Sunday, July 31, 2011

rewboss in America

I don’t mind telling you I’m very excited about this. I wasn’t sure I could justify extending my stay after the conference, but flying halfway around the world to within spitting distance of San Francisco and spending all the time in a hotel conference room would simply have been nuts, so it had to be done.

Actually, as well as doing some sightseeing, I will be able to visit the famous Googleplex, although for obvious reasons I’m not allowed to film inside the building. And meeting some YouTube friends, particularly fellow Top Contributors and some actual flesh-and-blood Google employees. With a little luck, I’ll also have time to meet in the flesh some online friends of mine.

There’s a lot of stuff to organize and paperwork to do, but unless something truly unfortunate happens, such as the complete collapse of the euro, I should be enjoying the California sun in just a few more weeks.

Well, as much sun as filters through the famous San Francisco fog, that is.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fun with Google Street View

Google Street View can sometimes be more entertaining than you think, which I have recently discovered. It seems that pretty much all of England, if not the entire UK, has now been covered by the service, which means you can virtually drive your computer just about anywhere. For example, you might start at the Cornish village of Tintagel and drive out north-east on the B3263, through Bossiney...

...where, apparently, a leaf got stuck to the camera (and, for the record, stays stuck for at least half a mile, after which I got bored).

A much better game to play, though, is one I call “Now You See It, Now You Don’t”, which takes advantage of the fact that the Google Street View camera often returns days, weeks, possibly even months later to spots it’s already visited. This can have the effect that just by inching forwards or crossing to the other side of the road, you can experience time travel.

Here, for example, are two views from the market place in the town of Stow-on-the-Wold:

Not only was the second view — a single keystroke away from the first — taken on market day, but from the evidence of the trees, I’d say the two images are three or four months apart.

Germany is a bit trickier, because so far only major cities have been catalogued, but here’s some construction work on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, just north of Friedrichstrasse station:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rotten summer

There’s very little to add to this video, except that I made it yesterday and today is looking just as awful weatherwise.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Trial by media

A hot topic in the US, but pretty much nowhere else at the moment, is the end of the trial of Casey Anthony, which found her not guilty of murdering her daughter, but guilty of lying to police investigators.

The story is tragic, and easily told. A few years ago, Casey Anthony disappeared with her daughter Caylee. When Casey re-appeared, her mother Cindy wanted to see Caylee, but Caylee always seemed to be unavailable, usually with the nanny. Eventually, Cindy reported the child missing. A few months later, the badly decomposed remains of Caylee were found. The “nanny” did in fact, exist, but had apparently never met the child. Unsurprisingly, Casey was arrested and put on trial. She has now been acquitted of murder.

Now, here’s an important thing to consider as you read on: I do not know whether Casey is guilty or innocent. This is a very important point: I do not know. For all I know, she could have killed her daughter in cold blood. Or perhaps through negligence, and then panicked and tried to cover it up. Then again, for all I know, she could be innocent.

The disturbing thing, for me at least, is that pretty much all of America appears to be convinced that Casey Anthony is guilty, guilty, guilty; or (even more disturbingly) probably guilty, but deserves to be found guilty even if she isn’t. Right now, America is a nation of people choking on their breakfast cereals because a woman who obviously has blood on her hands is walking away a free woman, albeit with a stain on her character.

A representative tweet from a certain Igor Zag captures the mood of the nation: “So your [sic] saying in the state of Florida I can commit murder but can’t lie to the police?”

No, Mr Zag. “They” (whoever “they” are) are saying that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Ms Anthony murdered her daughter. You see, that’s how the justice system works in any democratic and civilized country: innocent until proven guilty. And that’s the principle that means you can’t get dragged off the street and imprisoned simply because you can’t account for your movements on the night in question. And it’s the same principle that saves you from lynch mobs.

In most other western democracies, this would be news, and it may be surprising news; but it wouldn’t cause such a display of public outrage. There’s a vague hope that the jury got it right, and that if they did, the person who actually did commit the murder can be found and brought to justice. And for the most part, that’s all you’d hear.

America is, as usual, a special case. This trial was given wall-to-wall coverage by the press. Everything about the trial, in true American style, was reported on and made public. And because America has no sub judice laws, the media could say what they liked about the whole affair. And the considered opinion of the media right from the start was that Casey Anthony is clearly guilty. And because Americans up and down the country have been obediently consuming the hyped-up sensationalised stories fed to them by media outlets vying for their attention, that is what America firmly believes. That the jury, shielded from everything the big news corporations, decided either that Ms Anthony is innocent, or at least that the evidence is not as clear-cut as the media would have us believe, speaks volumes. The evidence wasn’t convincing. What convinced most of America of the woman’s guilt clearly wasn’t in the evidence itself, no matter how many of them will protest otherwise.

The distasteful aspect of this — well, one of the most distasteful aspects — is that even if the accused is in fact guilty, a “not guilty” verdict is the best thing that could have happened for the media, which is looking more and more like a big reality show than a collection of responsible news outlets reporting, you know, the news. Already there are promises of interviews with jurors, interviews with lawyers involved in the case, and Fox News’s Geraldo Rivera is even boasting about how Ms Anthony’s ex-fiancĂ© has told him who Caylee’s father is (but to find out, of course, you have to go to his blog and watch the video). TV stations and newspapers can be assured that the nation is incensed enough to hang on their every word and continue to consume. This tragedy is worth millions, perhaps even billions, to them, and this circus has just been handed the best free advertising it could have wished for. I predict they will spend the next few days or weeks, possibly even months if nothing new comes along, trying to out-scoop each other. They are, in fact, making a killing out of a killing, and that depresses me more than I can say.

So basically, Mr Zag, and all those threatening to throw darts at the jurors or cast Casey Anthony into a bottomless pit, you’re missing the point, mainly because you have been manipulated in the most obscene way. The jury reached the verdict not because they’re stupid or blind, but because, with all due respect, they have a much more intimate knowledge of the trial and everything that went on than you do or ever will; and because they were protected from the sensationalist and prejudiced reporting from the big media companies. It may be the “wrong” verdict in the sense that perhaps, after all, Ms Anthony is guilty; but the fact that the court came to a decision so at odds with public opinion is proof positive that the case was judged purely on the evidence presented to court and was not influenced by the baying mob, and that, America, is exactly how it was designed to function and exactly how it should be.

Old cars

My latest video now on YouTube is a video about the “Kahlgrund-Classic” rallye, an annual event at which enthusiasts drive their vintage and classic cars around the local countryside. Because it’s fun. The video, by the way, is in the “Reportage” series and so in German; closed captions are available for those who need it.

This video was made at the pre-start meeting, where the participants gathered, had their vehicles and papers inspected and did all the necessary bureaucratic stuff. And it was a rotten day: wet, cold and totally uncharacteristic for the beginning of July. This really made it difficult to film, as I was basically dashing about between showers and trying not to get rain on the lens.

One thing I signally failed to do was to warm up my interviewee, but I didn’t think it would be necessary. Well, I know him personally, and just a moment before we were laughing and joking. I’d talked him through what I wanted to know, and everything was fine, until he was standing in front of a rolling camera and I asked him to explain the rules. Suddenly, he wasn’t the Achim I knew any more.

It wasn’t dreadful. He didn’t seize up totally. He knew what he wanted to say, and perhaps that was part of the problem: he seemed to be trying to remember his lines, rather than just talking to me. It was a snap decision to interview him, though — heck, it was a snap decision to go to the event — and perhaps, on balance, it would be best to do what I did with my last interview: film it a few days before the actual event, in the comfort of the subject’s own home.