April 4, 2014

Free Speech NOW!

Filed under: Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:47

Spiked - Free Speech NOW

sp!ked launches a new project:

Every man should think what he likes and say what he thinks.’ It is 350 years since Spinoza, the great Dutchman of the Enlightenment, wrote those simple but profound words. And yet every man (and woman) is still not at liberty to think what he or she likes, far less say it. It is for this reason that, today, spiked is kicking off a transatlantic liberty-loving online magazine and real-world campaign called Free Speech Now! — to put the case for unfettered freedom of thought and speech; to carry the Spinoza spirit into the modern age; to make the case anew for allowing everyone to say what he thinks, as honestly and frankly as he likes.

It is true that, unlike in Spinoza’s day, no one in the twenty-first century is dragged to ‘the scaffold’ and ‘put to death’ for saying out loud what lurks in his heart — at least not in the Western world. But right now, right here, in the apparently democratic West, people are being arrested, fined, shamed, censored, cut off, cast out of polite society, and even jailed for the supposed crime of thinking what they like and saying what they think. You might not be hanged by the neck anymore for speaking your mind, but you do risk being hung out to dry, by coppers, the courts, censorious Twittermobs and other self-elected guardians of the allegedly right way of thinking and correct way of speaking.

Ours is an age in which a pastor, in Sweden, can be sentenced to a month in jail for preaching to his own flock in his own church that homosexuality is a sin. In which British football fans can be arrested for referring to themselves as Yids. In which those who too stingingly criticise the Islamic ritual slaughter of animals can be convicted of committing a hate crime. In which Britain’s leading liberal writers and arts people can, sans shame, put their names to a letter calling for state regulation of the press, the very scourge their cultural forebears risked their heads fighting against. In which students in both Britain and America have become bizarrely ban-happy, censoring songs, newspapers and speakers that rile their minds. In which offence-taking has become the central organising principle of much of the political sphere, nurturing virtual gangs of the ostentatiously outraged who have successfully purged from public life articles, adverts and arguments that upset them — a modern-day version of what Spinoza called ‘quarrelsome mobs’, the ‘real disturbers of the peace’.


The lack of a serious, deep commitment to freedom of speech is generating new forms of intolerance. And not just religious intolerance of the blasphemous, though that undoubtedly still exists (adverts in Europe have been banned for upsetting Christians and books in Britain and America have been shelved for fear that they might offend Muslims). We also have new forms of secular intolerance, with governmental scientists calling for ‘gross intolerance’ of those who promote quackery and serious magazines proposing the imprisonment of those who ‘deny’ climate change. Just as you can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre, so you shouldn’t be free to ‘yell “balderdash” at 10,883 scientific journal articles a year, all saying the same thing’, said a hip online mag this week. In other words, thou shalt not blaspheme against the eco-gospel. Where once mankind struggled hard for the right to ridicule religious truths, now we must fight equally hard for the right to shout balderdash at climate-change theories, and any other modern orthodoxy that winds us up, makes us mad, or which we just don’t like the sound of.

March 27, 2014

The political divergent … who must be stopped

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

Nick Gillespie uses the current film Divergent as a springboard to discuss why Rand Paul’s “politically divergent” message is so unwelcome to the mainstream media who cheer for team red or team blue:

It turns out that Divergent isn’t just the top movie in America. It’s also playing out in the run-up to the 2016 presidential race, with Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, in the starring role.

Based on the first volume of a wildly popular young-adult trilogy, Divergent is set in America of the near-future, when all people are irrevocably slotted into one of five “factions” based on temperament and personality type. Those who refuse to go along with the program are marked as divergent — and marked for death! “What Makes You Different, Makes You Dangerous,” reads one of the story’s taglines.

Which pretty much sums up Rand Paul, whose libertarian-leaning politics are gaining adherents among the plurality of Americans fed up with bible-thumping, war-happy, budget-busting Republicans and promise-breaking, drone-dispatching, budget-busting Democrats. Professional cheerleaders for Team Red and Team Blue — also known as journalists — aren’t calling for Paul’s literal dispatching, but they are rushing to explain exactly why the opthalmologist has no future in politics.

