Monday, February 23, 2009

Oh, thank God! A new physical media format!

I saw this today and just had one question: WHY?!?!

I wonder what's new in 8-track technology? Just when I think the record industry has joined the 21st century, they pull something like this. Jeez!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wikipedia Lecture 2/13/2009

The lecture by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was very cool, especially in his discussion of what the goals of Wikipedia are and what they are not.  Briefly, Wikipedia is based on the principles of Richard Stallman; that is, open source means the right to copy, modify, and redistribute.  It is most of all, an encyclopedia, not a data dump, library, or textbook.  This point is often forgotten by many members of the media and society in general.  Even in regards to scientific articles, no one should ever point to a particular Wikipedia article for their factual basis.  It is only meant to give an overview and any specifics should be fact-checked (Wikipedia even gives people a head start).  Simply put, Wikipedia can, has, and will be wrong at times.

This gets into a huge problem in our society: kids are not taught how to research.  It is not enough to find one source and declare this as a true statement.  Another silly example.  Blaming Wikipedia would be like blaming Britannica, which themselves are not experts on everything they write about.

However, Mr. Wales said that there is not enough academic information on Wikipedia and social sites in general, but he wants more.  He said such information would help imporve Wikipedia, but he adds, the press should not be driving such research.  What's even more exciting is that we can still learn about how Wikipedia started by looking at the 100 or so languages with fewer than 10,000 articles.  Mr. Wales points out that most of these groups really do have a goal-oriented focus in that they talk about what will get their language noticed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Secret Science Agendas in Headlines

My fiancee and I both think the coolest science story as of late is the Large Hydrogen Collider (LHC), even though neither of us are physictists.  That's why I was a little discouraged to see this obviously biased science press release.  Just from the headline and first sentence, I thought, "Uh-oh, they are spending money on unnecessary safety measure just to please the scientific-illiterate."

For those who may not know, the LHC is a giant particle smasher, which scientist hope will answer many pressing questions, such as the existance of the Higgs boson, many particles predicted by supersymmetry, and how dark matter and dark energy work.  However, many people are frieghtened over essentially ignorance because they fear the LHC will produce stable micro black holes and strangelets (and I'm sure many other things).  Safety studies were conducted and stated that there was no danger.   You can read more on this here.  Fox News even goes so far as to show an artist's illustration of a black hole (note: they don't even show a micro black hole since there are galaxies swirling around the black hole... which is weirder still black holes are generally in galaxies).

So, when I saw that the LHC was being delayed due to "safety," naturally I thought this meant that they were going to devise someway to stop something that wouldn't happen anyway.  It's kind of like Lisa Simpson's tiger repellant rock.  Anyway, after reading the article, I found out that "safety" was in regards to the EQUIPMENT.  It had nothing to do with any type of safety for humans!!!  Of course, you wouldn't know this unless you read the whole article, but most people only read, especially when posted online.

And this is not to fault FoxNews, since the story came from the Associated Press.  So what are the morals of this tale:

  1. All reporting is biased, even if unintenionaly.
  2. You really do have to read the whole article.
  3. Scientists need to be careful about the words they use.  They never should have used the word "safety."  Instead, they should have said something along the lines of "taking measures to protect equipment."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Attending a lecture can cause controversy?!?!

I recently got a comment from the founder of, Gregory Kohs, which appears to be a Wikipedia-style host for those who want to escape the Wisdom of the Crowds and also, a place for companies and non-profits to set up defacto advertisments and corporate websites.  I browsed the supporting blog, but find that the author has no clear understanding of what Wikipedia really is.  You can usually spot a crank when they start using loaded questions and other logical fallicies.

Today, I'll talk about just one part in his blog that really got me.  When Wikipedia says that it is "not a tool to support commerce," Mr. Kohs responds:

"Would we say that "Wikipedia is not a tool to support education"? Of course not, because hundreds of thousands, if not millions of students regularly use it as a basic primer on any academic topic under the sun.

Would we say that "Wikipedia is not a tool to support medicine"? Again, of course not, because hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people suffering from various ailments probably turn to Wikipedia as a first-line source of remedy and cure."

Wow.  Just wow.  Equating commerce to education and medicine is a weak anology (a logical fallicy).  A Wikipedia article detailing the Pythogrean Theorem is not the same as a Pepsi advertisement.  The difference?  Who profits from a student learning a key element of understanding geometry?  The student (the reader) and no-one else!  A webpage detailing how wonderful Pepsi is generates profit to Pepsi (the probably writer or third-party).  Same thing for medicine.  On the other hand, if a link on this Wikipedia article points to a chiropractor, then it would be deleted once found.

That's not to say that Pepsi cannot have a site on Wikipedia, and indeed, they do.  It details the history of the company, their marketing approaches, the rivalry with Coke, etc.  What you do not find is "Oh this stuff is awesome.  And if you drink it, maybe Angelina Jolie will think you're hot!"

Anyway, I can't wait for the lecture on Friday, even if some people hold sour grapes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jimmy Wales here Friday!

I already know what I'm doing Friday afternoon.  Jimmy Wales is talking at Georgia Tech on Friday!