My early Christmas present

OK. So, I know these are supposed to be for underprivileged children and all, but I just had to get my hands on the OLPC XO laptop, quite possibly the coolest tech gadget of the year. Sure, my BlackBerry probably has more processing power, but an afternoon spent playing with the pint-sized XO leaves me with the feeling that this little wonder could really change the world.

I am sure the machine’s intended users will find it even more compelling than I do. Still, I managed waste about two hours playing SimCity (the original version I remember from my childhood!)

I took the photo above with the XO’s built-in camera. Not great, but certainly adequate. I am also writing this entry in the device’s web browser.

The keyboard and trackpad are way too small for my fingers, but again, I’m not the target audience. Plus my Mac keyboard and mouse worked just fine when plugged into one of the device’s three USB ports (that’s one more than my PowerBook has).

On the whole, I have to say, I’m really impressed. Good thing I got two of these, so I can give one to a deserving kid in my family and keep one for my less deserving self.

P.S.: If you now have gadget envy, you should know that OLPC’s Give One, Get One program has been extended until Dec. 31.

Competition in local data

News websites are starting to see some competition on the local data front from niche players that do one thing very well. Witness SignalMap, which maps users’ reports of cellular reception, and CleanScores, a database of restaurant health inspections in L.A. and San Francisco (credit to Joe Murphy for pointing these out).

SignalMap is nationwide — its concept scales easily because doesn’t require any cooperation from local governments — but CleanScores has to ingest health data from umpteen jurisdictions if it wants to expand to every major market, which it says it intends to do. I see this as a challenge to local news organizations. We have the relationships and the local know-how to do this kind of thing better than anybody else. What we still lack, in many cases, is the technical sense and the will.

Bringing “dudical!” back

Dudical! is an expression I remember hearing in elementary school. A clever combination of “dude!” and “radical!”, it clearly suffered an untimely demise, because a Google search on it returns a paltry 523 results. I consider it my duty to rescue this ’80s linguistic gem from obscurity. Who’s with me?

Unfortunately, somebody’s already registered dudical.com, but if you use this word in your writing, post it on del.icio.us and tag it “dudical“. Let’s see if we can bring dudical back.

Update: My ex-friend Neil has one word for this crusade: dorkical. (Good news, Neil: dorkical.com is still available!)

Update: Props to the Saint Pete Times for using dudical in a headline. The story’s about how their ’80s blog won an Online Journalism Award.

Rethinking the Merc

Kudos to the San Jose Mercury News. After a series of demoralizing cuts that seemed destined to precipitate the newspaper’s slide into oblivion, the remaining staffers have refused to write their own obituary. They’re fundamentally rethinking how their organization should function — and, more importantly, they’re doing it out in the open.

My favorite recommendation (so far): “Our newsroom structure is flopped: 70 percent of our resources are dedicated to online, while the remaining 30 percent work to create a print experience that focuses on doing one thing on each section cover better than anything else. The rest of the paper is culled from our online report.”

Mark Glaser over at PBS has a nice summary of the Merc’s effort.

Come work with me

OK, if that headline didn’t totally scare you away, read on:

My employer, the L.A. Times, is looking for some hybrid journalist-techies to help us build our interactive concepts team. This group will be the glue that binds our graphics, editorial and tech teams and takes the lead on building innovative projects such as the Homicide Map. The role of the interactive team is so important to my bosses that they’re creating a new space for it in our online newsroom:

newsroom.jpg

(It’s the area behind the plastic in my blurry photo, and when they finish building we’re going to deck it out with all kinds of cool stuff.)

Two positions are open right now, and we’re tweaking the job description on a third:

If either of these gigs looks interesting to you, don’t hesitate to apply. We want to move fast to fill them.

Also, the Times has a bunch of other web jobs open. Check them out.

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Recently dugg on latimes.com

Just testing out Digg’s widgetizer, which can generate all kinds of custom widgets that you can place on your site. Here’s a list of recently popular stories from the L.A. Times: