Saturday, April 15, 2006
Avoiding the Perils of the Internet
I don't think it's an understatement to say that the Internet is as much a revolution in human communications as television, radio, or the printing press were when they were first introduced. The Internet puts the entire wealth of accumulated human knowledge at your fingertips. No previous generation had such immediate access to so much information. And the poplarity of the World Wide Web, combined with the proliferation of blogs, homepages, etc. truly makes free speech real for the entire population. In principle, anyone can publish anything they want on the Web and have it potentially be read by everyone else.
OK, that's the rosey, naive utopian vision of the Internet. The unfortunate reality is that the Internet is equal parts amazing universal knowledge database, cess pool of lies and misinformation, welcoming communities for people to find other people with similar interests, outlet for still other people to exercise their worst anti-social impulses anonymously, forum to debate and discuss important issues, and platform to spew the most vile propaganda and smear campaigns.
The truth is the fact that the Internet makes free speech real is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. You can't blindly trust every web page you visit or every email you receive. To make the most of the Internet, you have to put a bit of work into making sure the information you're getting is accurate.
So, in the interest of helping my fellow web surfers, here are some sites that I think are trustworthy and can help you avoid getting sucked into the cess pool:
- Snopes Urban Legends Reference Pages - Ever get an email with a story that's too unbelievable to be true? Well, you're probably right. Check this site to find out which stories are just urban legends, and which are based on facts.
- FactCheck.org - It's a given that all politicians lie, right? This site researches the public statements politicians make and determines what's factual, what's exaggeration, and what's just plain false. Whether you're a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, this site doesn't play favorites. This site focuses on US politics, so it's maybe only relevant for American citizens.
- The Straight Dope - Cecil Adams answers readers' questions about a wide range of topics. He and his staff always provide background references and research so that you can verify their findings. If you have a question that no one seems to be able to answer, check here. If they don't have the answer already, you can ask them.
- How Stuff Works - We live in amazing times where technology provides us with so much convenience in our everyday lives. But we rarely take the time to understand how all these marvelous machines and tools work. This site solves that problem. Each article provides clear explanations with lots of pictures and diagrams on a variety of human technology and the workings of the universe. You don't need an advanced science or engineering degree to understand how stuff works, just plain old human curiosity.
Friday, April 14, 2006
What Kind of Flame Warrior Are You?
You may have seen this already, but I just discovered a great website that describes the many types of flame warriors on the Internet. If you've ever hung out on a newsgroup, bulletin board, message board, online forum, or comment thread on a blog, you've probably encountered many of these types of personalities. Among the more antagonistic types you may encounter are the Troller, Troglodyte, Ferrous Cranus, Evil Clown, and Ideologue.
Looking at myself, I think I'm a composite of a few different warriors:
- I'm 75% Lurker - mostly I read the messages, but I generally don't comment that often.
- I'm 10% Diplomat - I've tried being a peacemaker a couple of times in an effort to resolve heated disputes calmly and rationally (see here and here) - with little success.
- I'm 15% Eagle Scout - I generally try to be polite and calm when I do participate in any online fora. It helps for me to wait an hour before typing out any argumentative messages. This prevents letting my emotions unleash any unnecessary nastiness.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Those Huddled Masses Still Yearn To Breathe Free
I recently discovered (via PZ Myers' Pharyngula) Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez's blog, La Queen Sucia, and this post about facts vs. myths regarding illegal immigration. I can't confirm all the details and statistics she cites, but it is certainly worth a read to put the issue into perspective.
Reading her post reminded me of a Simpsons episode that addressed this very issue (that originally aired almost 10 years ago, on May 5, 1996). In the episode, Much Apu About Nothing, Springfield's Mayor Quimby needs as issue to distract the voters from his administration's financial mismanagement. He picks, rather arbitrarily, illegal immigration:
[An angry crowd has gathered outside Mayor Quimby's office to complain about the recent tax hike. Quimby and his aides are discussing the problem behind closed doors.]
Quimby: Are these morons getting dumber or just louder?
Assistant: [checks his clipboard] Dumber, sir. They won't give up the bear patrol, but they won't pay taxes for it either.