A national politician who brings a Berkeley crowd to its feet by attacking NSA surveillance programs and wants to balance the budget yesterday? Who supports the Second Amendment and the Fourth Amendment (not to mention the First and the Tenth)? A Christian Republican who says that the GOP “in order to get bigger, will have to agree to disagree on social issues” and has signaled his willngness to get the federal government out of prohibiting gay marriage and marijuana?

Well, we can’t have that, can we? Forget that Paul is showing strongly in polls about the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. “He is not doing enough to build the political network necessary to mount a viable presidential campaign,” tut-tuts The New York Times, which seems to be breathing one long sigh of relief in its recent profile of Paul. “Rand Paul’s Plan to Save Ukraine is Completely Nuts,” avers amateur psychologist Jonathan Chait at New York.

March 7, 2014

Breaking news – Satoshi Nakamoto isn’t really “Satoshi Nakamoto”

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:00

Self-described Bitcoin detractor Colby Cosh explains how “Newsweek” got conned by “Satoshi Nakamoto” (yes, both sets of scare quotes are ‘splained):

Newsweek’s Satoshi is a 64-year-old Japanese-American living in Temple City, California. “Satoshi Nakamoto” is the name on his birth certificate, although he goes by Dorian. Mr. Nakamoto has a physics degree and has done computer engineering for a number of military-industrial firms, as well as one online stock-price provider. Much of his work history is shrouded in official secrecy, or perhaps just the habitual truculence of defence-tech professionals. He is known to have a libertarian streak, has had some run-ins with the financial system, and is thought by friends and relatives to capable of cooking up something like Bitcoin.

But it is now looking as though he had the square root of bugger-all to do with it. Newsweek concluded its investigation of Dorian S. Nakamoto with a police-supervised doorstep interview in which the gentleman is supposed to have said “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it. It’s been turned over to other people.” Dorian has now told the Associated Press that when he said “no longer,” two words on which Newsweek hung an entire feature, he was referring to the engineering profession generally. He denied being involved in any way with what he repeatedly called “Bitcom,” explained the work he had briefly done for a financial-information company, and read the Newsweek piece to himself, displaying increasing confusion and annoyance as he did so.

I have to say, having read New Newsweek’s article, that it does appear to rest on a fairly slender foundation. Aside from that “no longer,” the evidence that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto equals “Satoshi Nakamoto” amounts to the obvious coincidence of names and a bunch of quotes from the man’s semi-estranged family. Unfortunately, neither “Satoshi” nor “Nakamoto” are uncommon names for individuals of Japanese ancestry; the article acknowledges that there are several more just in the United States. The Bitcoin-inventing “Satoshi” clearly does not much want to be found; the name is obviously a pseudonym, has always been taken to be one until now, and was probably chosen precisely for its red-herring flavour.

Okay, so Satoshi Nakamoto is probably not “Satoshi Nakamoto”, but why is Newsweek actually “Newsweek” in scare quotes?

A lot of people are asking how something like this could happen to Newsweek, not realizing that the Newsweek nameplate has basically been asset-stripped and repurposed in order that the remaining credibility and familiarity might be squeezed out of it. (This will happen to Maclean’s someday — two years from now, or 200. I’m hoping it’s 200.) No one expected this cred-squeezing process to happen quite so quickly and powerfully, but IBT Media, buyer of Newsweek, seems to have blundered into a singular piece of ill luck: the wrong reporter matched at the wrong time with the wrong story, one in which an informed intuition about any number of subjects might have saved the day.

February 15, 2014

HMS Love Boat, er, I mean HMS Daring

Filed under: Britain, Media, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:40

Sir Humphrey notes the tut-tutting disapproval of other military sites but defends the Royal Navy’s little Valentine Day squib:

HMS Daring as the Love Boat

To mark Valentines Day this year, the Royal Navy put out a small number of press releases showing how some deployed ships like HMS Daring had tried to mark the occasion. For instance, there was a picture of the crew on the flight deck, spelling out an ‘I love you’ message (news release is HERE). This particular story got quite a lot of media attention in the UK press, with a variety of outlets carrying it and giving coverage to the story. But, it also had its detractors — the superb website Think Defence did not appreciate the story, feeling that it perhaps didn’t reflect the RN in a truly professional manner — their views can be found HERE. The view expressed was essentially that in pushing across a human interest story, the RN was not demonstrating itself to be as professional as its peers in other navies, who perhaps did not feel the need to provide equivalent stories.

