Archive for the 'Journalism' Category

Community concerned by the poor job done at dissolving the community

August 5th, 2007

About two weeks ago, after the election in Turkey, there were some news articles in local Israeli papers about it, and about the responses by the Jewish community in Turkey.

I found a particular article (Hebrew only, sorry) by Ynet especially amusing, though I’m not sure whether the credit belongs to bad reporting, or an actual interviewee who doesn’t pay attention to what comes out of her mouth.

Large parts of the article contain some statements by someone identified as “Rachel” from the Jewish community in Istanbul. The article doesn’t explicitly say it, but the overall impression is that she is supposed to be representative of the opinions of the Jewish community.

She is not happy with the results of the election, and is concerned about the growing power of the Islamic party, AKP (Justice and Development Party).

There are many interesting, and problematical, things in her statements. But the one that really got my attention was the complaint that the power of the Islamic party rises because of the failure of the secular school education.

Specifically (rough translation by me):

After many years of secular education in schools, if these are the results – it’s not certain it succeeded. Apparently the education the youth get at home is stronger than the secular education system.

Think about that for a moment, considering the source.

This is amusing on two fronts.

The lesser one is that, well, the AKP party isn’t a strictly hard-religious party. A large amount of their voters chose it for other reasons entirely[1].

The main was is, well, that this statement was made by someone from the Jewish community is a non-Jewish country. The mere fact that there is a Jewish community there, that the young adults in their community are Jewish, is a clear indication that the secular public eduction did not entirely overcome the religious home education.

And she complains about it. She says that she wants good secular education that will rid the pupils of any religious ideas they had from home.

Anyone wants to guess what will happen to her own community if that happens? Do you think she’ll be happy about it?

Sad, really.

Some other minor nitpicking of the article:

The AKP has done a pretty good job for Turkey, both economically and diplomatically, so far. Most of the articles I saw here tend to gloss over that fact, and to overemphasize the Islamic parts of its agenda.

As a sign of how the AKP really does push the Islamic agenda, Rachel tells us she read that in recent years the number of mosques in Turkey has grown and is now maybe larger than the number of schools. She is concerned. Nobody mentions that a mosque serves a lot less people than a school. Or that, for example, Israel has a lot more Temples than schools as well[2]. Or, well, where exactly she read that and what are the real numbers.

Rachel[3] is also concerned because she noticed in recent years that many more business are buying products from local Muslim sellers[4]. Obviously there is no mention of things like maybe the lower cost of local products, possibly the increasing quality of local products that makes them relatively more attractive than they were in the past, or that maybe the point is that people are buying local and not that they’re buying Muslim. All over the world you hear of people complaining about imports and saying that other people should buy more local products, but here, on the cases it’s noticeable, we’re suddenly supposed to see it as a problematic indication of the rise of Islamic tendencies?

There is also no big change here. The AKP has been growing steadily for the past few elections. This is not a surprise, or extreme (at least so far), Islamic wave which is taking the country by a storm. Yet the article explicitly refers to “An Islamic Revolution”.

Rachel also believes that the work by the AKP to improve relations between Turkey and the EU, or attempts to join the EU, are done only for “political reasons” and nobody else cares about it. According to her most people think it won’t noticeably improve the people’s quality of life. No explanation on why she claims they think it will have no socio-economic impact. No explanation on what the hidden agenda of the AKP is supposed to be here if they don’t really think it will benefit Turkey.

And so on and so forth. Fun reading.

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  1. Heck, considering the full things they, and the other parties there, stand for, I think that if I lived in Turkey I’d have voted for them myself. And I’m not exactly a huge fan of how Islam looks like these days.[back]
  2. Which I guess means Turkey is still way ahead of us in being a secular country.[back]
  3. Yes, for some reason a lot of the article focuses on what Rachel has to say.[back]
  4. instead of importing them is implied, especially as the example is seeing a lot of “Cola Turka” instead of “Coca Cola”. Personally I fail to believe soft-drinks are a religious experience, but that may just be me.[back]

The wrong way to write book reviews

January 10th, 2007

The basic concept behind reviewing books is fairly simple. You read the book, then you write the review. Not that complicated.

The details may vary, of course. How much of the plot should be included? What does the review focus on? How much of it should be subjective opinions, and how much objective descriptions and analysis? There are plenty of things that can change from reviewer to reviewer, and from review to review.

But the main and basic details, these never change:

  1. Read the book.
  2. Write the review.

Now, without the second part, there won’t be a review. So obviously you can’t write a book review without, well, writing the book review.

The first part isn’t quite a tautology as the second, though. But it sure seems to be required, no?

Well, no, apparently not for everyone.

A book reviewer on a Swedish newspaper has got himself into hot water for writing a review of a book that has not been written. To make matters worse, Kristian Lundberg claimed the book’s plot was “predictable” and said the characterisations were one-dimensional.

