Canadian Newspapers on the iPad

With the media writing course I’m taking this semester, I’ve been reading more newspapers, instead of just relying on Google News to present me with stories of interest. When I realized that a number of newspapers have iPad apps, I thought I would see how they compare. In this review, I will be primarily covering the aesthetics, ease of use, and availability of the online content when compared to the print content. I will not be evaluating the content of the newspaper itself.

The national papers for Canada are the National Post, The Globe and Mail, and The Star. Of these three, the National Post is perhaps the cleanest in terms of style and ease of use. The available articles are presented in a vertical list, with headings for the different sections. To see all of the articles, you just scroll downwards. Selecting an article will switch screens to a full screen view of the article, as expected. The amount of content available is severely limited. I assume the National Post likes to direct readers to their full website. This is somewhat disappointing, as there is more content available on the website that isn’t hidden behind a paywall.

The Globe and Mail is close behind the National Post in terms of use. While the sections are listed vertically, the Globe made the bizarre decision to require you to scroll the sections horizontally to list the articles. I’ve seen some other apps that do this as well, and it doesn’t really seem to work very well. You have to think about the app in two dimensions, and it just seems bizarre.

What is even more strange is the app for The Star. I can only conclude that it was submitted to the App Store without anyone actually testing it. The application layout appears incomplete, with a sizeable gap at the bottom which is not used for displaying content. While there are toolbars above and below the app, they don’t appear to accept input. I can sometimes click on one of the articles headlines to view the article, but the transition is awkward. Essentially, The Star is completely unusable, from my perspective.

The true gems of the Canadian newspapers are the regional papers. The Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Windsor Star, Regina Leader-Post, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, Victoria Times Colonist, Vancouver Sun, and the Vancouver Province are all owned by Postmedia Network, the parent company of the National Post. They are in all cases, the same application, with only the actual content changing to reflect that of each individual paper. I’m really impressed by these apps. They are presented in a format which actually resembles a traditional newspaper, with large images, headlines and lead paragraphs from the different stories in each section. Selecting any story will bring you to the full article. Horizontal swipes will go to the next page of an article, or to the next page of the section view. When swiping to the end of a section, a full screen advertisement is displayed. This isn’t really that much of an inconvenience, as the applications appear to be providing most – if not all – of the newspaper content. Postmedia Network has done a fantastic job in building these apps, and it really makes their National Post app look useless for its general lack of content.

According to an article in the National Post, Postmedia Networks took control of these papers in July 2010, with a plan to “transform a collection of newspaper and online assets” by engaging in a “digital first” business model. From the look at these applications, they are succeeding.

The main disadvantage these regional papers have is just that: they’re regional papers. They do not attempt to provide the national perspective, or as much international news as the three national papers do.


Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation

Ray Bradbury’s classic tale of firemen who burn books has become an emblem for those who oppose censorship. I was quite intrigued when I saw the graphic novel adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, illustrated by Tim Hamilton.

Like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 is a science fiction classic, recognizable to fans of science fiction, as well as the general population. Bradbury’s book is not as widely read as Orwell and Huxley’s novels, which is a shame, as the fear of creating an illiterate society seeking hedonistic pleasures in electronic entertainment appears as relevant today as it did in 1953.

What can be said about Tim Hamilton’s illustrated adaptation of Bradbury’s classic work? It’s a sharp looking graphic novel, at 149 illustrated pages, in addition to Bradbury’s new introduction. Hamilton’s artwork is a good backdrop for the story of Guy Montag. Individual pages are confined to several shades of similar colours. Much of the story is shown in shades of browns and blues, evoking the drab dreariness of Montag’s life. The fire hall is shown in slightly brighter colours, but the spark of energy explodes in the yellows and reds of the scenes where the firemen set fire to books.

A graphic adaptation for this work seems quite appropriate. Just as in the story, where Montag and the other outlaw academics memorize works of literature, holding new versions in their minds, Hamilton still presents the key features of Bradbury’s original. Like most graphic novels, most of the text is dialogue, while most of the description is now visual in nature. This again seems quite fitting for a story where literature is banned. However, this also presents a form of hope, as the images in this adaptation are equally capable of evoking pathos.

Bradbury’s tale is still relevant today, and this new adaptation is a good reminder. It would be nice to think that it might see use in some high schools, as the subject matter becomes much more accessible than the original text. Sadly, I suspect that it will not be deemed “Literature” by many school administrators and educators.

