Archive for July, 2006

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The Amazing Time-Wasting Internet Contraption

July 31, 2006

This is the best thing I’ve seen on the internet all week, and it’s only 3:19 on Monday morning. I predict, however, that nothing this week will beat the amazing artifically intelligent Guess the Dictator and/or Sit-Com Character device. It is remarkably savvy and astonishingly distracting. Have at it.

Noise: Gorillaz, “Feel Good, Inc.”

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Stop Surrendering Your Language

July 26, 2006

Here’s the thing: I love The Daily Show and I love people’s blogs, but you people — you Wil Wheaton types — are giving control of the language to the people you deem to be the most stupid. Bush says “the internets” and you all put it into regular use, turning his misinformed little slip into standard speech. Senator Ted Stevens waxes idiotic about the nature of the internet, and the geek-chic digerati celebrates the sound-bite by making it a part of everyday speech. These people say something stupid, and then you use it until it’s standardized.

You’re helping them frame the debate. You’re turning their misinformed opinion into the standard metaphor for the subject, whether your intent is to mock them or not. You’re giving them precious airtime, bandwidth and mental real-estate. You’re surrendering the language of the debate to them.

This isn’t like taking hold of a word like queer or black and turning it against the social vandals who’re trying to hurt you with it, making it your own. It’s not a display of fearless self-acceptance and proud defiance. You’re not Gwendolyn Brooks. These aren’t code-words you use to get into The Daily Show‘s speakeasy culture. You’re not a progressive rum-runner winking over Prohibition water and you’re not playing liberal blues in a secret intelligentsia gin-joint.

Stop focusing on the silly stupid details, it just makes you look like a malcontent. Stop letting your mockery be the foundation of your vocabulary about issues, it just gives your opponents ideas the coverage they need to insinuate. The fellow Georgian who told my friend that “liberals are terrorists” wasn’t being sarcastic — just because it seems obviously ridiculous to you doesn’t mean it won’t seem reasonable through ubiquity. You’re not combating lunacy by adopting its wording.

To you, Senator Ted Stevens sounds like a schmuck, but in response to your use of his language he can come across sounding like an exasperated activist with an unpopular opinion. You’re not making an argument when you repeat the gag. You’re just giving him airtime. You’re not making an argument when you assume that anyone who matters knows that he’s stupid just because you’re capable of referential jokes. You’re just surrendering your language.

Stop surrendering your language. Stop surrendering your language. Stop surrendering your language.

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Xbox Review: Fable

July 24, 2006

Started to play Fable, nearly choked to death on the 33rd cut scene after playing (but not having done much) for just 15 minutes and then turned it off without saving even a damn thing. Lots of people loved that game, and I appreciate that it got a bunch of hyperactive Halo nuts to get excited about saving teddy bears and exposing adulterers, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so bored playing a video game. So, done with that.

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Empty Calories for Your Brain

July 17, 2006

Here we go. As a writer and a former broadcaster, slippery delivery by news anchors drive me sort of nuts. I’ve been looking for a choice one to share with y’all lately, especially one that’d let me look at the issue I want without getting tangled in the issues that are beside my point. So I’ve chosen to go with this bit of reporting from NPR, which I heard in the car this morning.

Don’t mistake this as a dig on NPR, per se. Every news outlet does this shit some time. I’ve chosen to avoid, say, Fox News for this bit because I want it clear that I’m not harping on specifically conservative journalists here. I’m harping on all of them. Besides, I’m not about to start competing with John Stewart for Fox-bashing.

So, here’s the sentence that I heard on NPR this morning:

“[B]ut aside from launch, landing is the highest-risk part of any mission.”

That’s how that sentence looks on the page. Here’s how it was read by the broadcaster:

“(([B]ut aside from launch,)) landing is the highest-risk part of any mission.”

The reading of the line sensationalizes the information and actually changes its meaning. By throwing away the first clause (“aside from launch,”) and emphasizing part of the second, she actually changes the meaning of the statement as you hear it. In this case, it changes the landing from the second-most dangerous part of the mission to “the highest-risk part of any mission,” which is to say it changes the statement as it is received by the passive listener into something that is not actually true — we learned in the softened opening clause what is actually the highest-risk part of the mission, after all. But with that clause hand-waved away, the casual listener can be easily misled.

One of the things a good radio broadcaster must do is convey important information to a listener who cannot be assumed to be listening intently. Nobody just listens to the radio anymore. We listen and drive or listen and cook or listen and sleep. It’s easily to accidentally misinform a radio listener by changing the delivery of a news item.

