Friday, January 30, 2009

YouTube Comment Snob: Take 2

Yesterday, we wrote a short article rant about news message boards and the growing online idiocracy. At the end of the article we promoted YouTube Comment Snob: the fantastic Firefox extension that allows users to block out comments with spelling and punctuation errors, erratic capitalization, and profanity. Today, we figured we would use the same extension to see just how pervasive internet stupidity has become (yes, this is an awesome use of our time). In our experiment, we examined the twenty most popular YouTube videos of the week and counted the number of comments Comment Snob blocked. The results: seventy-six per cent of the posts were blocked by Comment Snob—and even some the comments that made through were somewhat dubious.

Before and after YouTube Comment Snob. Top photo by richardbaybutt.

> Continue Reading: YouTube Comment Snob: Take 2

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Online Idiocracy

Typical YouTube comments...*sigh*

We’re really starting to hate the internet. Well, not the whole internet, just the contrarian douche bags who feel the need to spread their craptactular ideas to every message board and comment form available. Although satirical, the Onion was really on to something with this article—just what is the “local idiot” thinking when they decide to spew out this garbage? Are their real-world lives just so miserable and lonely that any online attention is good attention? The Word aptly referred to newspaper message boards as “the most formidable argument against democracy since Plato”—and honestly, we sort of agree. But, at least the YouTube Comment Snob eases the pain.

> Continue Reading: The Online Idiocracy

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Nineteenth Century Registry of Landowners in Ontario

York County Historical Atlas Cover 1878
Ontarians rejoice! If you’ve ever wondered about the nineteenth century owner of the plot of land that your house currently sits on, the Canadian County Atlas Digital Project can help. The database, compiled by McGill University between 1998 and 2001, is a searchable composition of forty-three Ontario atlases from 1871 to 1881. While streets and landmarks have changed, with a little guess work it’s still possible to use the maps to determine who the previous tenants were.

Historical Map of Etobicoke 1878
Let’s say you live Etobicoke—a former township that was amalgamated into the City of Toronto in 1998—in a house on the south western corner of Bloor Street West and Royal York Road. Just choose Etobicoke from the list of Ontario townships and a map from 1878 pops up. Locating the plot is a little tricky, but with the help of Mimico Creek and Dundas Street you can find where intersection would be located today. According to the map, the 1878 owner of the land between Islington Avenue and Royal York Road was one Alexander Thompson.

The best part about the database is that is also includes some background information about the person (or persons) who owned the land. Once you’ve determined the location of your house, you can cross reference the owner with the names database. Unfortunately though, other than his name, there isn’t any information in the database on Alexander Thompson. Even if the database isn’t entirely complete—historical records are never complete—it’s still a great resource for history fiends and curious Ontarians.

All photos are from the Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.

> Continue Reading: A Nineteenth Century Registry of Landowners in Ontario

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Death of the News Industry

Stack of Newspapers
No industry has been hit harder by the recession than the news industry—newspapers are slashing staff and content, network news programs are rapidly dying, and even lean online news sites are having trouble staying afloat. There’s a kind of paradox present here—although more and more people are consuming news, revenues are falling. Take the New York Times and the Washington Post. Both papers are rapidly losing money, despite having a record number of subscriptions.

The problem is that the news industry is stuck between worlds. The technology has changed, while the revenue stream remains the same. News organizations still haven’t figured out a way to make money off the internet—or at least the kind of money that print media was making in the early 90s—and perhaps they never will. Readers aren’t willing to pay subscription fees and most tech savvy youngsters now use ad-block to browse news sites ad free. Until news organizations come up with a viable way to make money off the internet, the industry is going to start to contract as moves on online.

It’s tough to predict where the rest of the news industry will go from here, but print media and network news programs are definitely on the way out. Most people under thirty rely almost exclusively on the web for their news. The majority of the people who still read print newspapers and tune into the nightly network newscasts are part of the pre computer generation—a fading segment of the population. Print newspapers and TV news will never entirely die out. Large organizations like the New York Times and CNN, and maybe even a few local news organizations, will find a way to weather the storm, but the nightly network news format will soon disappear.

As the old media format dies out, only the leanest online media providers will survive. Although we may have become accustomed to reading an endless number of news sites, in the future, the number of sites will shrink if no one figures out a way to collect new sources of revenue. The problem isn’t demand—people consume more news than ever before—the problem is that people don’t want to pay for it.

