s smart and I asked him too. He made three keen points. One of them I wanted to include:

Because, is there really a better use than managing accuracy during a breaking news event (or managing the hot take hose)?

That would be a great feature. Who do we trust for that? We don’t trust traditional media for it 98 percent of the time. We should trust them more. Is Buzzfeed going to bring me the Ryan Seacrest-Cronkite of this generation to tell me the Kansas City Star is on the ground and has bonafides and is offering legitimate Twitter coverage the next time there’s a big problem in the ‘burbs?

If that’s the case maybe who is really missing out here are the news networks. Buzzfeed won’t build this out for breaking news. That’s an important model, but it isn’t sustainable for them. What’s more, CNN and the like struggle with a variety of on-air management issues in slower news periods.

As for Andre’s thought on the “hot take hose” … Here’s something that may very well be impacted by such a Buzzfeed move. Watch the “trending topics” and “who to follow” boxes. Already, if you click a trending topic that “who to follow” box updates with relevant or topical accounts. Now throw in a video box on the right side, with some slick production under the Buzzfeed brand and the topics amplify. It is a traditional media idea, agenda setting theory. Walter Lippman’s original idea, that the media are what connects events to audience, and all of the scholarship that followed, which basically says “Media can tell you what to think about” works here. If Twitter is a water cooler. There’s about to be a new, very dynamic co-worker hanging out there.