This debate perhaps goes to the heart of the question about how we can push the case for Defence in the modern UK. To the authors mind, the issue is that what specialists consider of interest, and what the wider public consider of interest is two very different, and often arguably mutually incompatible subjects. Wander into any UK major newsagent and you will come across rack after rack of deeply specialist magazines, often providing immensely technical commentary on the most niche of subjects, ranging from transportation through to outdoor model railways and agricultural vehicles (a favourite story of the author is of when serving in Iraq seeing a friend open a morale package to receive a magazine about tractors, whose review of the novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian complained that while a good read, it would have benefited from far more detail about the tractors). All of these magazines have one thing in common — they write technical articles for a technically minded audience which gets much of the underpinning issues. There are letters pages and articles full of debates on the most minor of points, quite literally arguing over the location of a decimal place or widget. There is an incredible passion and intensity to these debates, but the fact remains that the subject matter remains a deeply niche and specialist interest.

Arguably Defence is in a similar position to this — it is an organisation full of technical equipment, and engages in all manner of activities which people can take either an immensely superficial view, or spend many years becoming world class experts in. The problem is how to meet the interests of the experts, without losing the interest of the wider audience, who may have little to no idea of what the MOD really does all day. To an interested audience which inherently understands the importance of things like why the deployment of HMS Daring to the Far East was important, and why it achieved a tremendous amount of good for the RN, this sort of press release may well seem embarrassing — after all, who wants to see pictures of sailors missing their families when we could see press releases issued discussing whether there is sufficient space in the T45 hull to adopt a Mk141 launcher for VLS TLAM behind the PAAMS launcher but only if CEC were put onboard and the 114mm gun were downgraded to a 76mm OTO Melara — a complete exaggeration, but indicative of the sort of immensely technical debate which can be found in certain parts of the internet or specialist magazines.

December 10, 2013

Origins of the “infographic” plague

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

As Tim Harford says, “So it’s HIS fault”:

In the 1930s, Austrian sociologist, philosopher and curator Otto Neurath and his wife Marie pioneered ISOTYPE — the International System Of TYpographic Picture Education, a new visual language for capturing quantitative information in pictograms, sparking the golden age of infographics in print.

The Transformer: Principles of Making Isotype Charts is the first English-language volume to capture the story of Isotype, an essential foundation for our modern visual language dominated by pictograms in everything from bathroom signage to computer interfaces to GOOD’s acclaimed Transparencies.


The real cherry on top is a previously unpublished essay by Marie Neurath, who was very much on par with Otto as Isotype’s co-inventor, written a year before her death in 1986 and telling the story of how she carried on the Isotype legacy after Otto’s death in 1946.


October 18, 2013

Peak America

Filed under: Economics, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:42

In the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reviews the last few times we thought we’d reached “peak America” moments:

Those old enough to remember the 1929 crash on Wall Street and the US exit from the Gold Standard under Franklin Roosevelt — thin in numbers these days — will recall the pervading sense that America had already peaked, its capitalist model overtaken by history.

The Russian trade agency Amtorg in New York famously advertised for 6,000 skilled plumbers, chemists, electricians, and dentists, and suchlike, to work in the Soviet Union, then deemed the El Dorado of mankind, or the “moral top of the world where the light never really goes out”, in the words of Edmund Wilson. It is said that 100,000 showed up.

The commentariat went into overdrive, more or less writing off the United States. The Yale Review, Harpers, and The Atlantic all ran pieces debating the risk of imminent revolution.

Just 12 years later the US accounted for half of all global economic output and was military master of the West, literally running Japan and Germany as administrative regions.

Those a little younger — like me — who remember the impeachment of President Richard Nixon and the last American citizens being lifted by helicopter from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975, will recall the ubiquitous claims that the US could never fully recover from what looked like a crushing defeat.

The Carter Malaise, the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iran hostage humiliation all followed in quick succession, and seemed to seal the argument.

Oh, but this time it’s different because reasons. The sky really is falling! It’s the end! THE END!