The Sweet Scent of Wood Smoke

While driving to work this week I was stopped at a red light, where the sweet aroma of wood smoke arrived. This got me thinking about the different forms of heating, and what they mean to me.

The idea of central heating started with the Romans and their hypocausts. A large furnace would heat the air underneath the floors of their villas, providing central warmth. In contrast, the dark ages were dark indeed, and cold. Large stone castles and keeps would be cold, with the area around the hearth being the main sources of heat. In some ways, this mirrors the internal withdrawal from the rest of the world.

During the industrial age, the move from the pleasant aroma of wood shifted to the noxious fumes of coal, and later natural gas. While these forms of heating are more consistent over longer periods of time, they still don’t provide the same level of comfort as a nice wood stove.

A gas fireplace can provide many of the positive characteristics of a wood stove, and is certainly safer, but doesn’t provide me with the same level of perceived comfort. I don’t know if it’s from watching the wood crackle and spark, or watching the flames dance in ways which gas fireplaces do not, but wood fires seem more animate.

I also associate campfires with family time. At the cottage, we would often roast hot dogs and marshmallows over the bed of coals, while listening to loon songs echoing over the lake.

I’m not surprised when I’m told that scents are closely associated with memories. Even the slight whiff of wood smoke can release some pleasant memories.

Why Isn’t This Available In Canada?

I was browsing some free, public domain science fiction ebooks on Amazon. While I don’t have a Kindle ereader, the Kindle app is available for the Mac, the iPad, and the BlackBerry. To my surprise, a number of these titles are not available for customers from Canada. Seriously? Get with it, Amazon.

Books of interest that are unavailable in Canada include, but are certainly not limited to:

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth [Kindle Edition]. Jules Verne.

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea [Kindle Edition]. Jules Verne.

The War of the Worlds [Kindle Edition]. H.G. Wells.

The Time Machine [Kindle Edition]. H.G. Wells.

A Princess of Mars [Kindle Edition]. Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions [Kindle Edition]. Edwin Abbott Abbott.

All of these are available free of charge to American readers, and are in the public domain in the USA and in Canada. While it’s understandable (although extremely frustrating) for books still under the original copyright protection to be unavailable in Canada in electronic form, such as Robert Fagles’ translation of Homer’s Odyssey, it’s simply baffling as to why these works are unavailable in Canada.
I would suspect that the party responsible for formatting the text in the kindle file format has added an extra layer of red tape. Perhaps someone forgot to check a box. Either way, it’s an inconvenience.

Perhaps there is far more involved in properly typesetting these works for the Kindle format than I realize. However, the text has already been completely digitized, and included in multiple formats already on the Gutenberg site, in multiple formats which also include kindle-ready files. I’m suspicious of any moral rights to these “official” kindle editions over and above any work done on the Gutenberg site. I recognize that Gutenberg does not assert any copyright over the text of the works, even going so far as to say that “If you strip the Project Gutenberg license and all references to Project Gutenberg from the ebook, you are left with a public domain ebook. You can do anything you want with that.”

When republished with new material, such as a new introduction or forward, placing the work in context, the work can be protected again under copyright. Perhaps this is what is being done here. Interestingly, the publisher on record for at least some of these Kindle editions is “Public Domain Books”.

Basically, it comes down to this: Why aren’t these available in Canada, and in other parts of the world where they are public domain?

Weekend Reading and Gardening

I haven’t had nearly as much time to read as I would like to this weekend.

I finally finished up the last chapter of Harperland, so I could return it to the library. Again, if you’re interested in politics, you really should give it a shot. I’ve primarily been focusing on my course readings. I’ve been giving chapter 7 “Phaeacia’s Halls and Gardens” in The Odyssey a close reading, in particular the hospitality scene as Odysseus becomes a guest of the mythic Phaeacians. There’s a lot going on in this scene, but I won’t be posting it right now, as I plan to write an essay on this chapter. I’m continually amazed by how layered this book is, and in particular the non-linear plot progression.

