Monthly Archives: August 2005

blogging the hurricane

katrina satellite.jpg
As Katrina has blasted the Gulf Coast beyond recognition, a number of blogs have maintained a steady stream of reportage and personal testimony, in some cases serving as bulletin boards for the names of the missing. Given the extent of the destruction to communications infrastructure, it’s not surprising that it has primarily been the media blogs that have managed to stay active.
Here are a few I’ve come across (Poynter Online has been an invaluable resource for exploring the online response to Katrina):
Eyes on Katrina: A South Mississippi hurricane journal (from The Sun Herald) – a combination of brief news updates, community bulletin board, and advance runs of Sun Herald stories on Katrina.
Tuesday, 2:23 pm:

This from staff writer Geoff Pender, who is calling in reports from Hattiesburg. If you are thinking about getting in the car and coming back to South Mississippi, don’t. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is telling people who have evacuated to stay away until the roads have been cleared and the National Guard is in place. If we get word when that happens, we’ll pass it along.
On a different note, we have a report that portions of U.S. 90 are under seven feet of water.

NOLA View: a weblog by Jon Donley – for, a news and culture portal from The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Posting survival stories from readers.
From reader Lynne Bernard (today), on trying to survive in Talahassee, FL:

Story: We are stranded in Tallahassee. There is absolutely no compassion here whatsoever. The Hampton Inn in Tallahasse is pretty much throwing us out because of a football game. We are running out of money with no way of getting more out of the bank. We cannot use debit cards and our credit cards are maxed out. I thought I would encounter a little compassion and understanding here in Florida seeing they have been through similar situations. There is none. People here and the manager of this motel are very cold and uncaring. If anyone out there has any suggestions please email me asap. I cannot get in touch with red cross or fema. Cell phones don’t work. Can’t get hold of any family member for help. Please help!!!!

CNN: Miles O’Brien’s Hurricane Blog – direct from Louisiana.
Monday, 6:54 am:

Louisiana State University Hurricane Center’s Ivor van Heerden just said a real concern is coffins that would be swept away by the floodwaters — which themselves will be laced with a witches’ brew of industrial chemicals. Horrifying image.

Metroblogging New Orleans – group blog with frequent, first-hand reports.
12:54 pm today, from Craig Giesecke:

Being refugees has forced us to confront new realities and possibilities, particularly since it might be a while before we’ll actually be able to return to stay. I’m self-employed in a food business that was just beginning to take off and fly a bit on its own when this storm struck. To wit…
1) when we actually go home, what shape will my production facility be in? Since it’s in Mid-City, I’m assuming it’s already full of water.
2) Even if I can get the equipment operating again someplace else, 75 percent of my business is done in metro New Orleans. Lord knows how long it might be (2006?) before any local clients will be able to start placing orders again.
3) So far, our house seems to be dry. But when we get back in, how long will it be before anything else is around us? The neighbors will return, but how long before any of us can start earning a paycheck again? I mean — earning a paycheck ANYwhere?

Storm Central from (“everything alabama”) – news updates and reader email.
Paula Baker from Houston, TX:

I am trying to find out about my brother. Stayed in Pascagoula. House on Sunfish Dr. 5 Blocks from beach

This is just a selection – by no means comprehensive. Let us know if you find anything else of interest.

hive mind

escher.gif I spend a lot of time looking for specific resources on the web. That means sifting through Google search results and following links that seem promising. A semi-interesting link may take me to an article with another semi-interesting link; that link takes me to another, and so on. As I progress, the articles become more thinly related to the topic, but I pursue them anyway, hoping they will lead me on a trajectory I hadn’t thought of, to a great idea that I couldn’t have anticipated.
During the whole process, however, I can’t shake the unpleasant sensation that I am not the master of my own destiny. I come out of a Google session with a wrung-out feeling, like I’ve just been lead along a path that was not entirely of my own choosing, marching behind an army of web searchers carving networked pathways into the information landscape, but not necessarily finding that unique morsel that will knit my ideas together. Lee Bryant explains this phenomenon as entaglement in the complex systems addressed by complexity theory. “Complexity theory,” says Bryant, “shows us that from the seeds of such small inter-connected actions, large trees of system behaviour can grow. These physical phenomena are reflected online as well, where the emergence of the Wiki movement and the growing cult of Google both display a simple form of collective intelligence.” He gives us this metaphor to consider:

The classic pop-science example that illustrates the point is the way in which ants forage for food. Ants display a kind of collective intelligence (described by some as a “hive mind” ) that is based on apparently dumb rules, repetitively followed by thousands of individual insects. Each ant forages for food in an apparently random manner, but when it finds food it marks a pheromone trail back to its colony. Trails fade over time, but positive feedback means that well-travelled paths will attract more and more ants until the particular food source is exhausted. The system works because there are enough ants each following the same rules to ensure comprehensive coverage of any given area.

