Friday, December 31, 2004

Holiday reading in Norway was Dan Gillmor's inspirational We The Media (kindly bought for me by Chuck Olsen.)

Gillmor outlines a utopian world of media meritocracy, where a blogger with a tiny readership can compete on equal terms with the New York Times or the BBC.

In Gillmor's world, "professional" and "amateur" journalists, writers and readers, collaborate and debate openly -- resulting in better researched, more thoughtful and more accurate journalism.

I'm normally very sceptical about some of the grander claims made about the power of blogs -- but Gillmor backs up his arguments with numerous examples of genuinely groundbreaking projects such as Persian Blog, OhmyNews and The Melrose Mirror.

Anyone doubting the reality of the new media landscape Dan Gillmor maps out need only look at the way bloggers have responded to the Asian tsunami disaster. It's the most widespread example yet of the emerging world he describes, of grassroots journalism by the people, for the people.
While I was on holiday, an interview I pre-recorded just before Christmas ran on the BBC Radio Wales programme Mousemat.

You can download it as an MP3 below -- it's just under 1Mb.

Radio Wales Mousemat Interview

Thursday, December 30, 2004

As reports like this one explain, the rescue effort in Sri Lanka is being hampered by landmines dislodged by the tsunami flood waters.

The Mines Advisory Group has been working in Sri Lanka for several years and is looking at ways of helping.

(Read more about the landmine situation in Sri Lanka here.)

Back from Norway which -- like so many countries -- is in mourning for the terrible loss of life on Boxing Day.

Following Tony Blair and President Bush's example, I stayed on holiday while the tsunami tragedy unfolded.

In truth, I had little choice. With the nearest airport almost 300km away, it was far easier to send teams based in the Far East and even London to the disaster zone than drag me down from the peaks of the Rondane National Park.

As with last year's Bam Earthquake, I can't say I was disappointed not to go -- but it nevertheless felt a little strange to be watching events unfold on BBC World rather than in front of my eyes.

Under the circumstances, it seems almost in poor taste to say I had a great holiday -- snow-shoeing up mountains, cross-country skiing and replacing the smoggy residue of London with lungfuls of clean Norwegian mountain air under the expert guidance of mountain leader Merv Capewell.

My artificial leg fared incredibly well in the sub-zero conditions -- although Mr Stumpy took quite a hammering hiking through snow drifts for 6 days and is looking and feeling rather battered and bruised. I'm going to have to take it easy if I'm going to survive my trek in the Himalayas, which begins in just over a week's time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Aileen and I are heading off to Norway tomorrow morning to spend Christmas snow-shoeing in Rondablikk.

The laptop's staying at home so there'll be no more blogging until I get back in a week's time.

Have a great Christmas!!

Monday, December 20, 2004

The BBC's first experiment in podcasting -- Melvyn Bragg's radio programme In Our Time -- has apparently been a big success. More BBC podcasts are promised.

An internal BBC press release says:

"More than 70,000 people downloaded Radio 4's In Our Time programme in November.

"The series, which explored the history of ideas, was available to download for seven days after broadcast for use on portable players and computers, as well as being available via live and on-demand streaming.

"The mp3 download experiment aimed to test the public's demand for radio downloads.

"Podcasting, which allowers listeners to have new programmes automatically delivered to their computer as soon as they are posted on the web, also proved popular with technology-savvy listeners.

"Simon Nelson, controller of radio and music interactive, said he was ‘surprised and delighted’ by the high demand for downloads on one of Radio 4’s most challenging programmes.

"He said he would be working with rights holders to explore ways R&M interactive could earn from the experiment to drive radio listening forward."

Thursday, December 16, 2004

For a telling -- and at tims depressing -- insight into one of the leading moneymen bank-rolling the American right, listen to NPR's interview with junk mail king Richard Viguerie.

Viguerie lurches from one bogeyman of the right to the next: liberals, the media, gays (who are apparently desecrating Catholic churches across America), Hollywood and secularists.

His most hilarious outburst comes when he criticises liberals for arguing in nuances instead of presenting issues in black and white. Damn those lefties and their subtle debates.

