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Classic websites: Homage to the BOM

This is the 100th year of the Bureau of Meteorology.  I thought I should take the opportunity to pay tribute to the BOM – for a website that intrigues, comforts and forewarns. It has become as familiar as Mike Bailey. (And is far more intelligent than Tim Bailey).

Bom website

It has a simple, no-frills interface that belies a top 40 website that is seen on work desktops everywhere (god help the sys admin who tries to place it behind Web Marshal). And all it does it tell us about the weather, information we can get anywhere. For some reason though Australians can’t get enough of the BOM.

We have a fascination with the weather, with predicting it and talking about it after it has happened. That’s pretty obvious. We talk about lazy winds that go through us not around, we talk about scorchers that turn the state into a tinderbox, rain pissing down, hail as big as golfballs, the fact that it’s blowing a gale and that green clouds mean hail so you better get your car into the nearest shopping centre carpark quick smart. We sweat our dates off in 100 per cent humidity and freeze our tits off because some of us refuse to believe that it gets cold in Australia. For some people the weather is a conversation starter. Sometimes I think Australians see it as THE conversation. Even more than that, it’s a topic for serious study.

BOM Radar

So with our penchant for chatting, nay, obessing about it we obviously want to be as informed as possible and where better to go than the BOM itself. Some are obsessed by the mesmerising four frame radar loop and then there are the warnings that elicit a ripple of excitement around offices everywhere. Storms! Winds! Pack away the plastic garden furniture! Move away from windows and turn off your telly! Perhaps office workers need to get a life but when an announcement goes out over the loud-speaker or an all-users email is sent out about the weather I know that almost every person in the building will be typing be-oh-em-dot-gee-oh-vee-dot-ay-you into their standard operating system browser.

Some of us are observers, watching every movement in temperature or drop of rain in detail. I’m definitely an observer. I recently found myself emailing someone to tell them we had had 12mm in 26 minutes. (Ahem). Some are forecasters. Some can’t get dressed, let alone leave home, without knowing in detail what the BOM has in store for the day. Packing for trips away is governed by the oracle of the BOM. They never really remember if the BOM was wrong, but they keep looking at the site. It gives them a sense of control over their life and confidence in their choice of outfit. There’s nothing worse than being surprised and finding that you are wearing too many or too few clothes.

BOM observations

Observer or forecaster, we all read the same bible. bom.gov.au – thank you and keep up the good work. Oh yeah, and never change, we like you just the way you are: no-frills.

The little dog

Little dogI went back to thinking about identity today, via thoughts on audiences, what they are and what they do to your work. I was following up on a post on BoingBoing that I had seen a day or so ago: “A blog written by a stripper who is also a fine writer“. Of course being BoingBoinged, the blog was hammered. The blogger seems to have freaked somewhat:

Who are all of you people? What are you doing here? Why are you yelling at me? Last thing I knew I was in here in the dark talking to Tara and Diopter and maybe Sixty, if he’s still around, and now all you guys are here and you’re scaring me.

Now, one would imagine that the thought of suddenly garnering yourself thousands of readers, when you thought you were talking to a few friends, would be enough to get any blogger going. This blogger seemed so put off by it, at first, that she deleted archives. And she admits she is a little crippled by all the attention:

So, this is what I was about to publish when all the crazy people from the Internet showed up and I got paralyzed by self-consciousness. Oh, well. Here goes nothing.

I found it refreshing. I don’t know if it’s genuine and I don’t really care. A lot of bloggers are link whores. Or soon become so when they get a taste of the lovely sweet rush of a link. Attention! Someone can see me! Someone is reading me! I want more! ‘Grace’ will no doubt get there but for the time being, it’s enjoyable to see someone who is writing. She’s going to have a lot to say, and very knowledgeably no doubt, about how a blog’s audience affects your writing. I dunno if she’ll go there so I’ll just imagine it.

Anyway, after looking at this blog and thinking about this I got to thinking about Lynn Freed and her book about writing and her discussion on family and how difficult it can be to write the way you want to write, about what you want to write, when you have family, real or imagined, reading over your shoulder.