August 27, 2013

Hey, Kids! It’s time for back-to-school bad journalism bingo!

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:57

The slow news days of August have reached the traditional back-to-school phase of page filling:

I love back-to-school time: the joy, the energy, the sense of limitless possibilities. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the tsunami of dreadful journalism that accompanies it.

There are basically three reasons for bad back-to-school journalism. First, higher education is complicated; it doesn’t lend itself to the simplistic narratives required for 800-word articles. Second, there’s a serious lack of decent data about higher education in Canada, what with the Millennium Scholarship Foundation gone, HRSDC no longer funding any decent Statscan surveys, and provinces and universities holding on tightly to their own data on the grounds that someone might use it to compare them against other provinces/institutions (and that would never do!). In this data vacuum, interested parties with their own agendas find it easy to peddle all sorts of demented, half-true factoids to journalists; hence, the frequent appearance of stories based on “data” which simply aren’t true.

The third problem is the lack of outcome measures. Everyone wants “good” education, but no one knows what that is. So journalists tend to fall back on input measures: small classes, students per professors, etc., which inevitably lead to a weird mythologizing of university life in the 1970s. Nothing wrong with the 1970s of course, but it somehow never quite clicks with op-ed writers that a major reason life was so great for students back then was that access was restricted to a fairly small elite, and that the comparative “failures” of today’s universities are largely the result of expanded access.

Here’s the Bingo card for you to play along at home:

Back to school bingo

August 2, 2013

Omni rises from the ashes

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:47

At BoingBoing, Glenn Fleishman talks about the relaunch of Omni magazine:

A few weeks ago, I posed the question here, “Who Owns Omni?“, about the beloved, defunct magazine of the future created and run by Kathy Keeton with significant involvement by her husband Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse. The best answer I was able to come up with after talking to past Omni editors and writers, contacting potential current copyright owners, and researching Guccione’s personal bankruptcy and General Media’s more complicated bond default was: nobody.

Almost all of the authors, photographers, and artists whose work appeared in the magazine had signed contracts that granted only short-term rights. The staff writing and other work for hire — owned by the magazine itself — was relatively minimal, and the owner of those rights is to my best efforts currently still unknown.

Next week, however, Omni will be reborn. Not the original, but Omni Reboot: a new online publication that takes its inspiration and direction from the magazine that so many of us grew up on and loved.

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Omni (I preferred Analog), I’m happy to see the old property being revived.

July 17, 2013

Keep calm, and don’t panic about bee-pocalypse now

Filed under: Environment, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:17

You’ve heard about the mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD) that has been devastating bee colonies across the world, right? This is serious, as bees are a very important part of the pollenization of many crops. As you’ll know from many media reports, this is a food disaster unfolding before us and we’re all going to starve! Or, looking at the facts, perhaps not:

In a rush to identify the culprit of the disorder, many journalists have made exaggerated claims about the impacts of CCD. Most have uncritically accepted that continued bee losses would be a disaster for America’s food supply. Others speculate about the coming of a second “silent spring.” Worse yet, many depict beekeepers as passive, unimaginative onlookers that stand idly by as their colonies vanish.

This sensational reporting has confused rather than informed discussions over CCD. Yes, honey bees are dying in above average numbers, and it is important to uncover what’s causing the losses, but it hardly spells disaster for bees or America’s food supply.

Consider the following facts about honey bees and CCD.

For starters, US honey bee colony numbers are stable, and they have been since before CCD hit the scene in 2006. In fact, colony numbers were higher in 2010 than any year since 1999. How can this be? Commercial beekeepers, far from being passive victims, have actively rebuilt their colonies in response to increased mortality from CCD. Although average winter mortality rates have increased from around 15% before 2006 to more than 30%, beekeepers have been able to adapt to these changes and maintain colony numbers.


“The state of the honey bee population—numbers, vitality, and economic output — are the products of not just the impact of disease but also the economic decisions made by beekeepers and farmers,” economists Randal Rucker and Walter Thurman write in a summary of their working paper on the impacts of CCD. Searching through a number of economic measures, the researchers came to a surprising conclusion: CCD has had almost no discernible economic impact.

