The weather conundrum: perpetual Spring

The temperate Pennsylvania I’ve grown so accumstomed to is an ocean away, and all I experience now is a strange remnant of its Spring.

London is odd – a week ago, we experienced a horrid heat wave, which was admittedly mundane by most US standards, but then I was reminded that one of the reasons that Americans can withstand humid temperatures is simply because we have a wonderful commodity: an overwhelming presence of air conditioning.

London, a city of so many firsts, does not have this luxury in most places. The underground Tube was too hot to legally transport cattle, let alone commuting London office workers wearing full suits and touting brief cases.

But the “normal” London weather is frustratingly playful. One moment, the sun will beat down upon you with a heated hammer; the next, the chill wind will feel like pin pricks up and down your arms. It’s a conundrum, and only solvable by wearing layers that can peal away and come along for the read.

Hot, cold, hot, then cold. It’s ever-changing, and with an occasional heat wave inbetween. Three days ago, Londoner feet waded through flooded streets. God bless those that have lived here for lifetimes, Mother Nature apparently enjoys performing whatever show she pleases.


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The story of Mutt and the Tesco Man

Every day, or at least on the days I pass by, there’s a man that sits outside my local grocery store.

He sits in the same place, usually the same position, with a gray-muzzled dog laying by his feet. The man’s back is to the curb and his attention stays wistfully upon the front automatic door. Although his hair is greasy and his beard unkempt, he always has the most pleasant face. I don’t know his name, but in my mind I think of him as the Tesco Man – uncreatively named after his grocery store.

Tesco Man doesn’t seem to speak much unless spoken to. Other passers by approach him with seemingly no trouble, and Tesco Man’s dog is more than happy to receive a friendly pat or preferably a scratch behind the ears. On sunny days, the dog will sit with a recognizable doggy smile – on rainy days, the dog will huddle close to its master, and miserably eye passing feet. I don’t know the dog’s name, either. Its coat is dark and fairly sleek, but its muzzle is peppered with signs of age. Much like the beard of its master. In my mind, I call the dog simply “Mutt.”

Mutt and Tesco. I’m not sure what to make of them. On some days, exiting shoppers will quietly lay plastic bags with spare items at their feet. A friend of mine once wordlessly donated a few pences worth of dog food. I’ve thought of doing the same, but mostly as a way to start conversation with Tesco Man – who is he? What does he do? Where is he all day, when not keeping quiet vigil of the grocery store? Where does he live, sleep? What is his name?

I look at Tesco Man and silently remember my own blessings. Anyone can complain of personal trauma or financial instability – but I haven’t seen those complaints yet in Tesco Man. Even Mutt on its most miserable days seems to take it all in stride.

Perhaps someday soon I’ll spare a few items to Tesco Man, just to see whether I can set a few moments of his advice or wisdom aside.

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Visitor’s guide: London rain? Check.

In all the murmurings you hear about London, two phrases stick out: the London rain, and the London fog.

Luckily, my visit has so far completely lacked the latter. Instead, following at the heels of the recent UK heatwave, the London rain has soaked into the city’s routine once again.

It began with on-and-off rain throughout the day. Then without warning, a downpour began at about four-thirty. Judging by the sudden appearance of umbrellas walking about the exiting work crowd, no one seem to mind or even be surprised.

But then the rain fell thicker and harder, and froze into bouncing hail on the sidewalks. The herds of office workers and their umbrellas vanished from the streets. Bus and cab wheels churned through inches-deep water, looking very awkward and somewhat amphibious. Tiny waves started creeping over curbs and across sidewalks – it was as if Mother Nature planned to turn London asphalt into Italy canals.

At first, it was fun to watch the thick rain arrive in windy waves up and down the street. It was even fun to watch it turn to dancing hail. But when water crept to the lobby door, the situation grew a little less comical. The question that came to mind was, how are we all getting home?

