Archive for March, 2007

How Can a Hummer Be Better for the Environment than a Prius?

Earlier one of our writers stumbled on a report that claimed gas-guzzling Hummers were better for the environment than hybrids like the Toyota Prius. This is one of those great stories that everyone loves - where the conventional wisdom is wrong, and we can all have a good laugh knocking someone or something off it's high horse. This story has been passed furiously around the Internet for a week or so, by email and blog, featured on Digg and Slashdot. It's a good anecdote about unintended consequences and a little boost to Hummer owners who are sometimes criticized for their very conspicuous consumption. It's also pretty much a load of crap. But how can that be? The writer did a bunch of research, and came up with numbers and formulas. Lots of people saw it and voted with a thumbs-up in Reddit or StumbleUpon. Welcome, dear readers, to the world of white papers and press releases. Let's say you had a conclusion you wanted to support, or clients you wanted to flatter. You do a bunch of research, finding information that backs your conclusions. Now what to do with it? You can try presenting it at a conference or submitting it to an academic journal, but then you run a risk. The risk is that peer review will knock it down. The scientific method has a key difference from the method mentioned above - instead of creating a conclusion then finding evidence, you create a hypothesis, gather all the evidence, then form your conclusion. Take this pesky detail and add a dash of scrutiny by experts in the field and you have a pretty good recipe for coming up with useful theories and knowledge. The recipe just won't make the muffins come out exactly the way you want them every time. So what do you do with this research? Put it in a white paper and/or type up and good press release. The term "white paper" used to refer to government policy documents, but now it's often used to mean a report by a company or individual in an industry intended to inform and persuade customers and partners. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, so long as everyone knows that the purpose of the document is often to persuade or sell something, not to impartially report on all the facts. IT workers have become very familiar with the uses of white papers since we are constantly bombarded with them. They are notoriously available to prove nearly any point you want to make. Is Oracle the fastest database system? You can probably find 20 white papers that say so authoritatively and conclusively. Is Oracle bloated and inefficient? Look, there's 20 papers that say so authoritatively and conclusively. They aren't all worthless, because each one might give you some good factual information. It's up to you to find and use what you need without drinking the Kool-Aide. The use of email by lots of people outside the IT realm and recently the hug number of non-IT bloggers has given press releases and white papers some new possibilities. They can be spread around the world in record time and quoted by a 1,000 blog posts as if they were primary sources. Notice that this report on the Prius and Hummer is 450+ pages. How many people, do you think, read all 450 pages? There are a number of problems with this report that make the conclusion that Hummers are green and Priuses are baby- seal-clubbing smog machines hard to swallow. For one thing, it assumes that a Prius will only last 109,000 miles, which is lower than some parts of the warranty in California and similar states, while extending the life of a Hummer H1 to 379,000 miles. Plenty of Priuses have already passed 200,000 miles, often working in taxi fleets. It also mentions the use of Nickel in the batteries and the damage Nickel mining did to Sudbury, Ontario. The batteries are warrantied to 100,000 miles Nickel is recyclable. Sudbury has done a great deal to mitigate past environmental damage and is no longer a wasteland. As the TrueDelta blog points out, the cost of ownership numbers are amazingly high for all the vehicles in the report. If Priuses cost this much to build and operate, we have to assume that Toyota is taking a huge loss on every one sold, and in fact the entire auto industry is grievously undercharging us. There are a number of other problems with the report, but others have already done a pretty good job outlining them. Probably the biggest problem is that the source data is not available for review, since it is considered valuable intellectual property by CNW research. So what's the answer to the question posed in the title? How can a Hummer be better for the environment than a Prius? By using whatever methodology you want, using whatever data you want, and closing your research up from peer review, that's how. And what's the lesson for today? It's certainly not "don't believe everything that you read," because that is glib and cynical without being precise enough to be useful. Here are some thoughts that might be a bit more practical:
  • White papers and press releases are fine, but keep in mind they are often intended persuade you or sell you something.
  • Starting with a conclusion makes research easier, but doesn't validate your conclusion.
  • Digg, email forwards, and 1,000 blogs do not count as peer review.