But you don’t need to rely on their study to see that CCD has had little economic effect. Data on colonies and honey production are publicly available from the USDA. Like honey bee numbers, US honey production has shown no pattern of decline since CCD was first detected. In 2010, honey production was 14% greater than it was in 2006. (To be clear, US honey production and colony numbers are lower today than they were 30 years ago, but as Rucker and Thurman explain, this gradual decline happened prior to 2006 and cannot be attributed to CCD).

H/T to Tyler Cowen for the link.

July 10, 2013

Next up on our agenda of things to panic about is “peak water”

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

sp!ked editor Rob Lyons explains that “peak water” just isn’t something to worry too much about:

Disappointed by the failure of the peak-oil disaster to come to fruition, our doom-mongering, Malthusian friends have alighted on other scary narratives to confirm their suspicions of humanity as a rapacious blight on the planet. Their latest is ‘peak water’.

On the face of it, peak water is a boneheaded concept on a planet where two thirds of the surface is covered in, er, water. According to the US Geological Survey, there are 332 million cubic miles of water on Earth. What we tend to need, however, is not sea water but fresh water, of which there is much less: nearer 2.5 million cubic miles. And much of that is too deep underground to be accessed. Surface water in rivers and lakes is a small fraction of overall fresh water: 22,339 cubic miles. Handily, though, natural processes cause sea water to evaporate and form clouds, which then dump their contents on to land — so in most populated parts of the world there is currently sufficient water to supply our needs in an endlessly renewable way. As for the future, it is clear there is no shortage of H2O on the planet. What we really have is a shortage of cheap energy and the necessary technology to take advantage of the salinated stuff.

The ‘peak water’ theorists focus on groundwater supplies that are either being used faster than they are replenished, or supplies that are not replenished at all: so-called ‘fossil water’. According to leading environmentalist Lester Brown, writing in the Guardian last weekend, the rapid exhaustion of these supplies in some parts of the world is leading to the decline of food production. And at a time of fast-growing populations, this apparently promises disaster for these countries.

But often, the problem is a political rather than a practical one. [. . .]

In reality, all of the fixes that apply to peak oil also apply to peak water. New technology may make water desalination far cheaper than it is now, a claim being made for new water filtration methods based on nanotechnology. Better use of water in irrigation, through careful management of when and how water is applied to crops, could cut usage dramatically — something that is already happening in dry countries such as Israel and Australia and in parts of the US. Current uses of water, like flush toilets, may be superseded in places where water is in high demand. Through civil engineering projects, water can be shifted from places where it is plentiful to places where it is needed most, something societies have been doing for thousands of years.

June 19, 2013

The press and Rand Paul

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:03

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf looks at the mainstream media’s obsession with Rand Paul’s (to borrow a time-worn term from Canadian politics) “hidden agenda”:

Critiques of democracy are as old as the excesses of the Athenian variety. Here’s a classic: The unmediated masses are as capable of doing an injustice as any aristocracy or tyrant. In America, it’s acceptable to say, as shorthand, that we’re living in a Western liberal democracy. But the fact is that we live in a federal, constitutional republic, because the Framers mistrusted democracy, and the vast majority of Americans retain a great part of that mistrust. We’ve extended the franchise, amended the Constitution to permit the direct election of senators, and we’re likely to eventually abandon the electoral college and elect presidents by the popular vote. But there is broad, deep support for anti-democratic features of our system, like the Bill of Rights.

All of this is totally uncontroversial — unless it is uttered by Senator Rand Paul, the national politician most likely to evoke irrational paranoia from the political press. Serial anti-libertarian Jonathan Chait is the latest to demonstrate this truth in an unintentionally revealing item at New York.

Here’s how he begins:

    The most unusual and interesting line in Julia Ioffe’s highly interesting profile of Rand Paul is Paul’s confession, “I’m not a firm believer in democracy. It gave us Jim Crow.” Of course, that’s an awfully strange way to condemn Jim Crow, which arose in the distinctly undemocratic Apartheid South (it was no coincidence that the dismantling of Jim Crow and the granting of democratic rights to African-Americans happened simultaneously).