The moment the rain let up, throngs of umbrellas surged into the streets. But while we all waded towards Victoria station, we were greeted by a most unwelcome sight – sirens, alarms and flashing lights. “EMERGENCY: DO NOT ENTER” signs were lit above the entrances, and like a strange, slow-moving stampede, Tube and train-goers were evacuating the station.

Bright yellow-vested staffers guided the crowd around a growing river, formerly known as a walkway – London talk for sidewalk. Stranded office workers and train passengers alike searched for high ground – which is hardly as dramatic as it sounds, since “high ground” was only a difference of a few vertical inches. But the driest grounds ran out quickly as they swelled with numbers. Some simply gave up staying dry and simply snagged their shoes off their feet and pattered about in the walkway river.

Cellphones appeared. Office executives both male and female, students of all ages and even some of the elderly began chatting or texting into their mobiles. Some asked friends or family at home for weather updates, others chatted nervously as they eyed the DO NOT ENTER signs. It was the anniversary of 07/07, or the day suicide bombers blew apart the buses above and Tube below of the London transit system. Perhaps 07/07 was more fresh in their minds due to the unveiling of a memorial for the victims, opened just that day.

But this 07/07 was simply wet and soggy – Mother Nature having fun, cutting back and letting loose after the heat wave the week before. So while some commuters chose to hang about Victoria station in hopes that services would resume soon, others simply left. Barefoot commuters trudged through the streets, while others stubbornly kept their shoes on as if they simply didn’t care.

Near Buckingham, finely dressed couples hopped over puddles as they entered the streets. Couples young and old eyed the skies and some laughed. Meanwhile, Buckingham horses hung their heads low, and accepted the occasional pat on the head by sympathetic passers by.

The next afternoon, free newspapers claimed that a “month’s worth” of rain fell in only two hours – or approximately 1.3 inches. Perhaps only a meteorologist can confirm whether that’s true.

The only assured thing is that I walked two hours through flooded streets and walkways to arrive home with mud still squished between my toes.

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The 2009 Iranian Twitter Revolution

Many times in the past, I’ve heard derisive comments once the words “Twitter” or “tweet” enter casual conversation.

‘It’s a phase,’ someone amongst the group would say with an accompanying snort. ‘It holds no credible value.’

A simpler comment is often ‘it’s just plain stupid.’ Followed by several nods of agreement.

But now citizens of Iran are using the apparently unserious and “stupid” online social networking site Twitter as means to communicate their green revolution to both themselves and the outside world. No – it’s not green in the environmental sense, but instead political – touting green in online avatars, T-shirts and banners in support of their Iranian presidential candidate, Hussein Mousavi.

It’s a revolution, though not quite to the scale of 30 years ago when the Islamic Revolution shook Iran. But a revolution, nonetheless. And social networking site Twitter is caught in its centre.

Twitter Makes Way for the Latest Twitter Movement

Even the developers and insofar as the U.S. State Department seem to acknowledge this new rush to the Twitter engine. According to the BBC, Twitter delayed rountine maintenance in order to keep the Iranian flow of protest information uninterrupted.

In the same article, U.S. State Department reportly contacted Twitter, stating ‘we highlighted to them that this was an important form of communication.’ Twitter co-founder Biz Stone stressed that the U.S. State Department did not ultimately make the decision.

Getting the Word Out

Television news networks such as the BBC have received video from green Iranian protesters, who are otherwise cut off from the rest of the world due to a government clampdown of media. For instance, this footage was sent by mobile to BBC Persian TV. It depicts pro-Ahmadinejad militia firing on Mousavi supporters peacefully protesting in the streets.

Social media is a fascinating thing. Its future steps are hard to predict. Now Twitter is part of a revolution that it likely never dreamed to play an integral part.

Further reading…

Click here to read a Guardian timeline of Iranian unrest since the election (updated automatically on every minute).

Click here to read an LA Times article on the twits and tweets of the Iran presidential election protests.

Click here to view more videos and photos sent from Iranian protesters to the BBC.

Click here to view IranElection, its tweets and its followers on Twitter.

