Explaining the joke

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Does this sound familiar? You are looking at your social media feed and spot the latest hot-take from your favourite satirical comedy site. They have eloquently broken down the absurdity of recent events with biting insight and withering sarcasm. And then you read the comments.

Okay, so that is always a mistake. But bear with me here. You could also bare with me if you like, I can’t force you to wear pants while you read blog posts.

Inevitably in the comments, there will be someone explaining to everyone that the post is satire. This is like someone standing up in front of an audience with an applause sign, just in case you missed the right moment to show your appreciation. This is the canned laughter at appropriate moments in sitcoms to point out what was meant to be funny. This is the comedian who repeats the punchline of the joke…

Worse still are the people who jump in to explain how the joke works and why it is funny. These people are the equivalent of that annoying person in the middle of the cinema telling the movie character not to open the closet door in the creepy house.

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Now I’d argue that this sort of comment is completely unnecessary. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a statistical correlation between someone explaining the joke and that person suffering a sudden and unexplained death from choking on their phone.

At the heart of this problem are two groups of people. The first is a group of people who think they need to guide us mere mortals through life. Without their input, we would be lost, society would crumble, and within months they would be explaining how Thunderdome actually originated as a means to resolve conflict and provide entertainment in Bartertown. They don’t see it as condescension, they see it as imparting wisdom to the little people.

Then there is the second group. The second group are why the first group exist.

You see, invariably on every single satirical comedy comments section, you will find someone not realising the article they are commenting upon is a joke. They may be unsure, perhaps posting something like “The Onion?” or “I don’t understand, is this meant to be funny, am I missing the joke, did my mother’s alcoholism affect me somehow?” Or they may think the article is completely serious, and comment with outrage, indignation, or a rambling string of ideas that may belong in the comments of a different article. Clearly, the first category of menaces to society are preempting these posters.

But you aren’t meant to explain it to people. These poor fools are meant to be mercilessly mocked. They are, after all, on the internet, where civil discourse is disallowed, and a Google search to fact-check or see whether the site is satirical takes seconds. A semi-literate turtle should be able to find the About page or Other Articles links and from there it should be obvious. Even for the turtle. And its illiterate brethren.

Some of the semi-literate turtles have lost hope in humanity and decided to document the downfall of civilisation. They have started entire webpages devoted to documenting people not getting the joke.

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Let us hope that satire continues to entertain and that the confused commenters adopt a pet turtle. Then maybe we will see the end of people explaining the joke. And the end of homeless turtles.

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I love to hate tech articles: internet speed

I love technology. So many cool things have been made during my lifetime that it is hard to believe that as a 30-something I can remember a time before mobile phones, laptops, CDs, DVDs, tablets, and even personal computers. Since I love technology and love to read, it is a no-brainer for me to keep abreast of the latest developments via tech articles, especially since these articles are so woefully out of touch with the average person that they are comedy gold.

The article that tickled my funny-bone this time was all about Google’s new internet service. As part of Google’s plans for world domination, whilst not being evil of course, they are entering the market with an optical fibre broadband rollout in the USA. This video explains the deal with Google Fibre (video a little old now):

The funny part is the article author lamenting his current internet pricing and speeds relative to the service offered by Google:

My $52-per-month plan bestows me with the unheralded power of 30Mbps down and 5Mbps up, a depressing far cry from the (Google Fibre) $70 (and 1 Gbps up and down).

Sorry, not funny ha-ha, but funny sad. According to the reports into global internet speeds, the average US internet user is downloading at 10Mbps, with only 34% of users getting speeds above that (see figure below), ranking them top 10 in the world for speed.

Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013
Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013

Meanwhile my Aussie internet is ranked 44th in the world, with average speeds of 5.8Mbps and 9.7% of users having average speeds higher than that.

Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013 - Asia
Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013 – Asia

So the tech author was lamenting internet that not only ranks as some of the best in the world, but is also some of the cheapest. In Australia we have some the most expensive broadband in the world (although not as a % of income) and the service is quite possibly far worse than our average speeds would suggest. Just a few kilometres from where I’m sitting, deep in rural Australia, there are people who can’t get the internet. Whilst I have above average internet at work and at home – although that average bar is low enough for an asthmatic 2 year old with no coordination to jump over – the copper network is antiquated and slows the speed of internet down the further you get from the hub. Once you are 20-30 kilometres out of town, the internet is so slow that you are running dialup speeds, which is ridiculous and annoying when most of the web assumes broadband speeds. These slow speeds means that most people not in town have satellite broadband, which is speed limited by the number of users at any one time, is really expensive, and even the top speeds are capped at 800kbps. No, I’m not kidding.