Viguerie's views are about as valuable as the junk he stuffs through millions of letterboxes.
NBC's Olympics supremo Dick Ebersol is reportedly in worse shape than previously thought, following a plane crash last month.

Don't be surprised if NBC suddenly takes an interest in the Paralympics following Ebersol's misfortune (see my previous postings here, here and here.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Head of the State Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Richard Kidd, has responded to a recent editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which criticised the US of hypocrisy for failing to sign up to the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty:

"How can the United States harangue the world about joining our crusade against nations it believes harbor weapons of mass destruction when we blithely ignore the killing and maiming of thousands of innocent civilians now?"

Kidd states the standard State Department position I heard many times during the recent Nairobi Summit:

"First and foremost, the United States has an obligation to protect our men and women in uniform as they carry out our global defense commitments. The Ottawa Convention would prohibit U.S. forces from employing munitions that they may need for those purposes.

"Moreover, the Ottawa Convention addresses only anti-personnel mines and permits equally damaging anti-vehicle mines. U.S. policy, however, addresses all types of persistent and non-detectable landmines, and we are pushing for global restrictions on all such mines in two separate international conventions.

"Finally, even though the United States is not a party to the Ottawa Convention, organizers of the Nairobi event expected us to pay 22 percent of conference costs, estimated at well over $100,000. We believe this money is better spent on clearing mines and saving more lives."

On the final, at least, Kidd and I are in agreement.

Just finished Seymour Hersh's Chain of Command.

It's a stunning piece of work, a sober and patient unravelling of the failures and lies that led to the war in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Hersh collects whispers and secret conversations from spooks, diplomats and officials and weaves them into a devastating narrative.

Yet even after more than 400 pages of dogged prodding and probing, Hersh admits he doesn't have all the answers. "There is so much about this presidency that we don't know, and may never learn," he says.

If you're still short of a Christmas present, I highly recommend it.
And so, we begin our tour of golden radio moments in Lancashire, where the early morning news team is in a spot of bother.

It's 7 o'clock on a saturday morning, there's been a gas explosion in Greater Manchester, but the only other person in the building available to put his lips around a voice piece is....the bloke who does the angling report.

Martin James reports (mp3)

To the south west next, where a popular euphemism for ladies bits appears not be so well known.

Beef Curtains (mp3)

Keep them coming.
Lots being written about amputees about the moment.

The latest article to look at the state of the art in prosthetics technology is in Popular Mechanics of all places.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Yesterday's audio file has prompted a deluge of similar local radio stinkers -- some of which I promise to post up tomorrow.

It's not too late to e-mail me if you have any more.
The Guardian's Jane Perrone writes of the latest clash between a journalist-turned-blogger and his or her employer (see here for my last posting on the subject.)

The now-defunct blog, View From the Third Floor, promised the inside track on life inside the LA Times -- but was quickly pulled for reasons that are still unknown.

Did the anonymous insider get cold feet and decide to yank the blog before his/her pay cheques dried up?

Despite the demise of View From the Third Floor, Jane Perrone predicts that "unless media organisations impose a heavy-handed and creativity-killing ban on journalists' personal blogs, there is every likelihood that the number of hacks with personal blogs will boom during 2005."

Let's hope so.

One for my Christmas present list in 2009.

Researchers from MIT and Brown University (in journalist parlance we'd call them boffins) have begun a five-year project that aims to lead to the creation of:

"biohybrid limbs that will use regenerated tissue, lengthened bone, titanium prosthetics and implantable sensors that allow an amputee to use nerves and brain signals to move the arm or leg."

They'll be the Toyota Prius of prosthetic limbs.

The project's being funded by the US military because -- as this recent study points out -- in wars, firepower is increasing but lethality is on the slide. That means many more soldiers (and some journalists) who once would have died of their injuries are surviving, but with bits missing.

(Credit due to Defense Tech -- to whom thanks for the mention)

The project is led by Professor Hugh Herr, a modern-day Dr Frankenstein who wants to "accelerate the merging of body and machine."

Read more about Kerr's work here.