It was supposed to be a real book, by a real author. It was announced in the catalogue of the publisher. But it wasn’t actually written. Meaning that it wasn’t actually published. Meaning that nobody, including the reviewer, read it.

I do hope that this is an isolated case by an isolated jerk, and not a common phenomenon. Blah.

NASA found life on Mars! And Killed it! Not!

January 8th, 2007

There have been some reports lately on a claim that it’s possible NASA‘s space probes that landed on Mars 30 years ago missed signs of bacterial life.

The theory raised is that it is possible life developed on Mars in manners different from what is usual on Earth, and that it is possible that, for some of these hypothetical types of life, the attempts by the probes to locate micro-organisms may have missed those organisms and maybe killed them.

Not exactly a big claim. Nobody actually knows, or has any factual basis to suspect, that there were micro-organisms there. If there were some, of a type the probes weren’t set to find, nobody can say if they were of a type that the experiments would also kill. Not that killing a few microbes is such a big deal, but it does make for a more interestingly sounding story.

Basically, a lot of non-news, unless you’re planning the devices for the next attempt to locate life on a different planet, and want to take more options into account.

But accidentally killing the same micro-organisms you try to find, that makes a decent headline, no? So all the various reports on this that I read (Plenty of stories, but all pretty much based on the same AP report, so they’re unsurprisingly very similar) start with claims like this:

Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have stumbled upon alien microbes on the Red Planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist theorizes in a paper released Sunday.

Which is slightly sensational and contains a lot of hyperbole, given that we don’t know any of this, but isn’t really that out of line for modern media reports.

Until, that is, the headlines get to some clueless reporter who is unprofessional enough to take the hype at face value, and out of context.

So on the radio we had this young women, who sounded genuinely shocked and outraged as she reported the latest news: “NASA found life on Mars! And killed it!“.

Really. That is what she said.

Cue the mental images of NASA‘s probe finding several prospering cities full of happy Martians, and nuking them all into oblivion. And then of course taking pictures of the empty wasteland, and sending back reports that there is (now) no life on Mars. And they’ve kept us all in the dark for 30 years, hiding their nefarious xenocide.

She didn’t say that, of course, but it was the obvious thing to understand from her tone about the shocking discovery.

Thankfully the next thing they aired was an interview with some scientist who was asked to comment about NASA‘s wholesale slaughter of the Martians. He actually did know what this all was about, and explained it.

So sorry, folks. NASA did not find life on Mars, and did not kill it. Or, in any case, they still keep a very successful cover-up if they did.

Enough with the attempts to evoke sympathy for huge families

September 5th, 2006

Every time there is a big event that has an economic impact, the newspapers and other media try to publish a few articles showing some of the people it hurt.

Giving the “human element” touch to the story, instead of focusing on things like hard facts. And human element stories are much more efficient when they’re about the poor, suffering, and hard working people than when they’re about people who are well off.

This happens every time there is some law that changes taxation, savings, and so on. And, of course, after things like the latest war/skirmish in Lebanon.

But what always annoys me is the families they choose to portray. Obviously they take families with children, because nothing evokes sympathy quite like children who will now go hungry because the recent changes made it impossible for their parents to feed them[1].

And if that was as far as it went, that would have been fine. At least, fine for what they want these articles to achieve.

But these families are always, always, with 8-12 children. OK, I lie, not always. Sometimes there are 15 children. And always we hear about how now even while the two parents are working (though sometimes only one is working, or they lost their jobs, or whatever) they can’t afford to feed all of them, or get them proper clothing and other essentials.

What the publishers of these articles probably expect is to get reactions like “Oh, the poor dears. Look, so many children now have to live this bad. How horrible”. But what I usually feel is, well, that if the stupid careless parents have stopped making children after the 2nd, the 4th, or after how many they could actually expect to be able to take care of, then they wouldn’t have the problem.

Anyone who raises 8+ children will have a very hard time, financially (and otherwise, but that’s beyond the scope of this post), taking care of them. Children do take a lot of money to raise, clothe, educate, and feed. A couple with two high incomes will have a problem raising so many kids in high life quality. And these people, with those huge families, usually earn average and below salaries.

And the parents know that. They know that ahead of time, in advance, when they decide to have another[2] kid. So when I hear about a family with 10 children who live in bad conditions, I know who to blame. Not the new economic reforms. Not the war. Not any politician, or any world event. There’s just one source for all the trouble they’re having. The stupid and careless parents.

Anyone who doesn’t have a very good reason to expect to both have a very high income, and to be able to keep that income coming, shouldn’t raise that many kids. I don’t say not to raise any kids if you’re earning minimum wage. People understandably want kids, and I fully sympathise with that. But 8, 10, 12, 15 kids?! No, no, no, and no.

If these parents would have gotten sued for malicious negligence of children, instead of getting welfare support per child, things would have looked different. There would have been a lot less hungry kids for us to feel sorry for.

