Wednesday, August 16, 2006

photo fraud and blogademic research

Zombie has a great summary of the photographic frauds appearing in Reuters and other mainstream news outlets during the latest war between Israel and Hezbollah. Patterico covers the fraud coverage in the mainstream media.

Reuters reacted with admirable integrity to the first case of fraud, but it seemed that when they started to see more and more accusations of journalistic malpractice on their pages, they circled the wagons and began issuing blanket denials. That's the advantage of owning the big megaphone: if you don't admit something, then most of the world will never even hear about it.

One thing that has helped Reuters to justify ignoring all the subsequent charges is that there have been some false alarms --alleged fraud that turns out not to be well substantiated (see here and here). The false allegations help to conceal the true allegations because people will reason that if some of the allegations are false, then all of them might be, but that is because they do not understand what is really happening on the blogs. Those false allegations are not analogous to false news reports from traditional publishers, rather they are analogous to dead-end research papers in academic journals. A given author's blog serves to publish everything that the author wants to publish; they aren't, as a rule, specialized in function as traditional print media are. There aren't many pure research blogs vs. pure news blogs, for example. A given blog will post something that counts as news one hour, and the next hour post some first-impression analysis of a photograph. This analysis post is not meant to be the final word, but rather is an invitation to criticism and correction from other bloggers just like a research paper would be. Usually, a lot of the criticism appears in the comments of the post itself and the original author will often extend, modify, or retract his thesis as a result of this criticism, but even if he doesn't, you can read the comments yourself.

This process is not a failure of the blogosphere --it is an achievement; this is open-source journalism, the army of Davids at work in a process very much like science or other forms of academic research, vastly accelerated through the magic of the internet. In just a few days, this process postulated many examples of journalistic photo fraud, examined the claims, threw out the weak ones, and confirmed the many good ones. That process would have taken months or years by traditional methods of research.

So how do you know the difference between a research blog post and a news blog post? Typically, there is no way to tell except from the content, and that takes some experience to recognize. Maybe blogs should implement a tradition to help the reader differentiate between research, news, and other categories. I sometimes put the word "speculation alert" in my post headers. "Speculation" isn't research, it means that I'm just guessing about something on weak evidence, something that can't be proven one way or the other; it just seems to fit the facts (I occasionally use the even weaker conspiracy-theory alert). The tag "research alert" could be used similarly to indicated something that one is actively working on, something that is worth discussing and developing. It would clue in the reader that the blogger is not intending to make a definitive statement.

More generally, bloggers should always be aware that some of their readers don't know how blogs work, and should write with that in mind.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Storyblogging Carnival LI

Welcome to Storyblogging Carnival 51. Only four stories again this time, but I'm hoping the fall-off is due to it being summer and that things will pick up in the fall.

Andrew Ian Dodge presents another 100-word story. His 100-word stories are neat, but I really miss the longer short stories he used to post. Mama Duck's story is insanely cute once again, and Kris Mallory has a story about the legendary beverage of turn-of-the-20th-century Parisian artists, writers and other bar flies, Absinthe. My entry is the third scene of a screen play --the scene where you finally learn the derivation ... er ... justification ... er ... rationalization of the very bad pun that makes up the title.

Andrew Ian Dodge of Dodgeblogium presents Galad X
rated PG-13
word count: 100
Crossing this guy can get nasty...

Mama Duck of Lil Duck Duck presents The Continuing Adventures of a Toddler and his Duck
rated G
D Kai Wilson of The order of Celestaine presents Celestaine.
rated G
Kris Mallory of Stealthfiction presents The Absinthe Smuggler
rated PG-13
Dave Gudeman of Doc Rampage presents A Guilding of Lillis -- scene 3
2658 words
rated G
The Hero's Guild is born over breakfast.

