TV tells CO2-emitting children to die early

ABC's Planet Slayer

Carbon Cult sickos are under fire for an interactive website that tells children they should die because they emit CO2.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Planet Slayer” site invites young children to take a “greenhouse gas quiz”, asking them “how big a pig are you?”. At the end of the quiz, the pig explodes, and ABC tells children at “what age you should die at so you don’t use more than your fair share of Earth’s resources!”

It’s one of a number of interactive features that “Get the dirt on greenhouse without the guilt trips. No lectures. No multinational-bashing (well, maybe a little…). Just fun and games and the answers to all your enviro-dilemas,” ABC claims.

The site is aimed at 9-year olds. However even a “virtuous” rating (e.g. not owning a car and recycling) is outweighed by eating meat, or spending an average Aussie income – with the result that many 9-year olds are being told they’ve already outstayed their environmentally-compliant stay on the planet.

“Do you think it’s appropriate that the ABC … depict people who are average Australians as massive overweight ugly pigs, oozing slime from their mouths, and then to have these pigs blow up in a mass of blood and guts?” asked Senator Mitch Fifield in the Herald-Sun.

The state-sponsored broadcaster (why is that not a surprise?) defended the morbid quiz, with ABC managing director Mark Scott insisting “the site was not designed to offend certain quarters of the community but to engage children in environmental issues.”

Which is eco-speak for frighten them witless. However, as the excellent science blog Watts Up With That points out, the site clearly breaches Australian broadcasting guidelines on “harmful or disturbing” content.

Meanwhile, the site’s designers are revelling in the controversy:

“Thank God for outraged senators – you can’t buy publicity like that,” PlanetSlayer’s “creative director” Bernie Hobbs crowed to the New York Post.

So how, according to ABC, does one appease the vengeful Death God, Gaia?
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Why you don't need TV news to tell you you're in an earthquake

Houses shook across much of Britain as the country experienced its biggest earthquake for thirty years early this morning.

Impressively, within ten minutes of the tremors, CSEM (EMSC), the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre, revealed the cause: a 5.4 magnitude quake with an epicentre 10 miles north east of Lincoln, in the East Midlands. (Within an hour, this was revised to a 4.9 scale quake).

CSEM even saves you the from converting latitude/longtiude co-ordinates – it’s integrated with Tele Atlas data, via Google Maps.

Despite the availability of real-time information, the instant news media fell back on, er… “calls from viewers”. The BBC and Sky’s radio and rolling news hurried to bring us what we already knew – that a great big earthquake had happened, somewhere in Britain.

A resourceful night operator at BBC News took a break from cutting and pasting these reports (“there was a really loud bang” – Jemma Harrison, 22, in Greater Manchester) to find the US Geological Survey’s website – which (naturally) carried rather less accurate information than the real-time sensors in Europe.

CSEM had quake information within 10 minutes:

real-time quake info

(At time of writing (90 minutes later), BBC News had raised somebody from the British Geological Survey out of their beds, who had in turn gone to the web, and confirmed the CSEM information. This confirmation replaced the reference to the US Geological website. That’s one way of getting the news out…)

It’s tempting to conclude that the moral of the story is one of new technology baffling hacks: “why can’t the media use the internet better?”

But it’s worse than that.

One Laptop Per Newsreader

Publicly funded science, which is supposed to operate on our behalf, did its job – by making available real-time information available within ten minutes of the quake. Not all of it worked – alas, our own British Geological Survey, a member of the EMSC network, doesn’t publish real-time monitoring information. But it shows what we get for our money, when scientists aren’t concocting disaster fictions of their own. Which with gullible politicians and quangocrats in charge, is how they get research grants today.

The science network did rather better than the publically-funded media, which demonstrated how badly it has lost the plot. The 24 hour news hacks long since forgot how to do even the most basic research, and now fall back on telling us what we already know.

What’s the point?