But they get welfare support for the kids. The more kids, the more money. Helping a needful family raise the first, or even second, kid I can understand. I can support that on a moral/emotional ground, even if it’s questionable economically. But giving people more money to raise even more children? That’s just asking for trouble.

It is no wonder that people who need to get extra money to raise all their children, can’t raise their children without receiving a lot of extra money.

If you can’t afford ten kids, don’t have ten kids. If you can’t afford ten kids, and yet chosen to have ten kids, don’t come to me for sympathy. Someone rich, who got into unexpected troubles, and so can’t raise the children, that can get sympathy. They fully expected to be able to raise and support them when they made the decision. But anyone who isn’t filthy rich should be ashamed of themselves.

This post was, of course, in a response to reading yet another such article. This time about a poor family from the north who, purely because of the damage caused by the bombardments, now cannot afford to feed their children, or to buy them all the things they need for school. They do have 10 children, naturally.

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  1. Nobody really goes hungry for lack of food in Israel. Anyone in this country who, even earning minimum wages, claim not to be able to eat is likely either lying, or have some inappropriate standards. So it won’t be Basmati rice with fillet steaks, but plain rice with turkey gizzards. Still perfectly edible, and even quite tasty if done right.[back]
  2. and another, and another, and another…[back]

The most complex and expensive way of killing cockroaches yet

July 2nd, 2006

Researchers from Brussels, in a research funded by the EU (for a sum of 3 million Euro), have developed a small robot that smells like a cockroach.

OK, that was an overly simplistic way of presenting it.

The kick in the mandibles comes from a Belgian-led team who spent three years developing a mini robot that can convince cockroaches to creep out of dark holes and gather in light places. The InsBot looks more like a pencil sharpener than a household pest, but it smells like a cockroach.

The InsBot has a cocktail of pheromones and molecules painted on its body, allowing it to infiltrate the cockroach community.

Imagine, working for three years just to develop something that smells like a cockroach. Wouldn’t it have been better instead to work on something that can take away the smell of one once you crush it? These bugs stink.

Cockroaches, it turns out, are very social creatures. No, really. Yes, yes, I know that staying put even after you yell at someone to get the heck out of your house is usually considered a very asocial behaviour. They’re not social with people. Just with other cockroaches. Go figure.

And if there’s something they think is another cockroach, like a mini-robot with the right smell, they’ll tend to get friendly and stick around. So if the robot slowly wanders around near them, and then goes and stand outside on the floor, a bunch of them are likely to congregate around it.

Yes, that sounds strange to me too. Because I’ve seen many cockroaches in my life, but it was always one on one[1].

But the researches say that cockroaches tend to stick together in group. And they spent three years of intense study, not nearly thirty years of sporadic encounters. So maybe they do know better than me.

Now you must be wondering what is so exciting about being able to get the cockroaches to stick around the robot. Does it shoot them? Electrocute them? Spreads poisonous bug-spray on them? No. That won’t be fun. It won’t be sporting. And it won’t allow them to release that disgusting smell of squashed cockroaches.

The plan, the 3 million Euro plan, is far simpler, and much more direct. It could draw them all out into the middle of the floor, where a person could squash them with a shoe. Or, if there are enough of them around, maybe jump around in a marry little dance crunching and stomping cockroaches under heel with every step. How fun.

Can you imagine the cost of the extra software and electronics needed to allow the timing to be right? Because this is not automatic. Automatic means you’ll have cockroach parties in the middle of the living room when you’re sleeping, or out at work.

So there will need to be some signalling mechanism, or some pre-set timer. Letting the robot know when is it the right time to draw the little cockroaches in so you could step on them.

I wonder if it will take another research just to come out with the fact that the cockroaches, while highly social, are not entirely insane. When a person comes stomping in, do you think they’ll stay and keep the little robot company? Hell, no! They’ll scatter around, leaving the poor stomper in no better position than had he[2] just spotted a lone cockroach randomly.

Plus, how is one expected to go around stomping cockroaches when smack down in the middle of them there’s a complex, and expensive, electronic device, in the form of our erstwhile robot? You put down your leg too hard, you’ll break the robot. Unless the robot is very tough, in which case you’ll break the leg. None of the two options seems appealing.

So, given all the problems that I can think of[3], why are they still doing it? Are cockroaches really such a big problem?

In a breakthrough for the battle against mankind’s most diehard enemy – the cockroach – European scientists have hoodwinked a group of them into congregating in a place where they can be stamped on easily.

Aha! Cockroaches are mankind’s most diehard enemy.

Our greatest, and toughest, enemies. And all the EU invests in fighting them is a measly 3 million Euro fund?! And a small group of researchers from just one university?! All this with no assistance by other world countries and superpowers?!

Shocking. Truly shocking.

