Google News’ ego dent

Like most journalists and news junkies, I’m a big fan of Google News, but for a search-oriented service, it has a fairly serious flaw: it doesn’t seem to reliably index bylines, making it virtually useless as a means of ego surfing for us writer types. I’ve had an alert set up for months now to check my own name, and it has never located a single article, even though virtually every publication I write for is indexed on the site, and the articles themselves show up if I search on body text keywords. Stupid, methinks.

Net-ignorant subbing

We allegedly live in a society where the Internet is taken for granted, but sub-editors on mainstream magazines still seem to struggle with such simple concepts as making sure the right URLs are included. Trivial case in point: in the Sunday magazine in today’s Sunday Telegraph, which I’ve just read in the Sydney Qantas Club, there’s a brief item on Philip Heckman’s rather cool LowTee swimwear, which is made from old concert T-shirts. The text says ‘Check out the LowTee website’, but the link provided is to a specific part of the site, namely small-sized swimwear. What’s wrong with the front page? And, while we’re at it, why do so many publications insist on including ‘index.htm’ as part of the site address?

The view from the 14th floor

As I predicted last week, I didn’t win the Most Entertaining Writer category at the Consensus IT Writers Awards — that honour went to a much better article by Ian Yates. It was a great awards evening though, held at the Buena Vista restaurant on the 14th floor of the Supreme Court, and hence the only place I’ve eaten where you have to go through a security check first. Well, unless you count airport lounges.

The question of self-printed boarding passes

When I fly domestically, it tends to be with Qantas — more flights, access to Qantas Club lounges, decent fares if you book a few weeks in advance, and generous swathes of Frequent Flyer points. Nonetheless, I occasionally end up travelling with Virgin Blue, especially if it’s a late notice junket and the company paying is looking to cut down on expenses.

Virgin Blue might lack some of Qantas’ refinements — such as free on-board food and airline lounges which are on the correct side of security barriers — but it does have a few neat tricks of its own (and an imminent frequent flyer scheme to boot). The most recent innovation is the ability to check in online and print your own boarding pass, thus saving that sinking feeling when you spot someone slow and argumentative in the queue in front of you. This has been commonplace overseas for some time, but hadn’t hit Australia before (though Qantas’ trial of SMS check-in last year was a variant of the same concept).

I took advantage of this option for today’s flight to Melbourne, since I can never resist a novelty travel option. Being able to book in 24 hours in advance is quite nice , but I don’t know that I’d bother regularly. Partly this is because you still have to queue to drop your bag off if you have checked luggage, which I almost invariably do. Mostly, however, it’s because I resent supplying the paper and ink to print the boarding pass on a $300+ ticket. I know margins are thin in aviation, but they’re not that thin.

They phunked with my heart

IT journalists rate pretty low on the social scale, so it’s no surprise that most of the time we feel like pond scum. But it was hard not to feel a little bit elite at last night’s Motorola’s ROKR launch, which featured the Black Eyed Peas in a ludicrously exclusive concert for 400 or so people, at least a dozen of whom were humble tech hacks.

I can’t claim to be a Big Black Eyed Peas groupie, but even I can appreciate that it’s a big deal to get a performance on this level by a group which has such current chart dominance. On every previous occasion that I’ve been this adjacent to a major celebrity, they’ve been at least 10 years past their prime. As Val Quinn, who was standing next to me in the audience, a scant four feet from the stage, remarked: “Can you believe we’re this close?”

I was relatively sedate in the face of such celebrity exposure. Nicole Manktelow got photographed with three members of the group, Roulla Yiacoumi got signatures from all four on her concert ticket from the night before, and Jeremy Roche wasn’t going to be happy until he got a photograph with Home & Away‘s Kate Ritchie. I was just happy to be there, as the photos attest. (Thanks to Ian Yates for tidying up my rather dubious original shots and making them more presentable!)

The Black Eyed Peas strut their stuff.

The Black Eyed Peas strut their stuff.

Fergie gets funky.

Fergie gets funky.

Even celebrities pick their noses.

Even celebrities pick their noses.

The boys shake their groove thangs.

The boys shake their groove thangs.

'I can't believe we got $300K for this gig.'

‘I can’t believe we got $300K for this gig.’

Fergie is pursued by avid IT journos.

Fergie is pursued by avid IT journos.

The perils of quotation

When I’m interviewing someone in my professional life, I make a point of either recording the conversation or taking copious notes. This ensures that the information I utilise is fairly accurate. Because blog entries are often inspired by random conversations, I’m not necessarily going to have those kinds of notes or recordings — which is a potential cause of problems.

In my recent posting about my Luddite tech habits, I quoted Roulla Yiacoumi as saying to me: “My God, your phone is black and white!” Roulla was fairly quick to inform me that she didn’t say those words. Her actual comment was: “My god, I can’t believe your phone has a mono screen!”

