Regretting recommending American Gladiators

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

I apologize to anyone who took my recommendation of that abysmal show “American Gladiators” seriously and actually started watching it. It seems like everyone at my work (including me) reached the unanimous conclusion that that show was lame and not worth further watching within a couple of episodes of me writing that post. One can only handle so much Hulk Hogan in one lifetime, after all.

So, mea culpa. To whoever recommended that I watch Fear Factor a couple years back: now we’re even.

Finally, a good History Channel show

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

The History Channel has been disappointing me lately. I used to watch it regularly, trusting it because, after all, they’re talking about history; how could they get it wrong?! And their programs on actual history are still good. But they’ve aired a whole flood of pseudoscientific bullcrap recently. For instance, one of their new shows is devoted to ‘examining the wonders of ancient ages’.

In one episode I watched, they credulously reported on people firmly in woo-woo territory speaking about a full-sized glider that the Egyptians could’ve used to fly high above the pyramids. All of this speculation was based on a little children’s toy. Oh, and then there was the broach they said looked like a space shuttle and it had to have an aeronautical inspiration because the wings attached at the bottom, not at the top like with birds or insects. Hello?! Whatever happened to Occam’s razor? Isn’t artistic license a lot more likely than those ancient indigenous South Americans being visited by aliens (or time-traveling US astronauts?).

And I’m not even going to talk about “Ghost Hunters” or that show about alien encounters. That crap makes my blood absolutely boil. So the History Channel has been pissing me off a lot recently, and I’ve been wondering how it’s fallen so far from not that long ago when it used to actually, you know, talk about true things.

Well, here’s a redeeming moment for them. They’re making a new show about Evolution, and by all accounts it looks good. Evolution is one of my favorite scientific subjects. I wrote countless thousands of posts on talk.origins debating it, and just recently I’ve been reading Stephen Jay Gould’s essay books (again). There’s a gaping dearth of coverage of evolution in American popular media, probably because of the many vocal idiots that inhabit the inland and southern areas of the United States, and I admire History Channel to have the courage to go ahead with this show. It’s going to be awesome, and it really could educate a lot of people.

Now if they’d just have the courage to not air all of that other crap.

The answer to “Where do people find the time?”

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Clay Shirky, who I saw at Wikimania 2006, has recently given an excellent speech that answers the question “Where do people find the time?” that is oft-asked to people with techie inclinations. I’ll let his own words speak for themselves. Click through to read the rest of it; his main thrust is dead on.

So I tell her all this stuff [about Wikipedia], and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”

His point is dead on. Watching television is a completely passive, dead activity, yet the average American spends several hours a day attached to the tube. So don’t look down on the techie who’s enamored with the Internet; at least he’s doing something. Even playing World of Warcraft is better than watching television.

I’m happy to say that I’m down to just a few hours of television a week (I watch Battlestar Galactica, The Deadliest Catch, The Office, The Big Bang Theory, Doctor Who, South Park, and Mythbusters regularly). And I download everything I watch even though we pay for cable, just because I can’t stand wasting time on the ads. What have I done with all of that extra time that I don’t spend on watching television? I think my work speaks for itself.

Another metafeed of interesting tidbits

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

The number of posts queuing up waiting to be written has exceeded the threshold once again, so it’s time for another metafeed of interesting tidbits.

  • Technorati’s algorithms for ranking blogs seem to be wholly based on the number of incoming links from other blogs. This ends up having a biasing effect. For instance, personal LiveJournal/Xanga-type blogs’ importance will be over-estimated because they typically have incoming links from lots of their friends’ blogs. These blogs only tend to be interesting to personal friends and have less importance than the number of incoming links would suggest. Compare that with other blogs that are oriented at a much-larger audience and receive dozens or hundreds of incoming Google search result hits every day, but because they aren’t intimately personal blogs, they lack the freebie incoming links from friends’ blogs. Technorati’s algorithms are thus only one factor that should be taken into consideration when considering the impact of a blog.
  • Automobiles lack a sufficient number of signaling lights. All we have are left, right, and brake. There should be a light for acceleration (I believe some proposals in the past have suggested a blue light on the front and rear of the car). This would be useful when trying to make a turn onto a road to more quickly be able to gauge if an oncoming driver is actually planning on letting you in or not. Also, when following a car on a highway and coming up from it behind, whether it is accelerating will give you a good idea of whether you should be accelerating. Another useful signaling light would be a double turn-arrow. I’m not sure how it would be implemented, but it would be used to signal an imminent and unexpected turn (almost like the flasing emergency lights). For example, my house at University of Maryland is located along a divided highway, and the driveway is the last turn before an intersection with a road. I always make sure to use my turn signal, but people seem to expect I’m turning at the next road rather than at the driveway, and thus they don’t brake quickly enough. I’ve nearly been rear-ended several times. An extraordinary circumstances turning signal would help alleviate this risk.
  • The future of television is not TiVo, it is true video-on-demand. I have a TiVo-like device at home, and although it really is useful, it is not a revolutionary step above programmable VCRs. It’s very successful because it is easier to use to VCRs, but it really doesn’t add any revolutionary changes above and beyond programmable VCRs. If you don’t program your TiVo in advance to record something, you’re still hosed. Now compare this to true video-on-demand, which I emulate using BitTorrent. I don’t even have to care about television schedules or worry about pre-programming recordings at all. I can just go look at a huge list of episodes and pick and choose which ones I want to download. Mark my words, this is the future of television. I just wish there was an RSS feed equivalent for television shows on BitTorrent. It’d have an interface like iTunes’ podcasts: you just go in, setup some subscriptions, leave it running in the background, and it automatically downloads all of the new episodes of your favorite shows as they hit the net.
  • eBay is being overrun by scammers. Since eBay doesn’t allow auctioneers to filter bidders by feedback, scammers are making thousands of new accounts and using them to totally muck up auctions. For instance, they’ll extort money or product out of you, and if you don’t go along with it, they’ll use their accounts to bid your auctions up to insanely high prices, with no intent of ever paying, and stick you with exorbitant eBay auction fees. The linked article has some horror stories of people running multiple auctions for the same item because they kept getting ruined by scammers. And eBay isn’t doing nearly enough to solve the problem.
  • Could adaptive optics telescopes be improved? The current generation uses an array of servo motors beneath a flexible main objective mirror to adjust the optical properties hundreds of times per second, thus canceling out the atmospheric perturbations as measured by an optical guide laser. But what if a telescope could be made using the same plenoptic technology that has recently been developed for cameras? Could this technology be used successfully to cancel out the atmospheric perturbations without needing the very expensive deformable objective mirror and hundreds of servos? I sure hope someone in the field of observational astronomy is looking into this technique.

That’s all for now.

Meteorology requires fun names

Monday, February 5th, 2007

Why is it that meteorologists always seem to have cool and/or interesting names? It’s like the primary qualification for picking a television meteorologist is the name. If your name is “Tom Smith” and you try to get into TV weather reporting, I’m pretty sure you’d have to change your name to have a hope of succeeding. Here in the DC area, meteorology on ABC’s local program is handled by a guy named Topper Shutt. Topper Shutt! Just try to think of a more appropriate weatherman name. I dare you. Okay, “Stormy Doppler” is cheating. You can’t do that.