Plus, while fighting such a dangerous, tough, vicious, insidious, and diehard enemy, they put in the research team a traitor who sympathizes with the enemy. Seriously:

But, for now, Deneubourg is not taking his eye off cockroaches which he describes as ‘no dirtier than flies’ and victims of a ‘bad press’.

Bad press. Would that be the same press calling them “mankind’s most diehard enemy”, I wonder?

He believes it will soon be possible to develop an ‘intelligent roach nest’ in which robots are positioned to tease the creepy-crawlies into human stamping range.

Brr. Am I the only one getting odd vibes from the Terminator movies, with the robots designed to look like humans and infiltrate into their camps in order to betray them to the machines to be killed?

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  1. Me and the cockroach, Mano a mano. Two begin, but only one comes out alive. And it’s not the cockroach, let me tell you.[back]
  2. Women don’t squish cockroaches, they yell “Ewwww!” loudly, and wait for a man to come and do it.[back]
  3. And I did it with no funding, and hardly any time invested in research. So they, with the time and funding, probably came out with more.[back]

Power outages

June 5th, 2006

During the last couple of days the electrical company here had caused numerous planned power outages.

Planned being the wrong term, maybe. The outages are intentional in that someone threw off the switch according to instructions, and planned in a similar manner since someone had to decide which switch to throw

But there were no notices in advance regarding the areas that will have the power supply broken, or the specific length in each case. According to the report the electric company didn’t bother deciding in advance themselves, just sent instructions down to regional branches throughout the day.

The most exact notice was, as heard on the radio today, a general and vague notice that the electrical company recommends that people will avoid using elevators until about 18:00. This after several incidents yesterday where people were trapped in an elevator for close to an hour.

Not that the warning helped much, a few people managed to get stuck in an elevator today as well, since the stairs are not practical for everyone.

The lack of information was very annoying. When the power is cut down it’s always annoying, naturally. But when there’s some accident or malfunction, it’s one thing. You know someone is working to fix it. And you know there wasn’t any way to provide a warning in advance. A planned/intentional outage is another thing. They disconnect parts of the grid on purpose because they can’t provide the demand. They know. So they can announce it in advance. The fact that they didn’t announce in advance, that’s just galling.

Most of the outages lasted a little less than an hour before power was restored, and cut down in another area. This is probably because the allowed limit for unannounced planned power outages is an hour, and they probably don’t want to cross it or they’ll have a lot more to explain if there will be an inquiry.

On the other hand, as I said, while the first outage on the morning may really be hard to announce in advance (assuming it’s motivated by a sudden discovery that power usage is about to outgrow the available production), this can’t possibly be the case for all the later outages when they already claim they will have them throughout the whole day. They can make a plan, and publish it. They should.

A main point, causing a lot of argument, is that at this point it’s not really clear if there really is a problem to supply the demand for electricity, or if it’s merely the power company flexing muscles. Possibly both.

The electrical company is involved in arguments with the government which are currently keeping three power stations down. The first case, and the one where it’s obvious the electric company is wrong, is an environmental issue. The electric company received more than enough time to upgrade a station to work on natural gas, and has been dawdling very aggressively. As a result the government ordered them to shut down the station until the upgrade is complete.

For two others the reports I read are unclear, but it’s either some disagreement about the administrative organization of the stations, or that they’re physically not ready to work yet. Depends on whether the people quoted are from the electric company or from the government. I’m not familiar with the issue myself beyond that, so no opinion here.

With three stations down, and power consumption raising each year, it’s possible that the company really can’t supply all the demand on very hot days, and has to shut down some clients. It’s possible.

On the other hand it’s also perfect timing for this to be a move to put pressure on the government to allow them to operate the stations their way. The station with the environmental issues has been shut down very recently, and it’s not a very major one. We had some really hot days not so many weeks ago, and they went over very smoothly and without a hitch.

The really messy part of everything, though, is all the highly biased media reports, for both sides, and the responses by some of the people.

Some reports go on and on about how the government is preventing the electric company from operating perfectly fine stations that can supply the power, never mind all the pesky issues like pollution and they way things run.

Other reports try to cast the company as a villain, blame on it anything that happened as a result of the power outage (and some things that just happened to occur at the same time), and call for investigations and lawsuits.

Many people feel very happy to charge head-on into blaming the electric company for everything. Sometimes they get a bit out of hand.

One article I read mentioned how a very old man with a pacemaker was caught in an elevator, and was rescued by the fire department after a few minutes. Which is fine as far as reporting goes, but then they bothered to mention again that luckily he didn’t need medical attention while he was stuck in an elevator.

Please, the guy was trapped for like five minutes. If he’s in a big risk of having a heart attack every five minutes, and to require immediate medical attention for that, then he should stay put in a hospital, or with an attached nurse. He should not go home and climb into an elevator. Nothing happened, and even if something did happen blaming it on the electric company would have been far-fetched.

