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Reading Roundup: The End of the World, Music Recommendation Comparisons, and How Sport Got So Big – June 28, 2010

Posted on 28 June 2010

On Saturday I volunteered at a fundraising golf tournament, which meant that I spent part of the day involved in the strenuous activity of monitoring hole 6 in case someone got a hole-in-one (they didn’t). This gave me the chance to catch up on some of the reading in my Instapaper account, and I thought I’d share some of the highlights here.

1. The End of the World As We Know It via the Independent

Did you know that the “world will end in 2012″ belief comes out of a Mayan cycle known as a baktun? And that a baktun is part of an 8,000 year piktun? How about that the death of large North American mammals 41,000 years ago may have been the result of a distant dying star creating a supernova? Or that some scientists propose we avoid the fall-out from the dying of our sun by using asteroids to move us into a different gravitational orbit? Great article that will help put everything into perspective. Read it –>
2. How Did Sport Get So Big? via moreintelligentlife.com
In 1966, England’s World Cup win barely got mentioned by the national newspapers. Now, the team is on the front page every time they play? What changed? This article takes a long look at the growth of sport as spectacle in our society, looking at the role of the Cold War, television, Rupert Murdoch, and sponsorships, among other things. Something I didn’t know? Adidas and Puma were created by fraternal twins in the middle of a feud– and they happened to be card-carrying Nazis.
A key thought about the role of advertising in sport from this article: “When we’re enjoying sport, we’re all open, we’re vulnerable, we’re small children again. And that’s how big capitalism wants us to be.
Read it –>
3. Do Canada’s Newspapers Have A Future? via theTyee.ca
Mike Bocking, president of the Media Union of BC, shares his thoughts on the state of journalism in the province. One thing I agree with him on is that there needs to be a reinvestment in a stable of journalists, not just internet strategies. As he says “Readers are no more likely to read pablum on the Internet than they are in print.
I’m less sure I agree with his accusations that newspapers have become too right-wing as a result of heavy-handed owners infusing them with their values, but it is important that readers see themselves reflected in their papers.
And finally, it’s interesting to find out that the new owners of many of the provinces dailys (including the Vancouver Sun, the Province, and the Victoria Times-Colonist) is essentially a collection of American hedge-funds that look to extract value from dying industries and then sell at a profit. I completely agree with the point that “Cultural industries, which include newspapers, need responsible, long-term, publicly minded ownership.”
Thoughts worth pondering, anyways.
“Can a Canadian industry that has been abused for more than 15 years by speculators, incompetents and in some cases, outright thievery, reinvent itself to occupy a meaningful place in a fast-changing media world?”
Read it –>
4. Pandora and Last.fm: Nature vs. Nurture in Music Recommenders via www.stevekrause.org
I just started using Last.FM and Pandora (late to the game, I know, but they’re not exactly ‘available in Canada’), and I’ve found it interesting comparing the two services. Steve Krause compared them in this piece four years ago, and did a great job of looking under the hood to find out why they’re different and what that means for both the services and their users. I’m no number-cruncher, but I find it fascinating to learn a little more about the data used to try and find out what music I love and why.
Most interesting points are how Last.fm has the advantage of analyzing all your music-listening habits, as opposed to just when you’re logged into the service, and the note that “better alogrithms are nice but better data is nicer”– the math, for the most part, is about as good as it can be, the key now is just getting more statistics.
Also interesting is the section on “(Leaky) Locked Loops where Krause describes a situation where Last.fm could find itself only useful to people who share musical tastes with the majority because, since they rely on the recommendations of others to provide recommendations to new users, a new user who doesn’t have other like-minds using the service will find themselves being given songs they don’t particularly care for.
Read it –>
5. 5 Sneaky Ways Grocery Stores Take You For More Money via LiveCheap.com
A short one, but number 5 really surprised me. I’ve seen it, but I didn’t know that it was because they were trying to extract cash from me. I need to be more cynical.
“Head to the ice-cream aisle and try to compare the per unit costs of different brands of ice cream. Should be easy right? One tag will have a price per ounce. The next one a price per pint and a third a price per quart. Take a direct comparison between Haagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s. Not only is Haagen Dazs shrunk, but it sports a price per ounce while Ben & Jerry’s has a price per pint. Grocers may need to have per unit pricing, but they can change the units on competing items to make it more difficult for you. Time to get out that calculator and remember your conversions from grade school.”
Read it –>

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