[some interesting feedback at The Registersee end]

Teachers: Feel my Truthiness – Jimbo

Yes, it’s that time of year when children eagerly gather round a kindly old man with a beard. He makes great promises to them, if only they just work hard enough. But they just get a load of obscenities back.

Only it’s not Santa.

Wikipedia’s Maximum Leader and peripatetic salesman Jimmy Wales breezed into London yesterday. This time he’s pitching Jimbo’s Big Bag of Trivia at teachers and lecturers.
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'Use me as a mouthpiece', pleads Guardian hack

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian‘s Mr “Bad Science” writes witheringly about sloppy science journalists. Many of them are simply “juggling words about on a page, without having the first clue what they mean, pretending they’ve got a proper job, their pens all lined up neatly on the desk,” he writes.

They trade on scare stories, and rely on “rejiggable press releases”. Dr Goldacre is a real scientist, you see.

But last week found Ben in a frantic rush, commissioned to write a feature about biometric technology. So he put in an email request to the Open Rights Group, the endearingly hopeless British EFF-clone.

(This isn’t surprising – we suspect that at El Graun, hacks are equipped with two office telephones: a normal one, and one with only one button, which dials the ORG directly.)

And as every journalist knows, desperate deadlines call for desperate measures. Here’s his request –

hi, my name’s ben and i write “badscience” in the guardian (and badscience.net )

i wanted to write something on the shitness of biometrics tomorrow for the col on sat, if anyone’s got a nice big bundle of stuff i need (a) people like, say, hang on, gordon brown in PMQ making grand claims about how they will cure all ills and (b) good evidence/arguments/rocksolidundeniablefacts on why these claims are nonsense.

So far, so standard – although eyebrows may be raised at the way that fact/assertion sort of run/into/each/other.

Then comes a bit where he slowly starts to sink into the merde.

incidentally, before you assume that i’m a lazy journo, i dont write like this with anyone else, but in fact i am offering ORG the chance to use me as a mouthpiece for your righteous rightness.

Er, a what?? Ben elaborates –

think of it as a “pull” model for lobbying, rather than the usual push.

Ah, perfectly clear.

essentially i have a bag of kittens and will drown one on the hour every hour until you give me a good biometrics story.

Presumably, the “rejiggable material” from the ORG presumably arrived on time – for the mouthpiece duly opened on Saturday.

So this is how journalism really works: Don’t bother yourself with that any of that cool judgement and independent appraisal of facts business. Find the argument, then some facts to suit. And finally, ring up your favourite lobby group and demand to be used as a mouthpiece.

However, when using the ORG – a sort of Dad’s Army in the War on Copyright – it’s a perilous approach.

Two years ago, the Group made a submission to the UK Parliament’s enquiry into DRM – something close to all our hearts. Only the technical part of the argument based on a ludicrous misunderstanding of the Church-Turing Thesis – one of the fundamentals of computer science, and a mistake so great it would be enough to get a grad paper marked “FAIL”. Only, no one at the lobby group seems to have noticed yet – it’s still listed as one of the group’s finest achievements.

Even the most “righteously righteous” lobby group can get its rocksolidundeniablefacts/arguments wrong. Take note.

Google's founders are less humble (and jetless) than you think

Casting around for an example of the simple life to use in an Arab-bashing column, veteran columnist and editor Alexander Chancellor alighted on what he must have thought was the perfect foil to the free-spending Saudis.

It appeared right there in front of him, on his PC, nestling between some coloured balls.

Unlike Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, wrote Chancellor on Saturday, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin “don’t have private jets, Rolls-Royces, yachts or any of the other pointless accoutrements of the super-rich”.

“Page and Brin each own nothing more flashy than a modest Toyota Prius, the environmentally virtuous hybrid car,” he explained, adding:

“Like the other princes of Silicon Valley, they don’t show off. They are eager to appear unpretentious and affect to like simple things. Theirs is a world of jeans, sneakers, Starbucks, and girls-next-door.”

Chancellor didn’t mention high school bops, the Everly Brothers or bobbysox, but it was clear he’d fallen asleep by his PC, dreaming of some forgotten 1950s film (or girl).

