Archive for the ‘ Internet Comments ’ Category

Word of the Day: Procrustean



Marked by arbitrary ruthlessness and disregard for special or extenuating circumstances.

In Greek myth, Procrustes was a son of Poseidon with a stronghold on Mount Korydallos, on the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis. There, he had an iron bed in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night, and where he set to work on them with his smith’s hammer, to stretch them to fit. In later tellings, if the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly because secretly Procrustes had two beds. Procrustes continued his reign of terror until he was captured by Theseus, travelling to Athens along the sacred way, who “fitted” Procrustes to his own bed.

Procrustean is a useful word to describe many of the “mandatory minimum”, “zero-tolerance” policies of modern-day American institutions. A grade-school that suspends a nine year old for carrying a tiny plastic raygun in violation of its “zero tolerance” policies is an example of “procrustean” policy run amok.


Eyes in the Skies (On the Prize)

I read a story on the Huffington Post last week, in reference to an Israeli reconnaisance drone. The author made the claim that these UAVs could “allow their operators to read a name badge 40,000 feet below, at night.”

I’ve had a passing interest in the science of astronomy and optics for some time, and a little back-of-the envelope mathematics told me that this was absolutely impossible. (See my HuffPo comment for more details.) The short answer is that in order to see, and read, half in high letters from eight miles away requires a lens far bigger than could be carried in a single-engined aircraft.

No 48" telescope lens here...

What was interesting was that the author of the HuffPo article actually followed up my comment – acknowledging the correctness of my math, while assuring me that his source for the information was indeed qualified. He went on to speculate that maybe the secret military technology had moved beyond what was believed possible by civilian scientists. (It couldn’t possibly have done so.)

A little more research into the Israeli IAI Heron reveals a couple of potential motives for this “unintentional on purpose” sort of misinformation: The maker of this UAV is actively engaged in selling it to a variety of foreign governments, including India, Turkey, France and Australia.

The physics regarding what an optical surveillance system can, and cannot, do are extremely well established. And while the precise capabilities of advanced military hardware are usually closely held secrets – foreign military establishments employ multitudes of technically smart people who are just as capable of separating the hyperbole from the possible. So its unlikely that the Israelis put out the “read a nametag from the stratosphere” story to fool anyone in the Iranian military.

The Israeli company that makes the Heron has released a series of YouTube videos of the drone, complete with catchy upbeat musical scores. And while these videos don’t make the exact claim about reading nametags, the purpose is pretty clear: They want avergae military tech enthusiasts to become enamored with the drone’s technology. Making it that much easier for military procurement people in say, Australia or France, to justify their purchase. The actualy technological impossibility of reading nametags from miles away notwithstanding.

UAVs have become a huge business in the years since 9/11. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, while spy satellites are very good at locating and identifying military targets (a parked armored division, an airbase, a chemical weapons facility) – they aren’t very good at spying on terrorists. (Two guys talking in a car. A couple of huts in the desert.) And secondly, a spy satellite costs hundreds of millions of dollars to put into service. And sometimes they don’t work at all. An Israel-made drone, bought off the shelf for a few million, suddenly looks like a bargain.

A Modest Proposal

One that doesn’t involve eating children. But I’ll still keep this nasty, short, and relatively brutal.

I suggest that any website, blog, news provider, etc. that accepts comments from its readers, institute a tiered system for submitting, and displaying reader comments.

In short, people wishing to submit a comment on a story should be required to submit a sample comment to one of a series of sample questions. The samples would then be graded (a job for the Mechanical Turk?) based upon criteria such as spelling, grammar, logical reasoning, humor, and general literary value. Obvious nonsense, spam,  and/or plagiarism would receive a grade of “F” – and would be barred from submitting. Higher grades (and, for arguments sake, we’ll use the standard US educational system of A through D for the rest) would then allow the comment’s posts to be submitted.

People wishing to read comments on the website could then specify the “grade level” of commenters they wished to view. 

For various reasons, it makes a certain amount of sense for grade levels to rise (and fall) with the passage of time. for instance, a reader whose initial grade was relatively high, but whose subsequent comments failed to maintain a certain standard, could be submitted for review – and relegation – to a lower standard. There would be a mechanism by which a commenter whose initial grade failed to meet their expectations could, after a certain length of time, resubmit in hopes of raising their grade.

I do not know how technologically, or economically sound this proposl might be. But I sure am sick and tired of paging through hundreds of pages of inane nonsense, in order to find the few gems posted by people who know how to string two sentences together.

Please be quiet

Main Entry: 1ya·hoo

Pronunciation: \ˈyā-(ˌ)hü, ˈyä-\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural yahoos
Date: 1726

1 capitalized : a member of a race of brutes in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels who have the form and all the vices of humans
2 [influenced by 2yahoo] : a boorish, crass, or stupid person

ya·hoo·ism \-ˌi-zəm\ noun

Yesterday, Apple announced the (long-awaited, almost mythological) iPad portable media device.

And was promptly greeted with an almost deafening cacophany of scorn and derision from the vast majority of online “commenters.”

Now, by “commenter” I do not speak of people who are actually paid to review technology products. The David Pogues and Jesus Diaz’s of the world. People with some actual writing skill and training. I’m talking about the vast army of unpaid cretins who think that the world is just dying to hear their particular take on a product they’ve never actually seen in person, nor laid a hand upon.

These geniuses tell us what an awful product the iPad is. It doesn’t have a camera. (It doesn’t have TWO cameras!) It doesn’t support flash. It doesn’t multitask. Its only going to be bought by those too dull-witted to be running Linux on their self-built $250 netbook. I see the word “sheeple” used a lot: As if anyone who buys an Apple product is so gullible that they  can be gulled into buying whatever Steve Jobs and apple come up with.

To which I would say: Please, just shut up.

There are two sets of people with skill sets I’m interested in hearing from: People with the technical knowledge and resources to actually create things like the iPad. And people with the writing skills to objectively analyze and describe them.  The vast majority of “commenters” on blogs, technology columns, websites, etc. simply use the space provided to them to pour out whatever ridiculous prejudices and agendas that happen to be floating around their empty heads.

The problem with virtually all online “comments” is that the people making the comments bear no responsibility for what they write. If David Pogue makes a wild, unsubstantiated claim that is later proven to be fundamentally wrong – then he will pay the price. His credibility, and hence his livliehood, will suffer. And as a result, he has a built-in incentive to be objective in his writing.