> Continue Reading: The Death of the News Industry

Monday, January 19, 2009, You Ruined The Slate Political Gabfest you ruined the Slate Political Gabfest
Okay, this is pure hyperbole—the Slate Political Gabfest is still one of the best podcasts on U.S. politics, but has cost the Gabfest a dash of integrity. Three weeks ago, John Dickerson, Emily Bazelon, and David Plotz introduced the gabfest’s newest sponsor: an audiobook site called While we understand that the Gabfest needs a sponsor, the plugs for have been cringe worthy. Even though we’re sure that Bazelon was being sincere, hearing her talk about how she bought an audiobook book for her kids called Babe and Me—a book about a boy that travels back in time to meet Babe Ruth—was painful and reeked of hucksterism.

What’s weird about this is that should be the perfect sponsor for the Gabfest, as all of the participants regularly recommend books. However, the ads just seem to break up the natural flow of the Gabfest. Perhaps once the participants get into a groove, the ads won’t seem so abrupt—but were not hopeful. For now, we’ll just jump ahead anytime is mentioned.

> Continue Reading:, You Ruined The Slate Political Gabfest

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Crayon Physics Deluxe: Fun and Imaginative, But Way Too Easy

Crayon Physics Deluxe GolfCrayon golf anyone?

Crayon Physics Deluxe is a fun and imaginative puzzle game that makes you feel like a kindergartener again. The premise of the game is simple: push, lift, throw, or bounce the red ball to the yellow star. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just so long as the red ball touches the star. To beat each level you have one tool: a crayon that you can use to draw boxes, ropes, and pins. Drawing objects is easy, the left mouse button draws, and a click of the right mouse button erases. Every object you draw has a mass, which can be used to your advantage to built catapults, pulleys, and other contraptions.

Crayon Physics Deluxe Mr. BeanOh no! How can I get by Mr. Bean?

The game's biggest flaw is that it's just too easy. Once you figure out that double pinning objects allows you to build platforms almost anywhere, pretty much every puzzle can be solved the same way: by attaching the red ball with a rope to a heavier box on an elevated platform, then deleting the platform, and letting gravity pull the red ball to the star. After you’ve learned this trick, all of the game’s 70 levels can be beaten in less than two hours. Despite this flaw, the game is still worth checking out. The crayon design is colourful and the music is downright charming. Hopefully, if there is ever a Crayon Physics 2, the developers will ramp up the difficulty level.

Crayon Physics Deluxe Final Level
The final, and supposedly hardest, level in the game can be beaten in less than thirty seconds with some creative double pinning.

> Continue Reading: Crayon Physics Deluxe: Fun and Imaginative, But Way Too Easy

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Threat That Will Eventually Destroy Facebook

Destroy FacebookSlate has it all wrong. The threat to Facebook isn’t Google or portability—it’s the big brother tendencies of big business. Facebook thrives on information. Personal data, photos, stories—all of this information fuels Facebook and makes the site all the more attractive to its users. The problem is that business has found another use for this data: spying. Most companies use Facebook to perform background checks on potential employees and there are companies out there that frequently tap social networks to find out what their employees are up to.

This is what’s going to kill Facebook. Who’s going to want to share their information if it can come back to haunt them, and potentially get them fired? Sure, we could all reduce our profiles to bland and inoffensive lists, but who wants that? Facebook depends on the freedom of expression—without it, the site is no better than a phonebook with pictures.

> Continue Reading: The Threat That Will Eventually Destroy Facebook

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The First Big City President in a Hundred Years

Barack Obama Chicago Streets
According to Time Magazine, Barack Obama will be the first urban President since Theodore Roosevelt. A shocking fact considering that since the 1920s, urban America has been larger than rural America. Rationally, voters should want politicians who share their lifestyle, environment, and values, but for the last hundred years, America has only had small town presidents—men who grew up the farm or liked to cut brush on their vacations.

Obama’s election may be riding on the coattails of an important change in America’s social structure—the rebirth of the city. In the late 80s and early 90s, America’s cities were in decline. But over the last two decades, this decline has reversed. Crime rates in most urban areas have dropped as high gas prices and other environmental considerations have made the suburbs costly. The “sidewalk ballet”—the culture, diversity, and energy of urban life—is also back in vogue, as the current generation of young twentysomethings rebel against their suburban upbringing.

The American city, with its crime and vice, has always been considered a bastardization of the American Dream. But maybe, just maybe, Obama’s election is signaling a change. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future the cracked sidewalk will sit side-by-side with the white picket fence and the 2.5 kids.

> Continue Reading: The First Big City President in a Hundred Years