Australia isn’t even in a position to climb the internet rankings in any great hurry either. There were two broadband plans taken to the last Australian election: Fibre to the Home and Fibre to the Node. Since optic fibre (that stuff Google is rolling out) is only going to the node, that means people in cities will have to pay to get their connection upgraded, while we can now expect to see most rural areas of Australia covered by satellite plans (the ones I just told you sucked). Both of these options are more expensive regionally or where the “node” is a long way from the “home”. See the outline below (source):

Access to the internet is a wonderful thing: information at your fingertips, streaming news and entertainment, commerce on a global scale, and lots of porn. Australia is not really in the digital age, limping along with second-rate connections, political plans for second-rate upgrades, and monopolies charging big $$ for second-rate services. Which is why the tech articles are so interesting in the way they show the massive disconnect between the writers, tech services, and the rest of the world.

See other articles: http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/internet/the-rise-and-fall-of-australias-44-billion-broadband-project
http://www.politicalscience.com.au/2010/04/why-we-need-national-broadband-network.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_access

To block or not to block: that is the question.

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The internet is a wonderful place to find information on just about any topic you can imagine and few you can’t. From the latest scientific study to the grumpiest cat, from insightful commentary to rule 34: the internet has it all. The problem is that not everyone is rational, logical, nor well informed, and they still have internet connections and the ability to make webpages and comment on social media.

As someone who tries to share science and knowledge with people, I love to engage and discuss topics. If I can help someone understand or learn something about a complex topic, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. The more science communicators out there doing the same thing, the slightly better the world becomes. This better understanding leads to better decisions, better ideas, better inventions, better cat photos.

The problem is that not everyone appreciates being told that they are mythtaken or wrong. Others are adamant that they aren’t wrong. People will argue against the overwhelming scientific evidence on topics like climate change (real, man-made, we need to do something about it), genetic modification (breeding technique, cool innovation that is more precise and has great potential), modern medicine (seriously!?!), evolution (as solid a theory as gravity), and even the shape of the Earth (yes, flat-Earthers still exist). This anti-science nonsense is thankfully on the losing team, they just aren’t playing with a full deck.

It is these science deniers that are the most frustrating to deal with on social media and the internet. There is no evidence you can show them that won’t be dismissed – often as a conspiracy – and there is no rationality to their arguments. But they can also be very convincing to people who don’t know enough about a topic, which is how myths get started. And that is dangerous, once myths are started they are very hard to get rid of. So it is actually important to make sure that the science deniers aren’t existing in an echo chamber, which the internet has facilitated to some extent – I’m looking at you Alex Jones, Mike Adams and Joseph Mercola!

These science deniers can be a menacing drain of time, effort and inner calm. The easiest way to deal with them would be to block them, excise the wound, possibly burn the evidence of their existence. But then the science deniers have won. Their echo chamber is just that little bit more echo-y. But the echo chamber is going to keep echoing regardless, as discussed above. But won’t somebody think of the children!

I really hate blocking people on social media. The science denier drivel may pollute my newsfeeds, but blocking them also leaves me open to my own echo chamber. Sure, I might think I’m good at picking good information from bad, but if my thinking is never challenged, how can I be confident I’m not falling for confirmation bias? I guess this is the Catch 22 of the modern age, but with more cats.

Writing program scams

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On the internet there is a scam born every minute. Whilst I love to receive email from Nigerian royalty, ads for another penis enlargement (the first one was enough, thanks), and fat loss supplements that promise not to kill me, there is a line I have to draw in the sand: scamming writers.

Most writers are hobbyists, writing because they love it. The handful that do get paid enough to be full-time writers are few and far between. So targeting writers with scams means that somewhere a monkey at a keyboard is not being fed today.

Yesterday in a writers discussion group a question was raised about whether a New, Amazing, Adjective, program that promises to give you the tools to write a 400 word article in 7 minutes.

Dear Fellow Article Writer (TA: read as mark or sucker),

Did you watch the video above? It’s hard to believe so many people would send me such raving, unsolicited testimonials about my product, “How to Write an Article in 7 Minutes or Less“. (TA: Testimonials!? Wow! I’m sold!)

If you did watch the video, you saw with your own eyes how I was able to take people who spent more than an hour writing an article down to as fast as 5 minutes per article! (TA: 5 minutes? I thought you said 7 minutes. Does this mean I get a 2 minute abs program as a bonus?)

