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Comment: Re:Fox News? (Score 1) 397

by jfengel (#48021391) Attached to: Scientists Seen As Competent But Not Trusted By Americans

There is a lot of abysmal news reporting, and I encourage people to stop getting their science news from any source that wants to use it to entice you to come every single day. If the lack something exciting (which is most days), they'll exaggerate something that they hope will keep you coming back.

Fox News adds a layer of ideology onto that which makes it even worse. They go past exaggeration and attention-whoring to outright lies and distortions, on a regular and consistent basis. Most of the hyerbole in regular science reporting has little effect one way or the other, except to skew people's perception of science as either more exciting than it really is or disillusionment when supposed breakthroughs never turn into products. But Fox News lies in a way designed to produce a specific political end, in a way that has made serious consideration of certain topics nearly impossible.

I don't like any of their competitors, either, and recommend everybody shut all of them off in favor of more thoughtful (and less frequent) news sources, especially for science. They're not the only ones with a political agenda, for that matter. But I've got an extra vituperation for the network most obviously distorting science news in a form that goes past breathless exaggeration into outright lies.

Comment: Re:Oh good (Score 2) 903

by jfengel (#47995803) Attached to: Miss a Payment? Your Car Stops Running

I applaud your approach, but I did want to point out that a good $300 car is difficult to find (not to mention that $300 in the 1990s is about $600 today, after inflation, and minimum wage hasn't risen to match). A car in that price range is often going to be unreliable, and a single repair on something significant (transmission, engine, etc) is going to cost as much as the car. Even a new set of tires can be a significant cost burden.

If you're capable of doing your own maintenance, that can bring costs down a lot. Maintenance costs have fallen as cars have gotten more reliable, but significant repairs are getting harder. Worse, most consumers aren't in a position to evaluate which sub-$1k cars are actually worth the price, and which need thousands of dollars in repairs to be driveable. If you don't have that expertise, you need to hire somebody, at still more cost.

Which is to say: being poor is expensive. There are definitely ways to economize, and some people are bad at that. But even those who do live economically require a certain amount of luck to scrape by at the lowest income levels. Reversals, including a $300 car that turned out to be a poor bargain, can easily tip the balance for even the wise consumers.

Comment: Re:Not intended, result of market crash in 2008. (Score 1) 259

by jfengel (#47986677) Attached to: Obama Presses China On Global Warming

With the economy overall recovering since then, one would expect CO2 levels to go back to rising. It's interesting that they haven't.

I can take a guess at factors: continued outsourcing of manufacturing to China, increasing prevalence of low-energy home appliances, more fuel-efficient cars, a shift to natural gas, the misleading nature of many economic figures, reduce consumerism in the middle class. There are certainly more factors. I'd be curious to know which is responsible, and how much.

Comment: It proves the conspiracy theorists right (sort of) (Score 4, Insightful) 275

by jfengel (#47968261) Attached to: Nvidia Sinks Moon Landing Hoax Using Virtual Light

To me, the real lede is buried pretty deeply in the article. The light on that particular photo IS anomalous. It sounds as if the conspiracy theorists were right about that, and that's kind of astute.

What's interesting is the resolution of the anomaly: it's light reflected off Neil Armstrong himself. Or rather, his large, bright-white suit. The NVidia guys showed that it reflects enough light to account for the lighting in the picture. If you don't include it, the lighting is off. I think that's pretty cool.

This doesn't, of course, settle anything for the conspiracy nuts, and I fully expect this to prove only that the NASA guys were wily bastards. And that sucks, because it sounds as if the brain power they're applying might well have turned up something more interesting if it weren't fixated on achieving a delusional result.

Comment: Re:I went (Score 1) 200

by jfengel (#47966881) Attached to: Hundreds of Thousands Turn Out For People's Climate March In New York City

Thank you for caring. Seriously.

I've made my peace with future generations about my apathy. In part that's because I have no children, and don't want them; in fact, a (tiny) part of the reason I have none is that I don't want the burden of the fact that I don't believe I can contribute to a fix to this problem.

I am sorry, future generations, but the enemy was too big to move. Most of the world understood, but crucial people in crucial positions were happy to leave you a worse world, and let you deal with it. They found an awful lot of common cause with a large group of self-centered, gullible people who were easily led to believe anything that meant that they could live any way they wanted with no repercussions. No reasoning could dislodge them from that, and emotional appeals were met with contempt. It was clear that I couldn't win, and that by the time it became obvious that something had to be done, it would be much too late. It is, I suspect, already too late.

I really appreciate that you're not taking the coward's way out, as I am. Maybe you can do something I should be doing. But I simply can't justify anything but apathy. I've tried.

Comment: Re:The review ecosystem is good and truly broken.. (Score 1) 249

by jfengel (#47966711) Attached to: Small Restaurant Out-Maneuvers Yelp In Reviews War

I completely agree... and yet there is one prominent counterexample: Wikipedia. When Wikipedia came out I was absolutely certain it would not work. And yet, somehow, it does. There are trolls, and controversial pages have to be locked down, but overall the site does astonishingly well. It's the go-to source for general information on the Internet, at least as good (and in many ways better) than expensive curated sources.

I don't completely understand what it is that makes Wikipedia work. I'm sure it's a lot of things, and at least some of the things also contribute to dysfunction (like deletionist moderators). I don't know if that can be adapted to review sites, which are at core about opinion, while Wikipedia's guiding principle of objectivity gives it a touchstone that all non-trolls more or less agree on.

