Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Canada is Not Going to Own the Podium

Canada Olympics Day ElevenOlympic medal projections, day eleven.

According to the latest medal prediction update from FiveThirtyEight, Canada is now 6.6 medals behind its projected winnings, which arguably makes us the worst preforming country in Vancouver. By day eleven, Canada was projected to win 16.1 medals. So far, we only have 10. The COC (Canadian Olympic Committee) has acknowledged the $110 "Own the Podium" campaign's failings, and has now revised Canada's total projected winnings to 26-27 medals.

"We are going to be short of our goal, I readily admit that," said COC chief executive Chris Rudge. "We'd be living in a fool's paradise if we said we were going to catch the Americans and win."

In typical Canadian fashion, the postmortem on our Olympic floundering has already begun, while Canadian news agencies have been sarcastically referring to our Olympic program as "Blown the Podium," "Moan the Podium," and "Groan the Podium."

Canada Olympics Medal Predictions
So what exactly has gone wrong? Nathalie Lambert, one of the Canadian officials that helped develop the "Own the Podium" campaign has suggested that our athletes are suffering from performance anxiety mixed with a gold or nothing mentality that is causing many of them to burn out and fail to place.

Nate Silver at FiveThrityEight suggests that if Canada wants to win more medals, it needs to start investing more in cross-country, biathlon, and Nordic combined events, which account for 30% of the medals, and less in hockey and curling, which only account for 5%. Of course, a Canadian gold in hockey is probably worth twelve golds in cross-country.

At this point, 26-27 medals is probably a stretch, as it assumes that everything from now on will go perfectly for Canada. It seems more likely that problems that are afflicting the Canadian team will continue, and that Canada's final medal count will probably be somewhere in the high teens.

Canada's athletes have made a great showing and should be proud of their accomplishments, but it seems, as usual, that the predictions of the COC have been far too lofty.

Images from FiveThirtyEight.

> Continue Reading: Canada is Not Going to Own the Podium

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CTV Flubs the 2010 Vancouver Olympics

CTV 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
The real travesty at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver isn’t the lack of snow, the crummy Zambonis, or Canada’s torch lighting fail—it’s CTV’s awful coverage.

So far, CTV’s coverage can probably best be described as a disorienting mash-up of pointless super slow-mo shots, lousy camera work, commentators that haven’t done their homework, and Brian “what the fuck I’m a doing here” Williams. In all fairness, this is the first time that CTV has tried to cover an event of this magnitude, so perhaps I should be giving them some more slack. But if CTV doesn’t step up their game by 2012, I’d like to see the games return to CBC.

Unfortunately, unless these games turn out to be a financial disaster for CTV’s parent company, CTVGlobemedia—which they could be, considering the state of the advertising world—it’s likely that Globemedia’s deep pockets will allow it to hold on to the games indefinitely.

Photo by Van Felt.

> Continue Reading: CTV Flubs the 2010 Vancouver Olympics

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Slate Tells Me To Get Naked

Canada Olympic Gold MedalThis is not an apt comparison.

Last month, I entered Slate's Google Trends contest, which tasked readers to write a deadpan AP-style story using as many Google trends as possible. Surprisingly, my entry won. In all, I managed to cram fifty-eight "hot trends" into my 560 word article about the news industry's obsession with Google Trends.

Here's what Slate had to say about my entry.
Congratulations, Stephen: You have won eternal Google glory, even though you kind of cheated by stringing all those terms together. Who knows—you might even make it into Google Trends. Naked photos would help.
I don't think I cheated, as the rules never stated that I couldn't string together multiple terms.

Frankly, I'm surprised that no one else had the same idea, as writing about the news industry's fixation on Google Trends was clearly the best way to pack as many keywords in as possible.

You can read my complete entry after the break.

Now Trending: City High, Claudette Oritz, Miki Howard, and Justin Shenkarow

What do Deuce Bello, Samantha Harris, Pat Ryan, Myron Rolle, Kimmie Caracoles, Bobby Jindal, James O. Keefe, Morgan Harrington, Devan Downey, and Erica Rhodes have in common? Absolutely nothing—except for the fact that they’ve all been featured this week, at one time or another, on Google Trends, and they were all heavily tweeted topics.

More and more news organizations are turning to Google Trends and Twitter nowadays in order to find out what the hottest topics are, so they can capitalize on their interest. Within a day, trending topics can range from the Haiti earthquake disaster to Nancy Kerrigan to Kenney Stabler to Pernell Roberts to the Bedazzled game. Other days are dominated by a single topic. For instance, on January 27th, 2009, the top five topics were: iPad price, ips display, iPad cost, iPad tablet, and Recovery Act. Notice a pattern? Other references to the iPad in that list included iPad specs, iPad 3G plan, iPad a disappointment, Apple A4 chip, and iPad video.

But is this dependence on trending topics making news organizations lazy? Yes, Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, may be a trending topic because he held his own pseudo-State of the Union address, but that doesn’t mean that news organizations need to write a dozen stories about it when one will do. Ditto John Boehner’s comments on Obama’s proposed Pay as You Go Law, and first Jackson Jeffcoat, and then Jordan Hick’s announcement that they’re both heading to Texas. Only one story would have been necessary.

In the wake of J.D. Salinger’s death, endless pieces about “Catcher and the Rye,” Holden Caulfield, Joyce Maynard, “Franny and Zooey,” “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” Cornish, N.H., and the deeper meaning of Salinger’s other stories and relationships dominated the news, as media organizations sought to capitalize on the internet’s renewed interest in the reclusive literary figure. Google News aggregated more than three-thousand stories on Salinger on the day after his death, most of which just recycled the same old facts. Was all this coverage really necessary?