This is an uncharitable beginning. If a scholar of political thought said of ancient Athens, “I’m not a firm believer in democracy — it required slavery, war, or both, to subsidize the lower classes while they carried out their civic duties,” no one would think that a strange formulation — it is perfectly coherent to talk about democracy in places that didn’t extend the franchise universally, given how the term has been used and understood for two thousand years of political history.

[. . .]

What Chait did is hardly unique. In the political press, it happens again and again: libertarian leaning folks are portrayed as if they’re radical, extremist ideologues, even when they’re expressing ideas that are widely held by Americans across the political spectrum. Here is the absurd cover The New Republic chose for the issue in which the Paul profile appears:

TNR Rand Paul cover

This would seem to imply that, relative to other politicians, the guy who went on Rachel Maddow to discuss the nuances of his take on the Civil Rights Act is the one hiding his “real” self from us. Remember the conservatives who kept saying, “Obama is hiding something — he’s not one of us”? That magazine cover is what it looks like when liberals cave to a similar pathology.

June 2, 2013

QotD: Reign of the Gay Magical Elves

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Was I the only gay man of a certain demo who experienced a flicker of annoyance in the way the media treated Jason Collins as some kind of baby panda who needed to be honored and praised and consoled and — yes — infantilized by his coming out on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Within the tyrannical homophobia of the sports world, that any man would come out as gay (let alone a black man) is not only an LGBT triumph but also a triumph for pranksters everywhere who thrilled to the idea that what should be considered just another neutral fact that is nobody’s business was instead a shock heard around the world, one that added another jolt of transparency to an increasingly transparent planet. It was an undeniable moment and also extremely cool. Jason Collins is the future. But the subsequent fawning over Collins simply stating he is gay still seemed to me, as another gay man, like a new kind of victimization. (George Stephanopoulos interviewed him so tenderly, it was as if he was talking to a six-year-old boy.) In another five years hopefully this won’t matter, but for now we’re trapped in the times we live in. The reign of The Gay Man as Magical Elf, who whenever he comes out appears before us as some kind of saintly E.T. whose sole purpose is to be put in the position of reminding us only about Tolerance and Our Own Prejudices and To Feel Good About Ourselves and to be a symbol instead of just being a gay dude, is — lamentably — still in media play.

The Gay Man as Magical Elf has been such a tricky part of gay self-patronization in the media that you would by now expect the chill members of the LGBT community to respond with cool indifference. The Sweet and Sexually Unthreatening and Super-Successful Gay is supposed to be destined to transform The Hets into noble gay-loving protectors — as long as the gay in question isn’t messy or sexual or difficult. The straight and gay sanctimoniousness that says everyone gay needs to be canonized when coming out still makes some of us who are already out feel like we’re on the sidelines. I’m all for coming out on one’s own terms, but heralding it as the most important news story of the week feels to me, as a gay man, well, kind of alienating. We are apart because of what we supposedly represent because of … our … boring … sexuality — oh man, do we have to go through this again? And it’s all about the upbeat press release, the kind of smiling mask assuring us everything is awesome. God help the gay man who comes out and doesn’t want to represent, who doesn’t want to teach, who doesn’t feel like part of the homogenized gay culture and rejects it. Where’s the gay dude who makes crude jokes about other gays in the media (as straight dudes do of each other constantly) or express their hopelessness in seeing Modern Family being rewarded for its depiction of gays, a show where a heterosexual plays the most simpering ka-ween on TV and Wins. Emmys. For. It? Why isn’t the gay dude I have always known and the gay dude I have always wanted to be not front and center in the media culture now? But being “real” and “human” (i.e. flawed) is not necessarily what The Gay Gatekeepers want straight culture to see.

Bret Easton Ellis, “In the Reign of the Gay Magical Elves”, Out Magazine, 2013-05-13

April 26, 2013

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The PC is dying!

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:24

Matt Baxter-Reynolds challenges the Chicken Littles of the tech reporting world:

There are two problems with the statement “the PC is dying”. The first problem is that people like their PCs, and hearing that something that they have affection for is dying, or it isn’t relevant, or it’s going away, can be inflammatory.

The second, bigger problem, is that people when hearing this look at the PC that is today and has been a useful tool oftentimes for decades, and rightfully regard the statement as just being non-sensical. It’s patently untrue.