UPDATE: Oh, shoot! I forgot to mention that D. Kai Wilson has the beginning of what looks like a neat Sci Fi story.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Guilding of Lillis -- scene 3

Heroes for Hire
Episode 1 – A Guilding of Lillis

Scene 1
Scene 2

Scene 3
Rolf wakes up, looks around, and gets a terrified look on his face. He wakes Zantar.

ROLF: (whispering) Zantar! Are we still in that inn?

ZANTAR: Yeah. You scared the mob away and I carried you up the ladder. They won't bother us any more after you killed three men with magic. (rolls over to go back to sleep)

Rolf creeps over to the window, still whispering to Zantar.

ROLF: We're in deep crap, Zan, I didn't use my usual death spells, I just put those guys to sleep. They probably woke about ten minutes later. (Zantar opens one eye) And I can hear people down in the common room talking low so we can't hear 'em.

Rolf is silently opening the window and easing one foot out. Without a word, Zantar rolls to his feet with his axe in his hand and scuttles over to the window. Rolf is half out the window when Zantar gets there and looks out.

ZANTAR: Krikey! There's a crowd out there too.

Rolf looks out and sees the crowd for the first time. Everyone is silently watching him try to crawl out the window. He pauses, then bangs his outside foot loudly against the side of the building.

ROLF: (loudly) There, I've got the mud off. No need to mess up our host's clean premises by tracking in mud like a barnyard animal, is there Zantar?

Rolf pulls his leg back in and closes the window. He and Zantar stare at each other for a moment. Down in the common room we hear low sinister-sounding voices.

FEMALE: Sounds like our boys are finally awake!

MALE1: So it seems.

FEMALE: No need to fear rudeness now, let's get 'em! (cackling laughter)

MALE2: Yes. James, go ... invite ... them to join us for a ... discussion.

The female cackles again and the ladder begins shaking as something very large and heavy starts climbing it. Thump. Thump. Thump. A gnarled hand reaches up over the edge. The woman cackles again, then

FEMALE: Now stop that, Ricky, it tickles.

The head of a very fat, balding, sixty-ish, and rather harmless-looking man comes up over the edge to blink owlishly at the heroes. It's the village mayor.

RICKY: I like it when you laugh, Grams. You sound like a witch.

FEMALE: (more cackling laughter, then in a grandmotherly voice) Oh, Ricky, you're a bad boy, you are.

MAYOR: (formerly Male1) Good morning, gentlemen. I hope you slept well in our fair village.

Zantar and Rolf look at each other.

ROLF: Quite well, thank you sir. I must say it's a pleasure to finally meet someone of courtesy in this town.

MAYOR: Oh, dear. I'm quite sorry about the unfortunate events of last night. Allow me to apologize for the entire town. It was a simple misunderstanding really.

ROLF: I hope the misunderstandings have come to an end.

MAYOR: Oh, I can guarantee it! I'm the mayor you know. I declared a final and ultimate end to misunderstandings last night.

ROLF: Quite decent of you, sir.

MAYOR: And the three men whose lives you so generously spared last night wanted me to convey their gratitude. It was quite charitable of you not to kill them or turn them into toads, after the disrespectful way they treated you.

ROLF: (waving it off) Not at all sir, we wizards have codes of conduct you know. No slaughtering peasants when there are less violent means at hand and all that.

MAYOR: Quite. In any case I do wish you two would come down and let me treat you to breakfast. The village council would like to discuss various matters as well, if you two don't object.

ZANTAR: (starting for the ladder) Free food! Sure. Discuss all you want.

The two come down the ladder and are ushered to a table with the mayor, and old woman and a middle-aged man. The woman has a six-year old on her lap and there are about thirty villagers looking on.

MAYOR: (motioning to the woman) This is Ruby Wintage, a member of the council.

RUBY: (formerly Female) Please to meat you, I'm sure. (cackling laugh) Oh now Ricky, quit tickling your grandma and go play. She sets the kid down and he takes off.

ROLF: Charmed, madam.

MAYOR: (motioning to the man) And this is George Wintage, Ruby's eldest, and also a member of the council.