The trolls don't, of course, but somehow the fact that the non-trolls outnumber the trolls makes them relatively easy to spot and manage, though there are still problems. Especially in out-of-the-way places, which is the other difficulty with review: most places will get relatively few reviews and won't have millions of eyeballs on the lookout for trolling.

Still... the reason I brought this up is that somehow, Wikipedia works, and I would have sworn it wouldn't. So maybe, just maybe, there's some hope for review sites as collaborations. It won't be as simple as reverting the many different kinds of bad reviews (from outright trolling to "I hate spicy food so you shouldn't go to this Mexican restaurant"), but I'm uncharacteristically optimistic that there might be a route forward. (I'm certain, though, that Yelp hasn't found it.)

Comment: Re:When doing anything involving the ocean (Score 1) 198

by jfengel (#47931477) Attached to: Wave Power Fails To Live Up To Promise

Yep. Still sufficient reason to reduce the amount of plastic that gets into the oceans, but unfortunately, it seems really hard to get people to take any positive environmental steps unless you exaggerate it into ugly, apocalyptic terms. And even then, for every person you convince by it, there will be one who heard that it was exaggerated and concluded that therefore nothing needs to be done at all.

Comment: Re:And the speculation was completely off (Score 1) 188

by jfengel (#47928353) Attached to: NASA's Manned Rocket Contract: $4.2 Billion To Boeing, $2.6 Billion To SpaceX

I didn't follow the speculation, but perhaps you'd know: did they realize that splitting was an option? Did Boeing and SpaceX each get half a loaf, or did NASA somehow manage to "grow the pie"?

If so, where will they dig up additional billions in funding? If not, will either SpaceX or Boeing be able to accomplish a large fraction of the work for a fraction of the funding they'd hoped to get?

I'm ecstatic to see them say "Why not both?", since if the government is going to be spending tax dollars, I'd rather see it go to a good scientific cause than... well, to a lot of other things that the government is prone to spending money on. But It's a fair bit of money, even in government terms, and I hope it's being spent wisely rather than having a Solomonic decision that gives us two halves of a baby.

Comment: Re:it's means it is (Score 1) 132

by jfengel (#47905945) Attached to: 3D-Printed Car Takes Its First Test Drive

If the headline was "Man lands on the moon", would you complain that he used a rocket ship instead of jumping?

The way this headline is written, it's as if they'd written "Armstrong jumps to moon", and neglected to mention in TFS that he was jumping from the ladder of the lander to the surface. TFS says "managed to 3D print, and assemble an entire automobile", and that's misleading to the point of lying.

It's a cool, impressive, incremental achievement, but they haven't landed on the moon here. And tech reporting, and tech in general, would be better served by accurate reporting of it.

Comment: Re:Fundamental issues (Score 1) 182

by jfengel (#47898785) Attached to: The MOOC Revolution That Wasn't

Yep. MOOCs don't serve the important part of the teacher's job. Teaching is best as a dialogue. A videotaped lecture is little different from a book, in that the information is fixed; worse, unlike a book, you don't even get to read at your own pace. It's not without value, since some things adapt well to that and different modes work for different people, but it's still missing the two-way communication that a real teacher provides.

People have pushed MOOCs largely for the learn-a-bunch-of-facts classes, such as science and tech. Technique is also a "fact"; it's stuff that can easily be tested and graded. The things that are missing are the parts that make us consider a student well-rounded: history, literature, sociology, art. These sound trivial to nerds but they're about innovation and communication. They, too, have to be practiced, and it's not something that can be memorized. Even the STEMmest jobs are ultimately about people: seeing what people want, finding ways to tell them your ideas, building up a story together. And that's something that a real teacher can help with, and a videotaped teacher can't. (Nor can a videotaped teacher answer questions or ascertain just why a student isn't "getting it". Even a "great teacher" is little more than an actor when on video.)

Teaching is too often undervalued as if they were just handed a book. It's a skill of its own. We STEM nerds often undervalue that skill because it's not easily graded on a multiple-choice test.

Comment: Re:Try Kickstarting A Novel (Score 1) 215

by jfengel (#47892729) Attached to: Kickstarter's Problem: You Have To Make the Game Before You Ask For Money

Good for you, man. I'm glad to see it happening. I don't like having publishers as arbiters of public taste any more than you do. I just think it's important to recognize that the vast majority of self-published ebooks aren't very successful, and it's not just the bad ones.

Comment: Re:Try Kickstarting A Novel (Score 1) 215

by jfengel (#47892201) Attached to: Kickstarter's Problem: You Have To Make the Game Before You Ask For Money

Taking into account, of course, the fact that you have to do all of your own marketing. You have to make your novel stand out among zillions of other indie ebooks, all of which have the same low barrier to entry.

Just having a major publisher's name on it is pretty substantial marketing. Even more so if they go to the expense to print out a physical book, which is a large sunk cost up front. That tells readers that somebody believes in the book, to the tune of a few tens of thousands of dollars. And that publisher will generally get it into meatspace bookstores, where your book has to stand out only among a far, far smaller crowd of other physical books on the shelf.

It's not impossible to do very, very well with an ebook. But much of the time that additional 45% you get to keep is 45% of a much smaller pot. (And generally the margin is much wider than that, in fact. Going rate is usually in the 10-13% range, in my experience.)

The way I see it... if you can get a publisher interested, you probably should, at least until you have a large fan base of your own. It's the easiest way to that fan base. Building it up yourself is difficult. Not impossible, and possibly no harder than getting a publisher to take an interest in you. But if I had a publisher on the hook, I'd keep it.

"In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." -- Thomas Jefferson