Movie Review: Idiocracy

Buy now at!Hey, remember Mike Judge? He's that guy who did that little show called Beavis & Butthead and this movie you like called Office Space. You might also recognize his name as being the creator of King of the Hill. Did you know he had a new movie out? Well, probably not because Fox did a hell of a job keeping it out of theaters and unless you live in Austin you probably didn't even know it was in a theater near you (that is, only if you live in L.A., Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston or Toronto). What, exactly, was Fox's beef? It's really not clear. Judge was doing what he is best at - commenting the stupidity/ignorance that exists in America and imagining a world where "teh sm4rts" are wiped out and the only people left are the ones who eat stupid food for breakfast. While the movie is a bit odd and certainly doesn't have a blockbuster plot or cast, the premise leaves us much to think about and is a truly genius idea that doesn't get touched on often (although Futurama manages to sneak some "future stupidity" in at times). The main premise is explained brilliantly in the beginning of the film - an interview with a young, educated couple explaining that they are not ready to have kids, they feel it's "too early," and a cutaway to a "white trash" family (fathered by "Clevon") surprised by another pregnancy. Five years later, the "educated" couple states they're not ready - "not in this market" - and the "white trash" family has spawned more children thanks to the help of the neighbor woman. The educated couple ends up learning that the man has a low sperm count and one of Clevon's sons is shown as a football hero promising the cheerleaders he will "fuck all y'all" to Clevon's prideful cheers. So begins the "de-evolution" of humans where the more intelligent fail to breed while the less intelligent breed at a high rate, thus lowering the human IQ substantially. Meanwhile, back at The Military, a soldier named Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) who fits the description of "the most average man available" is picked to participate in a top-secret human hibernation project in which he is to be frozen and woken up at a later date. His female counterpart, Rita (Maya Rudolph), is a prostitute who was chosen for the job because she was the only woman they could find who was willing to go along with it. In the midst of the experiment, the Army base where Joe and Rita were being "stored" is destroyed (due to the top man in the Top Secret chain being booted out of the Army on various sex charges) and thus the two chambers are forgotten. Five hundred years later in the year 2505, since people have become quite lazy, trash is no longer buried or recycled - it's just piled up into huge mountains. This results in the "Great Trash Avalanche of 2505" and results in the uncovering of Joe and Rita's hibernation chamber. The avalanche pushes Joe's chamber through the apartment window of one "typical American" guy named Frito - who is too enthralled with the show Ow! My Balls (an obvious reference to Jackass) on his gigantic TV and eating "people chow" from a bucket whilst sitting on his sofa/toilet to care that a man from the past has just crashed into his apartment. So begins Joe's (and then also Rita's) quest to return to the past. Since all humans in the future are tattooed with a bar code on their wrist, and Joe lacks said bar code, he quickly lands in jail. But since he is smarter than everyone else in the future (even though in the present he is squarely average), he's able to quickly escape, thus becoming a fugitive. The rest of the movie is filled with clever sight gags and social commentary. The town's clock tower blinks "12:00" because no one is smart enough to set the time. Everyone speaks a "mixture of valley speak and ghetto talk" which is hard for Joe to understand (and vice-versa - they accuse Joe of being "gay" because he speaks so...awkwardly). The lowest form of humor - fart and sex jokes - have become the norm (for example, the restaurant Fuddruckers is now named Buttfuckers, and Ow! My Balls! is the most popular show on TV). What is considered cursing in today's language is considered the norm in the future language. As expected, capitalism plays a huge part in the future world. People have names like "Frito," "Tylenol" and "Mountain Dew." Starbucks is just as ubiquitous but it has become a "gentleman's massage parlor" (as have many other establishments such as H&R Block). Costco is where you can go to buy furniture, catch a train or get a law degree. Prison inmates wear name-brand track suits. Water fountains no longer serve water - they spout a Gatorade-like drink called Brawndo which contains "electrolytes." In fact, water is only known as "the stuff in the toilet" in the future, as Brawndo takes over as the liquid of choice. Joe ends up getting caught - but not sent back to jail. Instead, he is delivered to the White House to meet with President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (played by Terry Crews of Everybody Hates Chris), a former "pro" wrestler who was obviously voted in on his crowd appeal. The President has called for Joe because his prison IQ test (required so they can place him in a suitable prison job) showed that he was far and beyond the most intelligent man alive. Camacho appoints Joe as the new Secretary of State and promises to the people that he will fix all of the nation's problems because he is a genius. Of course, Joe doesn't actually know how to run a country and the people quickly turn on him, forcing him and Rita to go back on the run in search of a "time machine" promised by Frito. More downright stupidity ensues. I have a feeling that this movie will become another "cult hit" for Judge as Office Space did. Perusing the IMDB pages for the movie, I'm reminded of how much visual comedy is going on in the background and I am already itching to see it again and share it with friends. There is definitely a lot going on that requires multiple viewings. Idiocracy is definitely a gem to add to your collection and one you will enjoy talking about with friends - maybe even finding a special catch phrase or two. If nothing else, check it out so you can see just what the hell Fox was so scared of. Because if Fox doesn't like it, it's pretty sure that you will. Oh, by the way - don't get this movie from Netflix. The copy I got was totally scratched and skippy. The Stupids must have gotten to it first.