The fact that my participation in the web, even at the browsing level, means that I will be drawn, unavoidably, into the group effort evokes a mixed response. My independent artistic sensibility hates anything that erases the individual voice and immerses me in a placid groupthink. But my social human sensibility sincerely wants to know what everyone else is doing; it makes me want to dive in, pitch in, follow along, and celebrate the complex social web we are weaving.

treasuremytext: a networked SMS book

treasuremytext is a free British service that allows you to save text messages from your phone to the web on an anonymous, communal log, or “slog.” Recent messages appear in a column on the main site where they can be read by all and sundry, subscribed to by feed, and even loaded onto an iPod as plain text files. jill/txt has a transcript from about two weeks back:

trying to convince myself that there was nothing there but i still find myself thinking about you
night nimet . . . . i miss you
How about sorting that taxi out for next week? For real?
Ok smart arse when you are there then! And then i will fix your issues for you, all of them!
U have beautifull eyes
Dont ring ill b down bout halfpast babes
Me to hes just arrived txt u l8r baby
Nite nite xxx
Nite nite fat sexy bum.Txt u tomoz nite nite xxxx

Not exactly prize-winning stuff, but has a nice dreamy flow of chatter plucked out of the air. Reminds me a bit of a game I played in elementary school where you go around a circle and improvise a story in broken-off pieces. Reading the site today, the entries seem to have taken on a smuttier tone. And a good number aren’t in English. But an intriguing experiment nonetheless.
But it would be more interesting if the logs had some focus. Something like the City Chromosomes project, which is building a networked chronicle of the city of Antwerp, all by SMS.

convergence sighting: the multi-channel tv screen

tv mosaic.jpg
Several new “interactive television” services are soon to arrive that offer “mosaic” views of multiple channels, drawing TV ever nearer to full adoption of the browser, windows, and aggregator paradigms of the web (more in WSJ). It seems that once television is sufficiently like the web, it will simply be the web, or one province thereof.

the virtual library: lending audio books online

This past year, most of my reading (for better or for worse) has been done online. When I visit my local library it is to check out DVDs, or to take my son to story hour, or to use the library’s free wireless. When I am there, I notice that many of the other patrons are there for the same reason. There’s always a waiting list for the computers and a line of patrons with arms full of DVDs waiting to check out.
It’s no surprise that libraries are looking for ways to extend these popular digital offerings in order to better serve their patrons and to stay relevant in the digital age. A recent article in Technology Review by Michael Hill reports that libraries have, “considered the needs of younger readers and those too busy to visit,” and are beginning to offer downloadable digital audio books. “This is a way for us to have library access 24/7,” says Barbara Nichols Randall, director of the Guilderland Public Library in suburban Albany. As an added bonus, you never have to worry about late fees. Here’s how it works:

A patron with a valid library card visits a library Web site to borrow a title for, say, three weeks. When the audiobook is due, the patron must renew it or find it automatically “returned” in a virtual sense: The file still sits on the patron’s computer, but encryption makes it unplayable beyond the borrowing period.
“The patron doesn’t have to do anything after the lending period,” said Steve Potash, chief executive of OverDrive. “The file expires. It checks itself back into the collection. There’s no parts to lose. It’s never damaged. It can never be late.”

convergence sighting: bbc tv channels to be put on net

Recent announcements at the BBC suggest further convergence of television and the web, reading in multimedia, cellphone as broadcast receiver etc. From Director General Mark Thompson:

We believe that on-demand changes the terms of the debate, indeed that it will change what we mean by the word ‘broadcasting.’

Read article.

penguin classics, the complete collection…if only

I was listening to a story on NPR called “Loading Up on Penguin Classics”. My son was running around the living room screaming, so I didn’t hear most of the broadcast. In my digital thoughtspace, I assumed “loading up” referred to software. Imagining an entire library, 1,082 classic titles, as electronic objects, stored neatly on my hard drive, is enormously appealing to my minimalist aesthetic and my nomadic digital worklife. However, as it turns out, the Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection is being offered as a 700 lb. load of paperback books (delivered free to anyone who can afford the shelf space and the $7,989.50 price tag). If only Penguin could catch a vision of THIS century and start making digital versions of the classics. I need screen-based books, audio books, lower pricetags, and I don’t think I’m alone. Penguin, are you listening? I’m clearing out virtual shelf space now, make me some ebooks!