I just discovered the insanely addictive Google-maps-based game Geoguessr. If you’re not familiar with it, the game picks out a random Google street view location and you have to figure out where you are. It’s essentially a role-playing game where you pretend you blacked-out and/or were kidnapped by Carmen Sandiego, and woke up in a strange place on Earth. The closer you guess to the correct location, the more points you get. Sometimes you get placed on a busy interstate and can easily figure out your position, other times you’re on a desolate highway or on a small winding forest road which looks like it could be anywhere in the world. These 6 simple hints will allow you to zero-in on your location quickly, or at least ensure that you’re not guessing the wrong hemisphere.
1. Google Street View’s Range
Despite Google’s seemingly endless panopticonic abilities, they still have only mapped a small portion of the world’s streets. This information is by far the most important thing to know as it literally cuts your guessing options in half. It also explains why you’ll get a ton of locations in Brazil, the US, and Canada as opposed to other places in the Americas. Check out this map.
Seeing as how I haven’t posted anything all that serious in a while, I decided to give this blog a bit more legitimacy by talking about something relevant instead of vikings or zombie shows. Don’t worry though, there will be plenty more of that in the future.
Without a doubt more and more people are heading online to get their news. According to Pew half of the country now gets their news digitally, but you hardly need their survey to notice the rise and growth (and eventual acquisition) of sites like Huffington Post, or the rise of online programming from already-established cable news networks, or that every local anchorperson, journalist, and meteorologist is on Twitter. Less visible are the communities that flock to digital news for social interaction.
Many, if not nearly all news sites have at least a forum to discuss the stories of the day, most will allow comments directly underneath a posted story. These comments allow an immediate response to breaking news, a chance of rebuttal to any opinion story, and, more importantly, a formation of news communities. Many news sites use their own internal commenting system and therefore have their own internal communities, others will allow users to login with other accounts like their Yahoo or Facebook profiles, yet for news sites and blogs using a third-party commenting system there’s a diversity drop-off. According to a 2011 study by Lijit, the commenting platform Disqus controls 75% of that market, destroying its competitors Livefyre and Echo. Disqus is now used on such prominent news sites as CNN, The Atlantic, Wired, Abrams Media, NPR, and the Onion’s A.V. Club to just name a few.
About half way through season 3 of AMC’s hit zombie show, The Walking Dead,I wrote a post asking whether the show was running into some serious racial problems in how they portrayed the black characters. Comparing the TV show with Kirkman’s comic, my main argument was essentially that the writers and producers made some rather questionable and outright unnecessary choices for the characters. Tyreese from the comics was replaced by either meek T-Dog or white Daryl/Shane, Michonne was re-written as a Zulu warrior, and the show seemed to have a quota for the number of black characters allowed, killing off one to immediately make room for another.
It’s now a year later and we’re nearly halfway through another season; it’s also a good time to revisit the question for several reasons. First, the racial component of the show has changed considerably. In my last post I lamented the omission of Tyreese, who has now appeared as a major character along with a bunch of other black characters, none of which appear to be red shirts. Second, we’re at a point in the season where the show has temporarily leveled off and has shifted its focus back on the governor plotline, so unlike the last post, I don’t expect the writers to completely undo one of my points in the coming episodes. Third, this blog sees a spike in traffic every Sunday because of the first post, and I’d rather not disappoint all of those coming here with some outdated nonsense. Oh, and at this point I should also mention that SPOILERS for the comic (and maybe the show) will follow.
We live in a world that loves conspiracies, not that a world has ever existed without conspiracies. But in an increasingly information-based society, conspiracy theories provide people with a supposed access to inside and privileged information. Most times these theories are limited to governments and secret societies but sometimes they drift into the world of pop culture where they transcend basic gossip and become much more hilariously involved. While political conspiracy theories tend to focus on shadowy organizations and complex plots, those surrounding celebrities are more visceral and interest-driven. They show that a conspiratorial world view is not necessarily political but just has to focus on a world hidden from view.
Let’s face the facts – plagiarism is rampant on the internet. Things are so easily reproducible and audiences so numerous that people can pretty much get away with copying things whenever and wherever they want. Plagiarism is also nothing new, it’s been around for millennia. Yet whereas before it was essentially taken for granted or existed in a totally different cultural context, nowadays it takes on a whole new and much more destructive force.
A couple hundred years ago content creators and writers existed almost exclusively as members of the upper class – people of their own means that could afford to spend their days on creative pursuits. The poor and proletariat were confined to their farms or factories and the middle class just plain ol’ didn’t exist. Presently, writing is a profession like any other. People compete to have their work published, to get their ideas to the public, and to garner an audience. And the vast majority of these people are not independently wealthy. As the internet more and more becomes the medium for this type of work, it also exposes anything published more easily to theft and to those who would take advantage of someone else’s idea to call their own.
This emerging dynamic is what makes this new type of plagiarism so problematic. There is now even a new strain of thought that everything on the internet is in the public domain and that nobody really owns any idea out there. Early in 2013 some obviously talented, yet unfortunately misguided individual got a brief moment of fame by posting a hilarious parody of chef Guy Fieri’s menu, only to have his reputation shattered when it was discovered that he had stolen all his jokes from other Twitter users. However, many also defended him, using some populist conception of fair use, and of course bringing out the tired old line that “all comedians steal.” This belief is so rampant among audiences that Patton Oswalt finally felt he had to say something and went on a totally-justified rampage against those stealing his jokes.
