Well, there’s your problem …

February 27, 2007

What made the Hottentots so hot?  What puts the ape in apricot?  What do they got that I ain’t got?

I believe I have a clue on that last one.

Blogs, naturally, are loaded with opinions.  One thing you can’t accuse bloggers of is not having the courage of their convictions.  You can tell they have strong beliefs by the way they express them—loud, long, and repeatedly.  They love their opinions, and they’re willing to defend them against all comers.

All except me, that is.

The long-suspended realization finally struck me.  While those guys like their opinions, I pretty much hate my own.  Take these few examples:

  • God probably isn’t real.  This is the one I’m the most bitter about.  Although the supreme being that most people seem to believe in is by all appearances a deranged twit, it would be a comfort to know that somebody was pulling all the strings—if only so we could then hunt down that somebody and beat him until he’s a stain on the ground.  I actually envy people who can find peace in the form of religious belief.  My brain just refuses to jump through those hoops.
  • The planet is not being visited by space aliens.  Nobody would be more tickled than I would if this were really the case.  It’s such a fascinating prospect that plenty of people do believe it, in spite of a total lack of evidence.  Again, I wish it were true.
  • Football is not entertaining; likewise most professional team sports.  Just think how easily I could entertain myself if I could become a sports fan.  Television in particular caters to fans, but there are also plenty of sports-themed movies, books, magazines, and video games around.  I would never lack for sources of amusement.  Another opinion that harms nobody but myself.

It isn’t that I have no opinions at all, or that I only half-heartedly believe them.  I’m just not that crazy about them.  Give me a good reason and I would drop any of them in an instant.  That’s my trouble.  I need a good reason.

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King, don’t fail me now

February 23, 2007

I’m about a hundred pages into Cell by Stephen King.  It’s pretty good.  Probably I am not enjoying it as much as I should be.  Two reasons for that are The Colorado Kid and From a Buick 8.

I enjoyed those two books for most of the way, too.  And near the end of each I got the same queasy, I’ve-been-had feeling when I realized that the ending, the conclusion of the story, would not be forthcoming.  These two books had no ending.

Now, far be it from me to tell the author his business.  Write what you want to write, I say.  But when I’m reading a book and enjoying it, there is a reason that I don’t force myself to stop with fifty or a hundred pages to go.  That would be a waste of time, would it not?  It’s for that same reason that I don’t appreciate getting to the end of a book and finding out that the story needs another fifty pages and won’t be getting them.

So, having been bee-stung twice over by Mr. King, I find myself hoping it won’t happen again.  And if there’s anything I hate more than having my time wasted, it’s having to resort to hope as if it were a good thing and not the evil delusion I know it to be.

Okay, Steve.  Ball’s in your court.  I once fought down the strong impulse to fling Sphere by Michael Crichton across the room because he bailed on me when it was time to pay me back for the time and attention I had squandered on him.  Don’t make me want to do that again.  I beg you.


I, Product

February 11, 2007

Bob Harris explains why some cable channels dedicated to serving you information end up serving you useless crap instead.

To review: news shows are, yes, shows. They do not make money by providing us useful information. They make money by providing us… to the advertisers.

And according to the Google News “Most Popular” section, we care a great deal about dead Playmates, stalker astronauts in diapers, Ryan O’ Neal getting arrested, and Britney Spears not being a lesbian.

In college they taught us that stuff about the business of broadcasting. Most people think that the viewers are the customers and the programming is the product, the inventory. They think that because broadcasters spend so much effort selling the programming to the viewers.

But that’s not correct. In truth, the advertisers are the customers and the viewers are the product, the inventory. They’re selling us to the advertisers. The programming is incidental, and it’s becoming ever more so, since programmers are finding that loads of people will watch practically anything.

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Nerds on the March

February 9, 2007

I read someplace that official weather forecasts—the ones used by pilots and others who really need to know what the weather’s gonna be—only extend four hours into the future.  Beyond that, the information just isn’t reliable enough for purposes of aviation.  If that’s true, it’s no wonder that complaining about bad forecasting is so popular you’d think people were making money at it.

The guy or lady on TV is usually trying to predict the weather up to a week in advance.  Not because she can do such a thing, but because she’s afraid you’ll switch the channel if she doesn’t.  And Joe Armchair won’t hesitate to tell you that she’s not very good at it.

Or is she?  Nobody’s bothered to check, have they?

Nobody but OmniNerd, that is:

My plan was to record the weather forecasts of some of the most popular Internet weather sites as well as actual temperatures and then to analyze the data to determine each site’s accuracy. I would then be able to draw supported conclusions to apply to future use of Internet weather forecasts (if any).

What follows is an analysis that certainly looks nerdly enough to carry some validity.  Here’s a snippet from his conclusion:

In seeking high temperature forecasts, it looked best to use IntelliCast or The Weather Channel in the long term, but there wasn’t a clear leader in the short to mid term. BBC seemed unreliable in all cases, as well as MSN in the long term. The Weather Network, CNN and Unisys all had blemishes (3, 4 and 0 days in advance, respectively), but were generally in with the pack.

In seeking low temperature forecasts, IntelliCast and The Weather Channel were again the choice in the long term, joined by Unisys in the short term. BBC was still a dud in anything but the very short term, and MSN performed horribly in nearly all cases, as well as Accuweather in the long term.

Accuweather was the clear leader in anything greater than 10 days in advance, being the only site providing a weather forecast.

So, to sum up, you’ll take the forecast and like it, because brother, it’s all you’ve got for now.


Did you ever …

February 7, 2007

… just have one of those days?

Honestly, this is my favorite baby picture of all time—and it’s not even my kid.  Doesn’t everybody get that feeling sometimes


Schneier: “Refuse to be terrorized, people!”

February 2, 2007

I’ve been waiting for Bruce Schneier to weigh in on the situation in Boston, which I would have to sum up as Security Theater of the Absurd.  Schneier calls it the Non-Terrorist Embarrassment in Boston:

Now the police look stupid, but they’re trying really not hard not to act humiliated:

Governor Deval Patrick told the Associated Press: “It’s a hoax — and it’s not funny.”

Unfortunately, it is funny. What isn’t funny is now the Boston government is trying to prosecute the artist and the network
instead of owning up to their own stupidity. The police now claim that
they were “hoax” explosive devices. I don’t think you can claim they
are hoax explosive devices unless they were intended to look like
explosive devices, which merely a cursory look at any of them shows that they weren’t.

But it’s much easier to blame others than to admit that you were wrong.

After a few more embarrassing quotes from local officials, he continues:

These blinking signs have been up for weeks in ten cities — Boston,
New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San
Francisco, and Philadelphia — and no one else has managed to panic so
completely. Refuse to be terrorized, people!

Now, unless your nerdly credentials are up to date, you probably don’t even know who Bruce Schneier is.  But when you read his web site and his books, it’s clear he knows more about real security and pretend security than any ten blowhard big-city mayor’s you’d care to name.

A lot of time, money and lives have been wasted on useless security measures over the last five years or so.  I for one don’t feel any safer now than I did on Sept. 12 2001.  I get the idea there are other people who feel the same way.  Bruce Schneier is the  only one I know of who can clearly explain why that unacceptably distressing state of affairs exists.

Naturally, nobody anywhere inside the Bush administration seems to be paying the least bit of attention to him.