Following trends can also lead to inane stories about topics that really don’t deserve coverage. Did Greg Oden’s dirty pictures really deserve an article? Or National Lady Gaga Day? Or the Bourbon Street web cam? Probably not.

Of course some news sites, like Slate, devote entire columns to deciphering weird trends, like why people are all of a sudden searching about picket fences, Apple’s earnings, or the Vespa Ape. While some of these stories solve actual mysteries, like what AMZN stands for or why the Bank of America website is down, the actual newsworthiness of these kinds of articles is questionable.

Twitter has also become a place where journalists can go to find out what the latest trending topics are, whether it’s Leslie West, the Honda Recall, or Oregon’s measures 66 and 67. For a lot of reporters, putting your ear to the ground now means spending an hour on Twitter.

Journalists should try to write about what people are interested in, but whatever happened to pounding the pavement and talking to sources about the new Peta Ad, the Bernake Vote, or the Oregon election results? News organizations should be trying to set the trends, not follow them.

Photo of by Alexandre Bilodeau's Gold Medal by thelastminute.

> Continue Reading: Slate Tells Me To Get Naked

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Canadian Alcohol Consumption

Canadian Per Capita Consumption of Alcohol
I'm surprised that there's such a large difference between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories/Nunavut. Is alcohol cheaper and/or more readily available in the Yukon? Is alcoholism, which afflicts all of the territories, much more pronounced in the Yukon?

Source: Brewers' Association of Canada (2007).

> Continue Reading: Canadian Alcohol Consumption

Europe's Alcohol Belts

Europes Alcohol Belts

Europe can be split into three different regions: the southern wine belt (red), the central beer lands (gold), and the northern domain of distilled spirits (blue) (frequently referred to as the vodka belt). For the most part, these regions conform to agricultural realities (wine isn't as popular in the north, as it's almost impossible to grow grapes there) and historic cultural influences. The wine belt, for instance, almost conforms to the borders of the Roman Empire at its height, with the notable exceptions of the Slavic and Germanic regions, where the empire failed to produce a lasting cultural impression.

Thanks to global warming and cultural changes, both the wine and beer belts are slowly creeping north. Grapes are now being cultivated in what were traditionally the beer areas of Europe, while Scandinavians and Poles are starting to consume more beer and less vodka.

I'd like to see a map like this produced for the entire world, though I suspect that beer would be the dominate beverage almost everywhere.

Image by Strange Maps. Via Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish.

> Continue Reading: Europe's Alcohol Belts

Friday, February 05, 2010

TTC Trip Planner Fail

TTC Trip Planner FailI hope nobody is relying on the TTC's trip planner to get to Metro Hall.

So far, there's been very little praise for the beta version of the TTC's trip planner, which was just released this Tuesday. Yesterday, Torontoist used seven different routes to compare the TTC's planner with MyTTC.ca—a competing online trip calculator—and found that MyTTC.ca was the vastly superior service; enlightened transit blogger Steve Munro has complained about the planner's inability to factor auxiliary station exits into its calculations; and the Star chided the online service for failing to recognize significant landmarks.

One of the biggest problems with the service is that it has trouble distinguishing between different streets with the same name. Take the example above of Metro Hall. The TTC's trip planner knows that Metro Hall is located at 55 John Street, but it doesn't know which John Street, so it just picks the first one in its database, which happens to be the one in the former city of York.

The TTC's trip planner is still in its beta stages, so, for now, I'm willing to cut it a little slack.

Screenshot from the TTC's trip planner.

> Continue Reading: TTC Trip Planner Fail

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The U.S. Always Gets Its Budget Predictions Wrong

US Economic Budget Forecast
The New York Times put out a neat interactive graph today that shows just how inaccurate long-term U.S. budget forecasts are. The dark line in the graph above is the actual U.S. budget since 1980, while the light gray lines are the predicted surpluses and deficits.

For the most part, with the noted exception of the late 1990's dot-com boom, all of the forecasts, whether Republican or Democratic, predicted smaller deficits or eventual surpluses that never came to be.

Forecasters in the early-90s didn't predict the boom of the late-90s, so maybe Obama's forecast is too grim. On the other hand, based on this chart, it's probably too optimistic.

Graph from the New York Times.

> Continue Reading: The U.S. Always Gets Its Budget Predictions Wrong

Google Ad-Senseless

broken piggy bank
I received the following email earlier today from Google's AdSense team.

We're writing to inform you that due to a technical error, the amount of your December earnings were doubled. Please refer to your aggregated earnings in your Advanced Reports from December 1 - 31, 2009 for the closest estimate to your December 2009 earnings.

We will process a debit at the end of this month and deduct the amount that was added in error. You will see this debit appear as part of your January 2010 earnings, which will be finalized and will post at the beginning of February.

There is no action required by you at this time.

We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

The Google AdSense Team
This email makes it sound like my entire December earnings were doubled, when in fact, only the earnings from my news feed ads, which are currently disabled, were doubled. Apparently, I'm not the only one this has happened to, so hopefully Google doesn't rob me of my meager, but legitimate, December revenue.

Of course, Google hasn't provided any documentation to prove that this "technical error" occurred, so for all I know, this could just be another AdSense scam.

Photo by Travis Seitler.

> Continue Reading: Google Ad-Senseless