You might think that’s a hair-splitting distinction, but as Roulla pointed out to me, a phone that could display white on screen could probably handle other colours as well. Quite true. I’ve amended the relevant entry, and resolved to be more efficient about note-taking in future. So if you’re conversing with me and I pause to write something down, now you’ll know why!

The INXS backlash

With all the hoopla surrounding INXS’ recent televised search for a lead singer on Rock Star — a search that’s now concluded with JD Fortune joining the band — it was only a matter of time before someone dug up a comment from Jon Stevens, the former Noiseworks singer who worked with INXS for three years before departing in late 2003.

The Daily Telegraph reports today in its Confidential column that Stevens is none too impressed with recent developments, calling the show ‘Mock Star’ and advising Fortune to get a lawyer, lest he be “raped and pillaged” by the band.

Fun stuff, but Confidential then messes up by confidently asserting that “Stevens spent three years touring as the lead singer of INXS after singer Michael Hutchence’s suicide in 1997, but never recorded with the band.” I’m not a massive INXS fan, but I do know that Stevens did release a single with the band, 2003’s ‘I Get Up’, which emerged just before his departure from the group and was also featured in EA’s Rugby 2004 computer game. Still, why let the facts get in the way of a good sledging?

INXS, Jon Stevens edition

Confidential also has a brief report on yesterday’s Kerri-Anne shenanigans, though it’s rather less detailed than my own account. On the other hand, thousands more people will read it.

Tech confessions of a junket whore

My reputation as an excessively well-travelled journalist/junket whore (delete as you see fit) continues to flourish. In a recent posting on his blog, Dan Warne (news and features editor at APC and one of the people who keeps me in gainful freelance employment) opens a discussion of how he’s been making use of the latest technology (on-plane Internet, GRPS access to email while roaming through France) on his travels with the words: “Angus Kidman would be proud.”

This is flattering, but kind of inaccurate. Although I don’t travel anywhere without a notebook, as often as not I make use of old-fashioned dial-up access if the hotel in question doesn’t have in-room broadband. My machine doesn’t have built-in wireless and at the moment the PC card slots aren’t working — an annoying saga of multiple repairs which means I won’t be buying a Toshiba next time around — so I’m not using wireless on planes, in cafes or even in conferences. And my phone is an ageing Nokia model which certainly isn’t up to handling email. Indeed, the other day when I used it at a conference, gadget queen Roulla Yiacoumi couldn’t help exclaiming: “My god, I can’t believe your phone has a mono screen!”

All this might change in the next few months when I can financially justify replacing the notebook and my equally clunky PDA with something a tad newer. But I don’t think I’m ever likely to be as ambitious as Dan in the communicating-on-the-road stakes. Nor, for that matter, am I ever likely to use a Mac, but that’s another story.

Big bucks for Bec’s baby

What's a million between friends?When I spotted this week’s cover for Woman’s Day, I immediately thought “something’s going on here”. Personally I’m not that fussed about the rushed engagement, Opera House marriage and sudden pregnancy of Bec Cartwright and Lleyton Hewitt, but clearly it helps shift the trash mags. To date, the Hewitts have sold a series of “exclusives” to New Idea, which reportedly has done very well out of the arrangement. So their appearance on the cover of Woman’s Day, in what was clearly an approved interview rather than a report relying on unnamed “friends”, suggested some serious back-room dealings.

Even I didn’t guess quite how serious. The Daily Telegraph reports today that ver Day has paid one million bucks for the rights to cover the Hewitts for the next 12 months, which will include the all-important first baby pics. The arrangement was brokered by Jennifer Gilbert, herself a former New Idea editor before a brief stint at Channel 9 as communications director. Apparently she’s now working as a consultant for Woman’s Day. The Diary column in the Australian‘s Media section also notes the deal, though without the reputed price tag, and adds that a key player in the earlier arrangements with New Idea was Monique Butterworth, who has recently jumped ship to work for the Day but is being made to work out her notice.

Doubtless ACP (the Day‘s publisher) will make some of its money back by on-selling the articles to the UK trash mags which helped originate the practice of paying for celebrity coverage (and giving celebrities full approval in the process). Whether it will significantly increase the circulation results won’t be clear for a year, though by then new rules will be in place which mean weekly magazines get audited quarterly instead of twice a year.

Sex beats blogging every time

I commented earlier this month that bloggers tend to wildly overestimate their influence. Proof of sorts comes from a recent Media Guardian story about a survey of UK taxi drivers, hairdressers and bar staff. Only 30 per cent had heard of blogging, and just 10 per cent were aware of podcasting. Conversely, 40 per cent knew about ‘dogging’, which is basically shagging in a public car park and not caring if people watch or join in. No numbers sadly on how many people actually participated in dogging (or blogging).