Eric Scott Johnson

This story ran on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on December 24, 2011. You can also read an extended version on The Peninsula Press.

Photo by Eric JohnsonYou might get a video game, or you might get a stuffed purple unicorn. You might get an iPad, or you might wind up empty-handed.

No matter the outcome, Reddit’s anonymous gift exchanges are quickly becoming a holiday tradition. This year, the online community is going for a Guinness World Record, in the newly created category of Largest Online Secret Santa Game.

“This has become a lot of people’s one Christmas gift,” said Dan McComas, founder of RedditGifts, which organizes the exchanges.

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Big video games like Mass Effect 3 and Halo 4 aren’t going away anytime soon. But a growing cadre of independent games developers is taking the road less traveled — keeping teams tiny and visions narrow.

In fact, they say they don’t want to grow. And despite that unorthodox philosophy, they’re reaching big audiences, making some impressive money and shaking up the games industry as a whole.

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The following text is adapted from a radio script written for WBRU News.

Sign Of The Times - Foreclosure

Thump, thump. Tom Judd knocks on the door of a home on Hanover Street, on Providence’s west side. He and his partner Rosalina Collazo are here today to address a contemporary crisis.

Judd, age 23, works for the Housing Action Coalition, while Collazo, age 51, works for the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. They’re trying to track down homeowners who are facing foreclosure.

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This article, my first for mental_floss, was re-published by CNN.com and The Wall Street Journal. It also made the front page of Digg.

1. Lincoln’s first solution to slavery was a fiasco

Early in his presidency, Abe was convinced that white Americans wouldnever accept black Americans. “You and we are different races,” the president told a committee of “colored” leaders in August 1862. “…But for your race among us there could not be war…It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated.” Lincoln proposed voluntary emigration to Central America, seeing it as a more convenient destination than Liberia.  This idea didn’t sit well with leaders like Frederick Douglass, who considered colonization to be “a safety valve…for white racism.”

Luckily for Douglass (and the country), colonization failed spectacularly. One of the first attempts was on Île à Vache, a.k.a. Cow Island, a small isle off the coast of Haiti. The island was owned by land developer Bernard Kock, who claimed he had approved a black American colony with the Haitian government. No one bothered to call him on that claim. Following a smallpox outbreak on the boat ride down, hundreds of black colonizers were abandoned on the island with no housing prepared for them, as Kock had promised.

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Originally printed as “Planting Doubt About Rhode Island’s Name: Is ‘Providence Plantations’ a Historical Gem or a Racist Relic?” in the College Hill Independent.

As you drive along I-95 into the smallest state in the country, you might see a sign that says, “Welcome to Rhode Island.” If it were completely accurate, that sign would say, “Welcome to the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”

Rhode Island may be tiny, but its official name is the longest in the country. However, an upcoming state referendum could strip away that quirky distinction. It’s been 30 years since scholars began excavating Rhode Island’s historical embroilment in the slave trade, and, since then, the term “Providence Plantations” has engendered controversy among some historians and African-Americans.

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What a weird weekend for journalism.

On Sunday, a day once reserved for fat feature-laden newspapers, a new television show and a San Francisco hackathon brought the future of the media into the limelight in very different ways.

The TV show was HBO’s “The Newsroom,” the newest project of “The Social Network” scribe (and D10 guest) Aaron Sorkin. The hackathon was NewsHack Day, an ambitious attempt to bring self-proclaimed “hacks and hackers” — journalists and coders — together for a mad weekend of learning, brainstorming and creating.

Both were entertaining. But, one was stuck in the past.

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Eduardo Estrada is trying to save the United States Postal Service, one customer at a time.

It’s the Friday before Halloween, and the 56-year-old mail carrier strolls through a strip mall at the corner of El Camino Real and Clark Avenue in Mountain View.

He ducks into the businesses along his route, including the Kwik Key Lock & Safe, where the clerk asks, “Where’s your costume?”

“I’m wearin’ it,” Estrada calls back, raising his arms to show off the standard carrier uniform of a pale-blue button-down shirt, blue USPS hat and gray slacks. Two doors down at the Jenny Craig, he has no incoming mail to deliver, but drops in anyway to check for outgoing shipments.

“Hello, darling,” he says to the receptionist. “Anything for me today?”

“Only my heart,” she says.

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In only a few election cycles, political campaigning online has changed dramatically, a fact underscored by President Barack Obama’s “Ask Me Anything” Q&A on Reddit Wednesday afternoon.

President Obama is not the first well-known name to do an AMA on Reddit, which has hosted guests ranging from Bill Nye the Science Guy to Larry King to (infamously) actor Woody Harrelson.

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In downtown Providence last weekend, protesters raised their voices for Egypt: “From the Nile to the sea, Egyptian people will be free,” they chanted. But the campaign to end Hosni Mubarak’s rule didn’t start here. And really, it didn’t even start in Egypt.

Fares Horchani, a Tunisian college student currently in Boston, says the message of protest spread across online networks in Tunisia before spilling outside the country’s borders.

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The following text is the transcript for a feature segment produced for WBRU News.

[Host]: Ever heard of a Cool Moose? That’s the name of the political third-party started by Rhode Islander Bob Healey nearly 25 years ago. WBRU’s Eric Johnson talked toHealey last week. Here’s what happened…

[Eric]: The year was 1982. Bob Healey was 25 then, and he was running for school committee chairman in Warren. His slogan was simple–but boy, was it memorable.

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