There’s a nice city.
Well, it’s been long enough between posts. So long that I’ve graduated since my last post.
Anyways, one of the issues I have with the news media is that we have a tendancy to confuse events with news. Events aren’t news. Events are the raw materials of news stories; journalists should take events and attach things like context to get news. Physicists have a saying: “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Well, journalists ought to take that to heart.
One of the biggest offenders in that regard is one of my favorite news sources: Politico, an online newspaper devoted to political journalism. They take a normal journalistic virtue — breaking news — and turn it on its head through the 24-hour news cycle that news sites have to live by.
So today I got a Breaking News Alert e-mailed to me about a speech on Middle East policy President Obama just made. I click on the link and it takes me to a story headlined Obama: “We face an historic opportunity.”
The story is just a summary of the speech, I’m going to assume because everyone else was putting out stories about the speech or broadcasting it live with follow-up on-air summaries and they decided to put it up as fast as possible.
Unfortunately, the need for speed resulted in a story that lacks context. It’s a record of an event, not a story. The interesting bit, the kernal of story, were in the third and seventh paragraphs. In the third paragraph, Josh Gerstein quotes Obama as saying “There can be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.”
This is pretty standard stuff. However, the real meat is where Gerstein wrote, “However, Obama signaled the U.S. would continue to work closely with undemocratic countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia because of U.S. interests in preventing terrorism and preserving the flow of energy from the region.”
In other words, the real story is that Obama is telling the Arabs and the world that human rights come second to American policy objectives.
I think we all already knew that, but here is Obama spelling it out in terms that should have foreign policy columnists storming White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s office. Maybe The Daily Caller will get it. They like nailing Obama.
Props to Obama, though, for using the correct “an historic” instead of “a historic.” If only his support for human rights was as strong as his grammatical skills.
Given not only how irregularly he updates his blog, but how few of his posts are actually relevant to his topic, one would think from reading Paul Anthony Ita’s Details are Sketchy (Humor and Comicality in the Pioneer Valley) that the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts is the most depressed spot on the planet.
He has written 35 posts since starting last February, or approximately one every 10 days. It’s better than I’m doing. But of his posts, only 12 have anything to do with humor in the Pioneer Valley and most of those are plugs for his sketch troupe, Side of Toast.
I can’t help but find this lack of material disturbing, especially since I’ve been at the University of Massachusetts Amherst since 2007 and I’ve been to dozens of sketch shows and around 100 improv shows. At the end of last semester I found out about the Amherst College and Hampshire College improv troupes and I hope to see them this semester. Student Valley Productions, the registered student organization the three main troupes (Mission: Improvable, Improv With Attitude and Sketch-22) belong to puts on a comedy jam every year. For the past 11 years.
Ita lives in Amherst, so there’s no way he could have missed them for so long.
Thankfully, there’s another explanation from his very own blog. Ipse dixit:
Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t wait to see ‘em go. In fact, the single happiest sight this time of year is not the first of the spring daffodils but rather the sight of college students with all their worldly possessions crammed willy-nilly into their car heading out of town. Sayonara, say I, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!
No wonder. He hates students so he ignores us and our comedy scene. Which is also his beat. When Dave Weigel made fun of the people he covered he was fired from his blogging job, even though it never impacted his coverage. This guy hates most of the people he covers—it probably also explains why he’s never published anything about any of the stand-up acts or open-mic nights. I bet he hates stand-up.
What an arrogant prick.
So Details are Sketchy is just another example of the false advertising plaguing the blogosphere.
But, when I misspell “protesters” in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, I can rest-assured that I’m a student journalist and I’m not getting paid somewhere around the poverty line to work on a news outlet read by at least tens of thousands of people each day.
So when The Daily Caller not only publishes a story headlined “Protestors gather as Supreme Court hears Westboro Baptist Chuch case,” not only spells the word correctly in the article itself, but leaves the headline uncorrected for over 24 hours, I start to feel all the better about my job prospects.
