Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rant on Rating Journalism

In what seemed like a thinly veiled effort to boost user numbers for start-up site, my classmates and I were asked to sign up for an account at this site, then rate three news stories on the same topic. (I chose the earthquake in Chile.)

I believe rating news is one activity where the truth will not necessarily emerge from the collective knowledge of average citizens, which seems to be the point of Newstrust. Also, I don't think this knowledge could even be gleaned, as I don't believe each story reviewed will ever get more than a handful of reviews, because, as it always is with news, what was news yesterday and worthy of rating is old news today, and not as interesting a read.

This inherent news problem makes the goal of having the cream rise to the top, or however the saying goes, impossible as the average rating of a certain story will only reflect the polarized, subjective views of a few people.

Even as a person going through training to be a better journalist, I wouldn't suggest my ratings of certain stories as particularly helpful or even necessarily reflective of an unobtainable "true" rating determined by mashing together ratings of several people.

A few problems I had with the site:
1. If you're rating a story that has already been rated, it's not too far fetched to imagine you might be influenced by the rating presented when determining your own.
2. Search results for stories rated on the site are terrible--it'll be difficult to find a story on a topic you'd like to know more about by searching for it on NewsTrust.
3. The banner that allows users to rate stories only appears on the page where the original rater posted the URL. If you click to "read more," and the story opens on another page, the NewsTrust banner disappears and you can't rate the story from there.

It's a noble goal to want to make people more media literate. And forcing people to think about what they've read and why they feel it was or was not informative is a good way to do that. But I think the people that are going to take the time to do that are probably not the people who most need to be taught about media literacy.

It's a great idea--the act of rating a news story should help a reader become more media savvy. However I do not think anything of great significance will be revealed in the collective ratings themselves, as the stories being rated are constantly shifting according to the daily news cycle, and will therefore never have enough ratings to reflect some kind of collective knowledge about what is good or bad journalism.

And thus, I end my journalism rant.

Brought to you by Dead Tired, an after effect of competing in your first triathlon of the season...even if you only did 2/3 of it...and it was a sprint...

More on the Treeathlon to come!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mourning Athleticism Lost

I just received an email from Planet Ultra informing me that the Camino Real Double Century went well this year.

And it made me a little sad.
OK, a lot sad.

That means it's been over a year since I did my first double century with my favorite ultracycling buddies Robyn and coachubby. That means that at this time last year, I could swing my right leg over the Silver Bullet, clip in, and ride for 18 hours straight. Up mountains, down mountains, up mountains again. Just out there, enjoying my buddies' company. Or, you know, huddling together in a ditch on the side of the road in the freezing rain. That's fun, too.

And so, this evening, I mourn for my long lost ultrafitness, which has been obliterated by training weeks so short they don't even count as training, revenge of the hambutt, and a fondness for frosted bite-size chocolate mini wheats.

At least my brain is getting toned.
Proof? It hurts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teenage Socialization Hits a Speed Bump

"Wi-Fi Turns Rowdy Bus Into Rolling Study Hall" proclaimed this article from the NY Times on Feb. 11th.

Using the example of a school bus in Arizona, the Times went on to show how wi-fi enabled school buses are allowing kids to settle down and get their work done. Or play video games.

Does this make any body else a little sad?

I imagine teenagers (and younger kids) already engrossed themselves in some pseudo social activity like texting while riding the school bus. But isn't part of becoming an adult--an adult who can deal with all types of people--learning how to handle the fat bully in the back of the bus?

I realize to someone only 5 years younger, I must sound like a grandma reminiscing about the days when 16 year olds did not have cell phones and if they did, it was only to dial 911 when they wrecked the family Volvo.

But with all of this technology invading every aspect of our lives--including, apparently, the school bus--aren't we missing out on some part of the human experience? You know, the one when you talk to other people, face to face? Or tie the shoelaces together of the girl you have a crush on? Or get punched in the gut by a bully?

Having kids play video games is "a whole lot better than having them bugging each other,” said the bus driver in the article. But is it? Is it really? Isn't it kind of better for "stir-crazy teenagers" to be "teasing, texting, flirting, shouting, climbing (over seats) and sometimes punching (seats or seatmates)." It's part of social development.

I'd argue it's worth a few spit wads in the driver's hair now and again to give teenagers a half-hour of non-virtual social interaction.

That way, the driver and the teenagers will have something fun to put on their Facebook updates when the ride is over.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Info Management for Type-A Triathletes: A Free Stanford Education

Between training, work, family and stuff, it's easy for a Type-A triathlete to go into a panic trying to manage everything.