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Murdoch: Time to Kindle™ Newspapers

Rupert Murdoch, longtime global media leader.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp.

Media giant Rupert Murdoch wishes to invest in the Amazon Kindle – or rather, a Kindle competitor.

A few days ago, The Boston Globe Online reported:

News Corp is investing in a reading device similar to‘s Kindle and Sony Corp’s Reader but with a larger screen for reading newspapers, Murdoch said.”

(If a mention of the Globe sounds familiar, look into the latest financially troubled newspaper.)

At this point in time, there is no detailed business plan, or even confirmation that this new e-reader will use the same E-Ink technology as Kindle. There was mention, however, that this Kindle competitor would boast color, unlike its current monochrome counterparts.

And with enhanced features such as an enlarged screen, this fabled e-reader certainly sounds like a tantalizing alternative to struggling print newspapers and magazines.

For those curious about who Rupert Murdoch is, Murdoch is the chairman and CEO of News Corp,  a media giant that owns media outlets such as FOX News, MySpace and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few.

According to the Globe article, the newspaper e-reader model might be seen next year.

As history goes, economic downturns tend to reinvent the wheel – which in this case, is print. Since life is always healthily peppered with irony, future print journalism may no longer be printed in the sense that it is now. Should e-readers steer the market, the newspaper delivery boy will be out of business, but journalists may see their work published in a money-making format again.

Although it still stands to wonder exactly how this Kindle-esque business plan will help print journalism, since information has a habit of appearing free online. After all, it didn’t cost a dime to search for this headline and link to the Globe, of all troubled places.

Perhaps the Internet may experience some sort of media moderation in the future, where search engines such as Google and Yahoo! can’t as easily peruse headlines and pluck the ripest fruit for search results.

Murdoch himself hit this topic over the head, as reported by the above Globe article:

“The question is, should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyright… not steal, but take,” said Murdoch. “Not just them, but Yahoo.”

It’s a good question, and this blog is guilty as charged.

Photo credits go to World Economic Forum of Flickr.

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Where Newspapers Still Thrive – the Underground

Train Reads

Newspapers: a reliable commuter companion.

When thinking of the last and only place where newspapers or magazines thrive, the first image to pop into mind was the subway.

Trains, metros, tubes, lines. There are plenty of nicknames for underground trains in the United States, but the lot of them have this in common: they disappear underground for long lengths of time.

During the morning commute, the free newspaper bins are always stocked to full and then ravaged by every hurried passerby. The free morning newspapers are the perfect commuting companion: they’re free, easily accessible and short. Perfect for the train commute into work.

But another convenience is the fact that these free newspapers don’t suffer while underground – you see, there’s no Internet connection to maintain. While even some of the most advanced technologies may lose Internet connection in the deepest New York subways, an old-fashioned newspaper keeps its words on every page without a flicker or blink.

Unless, of course, someone spills their morning coffee and soaks their copy from back to front – then the reading experience is ruined, along with your expensive slacks.

Regardless, even 3G marvels such as the iPhone and Amazon Kindle haven’t penetrated every subway tunnel and crevice. These underground oasises may be the last newspaper haven before the medium reaches its next stage of evolution.

Photo credits to Erich Ferdinand on Flickr.


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What Media “Magic Bullet?”

Recently, the phrase “magic bullet” pops up when journalists discuss the industry’s next business plan.

The story has been told again and again: print is not the ad-selling, cost-efficient, information-spreading medium it used to be, but online distribution does not fill in the money gap. In short, news consumers have grown used to information being free, but news providers can’t provide this free service and still put bread on the family table.

So perhaps it’s natural that the phrase “magic bullet” has come up. This refers to a quick cure that ends all ills without a catch.

Truth be told, a magical cure-all for anything would be wonderful – but as reality goes, that is rarely the case. Therefore, in a plane of existence where journeys are complex and take many loops and nauseating turns before the finish line, let’s look and see at some of the progress journalism is currently making.

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