Journalistic Bias: Not What, but When

There is a curve when it comes to shocking news about a candidate for office. For a couple of weeks after the damning revelations come out, the candidate takes a hit. Then, gradually, the candidate’s numbers recover. We’re seeing that right now with Roy Moore in Alabama. Voters have had time to rationalize voting for someone they would never let near their own daughters.

We’ve seen the curve with candidates from both parties in the past, from a gleefully corrupt Democrat in Louisiana who had time to charm his way out of the doghouse to a presidential candidate who went down to perfectly-timed accusations.

I think this curve is pretty well-known by now. I’ve heard of it, and I’m the last to hear about anything.

So imagine you’re the editor of the Washington Post. You have an explosive story about a candidate in an election of great importance. That election is six weeks away. The story is ready to go — facts checked, sources cross-referenced and background-checked. It’s legit.

I think it’s safe to say the editors of the Washington Post are not big supporters of the Republican Party in its current incarnation. So if you are an editor at The Post who decides when to run this huge piece, there will be a natural temptation to run it at the most damaging time possible for Moore. There would be a temptation to sit on the story for a couple of weeks, to put the sweet spot of the damage curve right on election day.

The Washington Post did not do that. There’s no way to tell if the timing of the story was based on journalistic integrity or incompetence, but they did not time the story for maximum electoral impact. I think that means something.

Flat-Earthers are Punking You

99% of Flat-Earthers actually believe the Earth is round. They’re just being dicks.

They’re taking great pleasure as you prove seventeen different ways that the Earth is round, just to shake their heads afterward and say, “Nope, Earth is flat.” Your continued insistence on proving the Earth is round is just plain funny to them.

Welcome to the 4chan world. 4chan is a place where people will say anything if it pisses someone off. It’s “for the lulz.” 4chan is where gamer gate came from, and the place Bannon recruited at least one of his most poisonous people.

Now they are getting all kinds of attention just for saying the Earth is flat. Virtual high-fives were shared between moms’ basements when a few idiot celebrities jumped on board. Kinda like with vaccines. But here’s what you have to understand: Every attempt to expose them, every attempt to use science to show they are wrong, just feeds them. The better your argument, the more fun the “nope”.

Only an idiot would think the Earth is flat. These people aren’t idiots. They’re assholes.

I Got To Use My Router Today

It was a big handyman day at Muddled Headquarters today. Relatively speaking.

For one task I needed to cut some grooves in a couple of pieces of wood. I have the perfect tool for that — a very nice router. The thing is, I haven’t used this machine in well over a decade. So a chore that would take an actual handyman maybe fifteen minutes start to finish took me closer to two hours, stretched over two days. First, I had to go to the store to get the correct bit (after searching for and failing to come up with the correct bit in my storage bins). The shopping trip took longer than necessary because I did self check-out wrong. By the time I got home it was dark, and my workshop is the back patio.

This morning(ish) I was right back at it. I have no idea how many trips I made between the garage and the patio — for instance to change the bit on the router I realized one needs a large wrench. Into the garage I went to grab my inch-based set of wrenches, only to discover that they’re all too small. Back into the garage I went to grab all my plus-sized wrenches from where they hang in an orderly row. That made two trips, just to put the right bit into the router. Then there were trips for clamps and shims and scrap-lumber guides, and a special trip for my ruler-square thingie. Then bizz-bang-buzz I was done.

Putting the router away, I pushed aside the guide attachment that would have rendered much of the other fiddling moot.

But I made the grooves. There is something deeply satisfying about a high-precision cut, the clean square groove at just the right location. Making the cut is almost an anticlimax; getting the cut right happens long before the motor of the power tool starts whirring. Carpentry is in the things you do before the blade touches the wood.

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The Hazing

It was standard at the firm. When a new scientist or engineer was hired, they were given an impossible problem. Sure, it seemed like a reasonable task at first, until it foundered on the fundamental laws of physics. The really bright recruits would catch on in a week or so; most took longer.

Then there was Harper. Six weeks and counting. Burning the midnight oil, submitting massive computation jobs, cursing when she thought no one was listening.

The board had been nervous about Harper. Her academic performance had been good, but not the level the company expected. But Joe Petersen had had a hunch about her. “Give her a shot,” he told the board. “You won’t be sorry.” Now he would have to be the one to eat crow and admit that he had been wrong about her.

It was not the sort of message one gives electronically. It was late but Petersen knew where he would find his latest hire. He knocked gently on her open door before walking into her office. She was sitting back in her chair, her dark hair a mess, deep circles under her eyes, just staring into space, nodding slowly.

“Hello, Alice,” he said.

She seemed to remember where she was. “Hi, Boss.”

“I owe you an apology,” he said. “The task I gave you —”

“I solved it.”

Even worse than he thought. “The task I gave you. It was impossible.”

“Well of course it required super-relativistic interaction between particles with mass,” she said. “Particles going back in time. I saw that right away. But the way you asked the question… It got me thinking.”

“And…?”

Alice Harper shrugged. “And I solved it. I just sent a naked quark back in time to resolve an ambiguous energy state. On paper at least. Can I go home now? I’m very tired.”

“I’ll see you Monday,” Petersen said.