A class assignment led me to create a netvibes page. It's like iGoogle, but fancier. You can put everything you spend hours trolling the internet for in one handy-dandy place.

Want to pretend you're in my Digital Journalism class with Howard Rheingold? Well, you can. For real. Here's our class syllabus. Do the assignment for class #6 and you, too, can have a nifty netvibes page in no time.

Ahhh. Now doesn't that feel better?

Here's a screenshot of mine:
For my reading pleasure, I have feeds of the following things:
  • NYT most-emailed list (did anyone find something fun to read?)
  • winter olympics news feed from google (who's kicking ass?)
  • Stanford's weather forecast (should I ride my trainer or outside today?)
  • Outside's blog (what crazy stuff did Colton Harris-Moore get himself into recently?)
  • Bicycling magazine features (should my next bike have electronic shifters?)
  • Slowtwitch (how fast do I have to get to be featured on Slowtwitch?)
  • Le Monde--a la une (because I like to think I'm French. And I need to practice la langue. La une is the front page feed)
  • Media Shift's blog (will there be any journalism jobs in June?)
  • all things paris from Twitter (see Le Monde)
  • Funny or Die blog (I like funny)
  • TMZ (I like funny)
  • my Twitter feed (journalists are e-stalkers. twitter is an essential stalking tool. now I and 2.4 million other people know what Lance had dinner with his girlfriend Anna Hansen last night)

Monday, February 15, 2010

France Issues Arrest Warrant for Floyd Landis--No More French Riviera Vacations

If you're one of those people who takes comfort in knowing someone else has screwed up far worse than you ever will, look no further for this week's pick-me-up than Floyd Landis.

The French have issued an arrest warrant for the cyclist. They claim he hacked into the French Anti-Doping Agency's computer in 2006. That was the year Landis won the Tour de France, then had his victory taken away because he was charged with doping.

And now the French believe in order to prove his innocence, Landis hacked their computers.

But the warrant can only be served in France.

Landis hasn't twittered (@TheRealFloydL) since the 6th, and on January 27th he was in San Diego. Looks like we won't be seeing any tweet from TheRealFloydL saying, "Enjoying a glass of wine after a ride through Aix-en-Provence" any time soon.

So if you're feeling down today, men, look no further than Floyd Landis to make you happy; at least you didn't self-induce a second round of puberty only to find that you can't vacation in France ever again because of it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How to Look Thinner in Your Race Photos

Forget dieting, the glycemic index, and all the other painful stuff you do to try to look like Michael Lovato in your race photos.

On my way to a practice Treeathlon (Stanford's triathlon) yesterday, I picked up a fellow triathlete and aerospace engineer who let me in on a little secret:

The faster you run, the thinner you'll look in your race photos.

OK, so he didn't say it like that. But that's what I got out of our conversation about the principle of length contraction.

The faster an object goes, the shorter it will appear in the direction parallel to the direction it's traveling.

So say the race photographer is off to the side of the course. If you go really, really fast straight down the course, you'll look thinner to the photographer who's observing you from the side.

And by really, really fast, I mean close to the speed of light.

According to my genius triathlete passenger, if you ran at half the speed of light (150,000km/second), you would look 13.4% thinner from the side of the course.

So keep up those track workouts and don't worry about grabbing that extra doughnut in the break room. Because when you get even half-way close to running at the speed of light, you'll look fantastic in your photos!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Winter Olympics: Get Your Game Face On (Or turn on your TV)

The Winter Olympics start today in Vancouver!

To get you excited, here are some things to check out:

The New York Times has some fun videos of snowboard tricks you might see soon. Watch them here. Men's halfpipe events start on February 17 at 1:05pm PST.

For the full olympic schedule, click here.

NBC will be covering the olympics on TV and online. Check out their olympics site here.

National Geographic reports that this will be the warmest winter olympics ever. Vancouver has been trucking in snow to Cypress Mountain, home of the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events. And athletes have been experimenting with new, super wax to make their gear perform better in wet snow. Read all about it here. (Skip down to the heading Vancouver 2010 Snow: Good News, Bad News, unless you want to read about El Nino.)

Woo hoo!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Mysterious Pain in the Butt and the Athletic Identity

I broke my butt in November. At least I thought I had.

Uh oh! I thought. This feels exactly like the hambutt episode that occurred in late August 2008 that turned me into an ultracyclist in early 2009 because I couldn't run. But a doctor thought differently.

It's piriformis syndrome! he said. Get thee to a physical therapist. That I did. And the thumb in the bum therapist didn't help.

So I went to another physical therapist. It's your sciatic nerve! he said. We must improve your posture and core strength. (Those two things would've been good to work on anyway.) But it didn't improve after 5 weeks of physical therapy.