I’ve also been reading more of Batty and Cain’s Media Writing, particularly the chapter on magazine writing. It’s brought to mind some of the techniques used in some of the magazines I’ve picked up recently. Magazines have a much longer lead time than newspaper writing, which is certainly exhibited in Volume 22 number 1. Anuual 2011 issue of Canadian Gardening. The article “Seasons of Love” written by Yvonne Cunnington clearly shows the long term nature of some of these articles. The author of this article shows how landscapes and gardens can be planted in order to best suit the varying seasons. Along with the text, photographs (taken by Donna Griffith) show several locations through the four seasons, so the choice of plants can be seen through the seasons, providing interest year round. It’s an effective article, especially for publication during the winter months. As I look to my snowy backyard, then back to the pages of the magazine, I can’t help but draw some bleak conclusions. These gardeners spend a lot more time and effort on their gardens than I do.


Photo Management Surprises

Well, my 1TB external drive filled up over the weekend. Apple’s Time Machine software promptly cleared out some old backups, which was fine by me. I took it as a sign that I should perhaps clear out some of my files.

With digital photography, it’s easy to take hundreds of photos a day, hoping for the good shot. With small children, this is even more important. You can almost never anticipate when a child is going to do something amusing. Often by the time the shutter is released, they’ve stopped doing something cute.

As I shoot a Nikon D50, I tend to shoot in RAW mode. Each photo I take is roughly 5-6MB. When I’m actively shooting, it’s not hard to take from 150-200 shots in an afternoon, which is somewhere around 1GB of photos. Transferring these to my computer doesn’t take very long. What I haven’t been very diligent is in reviewing my photos, and deleting the ones which — let’s be honest — suck. It’s certainly not the fault of my models. It’s not their fault that someone blinked, or looked away or yawned when I was taking shots 23-50. It’s definitely not their fault that my white-balance was set to fluorescent while shooting outdoors in daylight for frames 1-22. Some of the white balance can be “fixed in post”, but it might not always look so great.

No, the real fault is mine, for failing to actually delete photos on my computer. I’m trying to go through them now. Theres a lot of very similar photos. Some series I’m deleting entirely, as the shot as a whole just isn’t that interesting. For others, I’m keeping a few. But the main problem is that it’s going to take much longer to sort through now, after several years of shooting, than it would have If I had properly managed my photos from the beginning. In the past ten minutes, I just cleared 4 GB of disk space.

As I manage my photos in Aperture, I’m also re-evaluating my organization. I think I need to make smaller projects, but then group them in a way where similar photos are kept together. Going through some of my folders of images is surprising. I wasn’t expecting 900 photos of my dog in “Untitled Project (3)” for example. Guess who moves around even more than small children? Yup. My blurry, partially out of frame dog.

Anyways, back to clearing out my photo archives. Maybe I’ll find a few really good shots in here that I’ve previously overlooked.

Keeping Your Audience Awake With Powerful Presentations

While I have great respect for the written word, there are places where they are inappropriate. One great example is in presentation slides.

I’ve seen some horrible presentations in the past. Thankfully, I haven’t inflicted many on others. The presentations I’m referring to are the ones where several paragraphs of text are on the screen, allowing those attending the presentation to quickly scan ahead before the presenter gets around to reading them verbatim. I wish I was exaggerating. I wish this would come as a shock to others. I’ve been a fan of Presentation Zen for some time, where the emphasis is not on presenting data or text, but to engage with the material in a much more immediate way.

In presenting as little text as possible on the slides, with a focus on images and simple graphs, a natural narrative emerges, so the presenter can narrate a much more interesting presentation. Think about Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. While Gore’s status and the controversial subject matter helped win audiences, this film would not have been made, nor would it have won an Academy Award were it not for Gore’s style of presentation.

When I enrolled in English 320 “The History and Theory of Media – 2”, one of the assignments was a class presentation that engaged with the theories. I took some of the ideas of Presentation Zen, and Nancy Duarte‘s book slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations to heart. My presentation was media-intensive. It included numerous photographs, and embedded videos from news reports. What information I did present on the slides, I revealed point by point, as I expanded upon the bare essentials.

I think the presentation worked quite well, there was certainly some good discussion in the class afterwards. I can’t claim to have fully engaged with the style of presentation that Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte advocate. This style of presentation is a great deal more effort than dumping a document into presentation software, but I felt more engaged with the subject matter. As I wasn’t regurgitating long textual quotes, I feel that the other students in the room weren’t as likely to drift off.

If you try to pass off documents as presentations, or have in the past, how effective do you think they really are? I challenge you to try something different next time. Your audience will thank you.