Prius vs Hummer and How to avoid getting Hacked

I was just browsing around the internet and I happened to stumble upon One Man's Blog and I found some interesting things out that I wanted to share with all of you beautiful people.

The first point of interest is about the environmental friendliness of hybrid cars. As you may or may not know, this is a subject dear to my heart, so I was kinda bummed to learn about this, finding that the way hybrids are produced is overall much worse for the environment then just burning a little more gasoline. Check out the whole blog here.

The next topic, how to avoid getting hacked is something that everyone should read. I know, people never think that they will be the ones to get hacked but it can happen to anyone, as this guy points out. He gives some pretty good advice on how to avoid being hacked by picking better passwords and even links to Microsoft's site that helps you test the strength of your passwords.

MC Karl Rove in the Hizzy

[youtube]HxcuVlCuX9Y[/youtube] Last Night was the Annual Radio-Television Correspondents' Association Dinner, where polictians and journalists get together and have a humorous time together. Unfortunately for the rest of us it is boradcast on TV so we get to see just what a bunch of jackasses the people who run our governemtn our. Last year Stephen Colbert hosted, but aparently his comedic style of truthiness, wasn't to the President's liking. So this year they went the ultra vanilla route and got two of the guys from Whose Line is it Anyways (not Ryan Styles if you where thinking he was one of them). One of the improv bits they did was a rap song featuring Karl Rove. Let me say this any time a bunch of White guys wearing tuxedoes want to do a rap song it is never a good idea. It wouldn't have been as cringe inducing if Karl Rove didn't proceed to dace, hop, spasm, whatever you call it not really to the beat of the song. Considering this man of one of the most powerful people in the country it really makes you lose confidence that he knows how to properly manage the country when he can't stop himself from looking like a total jackass on TV. That's not even mentioning the rapping. It was so bad I was longing for the days of good rappers like MC Scat Cat. For all the African American readers out there I know completely understand why you hate White people. If some one is going to appropriate your culture, the least they could do is do a good job stealing it. So vote for Barack Obama in 2008 at least he has some sembalance of rhythm.

Was the Violence in 300 Excessive?

We can agree to disagree about the political messages in the movie 300, whether it was propaganda or gay-bashing.  But I think everyone who saw the movie will agree it was quite violent. But was the violence excessive or gratuitous?  The only empirical way I can think of to find out is to remove the violence from the epic: [youtube]gNqiSkd1M6k[/youtube]