And so, today, I saw another doctor. It's your hambutt! he said. (Well, hamstring, if we're being professional here.) Get thee an MRI.

And that's where it stops. I'd rather have a new bike. And for the price of an MRI, I probably could.

So far, I haven't run for over two months. I haven't been on my bike in an effort to not irritate my maybe/maybe not pissed off sciatic nerve. (Sit up straight! Don't arch your back!) I even stopped flip turning in the pool so I wouldn't curl up in the fetal position and put tension on the nerve.

But now I am confused. Maybe I have a pissed off hambutt AND a pissed off sciatic nerve. Throw in athletic disillusionment derived from this lethal combination and I have developed an athlete triad never before defined.

This all got me thinking about the athletic identity.

I'm just an amateur athlete. Nobody pays me to do this. But training structures my day, and gives me a steady stream of goals. Racing lets me show off what I've done in training--and keeps me on schedule. Even if I'm just attempting to kick the butts of other 25-29 year old female weekend warriors.

What about athletes who are paid to show us what they've got? They have a lot more riding on their physical form. What happens to them when they're knocked out for a season or more because of an injury? Do they have an identity crisis? Do they get sad? Can they see a bigger picture?

I'm currently working on an article about Chris O'Riordan, a former Stanford baseball payer who was drafted by the Texas Rangers organization in 2002. He had a knee surgery that sat him out two entire seasons (2004-2005), and that played a factor in his leaving professional baseball. He seems at peace with it all now, about 4 years after leaving, but I wonder what 23-year old Chris was feeling after surgery and during those two seasons off.

...damn nervy hambutt...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chew on This, Wrigley's

Dear Wrigley's,

The paper-like material you now wrap individual pieces of Extra gum in is ineffective in humid places--like the entire coastal region of southern California.

It makes your gum appear and taste like it is pre-chewed.

That's gross.

Please bring back the foil wrappers.

And the Extra bubble gum formula that lasts more than 10 minutes.

Thank you.


P.S. Your mansion in Phoenix is rad.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Politically Active Triathletes: Tempe's Prop 400

I got an email from Red Rock Co. a few days ago, and in the midst of the usual "Sign up for this race now!" reminders, something caught my eye: A request that Tempe, AZ residents vote yes on Tempe's Prop. 400.

Proposition 400 proposes to raise Tempe's hospitality tax, charged on hotel rooms only, from 3% to 5%.

So what does that have to do with triathlon? I remembered talking to Xterra last year about their moving Xterra nationals from Incline Village, NV to Ogden, UT. One of the main reasons for the move? A lack of the usual support from Nevada's financially-sucking tourism board.

But what does that mean? Does a tourism board pay race production companies to put a race on in their town? Between the SOMA Half, IMAZ, and the gazillion other races put on in and around Tempe Town Lake, Tempe is reaping financial rewards from being triathlete friendly.
(Tempe Town Lake)

In an email, Red Rock Co.'s Event Director, Mike Melley, helped me understand the delicate relationship between event producers and city tourism boards. Or, in this specific case, between Tempe-based Red Rock Co. and the Tempe Convention and Visitor's Bureau. (CVB)

Erin: Does the city's tourism board help produce sporting events?
Melley: The tourism board does not help produce events. The City/CVB has a vested interest in events that bring in tourism, patrons, and out of state visitors as this increases revenue, sales and hotel stays. Take an event like PF Changs Rock n Roll Marathon (AZ) they bring in 35,000 athletes and impact the revenue of the surrounding communities positively. As an event promoter this may enable them to leverage lower costs to shut down roads, pay police and other expenses necessary to produce an event of that magnitude.

Erin: How much of an event's budget depends on money received from the city's tourism board?
Melley: This is dependent on the city, their budget and the impact of the event. I can only speak to those events for which we are fortunate enough to get some support from the City/CVB. No event should ever DEPEND on the city to succeed. We don’t depend on it, but it certainly allows us to help improve the quality of the event for the athlete while ensuring we keep the course safe and fun.

Erin: How would the passage (or not) of Prop 400 directly affect Red Rock Co.?
Melley: Prop 400 stands the chance of eliminating CVB/City sponsorship of the event (Soma in particular) and would force us to re-evaluate our costs across the board and the event as a whole. Prop 400 is not just about events, actually it is likely a very small part of the prop that is an effort by the city to help increase revenue (to be in line with the other surrounding cities) in a time of a severe budget crisis.

So if you're living in Tempe, go vote March 9th to help keep events like SOMA healthy and rockin'. I have a special place in my heart for it; it was my 2nd half ever.

Sorry, SOMA, Big Kahuna will always be my first.