GEORGE: (formerly Male1) It's a great ... pleasure ... to meet you.

ROLF: The pleasure is all mine, sir.

MAYOR: And I'm Donald MacRonald, mayor of this fine town.

ROLF: A great honor, sir. May I present my associate, Zantar, and I am Rolf.

The people at the table murmur greetings and the innkeeper approaches.

INNKEEPER: What can I get you two for breakfast.

ZANTAR: Eggs, cheese, sausage, bacon, and a nice horse steak.

INNKEEPER: You don't mean a steak made from a horse?

ROLF: A culinary peculiarity of dwarves. I'm sure my friend would be satisfied with a beef steak.

ZANTAR: (looking sour) I guess so, if that's all you have.

INNKEEPER: Very good, sir. How would you like the steak cooked?

ZANTAR: On a fire.

INNKEEPER: Yes sir. What kind of bread would you like?

ZANTAR: Bread? What would I want with that?

INNKEEPER: Uh. Yes. Would you like any juice?

ZANTAR: Of course. Can't have all that fatty food without some light ale to wash it down with.

ROLF: I shall have sausage and eggs, sunny-side-up, crispy at the edges, yet with a fluid yolk. The sausage also must be lightly singed. For bread I shall have pancakes, made with a slightly thinner batter than is common, and only touched by the griddle so that the insides are still moist, and rolled around a light cherry filling, such as you would use in a cherry pie. A generous helping of butter on the side along with a light cherry syrup, not too thick, you may lighten it with wine if necessary. For drink I shall have apple juice mixed with exactly fifteen percent grape juice.

INNKEEPER: (looking about to panic) Yes, sir. I'll see what I can do.

ROLF: Incidentally, barkeep, I'd like to know what you were serving us last night. My head feels like it's been pounded half off.

ZANTAR: Probably just didn't drink enough water.

The innkeeper disappears into the kitchen.

ROLF: (feeling the back of his head carefully) I do believe I feel several bumps that weren't there after the brawl.

ZANTAR: Well, you never know what humans make their beers out of. I suppose they aren't even going to have horse sausage.

MAYOR: Ahem. So, ... I'd like to explain the misunderstanding, if I may. You see we don't see a lot of actual, real, for-goodness heroes around here. Some of my fellow villagers simply failed to see, what is a apparent to me at first glance, the nobility of your bearing, the way you move, silently and deadly, the steely glint in your eyes.

ROLF: Quite so. And my friend Zantar here is a hero too, he just doesn't look the part as I do.


INKEEPER: (from a distance) Be right there, sir!

MAYOR: Ah, yes. Anyway, we discussed it, and we finally realized why you didn't set out to rescue poor little Rosha from the goblins. It was because you had been so I'll-treated by our village.

ROLF: You have it exactly, sir. It was hard, of course, that innocent young child in the grasp of the fiendish goblins, and every heroic bone in our bodies pushing us to go to her rescue. I was about to set off, but Zantar here held me back, reminding me of our obligations. He had to hold me by main force at first, I was so eager to go heroing, but he did make me realize that principles must come before maudlin sentimentality. He's the steady one in the team, you see. Me, I'm a romantic, always ready to be off at a moment's...

The Innkeeper sets down a large plate of sausages and Zantar dives in.

MAYOR: Yes, yes. I quite thought it was something like that. Still, however, now that the town has apologized, I hope your principles might see you clear to doing the heroing thing now.

ZANTAR: (snorts loudly through a mouthful of sausage)

ROLF: Ah, yes. What my nasally expressive friend means by that utterance, of course, is that while we'd be only too eager to rescue the child, there are forms to follow. It's tedious, of course, but, propriety and all that.

Rosha's mother rushes up to the table, a man is clearly trying to hold her back.

ROSHA'S MOTHER: Please, sirs. Won't you rescue my baby?