The idea of waking up one morning and finding a world bereft of PCs is silly. Most people reading this couldn’t do their jobs, studies, or hobbies without having access to a PC.

What is meant by “the death of the PC” is that the relevance of the PC within people’s lives is being diluted by compute devices that are not PCs and the ability to use them for activities that are rewarding yet do not require PCs. This has in fact been going on a long time (e.g. SMS), it’s just that we’ve reached a tipping point over the past few years where the whole world seems to be full of smartphones and tablets and everyone is now talking about it.

April 12, 2013

Neuroscience or neurotrash?

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:56

In The Register, Andrew Orlowski reports on the sad state of published neuroscience articles:

A group of academics from Oxford, Stanford, Virginia and Bristol universities have looked at a range of subfields of neuroscience and concluded that most of the results are statistically worthless.

The researchers found that most structural and volumetric MRI studies are very small and have minimal power to detect differences between compared groups (for example, healthy people versus those with mental health diseases). Their paper also stated that, specifically, a clear excess of “significance bias” (too many results deemed statistically significant) has been demonstrated in studies of brain volume abnormalities, and similar problems appear to exist in fMRI studies of the blood-oxygen-level-dependent response.

The team, researchers at Stanford Medical School, Virginia, Bristol and the Human Genetics dept at Oxford, looked at 246 neuroscience articles published in 2011 and and excluded papers where the test data was unavailable. They found that the papers’ median statistical power — the possibility that a study will identify an effect when there is an effect there to be found — was just 21 per cent. What that means in practice is that if you were to run one of the experiments five times, you’d only find the effect once.

A further survey of papers drawn from fMRI brain scanners — and studies using such scanners have long filled the popular media with dramatic claims — found that their statistical power was just 8 per cent.

Low statistical power caused three problems, the authors said. Firstly, there is a low probability of finding true effects; secondly, there is a low probability that a “true” finding is actually true; and thirdly, exaggerating the magnitude of the effect when a positive is discovered.

March 28, 2013

“Gaming in the 1970 and 80s felt a little like being into punk rock”

Filed under: Gaming, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:32

Explanation of the headline: gaming in the 70′s was like being into punk because it was very much an outsider interest, you had to go well out of your way to find it, and it was cool (at least to you, not so much to your family and non-gaming friends). Peter Bebergal finds online caches of some of the classic gaming magazines of the day:

The Internet Archive is one of the great treasures of the internet, housing content in every media; texts, video, audio. It’s also the home of the Wayback Machine, an archive of the Internet from 1996. I thought I had explored the site pretty thoroughly — at least according to my own interests — but recently came across runs of some of the great gaming magazines of the 1970s and 80s; The Space Gamer, Ares, Polyhedron, The General, and — temporarily — Dragon Magazine. These magazines represent not only the golden age of gaming, but expose the thrill and excitement of gaming when it was still new, still on the margins. It was a time when gaming still felt a little, dare I say, punk.

Today, finding members of your particular community of interest is a Google search away, but in the 1970s the only way to be in contact with others who shared interests was through magazines. For many gamers, even finding the games could be difficult. Discovering the gaming magazines revealed an active gaming industry that still maintained a sense of being on the vanguard.

The earliest issues show off their newsletter origins. The Space Gamer and The General started off on plain paper in black and white. Even the first issues of Dragon look like a teenager’s fanzine, but the enthusiasm and energy are infectious. Who couldn’t love the introduction of new monsters for your campaign such as the Gem Var, a creature composed entirely of gemstone and that cannot take damage from bladed weapons. The artists, editors and letter writers were the best friends you had never met. Gaming in the 1970 and 80s felt a little like being into punk rock. You knew it was offbeat, knew that outsiders didn’t get it, but you also knew that this was cool. Even the advertisements and listings of conventions expanded the universe of gaming a thousandfold. Not unlike ordering 45s of unknown bands from punk zines, was sending away for microgames, miniatures and supplements from tiny game publishers.

While I wasn’t as much into the early roleplaying games, I was very much into wargaming and that was in the “respectable” part of the gaming ghetto until the boom in RPGs pretty much took all the oxygen out of the room. Of course, even in the “respectable” area, there were the Napoleonic grognards and the frisson-of-insanity East Front fanatics

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