Then the blue ball bumped into red ball, and reality returned.
Continue reading “Google's founders are less humble (and jetless) than you think”

Braindead obituarists hoaxed by Wikipedia

The veteran BBC TV composer and arranger Ronnie Hazlehurst died on Monday night. His long career at the corporation produced some of the most (irritatingly) memorable theme tunes: including The Two Ronnies, Reggie Perrin, Last Of The Summer Wine, Blankety Blank and the Morse Code theme for Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

But when his obituaries appeared yesterday, there was an odd addition to Hazlehurst’s canon. Apparently he had emerged from retirement a few years ago to co-write the song ‘Reach’, a hit for Simon “Spice Girls” Fuller’s creation S Club 7.

“There could only be one source for this,” suggests Shaun Rolph, who tipped us off.

And yes – you can probably guess what it is:

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John Doe blogger is 'Person of the Year'

Time

Few publications in the world take themselves as seriously as Time magazine, and Christmas each year finds it at its most unctuous and self-important, as Time chooses its “Person of the Year”. This year, the award for newsmaker of 2006 is given to “You” – the internet user.

But perhaps not you or me. The kind of internet user lauded by Time doesn’t do what most of us do – window shopping on eBay, adding bon mots to Popbitch or Something Awful, or grazing for free music. It has in mind a special idealised kind of “You” – the wiki-fiddling, bloggers of Web 2.0, or the “citizens of the new digital democracy” as Time editor Richard Stengler calls them.
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The Canonization of St.Bill

St Bill of Shephards Bush

If William Henry Gates the Third’s philanthropic work leads to him being canonized one day as the first secular saint of our times, I won’t stand in the way of the celebrations. Geeks get things very out of proportion, and the value of saving even one life should be more apparent to everyone than the cost of a poorly written Windows USB stack. When Microsoft is criticized, while the practices of arms dealers, pharmaceutical companies and extraction cartels around the world are ignored, its reminds us that some nerds place a very low value on human life itself.

But if Gates is to be canonized as the man who invented the PC, and without whom our lives would be poorer – as he is this evening – then we should all be troubled, as it suggests we’re suffering from a terrible case of ignorance and amnesia. More troublingly, it raises the fair question – which we hope you can help answer – of what kind of qualifications one needs to have to earn the title ‘Henry Ford Of Our Times’.

Tonight the BBC discussed Bill’s legacy, and was effectively writing the first draft of his place in history. And in that painful BBC fashion of splitting the difference and losing the truth – there are two, but never more than two sides to every story – came to its conclusion. Bill Gates had been truly innovative in his earlier career, we learned, and while “someone would have invented the PC eventually” (we paraphrase), this incredible inventiveness could still be entered in mitigation when the final reckoning came.

So, Bill invented the PC? Even excusing for media hyperbole – and this is the kind of careless, but generous exaggeration you hear when someone has died (rather than relinquished the role of “Chief Software Architect”) we would like to put a few points on the record.
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Nature journal cooked Wikipedia study

They want to believe, too

Nature magazine has some tough questions to answer after it let its Wikipedia fetish get the better of its responsibilities to reporting science. The Encyclopedia Britannica has published a devastating response to Nature‘s December comparison of Wikipedia and Britannica, and accuses the journal of misrepresenting its own evidence.

Where the evidence didn’t fit, says Britannica, Nature‘s news team just made it up. Britannica has called on the journal to repudiate the report, which was put together by its news team.

Independent experts were sent 50 unattributed articles from both Wikipedia and Britannica, and the journal claimed that Britannica turned up 123 “errors” to Wikipedia’s 162.

But Nature sent only misleading fragments of some Britannica articles to the reviewers, sent extracts of the children’s version and Britannica’s “book of the year” to others, and in one case, simply stitched together bits from different articles and inserted its own material, passing it off as a single Britannica entry.

Nice “Mash-Up” – but bad science.

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