Another story that received big headlines was about a woman, with a baby, who got trapped for 45 minutes in an elevator. So OK, that’s not fun. But again, nothing happened. They just waited in an elevator, and it was a little hot. No need to turn this into the major tragedy the paper and readers seem to.

Worse, traffic lights went out as well. They’re electrical, of course, so it’s no big surprise. And, frankly, traffic lights do go out occasionally anyway due to unplanned power breaks, or other malfunctions. But this time, the few accidents that occurred are blamed on the electric company. People want them to be sued for being responsible for the deaths.

This despite the fact that many intersections don’t have traffic lights anyway, and people usually know how to deal with this. Our traffic regulations cover driving without traffic lights. Heck, one of the drivers on the big accident ignored a stop sign. Sounds like the kind of driver who may ignore a red traffic light as well.

Sure, the traffic light was off, but that wasn’t the cause of the accident. That driver was. But people don’t seem to care, since yelling at the electric company is more fun.

One article I saw covering this went even further. They added to the same article a report about a kid who managed to slip down some ditch someplace and get killed. No relation to the electric company was mentioned at all, it just happened close to the area where one of the car accidents occurred. So, for the reporter, the physical proximity seemed like good enough a reason to mention this kid in the same article, thereby giving the distinct impression that this death can be blamed on the electric company too.

It’s a bad situation. And knowing we have those power outages makes me feel like I’m in some third-world country instead of the first-world country we usually pretend to be. If it will turn out that there wasn’t a good technical reason for the outages, and they were indeed mainly motivated by the desire to play power games (if you’d pardon the pun), I’ll also wholeheartedly support some major house-cleaning and head-chopping in the electric company.

But from here to blaming everything wrong in the world on them, well, the distance is very large…

Search engine and terminology

May 20th, 2006

Search engines are a pretty hot topic on-line. The big companies keep adding services and features. And new ones keep popping all the time, trying to present new features and techniques in order to get a piece of the market.

And they all get coverage in the news, or do their own press releases.

A couple of those I saw recently had some terminology problems that really irked me, though. I know, I know, reading something about a search engine, and being mostly bothered about a few wrong words is petty. But still.

The first one was a report on Exalead. I’ve played a bit with Exalead beta in the past (Like many other online services these days it has been in beta stage for a long time), and overall it’s pretty nice. It has some nice features and interface ideas, but it does have its quirks and problems as well.

The part that bothered me in the article (well, the terminological issue, anyway. There were a few other article parts I didn’t exactly agree with and that felt more like hype than an actual reporting or review) though, wasn’t in something about Exalead itself. It was in this paragraph describing the competition:

Bourdoncle’s ambition is to crack the top five in Web search, which is now led by Google, followed by Yahoo, Microsoft, Time Warner and Ask.

Everyone heard of Google. And yes, Yahoo is pretty big in search as well, and doing a good job at it. Microsoft has also added some changes and improvement, and are working on getting better search result. And Ask too have increased features and made significant advances, moving from what was once a rather sad search engine to one that seems to have a good chance of gaining a higher position in the top five.

But Time Warner? That made me stop in my tracks reading it. Time Warner have a search engine?! Since when? What are they talking about? Heck, I know and have heard of quite a lot of small, even tiny, search engines, and yet never heard of any Time Warner one. No way it became one of the big five.

And then it hit me. AOL. The guy who wrote that article, Dan Farber is someone with a lot of experiene in the field, and should really know better. Yet he decided that due to the AOL – Time Warner merger it would be correct to refer to AOL’s search engine as Time Warner.

The search engine is AOL. Not Time Warner. Referring to it as Time Warner shows a stunning lack of understanding, and a total lack of connection to anything going on in the search area. I really do hope that this wasn’t in the original post, but was maybe changed by some idiotic marketing guy who is in charge of “correcting” their posts before publishing (Though such a practice is a problem all by itself).

But regardless of how it got there, the second I saw something like that on the article it immediately made everything else there suspect. A reader can’t be expect to trust anything appearing on an article by someone who broadcasts so loudly that he doesn’t have a clue. If he’s capable of referring to Time Warner as a big search engine (and never mind that AOL’s search engine isn’t particularly good, it is big at least) then he’s clueless.

The second case is from a post by Yahoo, about them releasing the Yahoo Answers service from beta.

This post is on Yahoo’s search blog, where supposedly people actually have a clue about search.

And they also provide a link for adding their Yahoo Answers as a search engine in the Firefox browser. There are two problems with that link, however.

The first is a purely technical one. It doesn’t point to a place which adds their Yahoo Answers service as a search engine in Firefox. Instead it directs to the general page for adding search engines to the search bar in Firefox. If someone wants to they can search for the Yahoo Answers there and add it, but that’s not what the idea of linking to adding the search engines is supposed to be. Nor do they explain near the link that people following it will have to go on searching for it manually. Currently there’s a second link from the main page, but that varies, and can change…

The second one is the terminology item which again gave me a start. They referred to the link as one to add Yahoo Answers as a search repository in Firefox. Yes, that’s right, not a search engine, but a search repository.

