Friday Reading S11E15

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 and is stuffed full of chocolate. Sign up here.

I’m very fond of my friend Will Maclean’s debut novel The Apparition Phase, and here he is in an interview by Fiona Dodwell talking about it, which includes a great Douglas Adams anecdote: Interview with “The Apparition Phase” author Will Maclean.

I really enjoyed this from casmilus’ always excellent and weird bloggings also talking about The Apparition Phase and also The Battersea Poltergeist which had completely passed me by and so now I’m desperately trying to avoid spoilers: Stone Tape Listening Party

Our Sarah Hughes at the Guardian and Observer passed away. Among the tributes I saw a couple of people reference this beautifully written and incredibly inherently grumpy and funny interview with Raymond Briggs from 2015: Raymond Briggs – ‘Don’t call me the king of Christmas. I don’t like children, I try to avoid them’

ME (364 days of the year): Better tidy that food waste away, don’t want to encourage mice.

ALSO ME (11pm, Easter Saturday): Better hide chocolate all over the house.

What an absolutely incredible self-own by the lobster guy.

“Is it bad that my terrible ideas sound like those of a comic’s Nazi super-villain? No! It is the comic writer who is the monster!”

An interesting piece here: Tracking the front page of the New York Times

“If you’re old enough to remember tree-based newspapers, you might expect that articles stay on the front page for about a day. And you’d be sorta right. The vast majority of front-page articles stay on the front page for less than 24 hours, with the median article lasting about 9.5 hours.

But—get this—10% of front-page articles stay there for less than an hour. In a post-paper world this makes sense. The NYT front page is precious real estate—if an article is underperforming they should quickly replace it with something that attracts more eyeballs. But it also means that we (readers) are missing out on the 10% of articles that weren’t engaging enough to survive.”

Are you a long-time reader of this blog/newsletter? Then, dear reader, you will not be surprised that I have STRONG opinions.

But you’ll also maybe not be surprised that I will defer them in favour of my colleague Chris Moran, who said this on Twitter about this piece:

“These pieces have been really fun. But there’s a really interesting assumption in it that shows how warped some of the conversation around data, curation and the role of the home page can get …

The home page isn’t FB’s newsfeed – it’s not primarily an engine for engagement but an expression of editorial intent. If a piece is doing poorly compared to others, the first instinct should be to play with its presentation to make it do better. You might even move it higher

Some of the pieces you feel most strongly about as a news organisation might well not have obvious search terms. They might be quite complicated. They may well do poorly in search and social. So the homepage becomes even more crucial, even if clickthrough there remains low.”

It was the anniversary of Margaret Thatcher dying this week, and someone dug up this old pie-chart I’d done several months earlier joking about what Twitter would be like on the day.

This prompted much hilarity as I remembered that it was so long ago – December 2012 – and Twitter was so much smaller that it went “viral” with all of about 350 retweets, and also then-colleague James Ball was @-ed into the tweet as well so it ruined his replies for days too.

Also because it was 2012 I remember most of the replies were people going “Hah, that’s excellent observational comedy about the internet, sir, congratulations!” rather than telling me to fuck off for being a woke left-wing cuck. Simpler times.

The pie-chart did not predict the Scottish woman though, did it?

Woman: Not a bit of good. Not a bit. I’d put a stake through her heart and garlic around her neck to make sure she would never come back

Journo: That’s a pretty horrible thing to say when her funeral is going on now?

Woman: Too bad. Too bad.

What an apposite week for someone to turn that up again. I’m minded that I often think about how when the Queen dies, there won’t be a single person working in a single newsroom in the UK who has ever covered the death of a British monarch before, but there will be 1,057 people-per-second on Twitter telling us we are a disgrace because we are “doing it wrong”.

Classic out-sourcing programming SNAFU:

“An update to the airline’s reservation system while its planes were grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic led to 38 passengers on the flight being allocated a child’s ‘standard weight’ of 35kg as opposed to the adult figure of 69kg. Investigators described the glitch as ‘a simple flaw’ in an IT system. It was programmed in an unnamed foreign country where the title ‘Miss’ is used for a child and ‘Ms’ for an adult female.”

“Tui plane in ‘serious incident’ after every ‘Miss’ on board was assigned child’s weight”

“Muons owe their current fame to a quirk of quantum mechanics, the nonintuitive rules that underlie the atomic realm. Among other things, quantum theory holds that empty space is not really empty but is in fact boiling with ‘virtual’ particles that flit in and out of existence.”

I really stopped having a workable rough mental model of how the universe works at a sub-atomic level a long, long time ago: A tiny particle’s wobble could upend the known laws of physics

I feel like I’ve posted this before, but here’s the news that the guy who had been keeping Lords of Midnight and Doomdark’s Revenge alive has had to give it up because basically platform gatekeeping is making it impractical to be a multi-platform hobbyist developer.

The BBC licensed a digital trading card NFT-type game for Doctor Who but fans are furious because it goes against the ecological responsibility message of the show so are petitioning for the BBC to rescind the licence, but the firm have defended it, going round on social media saying, and I quote, “our NFT´s isn´t damaging the environment” which seems … unlikely?

Incidentally I always try and keep in mind that Douglas Adams quote about anything invented after you are 35 but I’ve got to be honest, this NFT lark is a total load of old fucking cobblers, isn’t it?

“I still have a photograph of the breakfast I made the morning I ended an eight-year relationship and canceled a wedding. It was an unremarkable breakfast—a fried egg—but it is now digitally fossilized in a floral dish we moved with us when we left New York and headed west. I don’t know why I took the photo, except, well, I do: I had fallen into the reflexive habit of taking photos of everything. Did I want to see the photo again? Not really. Nor do I want to see the wedding ads on Instagram, or a near-daily collage of wedding paraphernalia on Pinterest, or the “Happy Anniversary!” emails from WeddingWire. Yet nearly two years later, these things still clutter my feeds. The photo widget on my iPad cycles through pictures of wedding dresses.”

“I called off my wedding. The internet will never forget” – Lauren Goode

This is a great well-written article which I enjoyed while also thinking, well this isn’t going to help the internet forget, is it Lauren?

Toby Hadoke makes lovely podcasts.

If you enjoy this newsletter there is a high probability that you will enjoy and slightly prefer Jonn Elledge’s Newsletter of (Not Quite) Everything. Soph Warnes’ Fair Warning is better too plus I’ve only just realised it is a pun on her surname.

“We started with a stunt man who was quite thin, but in the rubber suit he looked like the Michelin Man. So my casting director [Peter Archer] said, ‘I’ve seen a guy in a pub in Soho who is about seven feet tall, has a tiny head and a tiny skinny body.’ So he brought Bolaji Badejo to the office”

Fascinating story of the young man who somewhat randomly ended up actually playing the alien in Alien: The Life of Bolaji Badejo

“There wasn’t a day where I was around people and didn’t experience some type of racism. My first love before music was basketball, and there wasn’t one time I went to the courts and playgrounds and I wasn’t called a c****. I held a lot of anger towards my own Asian-ness for a while; I got into a lot of fights growing up where I stood up to people who said shit like that to me. I mean, the music shit was kind of a cakewalk compared to most of the hardest times dealing with that during my childhood.”

“Rock Producer Will Yip on the Promise—and Limits—of Asian American Representation in Music” – Noah Yoo, Pitchfork

I’ll be taking part in this at the weekend over on this Twitch channel.