Wise words on the state of news coverage in the US from Renee Graham of the Boston Globe following the Scott Peterson sentencing -- a story which thankfully didn't gain much attention here in britain:

"Here's how overwhelming media coverage betrayed our culture. It reduced a family tragedy to a national pastime, a sporting event complete with "fans" cheering Peterson's conviction last month outside the courtroom."

MSNBC's Dan Abrams, AKA The Pastry Chef of News, pompously attempts to defend the trial coverage thus:

"There is a place for it at the news dinner table and, while this is serious stuff as a news matter, maybe it's dessert. But as long as you don't only eat or serve sweets, I see it as an entirely defensible part of the diet."

I never thought I'd find myself saying this but it's Fox's Bill O'Reilly who comes closest to identifying the true reason for the wall-to-wall Peterson coverage on the American news networks:

"We do Laci Peterson every 15 minutes and see the numbers go up," he's quoted as saying in the Boston Globe.

As the cable news channels gear up for their next celebrity courtroom circus -- the forthcoming Michael Jackson trial -- ABC's Brian Rooney notes the real tragedy for American news consumers: that the major television networks had more people covering the trial in Redwood City than they have reporting on events in Iraq.

(Assorted background c/o TV Newser.)
I've just rung the changes with my Audible radio subscription.

This American Life has been replaced by Fresh Air with Terry Gross -- largely because TAL presenter Ira Glass's reedy voice was beginning to grate on my nerves during my cycle to work.

On the subject of public radio, I can highly recommend two websites I recently stumbled across, Transom and the Public Radio Exchange.

Both are superb resources for anyone with a passion for making or listening to good radio -- and prove there's more to listen to on the wireless than Rush Limbaugh.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Most journalists who started out in local radio or newspapers have done it at some point in their career.

A wildly overwritten press release from a PR agency arrives on the fax machine. Normally, you'd file it straight in the waste paper basket. But on a slow news day, when you're scratching around for something to fill the bulletin with, you decide to turn the shoddy release into 20 seconds of copy.

That appears to be exactly what's happened in this audio clip, which is causing much pre-Christmas mirth as it does the rounds of the newsroom.

It allegedly resulted from a spoof press release which was sent out as a joke but was taken seriously and written up as a news story by the top news team on "Winchester This Morning."

I can't vouch for its authenticity.
An aptly named US Marine Lance Corporal, David Battle, chose love over limbs when his hand was mangled during a fire fight in Fallujah.

He told surgeons to lop off his finger rather than damage his wedding ring.

Imagine how pissed off Battle must have been, then, when the amorous amputee discovered the doctors had managed to lose the ring in the confusion.
Last year I wrote about Scott Rogers, an above the knee amputee who was at that point planning to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.

Unfortunately, AP reports that Scott was forced to suspend his hike after 230 days and nights on the trail -- and just short of the 2000 mile mark -- for personal and technical reasons.

Even so, it's still one heck of an achievement.

Friday, December 10, 2004

For an insight into the future of prosthetics, when man and machine will become increasingly intertwined, take a look at the products being developed by Canadian firm Victhom.

The company's first bionic product -- a motorized prosthetic leg -- is about to come onto the market.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Reopening this posting, it's clear from the stats that having written the words "Jennifer Krum" on this blog has inadvertently done wonders for my traffic.

I therefore feel duty-bound to inform the amputee porn fetishists who shouldn't be here in the first place that Ms Krum's Playboy pictorial is now online (or so I'm reliably informed.)

Definitely not work-safe.
Bah humbug -- back from a day trip to Wales, but there'll be no new prosthesis for Christmas.

In truth, it's worth waiting another few weeks -- and I'm extremely fortunate to have a prosthetics team that's committed enough to put the effort in to ensuring my new limbs will be as good as they can possibly be.

First, the Cheetah.

The issue here is that the foot is designed for track sprinting -- but I'll be using it for distance running and more general aerobic activity. This has all sorts of knock on effects on the biomechanics, so the prosthetists want to tinker with the alignment on a treadmill to make sure it's set up correctly. That'll take a morning -- and so will have to wait until after Christmas.

Secondly, my new walking leg.