I have no idea what a search repository is (Someplace where people can keep their searches?), but this is most definitly not it. Firefox doesn’t have support for search repositories. It has a toolbar for search engines. Engines.

You’d expect a company who has a search engine as a major product to know what a search engine is, and that it’s called a search engine. But they apparently don’t.

And those two aren’t all the articles, press releases, and official posts, which contain terminology errors. Just a small sample.

I can allow myself to make mistakes here from time to time. It’s a personal blog, I’m not an authority on anything, and I don’t represent anyone. But for anything official, by a news service or a large company, this is not the case. They shouldn’t make these mistakes. It leaves a really bad impression.

Some Israeli news sites object too loudly to being included in Google News

March 15th, 2006

This is actually a too-common problem with quite a few news sites around the world. They see their pages being included in a search engine, or a news portal, as someone stealing their content. Instead of seeing it as someone helping them get more readers.

And now a few of the big Israeli news sites are joining the fry, making a lot of noise, a lot more than they need to, about this.

The letter went on to say that collating news items from leading sites in Israel crossed boundaries. “All over the world, the issue of copyright infringement is gaining momentum, with an emphasis on the Internet. We believe there is no place to injure original Israeli content, which, to the contrary, should be encouraged. I am confident that the other leading sites in Israel will not lend a hand to injury of their property and will demand that Google refrain from using their content.”

Dimwits. Being included in a search engine index, or in a popular news aggregation service, doesn’t injure anyone’s property. It doesn’t hurt anyone. On the contrary, it helps them.

They don’t want their content copied, because they want readers to go to their own sites to read it. That’s fine. But that’s exactly what will happen. Sites like Google News don’t usually show the full stories anyway, they show headlines and briefs. Anyone who wants to read the story will have to go to the site which published it.

And a lot more people go to places like Google News, Yahoo News, etc, than directly to the news sites. And for a very good reason.

If someone is searching for a story, or for coverage of an issue, they originally don’t know which paper covered it best, if at all. So option one is to go to one news site, search there, go to another, search there, go to a third, search there, etc. And to go on until something good enough was found, or until the searcher is tired.

But if there are sites that allow to search for the story in a few of the papers at the same time, and show enough of of the story to decide which is the most interesting or relevant version, or even to directly open all the stories, that’s a much more appealing destination.

So true, if the story is bad, people won’t go to read it. But any paper which believe they’re in the business of writing bad stories probably can’t expect too many readers to go to them directly anyway.

By being excluded from the index a newspaper just assures that less people will come to them, because they will only get the readers who wanted them specifically to begin with. Anyone else will not find them, will not stumble upon their stories, will not discover that they covered the issues. That’s an attitude that doesn’t make much sense.

Additionally, search engines have covered some of these Israeli news sites for years now. It’s possible to run a search on a general search engine, in Hebrew, and get news results. Not from all of them, some Israeli sites don’t play for a long time now, but from the rest.

So this new outburst is because of the localized Hebrew version of Google News which is coming up. But it’s not all that different from what was available before, beyond presenting a page dedicated to news in Hebrew. It does make for a more obvious entry point for people looking for news, but it won’t index any content which Google didn’t index anyway.

The way these protests were made is also telling. There’s a very simple way to ask for civilized search engines not to include your pages in their index. And all the big players, Google included, are civilized this way. Put a robots.txt file on the site, and exclude either all web crawlers, or the ones you specifically object to.

Most page crawlers, of the types search engines use to go over sites and index them, look for the presence of this file, and check in it what parts of the site they’re asked not to index. It’s very simple to do, and it works.

Feder said that the Ynet site manager, Yacov Netzer, had written to Google Israel manager Meir Brand asking that the site refrain from using Ynet content.

One of the news sites mentioned in the article, Ynet, already have that file:

User-agent: *

Disallow:

This file explicitly says that all crawlers and web robots are allowed to access each and every page of the site. They’re saying that explicitly. Come index us, they say. It’s right there.

All they need to change is to add a single character:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /

This would be different, it would be blocking access to the entire site, news section included, by all crawlers. This means that their content will not appear on Google News. It’s that simple. Not only that, it’s nearly done. They don’t have to do anything else but adding that slash character. They don’t have to appeal to Google directly. Their manager doesn’t need to waste his time writing to the manager of Google Israel. There’s no point to it. They’re making the wrong choice, but they made it, and Google will indeed refrain from using their content. Problem solved before it started.

