Posts Tagged‘news’

Zero Value Blogging: News From Non-News.

I’ve found that no matter how hard you try to keep the quality of your blog high you’ll eventually end up posting something that’s utter crap, even more so if you go for the silly idea of blogging on a regular basis. This particular blog is a good example of that as whilst I’m overall satisfied with the level of quality stuff I’ve written over the years there’s more than a few examples of me trying to shit when I didn’t have to go and ending up posting something that does little more than keep this blog alive in Google’s search algorithms. Still this won’t stop me from pointing out when others crap out posts that add nothing of any value to anyone, especially when the articles are pulled directly out of their asses.

One of my favorite blogs who I regularly use as a punching bag here is Techcrunch. Don’t get me wrong there’s a reason that I keep coming back to them everyday for my fix on up and coming companies (I’m mostly watching for competitors) but they do have a habit of making news out of innocuous crap in order to generate some page views. From creating recursive posts with 0 content to wild speculation on new products without little to no research they’re no strangers to peddling out shit to their readers and seemingly act surprised when a vocal bunch of them begin trolling them. With the volume they put out though its inevitable that a percentage of their content will end up like this, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that it adds nothing to the value of their site or the wider Internet.

And rightly meta-blogging like this is similarly of low to zero value as all I’m really doing here is belly-aching about a much more successful tech blog. I try to avoid posts like these wanting instead to give my readers the information behind the news so that my posts can stand by themselves (and as a result age well) but a combination of lack of inspiration, seeing one of these 0 value posts and having this thing in draft for a couple weeks finally pushed me over the edge. You’d think the irony would be getting to me, but I’m just happy that I can satisfy my OCD for the day by getting this thing written.

I think the biggest issue I have with this kind of blogging is that when big sites do it the smaller ones follow suit turning the non-news story into a story in itself. I pride myself on not laying on the bullshit too strongly here and if I can’t verify something I just don’t write about it (or flag it as opinion). Unfortunately in the rapidly paced world of online news there’s really little time to allocate to fact checking a story when it hits, leaving you with the undesirable option of either reporting it verbatim or missing the boat by attempting to verify the story. My rule of posting once a day negates this problem (and also helps keep me sane) but also negates any benefits of posting on hot news as I’m often behind the times. I’m not a news reporting site however, so the impact on me is quite minimal.

When you’re making a living from the number of page views that come to your site it is understandable that you’ll do anything to keep that number high. Hell even just having a higher page view count can make you feel pretty good (like it did back when I first started this site) but in the end being proud of your work feels a lot better. I might change my tune when I finally think about monetizing this site, which could be coming soon since I moved this to a proper server, but that won’t change the fact that I’ll hate on those who aren’t providing any real value and I encourage anyone to point back to this post should I start playing fast and loose with the quality content just to keep the page views up.

Weapons Grade Bollocks.

You might notice that I don’t usually post on the same topic more than once per week. That’s because I’ve usually said all I can think about for that area and posting again just feels like I’m repeating myself. So in essence skepticism was done for the week after I posted my rant yesterday about alt-med and I set off on trying to find something else new and interesting to blog about. So you can imagine my frustration when over a morning coffee a news story pops up that flared up my bullshit detector and sent me into a wild skeptical flail. The story itself? Ghosts appearing in photos in a cemetary:

DOES this photograph show the figures of two children, born nearly a century apart, walking in their own paranormal playground?

The family who took this picture while on a ghost tour in Picton, NSW,  swear there were no children inside the St Mark’s Cemetery.

Which begs the question: who, or what, is out there?

Local legend has it that the two children are David Shaw and Blanche Moon, who died 60 years apart.

Just so I don’t explode from the sheer amount of stupid that’s emanating from the media outlets that are lapping up this story (even when it’s not a slow news day, what with Prince William being here) let me tear down why this story, and indeed all stories like this, are pure weapons grade bollocks.

The first problem I see with this story is that the picture was from a digital camera. It’s not explicitly stated but the family said when they “uploaded” the photos they saw the children who weren’t there when they took the photo. Right off the bat this shows that they could have easily been altered and the lack of the original hi-res photo makes inspection for alterations difficult. The reporter on the news this morning said inspection of the photo showed no alterations since the noise appeared to match the background.

Ok sure it’s not like we can add in noise to pictures afterwards… oh wait yes we can. It’s rather trivial to put objects into a photo that weren’t there in the first place, blur them slightly and then add film grain over the top to make it appear like the photo was an original. Plus the size of the image floating around is ridiculously small with JPEG compression knocking out a good whack of detail. Additionally none of the images on the web contain the EXIF data either, which is basically a fingerprint of data the camera leaves on every shot it takes. This has all the makings of a faked image if I ever saw one.

What gets me though is that the locals were so quick to jump on the bandwagon and say who the children were. I mean really can you even make a face out in those pictures? As far as I can tell they’re the same kid and you’d have zero chance of identifying anyone with a shot that blurry. So of course the local legend must be right since the picture is of 2 kids. Usually something like this would flounder on the back pages but somehow its made its place amongst a prince visiting our country and the tragedy in Haiti. Smells like a PR stunt to me.

As you can probably tell I never buy this kind of bull that seems to come my way every so often. These kinds of things play on people’s inbuilt fear of death and hopes for an afterlife, something which I don’t believe should be used for material gains. Whenever you see something like this take a step back and ask yourself “How hard would it be to fake that?”. 99.999999999999999999999% of the time you’ll think of ways pretty quickly, in the other cases it’s a complicated illusion that will take you a lot longer to pick apart. There’s a reason why a lot of magicians out there are also rabid skeptics.