It’s the Same Ol’ Lost-Data Story

In the last week I’ve heard from three different friends who all experienced the same heart-stopping, stomach-emptying feeling of doom. The oh-shit-I’m-hosed, no-going-back, if-only feeling of true loss.

Those friends were separated by thousands of miles, and by gulfs of temperament. They are all united in being intelligent, creative people.

In at least two of the cases, the hours of gut-wrenching agony were replaced with vast relief. But even as they expressed their joy to the world, the did not (publicly) resolve to do anything to prevent the same disaster from striking again. They still aren’t backing up their digital files. Two of the three sphincter-clenching moments I witnessed this week were sponsored by lost flash drives.

Aargh! It’s SO DAMN EASY to back your stuff up these days. And free! Dropbox is brain-dead simple and works everywhere. For most people, why do you even have a flash drive? If you DO have a flash drive, why is this little thing that can drop through a hole in your pocket the sole repository of everything you hold dear? I say again, “Aargh!”

Ok, DropBox isn’t the most private cloud storage around (though it isn’t terrible — way better than Google). You can quite easily encrypt your files on DropBox, or perhaps you would prefer tersor.it. Swiss-based DropBox, basically. And speaking of Google, if you don’t mind who reads your stuff, the Goog’s a ubiquitous and free way to back your shit up.

In the IT world, there is a saying: “If it’s not in three places, it doesn’t exist.” I can forgive someone who only keeps their data in two places.

But one place? A flash drive? Sorry, buckaroo, you’re going to have to take my sympathy with an “I told you so.”

Sometimes, You Just Gotta Go For It

My NaNoWriMo effort this year now includes a character named Dr. Jenkins. She is annoying, but she loves animals, so we can forgive a great deal.

Romance would serve no purpose in this story, but I may have to introduce some anyway. I mean, with a name like Dr. Jenkins, how can I not?

He kissed her neck and Dr. Jenkins let out a sigh. His lips moved up toward her ear, and Dr. Jenkins’ grip tightened on his arms. “Wait,” she said.

Max pulled away. “What is it, Dr. Jenkins?”

“I’ve… never felt this way before,” she confessed. Dr. Jenkins’ heart was beating too hard; she was having difficulty with even the simplest sentences.

“Nor have I, Dr. Jenkins,” Max said, his words just a breathy whisper as he nibbled on her earlobe. “Nor have I. But tonight, Dr. Jenkins, you and I will. Feel that way, I mean.”

Dr. Jenkins surrendered to his whispery voice. With a shudder that came from her very core she bent her lips to his ear, and whispered in return, “You can just call me… Doctor.”

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Hedging Investments in Las Vegas

Usually gambling is a risky proposition, but occasionally it can be used to reduce risk.

I heard on the radio today that many months ago a Mattress Entrepreneur in Houston, Texas, said, “If the Astros win the World Series, I’ll refund all purchases over $3,000.” Tonight is a big night for Houston-area mattress buyers; if Justin Verlander pitches well a lot of refunds will be forthcoming, to the tune of $5 million.

Mattress Guy emphasizes that most of that liability is covered by insurance — his business is not at risk — but he finds himself in an interesting situation: if a sporting event comes out a certain way, he loses a lot of money. Tonight it looks like he could use a little more insurance.

Las Vegas to the rescue! By placing a substantial bet on the Astros, he can make back some of the money he loses if they win. If they lose both the next games he loses his bet, but he’s not out the five million. By placing a bet he ensures that either way he loses some money, but he won’t lose as much as he would have, should the Astros win the series.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, one of the big winners in a World Series game 7 are the ticket brokers, and apparently the Dodgers are particularly broker-friendly, releasing tons of tickets into the market. Should there be a game seven, the brokers will make millions. So what can the brokers do to improve the chances of a payout? Head to Las Vegas! By placing a big bet on there NOT being a game seven, the brokers get a guaranteed payout either way.

What these two things have in common is that wagering on the outcome of the game is the exact opposite of gambling. In one case, it is turning a potential big loss into a guaranteed-but-manageable smaller loss. In the other case it’s turning a potential big gain into a guaranteed-but-smaller gain.

Not long ago some kid became famous because he had bet on Auburn to win the college football championship game. At the time he placed his bet, no one thought Auburn had a chance to even reach the game. But holy shit, after a few amazing upset victories there they were. If they won, the kid stood to make something like $65,000. That’s a lot of clams for anyone, let alone a college kid.

Before the game, some Web site took a less-than-scientific poll asking people: Should the kid place a hedge bet to get a guaranteed $30K (less than half of his big payoff), or should he let it all ride? The results of the survey were presented by state — respondents from every state but one said “Let it ride!”. You want to guess which lonely state had a majority of respondents vote “hedge”?

That state was Nevada, of course, where people who gamble for a living reside. Auburn was winning late in the game, but ultimately lost. The kid got nothing. He failed to accept the gambler’s axiom: If you stand to gain or lose significant money over an event that other people are betting on, use that action to eliminate risk. Gamblers hate uncertainty, and feast on greed.

Unlike hedge funds — mutual funds designed to go up when the market goes down but which actually completely fail at that objective — hedge bets are a pretty cold lock, if only for a very specific circumstance. Here’s hoping that matters to one of us, someday.

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