The letter on Walla!’s behalf was sent by the prestigious law firm of Herzog, Fox & Neeman. The letter said that as Google knew, articles appearing on the Walla! Web site were Walla!’s exclusive, copyright-protected property. “Therefore, unauthorized use that your company is making of these items on its Web site constitutes a grave infringement on my client’s property rights, by infringing copyright,” the letter said.

And that letter from a law firm on behalf of Walla!, what about it? I bet it took a lot of time, and money, to draft and present. Lawyers charge for consulting with them, for their work, for writing letters. Getting the site designer to write a robots.txt file would have been much simpler, much cheaper, and much quicker. As of right now, however, the Walla and Walla! News sites do not have it.

On today’s Internet, not having a robots.txt file is the equivalent of saying, but implicitly instead of explicitly as Ynet is currently doing, “Please come, index me, and allow to search my content, thank you” to the entire world. So Walla! are doing that, while at the same time having their lawyers billing them for talking with Google’s lawyers.

Brilliant. Just brilliant. And we’re supposed to trust these guys as our news source. Newsflash, people, robots.txt file is an old, old, standard by these days. And Google also respects newer meta tags that do the same thing, which can be (but are not, in Walla!’s case) embedded on individual pages.

They’re all so clueless that it’s quite staggering…

Prisoners released on wrong dates due to “computer glitch”

November 1st, 2005

A State audit of Michigan’s Department of Corrections shows that since October 2003 there were 23 prisoners who were released on the wrong date. Well, the audit only found 8, but they caught more when they actually started checking after the audit.

The State audit report shows errors in the release dates of 23 prisoners between October 2003 and March 2005. Some were let out early, while others were let out late. Either way, the computer flaw that led to the problem leaves 1 lawmaker concerned.

Prisoners let out early is a problem, since they don’t serve their time. If you lock someone in jail for a long time, you want them to stay there, not to get out early. That’s understandable. And while no murderers were released, there were still some non-trivial crimes there.

prisoners who were doing time for everything from embezzlement and drugs to bad check writing

But what really surprises me is those that were released too late. These people must have lawyers. And I doubt any of them missed the fact that they’re locked in jail. So when their release date, as set by the original sentence, would have passed without them being released, they should have raised hell.

How could they missed that? Would anyone, would a sentenced criminal, stay in jail for more than they had to? Just because the date on the computer is different from what they, and their lawyer, know it should be? Would that really wait until a state audit was performed before it was found out? Not bloody likely, even though apparently that’s exactly what happened.

The article was also a bit sparse with technical details about the glitch. That they don’t say anything beyond repeating several time that there was some computer glitch or flaw. Generally it probably doesn’t interest most of the potential readers, not nearly as much as the fact that some criminals were released too early, but as a computer programmer I’d still like to know.

The audit reports shows all the details of what happened. A flaw in computer programming caused State jails to release 8 prisoners anywhere from 39-161 days early

At the top of my head I can’t think of any bug that would cause a computer program to make a mistake in that range of days. Though of course that doesn’t mean much, since the article only lists a part of the range of delays, not detailing what happened with the other 15 prisoners beyond the fact that they were released either too late or too early. Not to mention that it’s a rather small sample size of mistake.

With those vague descriptions I won’t be at all surprised if the glitch wasn’t in the… data entry system. And yes, by data entry system I’m talking about the person typing in the dates. That could account for all the mistakes very easily. It’s easy to press the wrong button occasionally. But that would mean someone would have to pay, while if it’s just a computer glitch:

They say they’ve already taken steps to correct the computer glitch and will continue to work until the problem is taken care of.

I was also unable to find a follow-up article, from a few days later, about the subject. Surely a simple date handling routine in a program could be found and fixed in a few days, so there should have been a proud statement about how they fixed it. But no, all’s quiet. No further details on anything. Excellent news reporting.

I also wonder what compensations will people who stayed over-long due to the glitch will receive. Are there any lawsuits about it already? And would the people who were released too early be dragged back to jail, to serve the reminder of their sentence? Treatment should be the same for both sides, no? Either accepting the mistake as is, or trying to come as close as possible to fixing it.

Impressed with their performance?

That audit shows the State Department of Corrections is only moderately effective when it comes to accurate prisoner release dates.

Not the way I would define moderately effective myself. Maybe they work by a different dictionary over there in Michigan’s Department of Corrections…

[Edited 22/11/2005: minor fix of lacking HTML tag, no content was changed]

NASA sued over space mission

July 3rd, 2005

NASA is running a research experiment in which they will crash a probe into the Tempel-1 comet, trying to gain insights from the impact, and hopefully learn more about the composition of the comet’s core. This is called the Deep Impact mission.

Some people, though, aren’t happy. One is unhappy enough to go and sue NASA over the mission. Marina Bai, a Russian “self-published author and spiritualist”, is suing in a Russain court, over moral damages:

“Somewhere deep inside me, a voice told me the whole mission had to be stopped,” she said in an interview. “I fear that it could have an impact on all humanity.”