Edutainment – Yes it’s a word!

When I was a young lad I never had much interest in the news. I found it pretty hard to sit down with my parents for what would equate to 30 minutes of some stranger lecturing me from the TV so I of course sourced information from various other places. Whilst this has changed recently (thank you whoever got me interested in politics, I now waste HOURS on the news!) I did start to notice a trend towards getting my information from non-traditional sources. It seems that I wasn’t alone in this fact as demonstrated by this article written about 5 years ago:

The 2004 presidential campaign is continuing the long-term shift in how the public gets its election news. Television news remains dominant, but there has been further erosion in the audience for broadcast TV news. The Internet, a relatively minor source for campaign news in 2000, is now on par with such traditional outlets as public television broadcasts, Sunday morning news programs and the weekly news magazines. And young people, by far the hardest to reach segment of the political news audience, are abandoning mainstream sources of election news and increasingly citing alternative outlets, including comedy shows such as the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, as their source for election news.

Although a tad old (They of course couldn’t of included The Colbert Report, which came out a year later) this article does highlight some good points about the way young people are getting their information about political matters. I wouldn’t of believed the majority of it myself if it wasn’t for one of my not-so-politically-inclined housemates showing a keen understanding of American politics with little to no idea about Australia. Just so happens that he was an avid fan of both of these shows.

Edutainment, whilst sounding like some execu-marketing type word, is now becoming one of those areas where a significant amount of influence can be quantified. Whilst the Generation X crowd still had some respect for the good old fashion way of dredging up their political information the Gen Y crowd (who I am a part of) are increasingly connected and are very demanding on their information sources. The research seems to show that a typical gen y person will have an average attention span of about 20 minutes and you’ll find that most TV shows base themselves around this demographic. They also tend to embrace technology, cornering my demographic even further.

Not all of the edutainment programs out there are politically charged either. Probably the most famous example is Mythbusters, a show I thoroughly enjoy watching every week. Whilst the science can be a little shaky at times it’s still a great show to get people into science and engineering. Not all of these kinds of shows are American either, with shows like Good News Week here in Australia being highly popular even after being cancelled for several years.

I see these kinds of programs as an evolution in the industry. No longer are comedic and entertaining shows seen as just avenues to market products, the populace at large now enjoys a bit of education mixed in with their TV watching. Personally I love it, and there’s nothing better to me then a good documentary or a few episodes of Mythbusters blowing things up. Sure it might not be the best way to learn, but it’s by far the most appealing and it seems the rest of my generation agrees with me.

Now if only I convince an exec that a reality TV show in space is a good idea….. 🙂

Science Reporting vs Actual Science

It seems every other day we’re bombarded with promises of new technology or scientific breakthroughs that can revolutionize the way we work, live and play. Whilst there is a great amount of research being done around the globe which will in turn lead to tangible benefits for all of us it would seem that we’re always told of technology that’s “just around the corner” or “at least a decade away from practical implementation”. It would seem on the surface that scientists are spending most of their time 10 years behind where they should be, rather than working on something that will provide real benefits now.

However it is prudent to note that the media is great at drawing wild conclusions from even small scientific discoveries. The majority of them fell under the umbrella of wild speculation, and I’ve got a couple of examples to show you.

One of the best I’ve seen is Resveratrol. Here’s a quick blurb on what it’s effects are:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7nuENf5FuI

A quick googling of this term brings up over 3 million sites with 10 or so links for you to buy the product. Even though this is completely unproven we still have people heralding this compound as a cure for many human ailments. The main reason it has taken off so well is probably due to its life extending properties, which has only been proven so far in mice.

Another more recent one was the re-ignition of the cold fusion debate, seen here:

Twenty years to the day that two electrochemists ignited controversy by announcing signs of cold fusion at an infamous press conference in Utah (watch a video of the 1989 event), a separate team has made a similar claim in the same US state. But this time, the evidence is being taken more seriously.

Back in 1989, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons at the University of Utah announced the tantalising prospect of abundant, almost-free energy, but their claims of fusion reactions in a tabletop experiment were dismissed by nuclear physicists, not least because such reactions normally occur inside stars. The few watts of extra energy they found were widely considered a fluke.

Now Pamela Mosier-Boss and colleagues at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in San Diego, California, are claiming to have made a “significant” discovery – clear evidence of the products of cold fusion.

Most people will read the top half of the article and not see the clarifications that come at the end. Whilst New Scientist usually does a good job of reporting on science discoveries articles like this are so easily picked up by regular journalists and turned into sensationalist dribble that only causes people to think that scientists are promising more then that can deliver.

If you read over the article you’ll discover that they in fact haven’t discovered anything to do with cold fusion, just evidence of energetic neutrons which are unlikely to be created in such a reaction. If it did turn out to be a cold fusion reaction I’d be among the first to congratulate them on freeing us from our energy constrains, but call me skeptical when I see something that doesn’t even actually generate power as being heralded as cold fusion. I would have much preferred to see this article under the heading of “Energetic Neutron Creation in Room Temperature Environments”, although that’s not as sexy or provocative as “Neutron tracks revive hopes for cold fusion”.

So to all those people out there who are wondering where our flying cars are or why we haven’t cured the common cold yet please remember this: The media is not a factual source of scientific information and any breakthrough you hear about has more then likely been sensationalised. There are many great people working on pretty much every aspect of our lives without us knowing about them, and it is they who will bring about real progress to the world.