I can see my resume now: “Can spell words good, grammar need work some.”
Once upon a time I was a Luddite. My experience with computers was that they were big, hot, loud, slow and could never hope to load a page ladden with graphics or videos within a single human lifetime. I prefered typewriters and record players—the tried and true reliable technology of yesteryear.
That attitude persisted in one form or another until the day the school bookstore brought out iPads for demonstrations. A few seconds of that experience and I was converted.
Above: The FUTURE
I became very interested in the prospects of a Google tablet, powered by Android (especially after I got my Droid phone over the summer), and so I began to read techblogs regularly for the news.
Little did I know I was plunging headlong into some of the worst writing immaginable. I’m honestly not very surprised at how bad computer geeks write, but you’d think they’d retain at least something from high school English (I, for example, still retain my hatred of English teachers, something that has only intensified over the years).
Read it and weep (from “Android: Open Source or Just an Open Mess”:
Those of us who are familiar with the “with Google” stamp on the back of our respective Android phones what does this actually signify? Is it part of a carrier deal that gives exclusivity to Google premium apps like Gmail and the Android Market, or part of a grander scheme to make ODM’s like Archos, Augen, Camangi, et al have inferior software so only the Google approved ones will survive like Verizon’s Droid and Sprint’s Evo? Or else, why would Google allow some manufacturers to deliver a less desirable UI experience and others an approved one? Hear any joint Google/Archos pressers lately for the forthcoming 101? It can’t be because of the hardware either. Even the Archos 5 was put together much better than the first G1 and it was the first real “Google phone”.
Do I even have to say anything at this point?
Yes I do: fucking nerds.
The New York Times is usually one of the best written English-language newspapers outside of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, India and Australia, but like all newspapers its science coverage leaves a lot to be desired.
Just two days ago, The Times published a story with the headline Telescope detects possible Earth size planet about a new multi-planet solar system NASA’s Kepler telescope has found.
The astronomers detected a candidate-planet—meaning it could be anything—but if it is a planet it would have a diameter 1.5 times that of Earth. But the important thing here is that it is not until halfway through the page—and past numerous references to searching for planets that support life—does the article’s author mention the important thing:
Christophe Lovis of the University of Geneva, who led the observations, said the group was certain about the existence of five of the planets, all about the mass of Neptune, but squeezed into orbits closer to the star than Mars is to the Sun.
According to Paul Gilster at Centauri Dreams, they’re even closer than that: “These planets orbit well within the orbit of Mercury in our own system …”
That means that not only would this Earth-sized planet that The New York Times deluded itself into possibly supporting life be constantly suffering earthquakes from the gravity of the other, massive planets and the star it orbits (if it’s a rocky planet it might be similar to Io), but the surface is probably molten metal.
I probably completely botched that quotation, but lay on, MacDuff!
From this morning’s The Daily Caller (if that makes any sense whatsoever), about the finalists for the “Race for the Top” $3 billion in federal funding (equivalent to two years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, or a week’s rent in Washington, DC).
The 19 states chosen Tuesday will travel to Washington during the second week of August for a peer review session that will assess their educational plans.
That’s right: 19 states will travel to Washington. I don’t know if any of them will make it in time. Also, where will they stay? I don’t think there’s a hotel in Washington that could fit all 163,696 sp. mi. of it—and it would have to come by land because it won’t fit through the Panama Canal and will take too long to go around Cape Horn.
And what about Colorado? It doesn’t even have an ocean it can back out through to detach itself. It will have to squeeze and climb over poor Utah or Kansas.
The website Making the Difference, a compilation of jobs and internships with the federal government, provides us with today’s example of bad writing by research fail. The specific offender is their housing guide for interns in DC:
For those not in the know, an internship is almost always an unpaid position for college students, who are not usually noted for their large incomes, which is where the stupidity comes in: those three neighborhoods are the most expensive in Washington, DC.