The new limb will be something of a departure for me. Instead of the lock-in liner I use at the moment, we're experimenting with a new seal-in system.

Today, we carried out diagnostic checks and -- for reasons that are too boring to explain -- the new system feels substantially more comfortable than the old one.

So it'll be New Year -- New Legs.
Off to Cardiff -- where with any luck my Cheetah running leg will be ready for action.

More later.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Reopening the subject of Embarrassed Americans Who Wish They Were Canadian, the Times reports on the Go Canadian Travel Pack, designed for US citizens facing harrassment overseas (the ones that actually have passports, that is.)

Just don't forget your tuque.
The articles aren't available online without subscription but Ossur's new Rheo Knee System -- created in collaboration with MIT -- has been singled out for praise by both Time and Fortune magazines.

What's particularly cool about the system is that it comes complete with a iPAQ PDA, so you can keep track of all your addresses, check your e-mail on the move and recalibrate your leg with the same device.
After the Nairobi gab-fest it's business as usual for those actually involved in the dirty work of mine clearance.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Monday, December 06, 2004

Thanks to a few days of rest and a new routine suggested by my doctor -- which includes setting my alarm to wake up at 0700 every morning (fat chance of that happening) -- my sleep patterns are returning to their usual clockwork-like rhythms and I can pick up where I left off.

Apologies for the enforced break -- I was so exhausted in Nairobi last week that blogging had to take a back seat.

Covering the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World was exactly as I had expected -- a lot of talking, a lot of diplomacy, many fine words, and a world away from the real dirty work of actually clearing landmines.

For me, it also highlighted how the mine action world, like any humanitarian sector, is an industry. Hundreds of people make their living from talking about -- and sometimes even doing something about -- the worldwide landmine problem.

My week began by covering the Landmine Survivors Summit, in which survivors from around the world came together to pledge to do their bit to rid the world of landmines.

Here's my report.

Some of the most newsworthy lines of the week came from critics of the US policy on landmines and America's refusal to join the 144 nations that have signed up to the Ottawa Treaty.

There were no official delegates from the USA in Nairobi, but a contact of mine from the State Department could usually be found lurking in the corridors and fringe meetings. As the week went on he looked increasingly haggard, a result no doubt of the daily abuse he received from anti-landmine campaigners. I admired his guts for even turning up.

Here's a report I filed after a press briefing by the US Campaign to Ban Landmines.

BBC News Online also picked up on my report.

The week ended with the publication of the Nairobi Declaration, designed to send everyone home with a warm glow and a feeling that their week in the African sun was something more than an expensive jolly.

Was it?

I hope so, but I came away from Nairobi with the strong feeling that far more would have been achieved if the money spent on organising the summit had been used to actually clear a few landmines instead.

Travel plans meant I wasn't able to take up an offer to join the panel for a BBC Talking Point Debate on the landmine issue. A shame. The whole programme is online.

One final travel tip. I can thoroughly recommend the Norfolk Hotel, Nairobi, which rivals Jerusalem's American Colony for old world opulence.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Back in London after the Nairobi landmine summit, which I managed to peel away from a day early to get home for the weekend.

My sleep patterns are slowly returning to normal and there'll be a summary of the Nairobi trip tomorrow.

First, though, here's the latest health bulletin on Frank Gardner which, as we had feared, indicates continuing concern over whether he'll be able to walk.

"Six months after the shooting, Frank continues to recover in hospital. He is currently undergoing physiotherapy and occupational therapy at an orthopaedic hospital.

"Although in good health, it is not yet known if he will ever regain the full use of his legs due to spinal nerve damage. But he is able to return home for short visits and will be spending Christmas at home with his family. In the New Year, Frank faces a major operation to carry out further surgery to his abdomen.

"Once he's recovered from that, he very much looks forward to returning to the screen and to the airwaves. He remains in good spirits and is, as ever, very grateful to all those who have been kind enough to send messages of support."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I haven't disappeared off the face of the earth -- I'm working hard in Nairobi but I'm also suffering from an exhausting bout of insomnia.

Normal service will be resumed once my sleep patterns have sorted themselves out.