ROLF: Don't your worry your pretty little head about it, my dear. Why you know the reason goblins want to steal children is to turn them into goblins.

Rosha's mother gasps in fear.

ROLF: But of course that takes days before the process becomes irreversible. Your little girl will be fine.

ZANTAR: (looking up from his breakfast) What? All the goblins I've ever fought just eat their captives raw.

The woman shrieks and Zantar tries to recover.

ZANTAR: Oh, I mean, sometimes they do cook them first...

The woman faints and is carried to the back of the crowd.

MAYOR: This can't be allowed to happen! You must set out immediately!

ROLF: Please restrain your enthusiasm sir! There are many proprieties to observe. One of the minor ones, for example, I hate to mention it, but I admit I am a bit fastidious, is the matter of remuneration. You haven't even hinted at the type of reward that is being offered.

MAYOR: Reward? You mean you want to discuss that in advance? I thought heroes just did their thing and then the town celebrated with a big barbeque or something of the sort. All drinks and food free to the heroes, of course.

ZANTAR: Sounds good to me!

ROLF: (sniffs) What my impetuous friend means, of course, is that while we certainly don't mind a good barbeque with free drinks, there are fees to be paid, expenses to be met, financial obligations to fulfill. One doesn't simply step out on a heroic adventure these days without careful planning and outfitting. Why there are weapons to acquire and maintain, provisions to provide, transportation, both to and from the work site, camping amenities, entertainment on the road, you don't expect us to work like serfs, do you?

MAYOR: Of course not, I...

ROLF: And that's just the per-adventure costs. There are also infrastructure costs such as a home staging area, training grounds, casualty insurance, loss of eye and limb pensions, life annuities, retirement plans. We heroes can't be expected to have careers that last as long as those in less demanding occupations, you know.

MAYOR: Oh dear. I never realized.

ROLF: Quite so. Why, if we set out on this adventure without proper compensation from the victim's miserly village, we might be successful only to find ourselves without adequate funding to sustain our heroing enterprise. What then would happen to all the other children who would go un-rescued, just because of our lack of financial discipline?

MAYOR: Oh my.

ROLF: So you see, my gastronomically enthusiastic friend over there was right to put a stop to my impetuous hero's instincts. We must show proper restraint and carefully husband our resources. And most of all, we must demand proper payment for heroing services rendered.

MAYOR: So, you're like, heroes for hire?

ZANTAR: (BE-E-E-ELCH) Right! So how much you got anyway?

ROLF: What my gaseous friend means is "What sort of reward has been posted for the safe return of this child?"

ZANTAR: Nope. What his gaseous friend means is, "What are you going to pay us for finding and killing the goblins that took the kid?" It's probably too late to bring her back alive.

The woman screams in the background. The mayor and villagers turn to look back with concern Zantar and Rolf ignore it. Rolf reaches for a sausage.

ROLF: Yes, he does have a point.

MAYOR: (looking over his shoulder at the distraught mother) Well, I'll have to take up a collection, but I think I can guarantee, oh, say five silver?

ROLF: (chuckling) Ah, mayor, I must admire a man who can jest in such dour circumstances! Five silver! Hah! But seriously, now. We do need to get started quickly, you know.

MAYOR: (looking around at the other council members) Oh, yes. Well, maybe we could get ten silver together.

ROLF: I become disturbed by your demeanor, sir. It was amusing the first time, but surely we should not sit around jesting while this child's life hangs in the balance. Why the goblins could be preparing to eat her as we speak!

There is another scream in the background, the mayor looks around with concern again, and Rolf looks smug.

MAYOR: OK, OK! How much do you want?

ROLF: One hundred silver.

MAYOR: Oh dear. Oh dear. I must discuss this with the village council.

The mayor and council members get up and go into a huddle with three other people who had been behind the mayor. Rolf watches for a while as Zantar continues to chow down heroically. When he starts to see a lot of adamant head-shaking in the meeting Rolf takes a hand:

ROLF: (to Zantar) I hope this meeting doesn't take too long Zan, because we've got that appointment in Oak Springs.

Zantar looks up, glances over at the meeting, swallows what's in his mouth, and shrugs:

ZANTAR: Yeah. If we end up having to leave here without cleaning out all the goblins, they'll probably end up eating every kid in the village. That'd be a shame, that would.

An uproar comes from the crowd, and the village council gets mobbed by people screaming at them to do something. Rolf sits back ant looks smug, Zantar goes back to shoveling sausage. Eventually the crowd noise largely resolves to one sound, it the mayor shouting:

MAYOR: All right! All right! We already told you, we'll do whatever it takes to preserve the safety of our children.

Close up on Rolf. He looks like a used-car salesman who just had a customer say, "I need to buy a car immediately, it's an emergency." By the time the mayor returns to the table he looks like a grim hero again. The mayor sits down, looking glum. George and Ruby sit down, also looking glum, and the three other council members array behind the mayor, also glum.

MAYOR: OK, we've met and decided to authorize the 100 silver...

ROLF: Of course that's just for eliminating the current threat. We also expect fifty silver for each child we bring back alive.

There is an uproar from the council members.

MAYOR: But we've already had the meeting! The funding has already been allocated! Surely you can't expect me to go begging back to my council for more funds at this late date! It would be improper (the village council members all nod at this). Verging on embezzlement, not to say financial mismanagement. No, sir, you must undertake the mission under the terms we agreed to. And must set out immediately to do so.

ROLF: Mayor, your concern for propriety and sound fiscal policy does you credit. Great credit indeed. I congratulate you, no, I congratulate your village (he beams around at the crowd) for having a mayor with such sound financial instincts (several in the crowd nod stupidly). But this is no time for miserliness, sir! A child's life is at risk. And more to follow tonight if my broad friend here and I do not eliminate the threat.

The crowd starts buzzing angrily.

MAYOR: (looking around at the crowd desperately) But surely you can see your way clear to...

ZANTAR: Guild rates.


ROLF: Yes! That's right! As my taciturn friend has pointed out, we are constrained by the standard rates of the Hero's Guild. We could not possibly undermine the guild that is responsible for rescuing children throughout the land, now could we?

The innkeeper and a girl start putting down plates in front of Zantar and Rolf. Zantar digs in.

MAYOR: Hero's Guild?

ROLF: Quite.

The mayor looks at Zantar, who stops eating long enough to say

ZANTAR: (swallows) We have a secret handshake and everything.

ROLF: Certainly. Secret handshake, by-laws, a hierarchy of guild leaders, and, of course, a system of standard rates.

MAYOR: I never heard of such a thing. We are so far out of the loop out here...

Rolf nods sympathetically.
Scene 4

the Baen Free Library

Baen is one of the best publishers ever, and they have a free on-line library of some of their work (I already gave a pointer to the section on Retief). Now that I've discovered it, my blogging and short-story writing is likely to suffer...

The Baen Free Library follows the quaint old custom of having the main page explain what the site is about (don't they know that the modern style on web pages is to put nothing but useless, flashy marketing hype on the main page and force the viewer to search several links deep for any information on what the heck the site is and what it's there for? That's what Doc Rampage does).

The front page contains an interesting essay by Eric Flint (who is a tremendous SF writer, by the way) on why Baen thinks that putting a book on-line will actually tend to increase sales of that book and/or of other books by that author. This might interest storybloggers, because it suggests that there might just be the faintest possibility that some day Baen will consider publishing stories that have already appeared in some form on-line. That is about the only chance I would ever have to get any fiction published, and I suspect that I'm not unusual in this.

Here's the deal: I enjoy telling stories; that's why I write stories for my blog. But I don't particularly enjoy the process of writing. The first draft is fun. The second draft is ... well ... satisfying; it feels good to make major improvements in the presentation of the story. Later drafts become incrementally less fun and less satisfying as the level of detail increases and as the connection of the work to the actual story becomes more tenuous. It very soon becomes just work.

Now, I don't mind work but I do work when I get paid for it, and I don't get paid for writing. Furthermore, if I did put in the effort to get something published, the odds are that I could never make as much money writing as I already make, so I just don't have much incentive to do publication-quality work. But maybe some day I'll get a bug up my butt to see my name on the cover of a paperback, and if I do, it would help a lot if I could start with something I've already written, which means something on-line (OK, that's a lie. Like everyone else in California, I have a half-completed novel on my harddrive). If I thought there was any chance to get something published after it's been on-line, I might take the time to clean up Ink Magic, but I probably never would have written Ink Magic if not to put it in the Storyblogging Carnival.

Of course, some of the entries in the Storyblogging Carnival are already dead-tree quality ("dead tree" means paper as opposed to on-line). I'm thinking especially of Donald Crankshaw's Fire. As I've said before on this blog, Fire is as good as most of the published SF I've read, and it seems a shame that it is inelegible for dead-tree publishing.

If some publisher were willing to publish stories after a draft had already appeard on-line, it might open up a whole slew of new authors.

P.S. I blew off the weekend, so the Storyblogging Carnival will be out late on Monday. Sorry to all of you who are anxiously awaiting it...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

bomb school

People have been wondering why terrorists would need so many cell phones. Police have nabbed two groups with a total of over a thousand phones and you have to figure that police probably haven't even caught the majority. The theory is that the phones could be used for detonators for bombs, but that's an awful lot of bombs, isn't it? Outside of the Middle East, that's enough detonators for years of terrorist bombs. Could they really be planning that kind of escalation? I doubt it.

On the other hand, the innocent explanations of the cell phones don't really wash. The men who bought the cell phones were throwing away the chargers. That makes it extremely unlikely that the phones were really going to be used as cell phones. Whether they were reselling to some sort of cell phone black market (as the men claimed) or planning to use the phones as throw-aways for communication, why would they throw away the chargers? It doesn't make sense.

Most likely, the cell-phone are intended primarily for use as detonators in Iraq. In Iraq, terrorists and Coalition soldiers are in an arms race over radio-controlled bombs with Coalition forces finding counter measures to the bombs and the terrorists finding counter measures to the counter measures. The cell phones would be another step in this arms race. If so, then they would need a lot of them, not only for bombs, but for training. If you want to use thousands of cell-phone-detonated bombs in ambushes, you need to train a lot of people to use them, and you need the cell phones for the training.

As long as they are teaching a course on killing infidels by the use of cell phones, they may as well make it a large course. The primary use may be in Iraq, but it would obviously be useful in other places. Cell phones have a lot of advantages for detonating bombs. Like all radio-controlled detonators, cell phones give the bomber complete control over when the bomb goes off, but cell phones are much less likely to go off on false signals than most other improvised radio detonators.

But for terrorism in the developed world, there is another huge advantage of cell phones over other radio detonators: no range limit. You can plant a bomb in San Francisco, get on a plane to Jersey, and let your confederate in Nigeria actually set off the bomb. If anything, the terrorists are behind the technology curve if they are just now catching on to the advantages of cell phone detonators and they probably have a lot of training to do.

Furthermore, I have never believed that the tactic of suicide-bombing could continue to be effective over the long term. There just aren't that many people who are both reliable enough to carry out an attack and crazy/dedicated enough to blow themselves up. And if you do have someone like that, he is a probably valuable asset --too valuable to expend in a single attack. So I don't believe that the number of suicide bombers can be increased very much if at all, and that probably the pool of good suicide-bomber candidates will be exhausted soon and the Islamists will have to find another tactic. If so, the terrorists would know this by falling returns from their recruiters, and cell-phone bombs would look like a good alternative.

I wouldn't be surprised that many of these phones were actually on their way to a terrorist university somewhere in Pakistan.