….. (TA: edited out promotional garbage about money back guarantees and how only the scammer found the secret or developed it or whatever)

Here’s how it works.

  1. Open my 3 special research sites. (TA: Wikipedia?)
  2. Use my “skim and grab” research technique to find your
    3 main points (Takes about a minute).  (TA: Yes, because reading comprehension is for suckers.)
  3. Outline each main point with two “sub points.” (another minute here). (TA: What if there is only one point?)
  4. Use the “opening paragraph” template to quickly create the first paragraph (About 30 seconds). (TA: Insert generic filler paragraph, got it.)
  5. Use the “main point” template to write paragraphs for each of your three main points. (2-4 minutes total time) (TA: So, standard writing….)
  6. Use the “conclusion paragraph” template to quickly create the conclusion. (another 30 seconds). (TA: Insert generic filler paragraph at the end.)
  7. Proof read your article, and then submit it to the appropriate directory. (1-2 minutes) (TA: Click spellcheck and hope it doesn’t miss anything.)

The cool thing about using these templates is you never have to pause to think…but… you also enough leeway so each article remains 100% unique, and of the highest quality. (TA: Yes, why would you want to actually put any thought into your writing. Highly overrated for quality content.)

Don’t worry: My method has nothing to do with plagiarism! (TA: Of course not, copy and pasting clearly takes too long.)

Anyway, you can learn all about my 7 minute article technique by reading my special report, “How to Write an Article In 7 Minutes”, and by watching the videos I made showing step by step how I do it.

But that’s not all… (TA: Steak knives?)

My first thought upon seeing the claim that you could learn to write an article in 7 minutes was that it was bullshit. The fact that people would question if it would be possible left me a little stunned, a little thirsty and thinking about having a nap. Clearly some people are going to be taken in by these kinds of scams. So I want to just illustrate my critical thinking process and how I avoided being scammed for $37 (I know, huge amounts of money).

Drawing from personal experience, I know that I’d spend more than 7 minutes just copying in the links to the research I’d be citing, let alone reading those articles. So the first check is to understand just how long certain tasks actually take you. This scam works on the idea that you don’t really measure the time it takes for common activities. You may know how long you spend on a full article or day’s writing, but not on the little parts, like one paragraph or one sentence. So when someone presents you with some figures, you are bound to think, “Well, I do spend a lot of time staring at the screen and checking my Twitter feed.” Suddenly you are partly receptive to the con.

Let’s have a look how long writing actually takes the average person. Being a science nerd, I like to have a few figures around on writing, reading, average number of Facebook posts per hour; you know, important stats. The average person has a typing speed of 60-100 words per minute, which gives you 400-700 words written in 7 minutes. The page claims a 400 word article with 5 minutes actual writing time, which is 300-500 words written. So unless you are setting world speed records, then you won’t have time to do anything other than write.

What about editing? Nothing is perfect on a first draft, nothing! So even if this is a 400 word article written in 5 minutes, you still need to edit. Reading speed is not the same as proofreading speed, with average speeds of 180-200 words per minute. That’s another 2-3 minutes.

This program is essentially promising that you will achieve touch-typing dexterity and speed that will allow you to write fast. It is also promising that you’ll have fantastic reading comprehension skills at skim reading speeds. And yet you will also somehow acquire a time machine to allow you to also plan, research and create a concise article at the same time. The fact that the scam makes no mention of boosting your reading and writing speed and giving you keys to the Deloren, shows that someone is wanting your money and your credules.

In the meantime, send me $40 and I’ll send you some templates that I guarantee will add inches to your penis and bust size, whilst making you an awesome writer and friends with Nigerian royalty. Trust me, no-one lies on the internet.

Reasons why writing is better than a real job

At the end of a day of writing you don’t feel like stabbing yourself in the eye with a pencil.

Writing can be done at any time, rather than nine till five, which is much better suited to sleeping.

Dressing for work is optional. And I mean optional.

Work shoes don’t have to have a safety rating or glossy shine, they only have to be wool lined and comfy.

If you spend all of the money your boss gives you and fail to complete your job on time, nobody is really that surprised.

All of that wasted time on the internet is “research”.

Drinking on the job is mandatory rather than discouraged.

Emailing, Facebooking, tweeting and blogging are important networking, not procrastination.

Shaving is no longer a daily chore, it is a sign you are going out in public for a change.

Work colleagues are people you only see at festivals, or chat to on Facebook when you can’t be bothered working.

Paperwork? What paperwork?

The arrival of the mail is a daily highlight, rather than something you check for as you arrive home.