In court papers, Bai asserted that Deep Impact would “infringe upon my system of spiritual and life values, in particular on the values of every element of creation, upon the unacceptability of barbarically interfering with the natural life of the universe, and the violation of the natural balance of the universe.”

I just hope that the voice which told her that was a metaphor. If she’s really hearing voices, this may cause people to believe she may be a bit mentally imbalanced… Oh, heck, as if the rest of the lawsuit doesn’t make that point strongly enough as it is. The women is nuts.

The people at NASA think that she’s insane as well. Though they said it in one of the nicest ways I ever encountered. Not too hard to read between the lines, though:

Dolores Beasley, a spokeswoman for NASA, said it would be “inappropriate” to comment.

Is there any real danger, a chance that the impact will noticeably divert the comet? The scientists don’t think so. Of course, since they’re not yet entirely certain about the composition, they may turn out to be wrong, but the current estimations still allow for a very wide margin of error:

Scientists have dismissed fears that the collision might break up or divert the comet, comparing the impact to a mosquito striking a Boeing 747.

Still, even if she could prove the moral damage, and if the judges would for some reason rule in her favour, how bad can it be? How much can those damages be worth? Well, apparently according to Russian law, it can amount to quite a lot:

Bai’s attorney, Alexander V. Molokhov, said the damage claim was calculated under Russian law, which allows plaintiffs to recover an amount equal to the cost of the undertaking that allegedly does the harm.

So that would be around the entire cost of the mission. An interesting law I must say, granting compensation based on the cost of causing the damage, rather than on the damage itself.

If we had such a law here, I guess stuff like the current disengagement plans would have never happened. Imagine if every person who sees this as a moral crime and affront would sue, for the entire cost of the plan? If the court would accept that there were damages (and in this case a theoretical moral damage could be easily proved, since according to the believes of some of these people that’s really a big deal), the country would go broke… Hmm, there are Gush Katif residents who are immigrants from Russia, and who I think still have their Russain citizenship. I’m not that much of an expert on international law, but I wonder if they can sue using Russian courts, despite them also being Israeli residents and the better jurisdiction of Israeli courts…

In any case, a very interesting lawsuit. I doubt any sane judge will rule in her favour, especially considering the request compensations. Still:

Steven P. Maran, a spokesman for the American Astronomical Society and author of “Astronomy for Dummies,” reacted to Bai’s claims with humor.

“I get dizzy just thinking of this lawsuit,” he said. “But I don’t think the outcome is written in the stars.”

On the bright side, if she does win, the money will do good. The women obviously have some taste and good sense. I don’t know about those alleged oligarchs, but I wouldn’t have bought a soccer team either:

If she wins the case, she said, her nonprofit Transformations fund will spend the award on environmental and social programs.

“Unlike the oligarchs, I’m not going to buy a soccer team with the money,” she said.

The story got covered in plenty of papers. And surprisingly (or maybe not so suprisingly, given the fact that reports all to often bother to do a lot less fact-checking than they should) enough there are some factual differences between the reports.

Like for example, the above quoted article claims she asks compensations for a sum of $311 million. While other reports claim the actual investment in the mission was more like $330 million. It may sound like a small differece, a mere 6 percent or so, but I assure you that 19 million USD is not a small sum. Seriously.

Or, as another example, while the article I quoted states that scientists compared the impact to a “mosquito striking a Boeing 747″, the article linked in the above paragraph, about the mission itself, states that the scientists compared it to a “mosquito running into a 767 airliner”. The 747 is only double the size of a 767, so while a collision with a mosquito won’t matter much to any of them, that’s still a major difference.

Marina Bai herself, who is described in most places as a “self-published author and spiritualist”, is on other articles, some from Russain sources, described as a “local astrologer”.

Almost makes it seem as if reading the papers is as accurate as reading the map of the heavnens…

Journalistic research on curiosity item

May 14th, 2005

That same Golden Palace Casino which has purchased a plethora of odd things in the past on eBay auctions, has recently also won a similar bid on a car which was, probably, owned by Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now the new pope.

What I find more amusing is this report from CBC news on it, including the paragraph:

A bidder with the username “golden palace casino” won the auction on Thursday evening.

Their story is dated from 06 May 2005 06:40:30 EDT, which is 10:40 GMT. The BBC story I linked to above, is from 6 May, 2005, 00:55 GMT. Which makes it much earlier, giving the CBC report about 10 extra hours to get more details had they wanted to.

And yet the CBC reporter didn’t bother to do a minimum amount of research, to see who is the mysterious buyer who spent close to 190,000 Euro to buy this car on eBay, settling for reporting the name, and that’s that.

I recognized the name. But even without seeing it before, any quick Internet search on the name would have resulted in dozens of reports about the crazy purchases by this casino. Why couldn’t a proper journalist do that? Most of them did manage to, after all.