How do we allow this ‘audience’ to inhibit us or our writing? Obviously if you’re not published, you don’t blog and no one is reading your stuff you don’t have an audience as such but there is stil an audience somewhere that is affecting the way you write, or don’t, as the case may be.

As Freed points out, the fact that you have a family that you sense may not like what you have written, or you want to write about them, forces you to create a censorious audience for yourself. You are aware of Gertrude Stein’s ‘little dog’ and you write as that person, that the dog knows, that identity. Most people seem to blog in this identity, and for good reason. They get hammered when they don’t. (Anonymity and the immediacy of the internet put family grievances in the shade when it comes to the fallout caused by your writing. Of course, internet snark doesn’t mean nearly as much personally as family snark but the savagery is enough to stop you working). Grace seems to have been writing in what Stein conceived of as the other identity, the one that doesn’t require the little dog to acknowledge to come into being and was thus not limited by expectations or projected expectations.

Although her audience has expanded greatly I do hope she can keep writing while ignoring the little dog (as much as I love them).

So, lots of questions and no real answers. I’m just thinking. And watching the footy.

danah boyd in Melbourne

Last week I went down to Melbourne to listen to danah boyd and despite being involved in a car accident on the airport freeway thingy on the way there, the trip was well worth it. I wrote a run-down on the day for my work blog so if anyone is interested, I’ve reproduced most of it below.

First, some background on boyd. danah boyd (yes, it’s always in lower case) was brought out to Australia by education.au to talk about Generation MySpace – Social networking and its impact on students and education. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California – Berkeley and a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School. Her Masters was in sociable media. So, basically she knows an awful lot about social media and how we use it.

All up, boyd spoke for several hours. Although this sounds like a lot, she was an engaging speaker who responded well to questions. Her breadth of knowledge and ability to convey it to a large audience was astounding. The points I have drawn out below are just a fraction of what was covered overall, so please do not think I have totally represented her talks.

Read More…

Like that? You’ll hate this.

I love this. You all know about the goodness that is LibraryThing? Well the good folks there have come up with a take on the “if you like this, you’ll love this’ suggest-a-book thingo that Amazon runs. LibraryThing has an Unsuggester.

It analyzes the seven million books LibraryThing members have recorded as owned or read, and comes back with books least likely to share a library with the book you suggest.

It comes up with some bizarre (and obviously unsuited) pairings that you’d be hard-pressed to find in a single user’s LibraryThing catalogue. If you liked Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason you will not like Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic. If you liked Augustine’s Confessions then chances are you won’t be enamored of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Night Pleasures.

Although probably not incredibly useful for picking your next book, it’s interesting to see which books LibraryThing sees as furthest away from each other.

December ALR

The new ALR is out and this month there’s an ‘online special’. Well, there’s two related articles: Sal Humphries looks at computer games and Genevieve Tucker spreads the word on litblogs.

In case you don’t know, there is a commenting facilty at ALR online.

Oh f**k it

I may have temporarily left the world of web work but I have not forgotten the acute embarrassment that can ensue from particularly public cock-ups. And let’s face it, when you work on the web, most of what you do is public and people are never backward in coming forward to tell you what flavour of f**wit you are for doing something they think should be done another way.

So it is with great pleasure that I give you PC World’s 13 most embarrassing web moments (and knowing that I have committed nowhere near as big an embarrassment as these babies).

8. I’m Not Dead Yet!

It’s common practice for major media outlets to prepare obituaries in advance–known in the news biz as “pre-bits”–for luminaries who seem as if they might croak soon. But in 2001 some intrepid Web spelunkers discovered that CNN’s obituaries for some famous but not-quite-dead folks were publicly accessible. Obits for the likes of Fidel Castro, Dick Cheney, and Nelson Mandela were widely disseminated before CNN.com caught wind and, much chagrined, yanked the pages.

Google’s literacy project

Google seems to release something new every week and I have long stopped keeping a keen eye on it because, frankly, I couldn’t keep up.

This one caught my eye: The Literacy Project is

A resource for teachers, literacy organisations and anyone interested in reading and education, created in collaboration with LitCam, Google, and UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning.

It was launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair.