Saturday, October 14, 2017

Imitation is the sincerest form of...

I suppose that although it's a sad story, I’m proud that my original post on Common Tread seemed to generate a lot more engagement than any of the unauthorized posts it spun off on rival websites. I suppose that if those other stories had opened with something more like, “Over on Common Tread, Mark Gardiner’s put up a detailed report on the Nicky Hayden accident situation. In summary, Gardiner’s found… blah, blah, blah” and written a 300-word Executive Summary of my story, I’d be fine with it. As it is, I don't know how to feel.

A funny thing happened a few weeks back. A link appeared in my Facebook feed – and I should say right now, I don’t know who posted it – that caused me to visit a site I’d never seen before, where I read this post. I have no idea who puts up ‘Motorbike Fans’. It’s all in English but it doesn’t read as if it’s written by native speakers of English. Maybe it’s Italian.

The 300-word post I read said that the Italian prosecutor investigating Nicky Hayden’s fatal accident was about to press charges against the driver who hit him. That sounded about right to me, based on my limited recollection of Italian accident law. (A subject that came to my attention way back when Patrick Head was formally charged with manslaughter after the racing death of Ayrton Senna.)

The first thing I did was to quickly check all the largest U.S.-based motorcycle websites to make sure I wasn’t the last guy to know the case was going forward. When I saw no mention of it on sites like Cycle World, Roadracing World, Cycle News, Asphalt & Rubber, or MO, I wrote a short email to Lance, at Common Tread, asking him whether he’d like me to look into it further, and he immediately responded that I should.

That set in motion an entire day of research. I set my Google language preference to Italian, and began searching through dozens of news reports, mostly stuff that originated in daily newspapers in Rimini, but some from Italian sports newspapers, and Italian motorcycle racing sites.

My passive comprehension of Italian is pretty good; I can read an ordinary newspaper story. Still if I’m working in Italian what I usually do is run stuff through Google Translate, and then go back and check anything that sounds whacky in the original.

I tried to cross-check or confirm anything that appeared to come from a single source, following and reading 20 or more stories and posts. I researched Italian traffic laws and signage, and refreshed my obviously cursory knowledge of Italian accident law.

I called and/or emailed the prosecutor, the forensic investigator, and the lawyers representing both the Hayden family and the driver – although I’ve since received some follow up info from those sources, they contributed very little to my story at the time though they did confirm a few details that had been reported in Italy.

Using Google Streetview, I captured images similar to both Nicky’s and the driver’s perspectives of the crash scene. And I examined dozens of still and video images of crash investigation.

About 36 hours after getting Lance’s “Go”, I delivered a 1,200 word recap of the situation, covering everything I'd learned about the accident and ongoing investigation. I was pretty confident that I'd parsed most of the relevant material in the public domain (for example, security camera footage of the accident has not been made public.) I tried to set it all in the context of the laws and regulations governing fatal accidents in Italy (which are very different than those governing similar accidents here in the U.S.)

Lance liked it, but being a proper journalist by training, he asked me to go back into it and cite a few key sources.

Now, an admission: I’d been racing to get it finished, and hadn’t left a very good trail of bread crumbs. So I had to get back onto Google and re-find sources for attribution. It’s possible that I picked up some details from one source, but later attributed them to someone else who also reported the same fact. The number of sources I cited was fewer than the number of sources I checked, and from which my original notes were compiled.

Meanwhile, throughout the writing, and rewrite/source insertion, and over the 24 hours or so that passed before my story was posted on Common Tread, I kept an eye on competing web sites. I would have been bummed if someone else had scooped me.

The whole Nicky Hayden accident thing is sad, of course, but I also have to admit that I was gratified by the big reaction my story got within hours of being posted on Common Tread. Hundreds of comments, including comments that generally supported my conclusions posted by people in Italy; star MotoGP photographer Andrew Wheeler posted a photo that he took of a memorial at the crash site and described traffic there. In the tiny world of motorcycle journalism, it was a hit. (Sorry for that turn of phrase.)

I was a little dismayed a couple of days later when Lance sent me a one-sentence email that read, “Why do I feel that [REDACTED] just rewrote your story?”

He included a link to another U.S. web site had basically put up a post that looked an awful lot like a straight summary of my account. It presented pretty much the same information in the same order, including several phrases that were reproduced verbatim. That post listed a few sources – a subset of the sources I cited – and then it listed me as a source.

Wow, I thought. If I’m listed as a source, does that mean it’s not plagiarism?

This is an excerpt of Penn State's plagiarism policy. But I admit that I'm not sure what rules (if any) prevail in online 'journalism'.

I don’t talk much shop with my wife, but I mentioned it over dinner that night and she immediately told me to file an outraged complaint, or better yet, send them an invoice.

I was, like, What if that’s just the way journalism works now? I wouldn’t do that, but maybe that just means I’m past my sell-by date.

About a day later, another web site posted a Nicky Hayden accident story, but the information presented was not just a reductive/in-order presentation of information from my story. Still, the only sources listed were, again, the same ones I’d gone back and inserted into my story. (It made me wish I’d put in one completely fictitious source.) And, again, it listed me as a source.

A day or so after that, Cycle World ran a short story on the accident investigation, but that one didn't particularly feel like a rewrite of mine. Why would it? It was written by ‘European Editor’ Bruno dePrato, who is based in Italy. I read his hoping only that I didn’t get anything way wrong. (I didn’t.) That said, I think the appearance of my story was what prompted CW to set dePrato on it.

To be clear: I follow up on leads I see in Facebook posts, or on obscure blogs or websites, all the time. But if I see what looks like a comprehensive, authoritative post on some topic, as far as I’m concerned it’s been done and I leave it at that. 

But maybe that’s just me. And as noted, I am not an authority on what does or doesn’t constitute plagiarism right now.

When I’m assigned to a launch, I read other guys’ tests of the previous generation of whatever bike it is. In between sessions, I talk to other motojournalists about the bike; sometimes I quote specific people but if there’s a consensus opinion I mention that without any particular attribution. If someone seems to have straight-up factual information (“They came with 320mm rotors last year,” or whatever) I might just include that as part of my writeup without quote marks or attribution.

I wrote Lance to ask him what, if anything, he thought I should do. He didn’t seem to feel it was any big deal, and I suppose I don’t either even though at least one guy and probably two guys just piggybacked on about 12 hours of pretty intense work on my part. Maybe in this disrupted era they genuinely felt that by mentioning me as a source, they were giving me valuable ‘exposure’.  

I dunno; we ride on asphalt; the whole surface is a grey area.


What do you think? Should I feel flattered, or ripped off? Feel free to add a comment.

Yann Martel was accused of lifting the entire plot of this award-winning novel from a Brazilian short story. Although he named the Brazilian author in the book's foreword (and claimed that he'd only read a review of the short story, and never read the story itself) he was not insulated from accusations of plagiarism.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

If it wasn’t for motorcycle accident, Blade Runner (and Blade Runner 2049) may never have been made

Hampton Fancher was a successful TV actor in the 1960s. Even by the standards of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ he was quite a ladies’ man – but he was nothing in that department, compared to his handsome wingman, Brian Kelly, who starred in the hit show ‘Flipper’.



Period accounts of Fancher’s exploits (many told in the first person in the documentary 'Escapes') describe a guy who was pretty much the epitome of a Hollywood douchebag. The one time he came down to earth was in 1970, when he loaned Kelly his motorcycle and his friend wrecked. Kelly suffered permanent nerve damage that left his right side paralyzed. Fancher was wracked with guilt.

At that time, Fancher wanted to transition into screenwriting. He tried to convince Philip K. Dick to option the novella, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ but Dick refused. Fancher came away from those meetings convinced the sci-fi author was more than just eccentric. “I think he was clinically paranoid,” he told WBGO’s Jon Kalish.

Meanwhile, Brian Kelly, whose acting career had come to a crashing halt on Fancher’s bike, was trying to transition in a producer role. Kelly asked Fancher for leads on potential film projects. Fancher gave him Dick’s phone number.

“I didn’t think anything would come of it,” Fancher told Kalish, “but a week later he came back and said, ‘I got it’.” Maybe something about Kelly’s gimped arm and leg convinced Dick that he was not your typical Hollywood cigar-chomper. Dick's option fee was $2,000.

Without the motorcycle accident, Kelly might never have become a producer, and Fancher would probably never have put Kelly in touch with Dick (who until that point had rebuffed many Hollywood types' enquiries about 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?')

Fancher wrote the initial drafts of Blade Runner for Kelly, who then brought in Ridley Scott as director. Scott is said to have read an early draft of the screenplay and asked, "What's outside the window?"

"I don't know," replied Fancher.

"Give it some thought," said Scott.

As a result of that conversation, Fancher sketched out the famously dystopian Los Angeles landscape that made Blade Runner so ineffably cool. But, Scott and Fancher clashed. Scott brought in another screenwriter, David Peoples, and for a while Fancher had his name taken out of the credits. Brian Kelly was an Executive Producer on the film.


Kelly died in 2005 at the age of 73. Scott and Fancher finally patched up their relationship and worked together again on ‘Blade Runner 2049’. When the sequel opened, Scott and Fancher were both 79.

Friday, September 22, 2017


From the UK, courtesy of YouTube user ‘A gap tooth grin’ comes this video which begins as a how-not-to example, but ends with two vital how-to tips.



I’m not sure where this undulating bit of British B-road is, but I’m quite sure ‘Gap’, as I’ll call him, is riding like a complete wanker for the first minute or so. I didn’t catch a speed limit sign, but his TomTom Bandit video system includes helpful speed data, showing that his Honda CBR600RR reached over 114 miles per hour on a road with a maximum 60 mph limit.


2 seconds in: The title ‘Near Miss’ is a bit of a spoiler, but the description ‘Lorry pulls out’ doesn’t come close to doing justice to the magnitude of the problem this douchebag’s about to face.

10 seconds in: In case you think there’s any chance Gap’s in control, note his speed as he approaches this intersection. Although he appears to have a reasonable line of sight to confirm no one’s approaching from the left, the paint on the right verge, and directional signage on the left verge indicate that there’s a blind entry in those trees on the right and…


11 seconds in: …sure enough there was a car about to enter the intersection. There are several more examples of this kind of ‘Russian roulette riding’ in the next 20 seconds of video.


25 seconds in: He has no idea what’s just around that hedge, but note the shadow under the rider’s right hand: His whole fist is firmly twisting the ‘Crash Switch™’ into maximum-crash position, and he’s not covering the front brake, which is the ‘Don’t-Crash Switch™’.


33 seconds in: Note Gap’s position in his lane; he’s at least four feet too far to the right in this situation. Considering that he can’t see what’s around the bend, he should be much further to the outside, he’d have a wider line and, more important in this setting, he’d have a much better perspective on the truck, which is just coming into view at the vanishing point.

Gap describes this video as: “Why you shouldn’t ride like a complete prick.” Another way to think about this is, if you’re going to ride like a complete prick, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. The right way would be to...
  • Be positioned on the outside of the bend for visibility, and not fully commit to the turn until you can see the exit 
  • Cover the front brake 
  • Have a laser-focus on that vanishing point, which is only about 2-3 seconds up the road.

This should be his “Oh fuck!” moment but instead, he actually accelerates for one more full second. 

Seriously, WTF was he thinking? The UK standard for road markings is for a 3 meter painted section with a 9 meter space. He’s 15 ‘dots’ or 180 meters from the intersection by that estimate. Based on speed and frame-rate data, I calculated a slightly shorter distance but it was still well over 300 feet. Although it would have been hard to bring the bike to a controlled stop, it was (barely) possible. This guy’s not exactly a demon on the brakes.


2.5 seconds after first seeing the truck: If Gap had seen the truck immediately and reacted in 1/10th of a second, he’d be going 20 miles per hour slower at this point, and the escape route opening to the right, behind the truck, would be viable.

Of course if he’d entered the bend at 10 mph over the limit instead of 25 over, this would be a doddle. He’d have ample time to slow to 30 mph, look under the truck to confirm the absence of oncoming traffic, pull to the right side of the right lane, and pass behind the truck.


3.0 seconds after seeing the truck: If he’d been riding at a fun-but-reasonable speed, paying attention, and had proper brake discipline, he’d make this much more underpants-friendly escape maneuver to the right at <30 mph.

But, since he’s going 70 that’s not an option. At this moment, you can finally hear the ABS working but he is still going way too fast.

Now, however, Gap flicks the ‘Don’t-Crash™ Switch’ by not fixating on the truck but by looking where he wants to go, at the tiny gap to the left of the truck.

There are any number of what-not-to-do lessons you can draw from this video but this is the first and most important to-do tip illustrated here: Look where you want to go!
At this point, he’s still slowing down, and he should be thanking Honda for that ABS system. He’s also illustrating the second thing he did right which was, Don't Give Up


As hairball as this maneuver is, taking to the narrow grass verge; threading between the guardrail and the truck at over 50; there’s one more hazard up ahead: soft mud, a deep rut in the verge, and the edge of that concrete curb on the bridge sidewalk. 

Impressively, ‘Gap’ manages to steer back onto the road and bring the bike to a controlled stop... 50 yards past the point where he should’ve stopped, but alive because saw that gap and went for it. Even crashing on the grassy verge would’ve been a better option than hitting the truck.

Review

  • Riding too fast = Crash Switch™ in on position
  • Not paying attention to blind entryways = Crash Switch™ in on position
  • Not looking ahead in turn = Crash Switch™ in on position
  • Failure to react to truck in plain view = Crash Switch™ in on position
  • Looking where you want to go = flicking the Don’t-Crash Switch™ 
  • Fighting off the crash = holding down the Don’t-Crash Switch™