In Massachusetts, I rent a gigantic one-bedroom apartment with full-maintaince, free heat and hot water, a swimming pool and the convenience of two bus stops, a Cumberland Farms and a liquor store—for $850 a month.
In Washington, in one of those neighborhoods, an apartment can easily go for over $1,000—a week. During my apartment search, I found several places for $850—a night.
The sheer expense of living in Washington is counterbalanced only by the relatively low (as measured by the price of a suburban Target store’s bagels) food costs, but I’m fairly sure that a lot of the more recent developments have to do with the Distric seizing property via eminent domain and selling it to developers. Unsurprisingly, it was usually to the detriment of the minority-low income owners and renters.
Or at least, that’s what I get out of reading a New York Times’ science writer’s brave attempt to meet a deadline and word count about a topic he doesn’t understand at all, “A Scientist Takes On Gravity,” published Monday.
The author, Dennis Overbye, writes about the work of physicist Erik Verlinde, who has done interesting work relating to the idea that gravity is not a fundamental force but an illusory one that arises out of more fundamental interactions.
Or at least, that’s what I got out of it, being a former physics major and remaining a science nerd. Overbye? Not so much:
“… science has been looking at gravity the wrong way and that there is something more basic, from which gravity ‘emerges,’ the way stock markets emerge from the collective behavior of individual investors …”
Yes. Even now a few corporations of quantum level entities are manipulating the strength of gravity by making ill-advised loans to hydrogen atoms and sparking an unsustainable boom in star-construction. Um, no. Well, maybe in Doctor Who.
The analogies just get worse from there:
“It goes something like this: your hair frizzles in the heat and humidity, because there are more ways for your hair to be curled than to be straight, and nature likes options. So it takes a force to pull hair straight and eliminate nature’s options. Forget curved space or the spooky attraction at a distance described by’s equations well enough to let us navigate the rings of Saturn, the force we call gravity is simply a byproduct of nature’s propensity to maximize disorder.”
Wait, I thought it wasn’t a force! Does it matter if you have lots of hair? How do the gravitational fields of afros differ from beehives? What if I use a really good shampoo? Will a curling iron power a spaceship?
Having stretched the metaphors to the breaking point, Overbye introduces the ambiguous physicist’s best friend: information. While information is a concept used in physics, the problem is that there are often different kinds used in different ways in different contexts. That being said, a good rule of thumb is that the information of a particle is everything that can be quantified about it.
Another unfortunate analogy is the tired simile about the holographic principle being like the hologram on a credit or debit card. Aside from credit card holograms missing a dimension and being in only one or two colors, even the best holograms are still images.
The reason it’s used is because reporters don’t know what they’re talking about, but the physicist fully understands that a hologram is where n-dimensional information can be “embedded” or “encoded” into a surface of n-1 dimensions. Surface is just the word used to describe the n-1 dimension, for instance the surface of a cube (3D) is a square (2D) and the surface of a square is a line (1D). The surface of a hypercube (4D) is a cube.
Don’t bother visualizing it. The human mind can’t.
The point is not that the world is really flat and only looks round or that we’re shadows on a wall, but that everything there is to know about the universe can be described more easily and more simply than previously thought, which is good news because the physicists can get rid of a dimension or two and hopefully discover faster-than-light travel much, much sooner.
And that’s just the first page of the article.
On the second, Overbye writes “That inspiration came to him courtesy of a thief” clearly hoping to come up with the next Newton and the apple. Unfortunately the thief played absolutely no role in the development of the theory, as the very next paragraph demonstrated.
After that it was right back to broken metaphors:
“As a metaphor for how this would work, Dr. Verlinde used the example of a polymer — a strand of DNA, say, a noodle or a hair — curling up.”
Why not go for the trifecta and say “Think of what happens to the DNA of the wheat in the strand of angel hair when you boil it”?