Quimby: [thoughtfully] Ducking this issue calls for real leadership.
[The mayor exits his office to address the angry crowd of citizens.]
Quimby: People! Your taxes are high because of illegal immigrants! That's right, illegal immigrants! We need to get rid of them!
[The angry crowd calms a bit and starts muttering.]
Moe the Bartender: Immigants! [sic] I knew it was them! Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them!
Helen Lovejoy, wife of the pastor: [hysterically] Ohhh, won't somebody *please* think of the children!
Quimby: In one week the town will vote on a special referendum whether or not to deport all illegal immigrants from Springfield. It shall be known as Proposition 24.
[The crowd (including Mayor Quimby) erupts into cheers]
Now, I'm not trying to claim that illegal immigration is a non-problem, or that we don't have problems with the current immigration laws in the US. But what I do see as pretty blatant is that we have some politicians using illegal immigration as a wedge issue to distract voters from the bigger problems in our government (coincidentally caused by the policies of those same politicians). Additionally, I see the immigration issue being used as a scapegoat for all US economic problems. That Simpsons episode demonstrates and satirizes these tactics quite nicely.
I think it's pretty unrealistic to think that we can build a magic wall around the US to keep "undesirables" out, or that immigrants (legal or illegal) of today are somehow of a different breed than those of previous generations, and that they don't contribute to America like previous waves of immigrants did.
I don't claim to be very knowledgeable about this issue, so I'll point you to journalist David Neiwert's blog and a recent post about proposed solutions to US illegal immigration problems. I think he provides a more reasonable approach than what is being offered by our politicians. Also, check out a short comment that Andrew Sullivan recently made on the topic.
As a nation that is mostly composed of the descendants of immigrants, we should be smarter about welcoming and incorporating new arrivals and helping to put them on the path towards citizenship.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
Since my posting frequency has been quite pitiful, I figure I can at least provide some lame ass excuses as to what I'm doing with my time instead of blogging.
- Kingdom Hearts II - Just came out for Playstation 2. You got Disney in my Final Fantasy! You got Final Fantasy in my Disney! This most unlikely combination creates a surprisingly great game series, and I'm working my way through the sequel. (See game reviews here, here, and here)
- Civilization IV - If crack was a computer game, it would be Civilization. Just...one...more...turn...!
- Lost - This TV show is addictive. I've recently managed to hook friends in Germany to this weird, ensemble, character-driven, sci-fi mystery. Apple should give me a cut of the iTunes download money that came from my referral.
- Deal or No Deal - A game show where people pick random numbers to try to win money. No special skills or knowledge required. I know it sounds brainless, but it can actually be entertaining watching people ignore probability theory.
- The Office - TV comedy gold. I think the American version is even better than the British original, but of course I'm a bit biased.
- Veronica Mars - More quirky TV drama/mystery. I don't know how the writers come up with such interesting mysteries and puzzles every week. Check out this great fan site that keeps up with all the show's mysteries and clues.
- Brightness Reef by David Brin - First book in his second Uplift trilogy series. I've only recently started reading David Brin, so I'm playing catchup on his sci-fi novels.
So as you can see, I'm wasting far too much time on pointless entertainment when I should be wasting time writing blog entires for a nonexistant audience. And clearly I watch too much TV. I should probably add my DVR to the list of distractions. It's completely changed the way I watch TV, and I think I'm watching *twice* as much as I did before (my poor brain cells).
There just aren't enough hours in the day! By the way, stuff like family and work already get top priority before all this other stuff, so I'm not neglecting them! Hopefully I'll get to writing a real blog post this week. Cross your fingers!
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
I found a site that has several online quizes that "test" whether or not you belong in a particular category. So here are my scores from the tests I took:
I'm a bit disappointed in my geek and Internet addict score. Even my video game addict score is barely passing, and I've been playing video games for 25 years. I guess I'm just not hardcore. Just for fun, I also took a couple of tests that don't exactly apply to my demographic. Those results are particularly amusing:
Apparently I'm not classy enough to be a metrosexual, but I'm not lowbrow enough to be white trash (well, I'm also black, so that might put me out of the running anyway).
Labels: web personality tests