This is a pretty harmless example, of course. The rest of the piece pretty clearly sketches out the real tone of the overall piece, which is clear and upbeat. It’s possible that this early part of the segment was delivered to play up the peril and, thus, the listener’s interest. Nothing new about that.

But this same trick is used all over the place when discussing other statistics and data in the news. So much of the statistics we’re given are so cock-eyed that they have little honest meaning. Consider how often you’ve heard things like:

  • “Aside from collisions, gasoline explosions are the number-one killer of motor vehicle operators.”
  • “A child who eats asparagus is 60% more likely to go to college.”
  • “A child who plays video games is 60% more likely to have bad posture.”

These are all ridiculous, made-up examples. They’re not that far off from things I’ve really heard and jotted down, though. Still, these are nuts. In the first case, the language is rigged to present gasoline explosions as “the number-one killer” even though they’re really number two — nevermind that that difference between first and second place could be an order of magnitude, for the sake of this report we want you to be afraid of gasoline explosions. In the second case, a statistical coincidence is presented without actual information, just data, so that you might somehow think asparagus makes it possible to pay tuition.

In the third example, you might think that a child who plays video games is 60% more likely to have bad posture… but that’s actually a descriptive report not a predictive analysis. What we’re actually being told is that kids who play video games are more likely to have bad posture, and I’ll bet that’s true. But broadcast news (CNN radio especially, it seems to me) is infatuated with percentages and desperate to make them seem relevant to your life. Here’s the thing, though: taking Timmy off of video games isn’t 60% likely to correct his posture. If your kid continues to slump at the dinner table or while he’s reading a book, he’s 100% sure to have bad posture. Likewise, if you teach him to sit up straight and tell him why its important, he’s more likely to have good posture even if he plays video games.

We’re given a lot more data than information when we watch or listen to the news. Giving a person data without information or the ability to derive it independently is like giving a kindergartener a circular saw. He’ll use it badly.

Here’s the rub, though: I can’t actually fault the news for giving us data. I can fault them for giving us only data, but what am I going to say, that I actually want CNN telling me what to think? No, the trouble is that I want the news to stop feeding junk food to our brains. When we’re in our cars, we snack on these little cookies that come out of the radio and it’s bad for us. It’s empty calories for our brains.

But unlike M&Ms and cinnamon scones, which we can only hope to work off in the hopes that we’ll lose them, we can turn junk data into real nourishment by chewing on it rather than swallowing it whole. We may not get what the copy writers or broadcasters or editors want us to to get out of it, but at least it’s not empty calories.

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Screw On The Head

July 13, 2006

Everybody in the damn world go and watch The Amazing Screw-On Head for free on Sci Fi Pulse, the Sci Fi Channel’s broadband programming channel. This is the pilot to a potential animated series featuring Mike Mignola’s other brilliant creation, a brilliant and cunning and hilarious secret agent who is only a head with a screw-bit for a neck and who saves America on behalf of President Lincoln. He is called the Amazing Screw-On Head and he is, wait for it, amazing.

Watch the entire pilot episode online right now for free right now. If enough of us watch it, Sci Fi may order additional episodes. If Sci Fi does not order additional episodes, I will become intolerable and you will regret knowing me.

Tell your friends. Watch it now. Remember the part where it’s free? Well, it’s free.

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Just Fine

July 9, 2006

Sitting in a local pub with Arethusa (the MacBook Pro) and Leucosia (the iPod) and my second pint of Strongbow makes this Sunday just fine. Sara, meanwhile, is off selling her hand-made books at show with the Atlanta Craft Mafia and the dog, alas, is at home. It’s these days, where the work is about brainstorming and researching, where the wife is out being praised for her clever work, and where I feel at least somewhat plugged into the city where I live, that things are all right.

Tomorrow, the hectic but magnificent anguish of work begins again and the chaotic weeks between Now and Gen Con start slipping away like a house going off a cliff. But today, dammit, goes as slow as they said the South would go, slipping by an inch at a time to the tune of World Cup-watching drunkards cheering and the taste of a rocket salad with candied pecans. The day ekes forward like a hot dog panting down a dirt road, but as of now it’s four in the afternoon and I’ve still got five hours of daylight ahead of me. Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.

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Get Me Some Biplanes

July 6, 2006

I do love me WWI aeroplanes and their pilots. But why is every period movie starring James Franco now? And why does it have to be a Dean Devlin thing? And why such a weak title?

Ah, who gives a fuck. Biplanes. Zeppelins. Yes. Check out that trailer.