That brings us to Cracked.com, one of the largest comedy sites on the internet, and therefore used to people lifting all sorts of content from them. And guess what? They don’t take too kindly to it. Furthermore they don’t take too kindly to plagiarism in any form. First off, the site relies on submissions from their audience – sure they have some regular columnists and full-time funnynauts, but on any given day at least half of their content is from the average Joe (full disclosure – this average Joe included). Because of this, and probably also because they’re not run by total assholes, they have a very strict plagiarism policy where if you’re caught doing it you will be banned. It’s the internet so you can always come back under a different name, but then that involves trying to publish your work (or I guess someone else’s work) under an alias, which might work great if you’re Stephen King, but notsomuch if you’re just some random writer.
My horoscopes today have promised me a strong ability to communicate with others so I decided to write this post. About 25-30% of people in the US believe in astrology while millions more don’t really accept it yet still love reading about horoscopes or people’s signs. Astrology is particularly popular with women and men are often encouraged to learn and talk about signs as easy pickup lines. Despite its popularity, astrology is roundly condemned in the world of science by such skeptics as Richard Dawkins and Penn Jillette ( Teller is also probably against it, but I heard Penn cut out his tongue). While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the orbit of Mercury is dictating my happiness on a day-to-day basis, astrology’s fundamental conclusion may be more scientific than many skeptics may want to acknowledge.
What is Astrology?
I should start by asking what exactly is the theory of astrology and whether it can be broken down into levels of interpretation. At its most literal, saying that the movements of distant planets and stars correlate with events in people’s lives on Earth, astrology might as well be a Nigerian prince. There is absolutely no evidence nor plausible scientific explanation for this type of silly action at a distance. In other words, daily horoscopes are a ridiculous thing to believe in and studies have shown this over and over. However, what about an interpretation that says astrology that links personality with a particular constellation in the night sky? If you take that to mean that constellations influence your personality then of course, it’s just as ridiculous as the literal interpretation – your sign does not dictate your personality unless you let it. Yet if we abstract it even further and simply say that astrological signs correlate with different personalities then the bullshit starts to peel away.
A Scientific Foundation for Astrological Beliefs
If we define astrology as the classification and grouping of different people by when they were born using markers in the sky, then a strong scientific case emerges. Consider this: different astrological symbols are essentially just markers for the time of the year. A scientific explanation rests on the fact that astrological signs might as well just serve as labels for time spans on the calendar while removing any causality from the heavens as well as any direct impact of daily events. Someone remarking about the compatibility between Cancers and Virgos might actually have a point as it can correlate to personality differences from different seasonal births rather than with patterns in the sky. In any region of the world, astrological symbols will correlate with different seasons which bring different climates and weather. This in turn influences daily aspects of life, like what foods are available, how much sunlight there is, and how much sleep people get. Scientific studies in turn show that these factors translate into differences during pregnancy for the mother, and during the formative years after the baby is born. Astrology may be seen as taking the simple question of how the time of year that someone is born affects their personality – a perfectly valid scientific question. And indeed science has provided some answers already. A study published 2 years ago notes a “seasonal imprinting” on our biological clocks that can account for personality differences between individuals. While it does not dictate a person’s emotional state or personality traits, there is a significant correlation between seasonal birth and someone’s mental and physical health. For instance, those born in the winter months are more prone to psychological disorders like schizophrenia.
If astrology is re-interpreted as correlating personality with seasons, by way of constellations in the sky, then I see no reason to call it unfounded. However, the mystic methodology that bloomed from this basic understanding is certainly unscientific and unfounded. Stars and planets have no determinative effect on our daily lives on this planet and anyone preaching such a message is either a fool or a charlatan. Yet often pseudoscientific enterprises are based on some basic truth and in this case maybe some relationships simply are probablistically doomed from the start based on which season they were born.
There are certain technologies that have been around for ages which with people consistently and cyclically fall in and out of love. When 3D came out in the early 1950’s audiences were enthusiastic and entertained, but then people stopped caring and complained that untrained film operators made it “hard on the eyes.” 3D didn’t end there of course. There was another revival in the 1960’s, the 1980’s and in the past 5 years when studios released a whole slew of movies purposely filmed for 3D, the most prominent being the colorful blue-cat epic, Avatar. But now, like in the past, audiences for 3D films are in decline.
Other technologies also seem to follow this same trajectory. The idea of the flying car has been around longer than anyone has been alive yet every decade or so there’s a resurgence of interest with promises of progress. The more it’s discussed however, the more it goes from dreams of bypassing gridlock singing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to outright pessimism over the mountain of safety, logistical, and cost issues involved in actually pursuing it. Subliminal advertising also comes around every couple of decades to capture the imagination yet inevitably goes away when scientists remind everyone that it’s not real (that hasn’t stopped people proposing laws against it). And now we have the idea of the Pebble, an incredibly successful Kickstarter project that’s thriving off this cyclical interest.