Friday Reading S11E05

Friday Reading is a weekly series of recommended reads from the Guardian’s Martin Belam, covering journalism, media and technology, and other interesting nerdy things. It is now in its eleventh season. Sign up here.

From the opening picture caption of “Wouldn’t the irony be delicious if there were typos in this piece?” to the closing footnote of “After several engineers wrote and proofed this blogpost, we ran Typerighter on it, and still found a fair few styling errors” this is a light and fun (and then occasionally EXTREMELY TECHNICAL) look at “How we made Typerighter, the Guardian’s automated style guide checker built into the content management system”.

An experiment conducted by Reach, the UK’s largest newspaper publisher, found that Facebook Instant Articles get seen by almost a third more readers than stories not using the mobile-friendly format.

Facebook Instant Articles format boosts article readership by third, Reach finds – Charlotte Tobitt, Press Gazette.

Hmmmmmmm. I have strong feelings.

On the wilder fringes of the right-wing anti-lockdown movement, efforts to rid the country of the coronavirus are said to be part of a sinister plot to create a totalitarian society (though it is never explained why a right-wing British Government, itself a combatant in the ‘war on woke’, is going along with the plan).

I quite like most of James Bloodworth’s arguments and commentary in this piece for The Fence – “Masked Indifference” – but I will disagree slightly with the quote here. If you poke a bit further with these conspiracist theorists you’ll almost always find that the reason why a right-wing British Government is going along with the plan is some form of “the global cabal of the Jews”, every damn time.

This is a fantabulously readable explainer on what the hell is happening with GameStop shares and *crucially* why everybody has suddenly felt the need to write about it this week. I especially love this bit…

“Take a cash advance on your credit card and invest it all into a stock symbol that you picked randomly from a Ouija board” is not defensible and not advisable to the public at large. All of that said, the stock market has been increasingly unmoored from the actual economy, with the stock market as a whole skyrocketing in price over the last 24 months even as hundreds of thousands of people die from a pandemic, millions of people lose their jobs, and billionaires get richer while the rest of us get poorer. Picking random stocks and investing money into them has been a legitimately successful strategy for many people over this short time sample period. It surely will not last. But nonetheless it is working.

Also – bless you internet – it rules that one of the main players in this whole palava is known online only as DeepFuckingValue.

Send this to anyone who wants to know WTF is up with GameStop stock – Jason Koebler, Vice

NOOT! NOOT! It’s the fortieth anniversary of Pingu – really? – and there’s a museum in Japan that has a wall with little models of Pingu showing all his facial expressions and it looks a bit like this.

I say really but now when I think about it, I reckon I mostly watched Pingu while loafing around my post-student flat in the mid-to-late 90s when I was working in the record shop and my weekdays off mostly consisted of filling the hours with Pokémon, PlayStation 1 games, Donna Air on that MTV request show, Pingu etc before schlepping down already drunk to the local boozer, which does all seem a very long time ago.

Matt Round’s one man mission to make the internet joyful like it used to be continues apace. The newest thing is open-sourced stock music recordings of Happy Birthday in various different stylings now the tune has gone into the public domain. Can very much recommend “Unenthusiastic colleagues who can’t remember your name”.

It’s the Twitter thread of “Carrie Fisher as mushrooms” you never knew you needed.

Sketching out ideas with bad drafts means you can focus on the big ideas of your writing. You can make sure the writing has a point or a purpose. You can mess around with the structure – what should you say first? What should follow from that? How should you sum up and end it? Share your bad first draft with others to get their views on these big issues, before you start writing more drafts with more words in them.

Some good arguments in here mind you he does say “The worlds of journalism and publishing are designed around the assumption that all first drafts are bad” which I don’t take personally because to be honest from experience a lot of first drafts in the world of journalism carry a certain “Will this do?” vibe about them.

I’m joking (slightly) but one of the most interesting aspects of live blogging is of course that in this case it is truer to say that all first drafts get published to the audience, often literally within seconds of me actually finding out the information myself. No pressure. 👀

All first drafts are bad drafts (and that’s what makes them good) – Giles Turnbull

I had somehow missed Jonn Elledge ranking every ghost Tube station by reverse order of usefulness.

I’d also missed this from Alex Hern, on how both 5G and HS2 have been mis-sold.

Speed is nice for marketing folk. It’s sexy, it’s obvious, it’s cool. Even if it’s just a fast train, the ability to say that that train is faster than the previous one is an obvious sell. And so it’s no surprise that, if you look at the messaging for both 5G and HS2, you’ll see speed front and centre. I mean, it’s literally in the name of HS2. But the problem is that in both cases, speed is effectively tangential to the real reason for the infrastructure build-out, which is capacity.

Via Chris Applegate from the “incredible if true files”

The railroad system in Dalian, northern China, collapsed citywide on Tuesday for up to 20 hours after the Adobe Flash programing software stopped running. Staffers were reportedly unable to view train operation diagrams, formulate train sequencing schedules and arrange shunting plans. Adobe had announced as early as 2017 that it would cease support for the multimedia software on 30 December last year. Authorities fixed the issue by installing a pirated version of Flash at 4:30am the following day.

Free to download and share papercraft models to make the computer from your childhood – includes ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Commodore 64 lovingly recreated in origami-type craft shapes.

In the autumn of 2019, Loeb and a colleague – a senior astronomer at Harvard – attended a seminar on ‘Oumuamua. “After it ended,” Loeb told me, “I left the room together with a colleague of mine who is a conservative, mainstream astronomer, and he said: ‘This object is so weird – I wish it never existed.’”

This is, Loeb says, “a terrible thing to say for a scientist… you should accept with open arms anything that nature gives you”. But he has also found such attitudes to be common. There is, he says, a widespread “taboo” on talking about extraterrestrial intelligence. Why does Loeb believe that ‘Oumuamua was alien technology?

Harvard’s top astronomer says our solar system may be teeming with alien technology – Will Dunn, New Scientist

Extremely long and detailed post by Fish, the former front-man from Marillion, on how Brexit has absolutely fucked over his forthcoming tour. He’s very candid as well about being an established artist who can usually command decent audiences on mainland Europe, and lamenting for artists starting out today, who he acknowledges must be in a much worse position.

I didn’t know Phil Asher personally to speak to, but nearly everybody I know from the music scene back in the day has expressed a huge amount of grief at his sudden passing, and he will be a massive loss.

Philip Martin wrote the best sixth Doctor TV story bar none – Vengeance on Varos. Here is an obituary for him from Toby Hadoke.

Someone has ranked every episode on season one of *checks notes* Blankety-Blank in order. Contains trace elements of Jon Pertwee.

Bend yr mind with this fake BBC Two ident from the early 90s that looks like you could almost half-remember it.

If you are the kind of person who enjoys early 60s Doctor Who story the Keys of Marinus then you’ll definitely enjoy this lovingly scripted terrible impression of the Keys of Marinus.

Regular readers who actually get to the bottom will know that I make electronica about the paranormal. I’ve got a new EP coming out on 15 February on all good digital stores, and there will be a launch show on Facebook live at 8pm on 11 February ahead of it.