Motherboard | Science. Technology. Design. Culture.

Motherboard | Science. Technology. Design. Culture.

Nigeria may be the country most often associated with email scams, thanks to the proliferation of 419 cons that began life with claims of being correspondence from a Nigerian prince. But in Ghana the act of ripping off stupid Americans (to paraphrase the maker of the brief documentary above) has developed into a full fledged subculture with movies, music and religious rituals. I won’t ruin all the surprises contained in the 20-minute documentary above, but it’s a fascinating look at how an old pen-pal scam from Nigeria was cross-bred with the Internet and ancient magical rites to become a subculture called Sakawa.

In Memory of Gary Carter

Gary Carter

One of my earliest memories in life is of the Mets winning the world series in 1986. I’ve got some scattered recollections before that but, my father holding me and popping open a bottle of champagne in our living room, the cork ricocheting off the ceiling, is really where events start to form a cohesive narrative for me. At the same moment my father was scooping me up in his arms, Gary Carter was jumping into Jesse Orosco’s, celebrating possibly the defining moment of his career. The image of the Kid hurling his 200-plus pound frame, covered in protective gear, at our left-handed reliever is one of the most iconic in New York baseball and one that immediately carved out a hole in my young heart for the catcher.

Carter was more than just a catcher or an icon — he was my hero. And I don’t say that lightly. When I first fell in love with baseball it wasn’t out of love for the sport, so much as love for the seemingly bottomless enthusiasm and heart of the Mets’ backstop. What his teammates in Montreal saw as showmanship, seemed quite understated amongst the mid-80s Metropolitans. His celebrations didn’t come across as cruel taunts, cries for attention or unchecked arrogance — there was pure joy in those fist pumps and curtain calls. He played harder that most and earned every cheer. Other kids may have idolized Mike, but I wanted to be like Gary. When I started playing little league, all the other kids fought over pitcher and shortstop — I asked to don the chest protector and squat behind home plate. When it came time to grab jerseys I demanded to wear number 8, even if the shirt was two sizes too big.

Eventually it became clear that I wasn’t cut out for catcher thanks to my small size. And my reasonably quick reflexes made me more useful on the infield (even if my bat made me most useful on the bench). By that time, though, my infatuation with the position was beginning to wane. In 1989 the Mets traded my idol, and I hated them for it. Never mind that he spent most of the year injured or hit an embarrassing .183 — Gary Carter was the Mets in my mind and, more than that, baseball. Each player that followed in his footsteps (Mackey Sasser, Todd Hundley, Mike Piazza, Paul Lo Duca, Josh Thole…) had a hard time earning my respect and admiration, not that it would matter to them. Sure, I eventually warmed up to some of them and Piazza proved to be a pillar of club, but they were poor substitutions for the Kid.

Some older Mets fans have never been able to forgive the franchise for trading Seaver or Ryan — I’ll never get over the release of Gary Carter. Even as his knees and skills failed him, his spirit never seemed to. It’s more than a little cliche to say “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” but it’s true. And Gary Carter — he always played the game right.

The Advance Continues to Fail Its Readers and Staten Island

"No Mas" Mosque Sign

Staten Island Advance/Hilton Flores

This morning the Staten Island Advance and SILive.com published an article titled ‘”A Move On Staten Island To Broker Mosque Peace.”  The latest coverage of the ongoing controversy about the plan to build a mosque in the neighborhood of Midland Beach is one of the worst pieces of news reporting I’ve ever read and the refusal to engage their audience, or even moderate comments, is nothing short of reprehensible.  I wrote a letter to the editor of the Advance, Brian J. Laline, to complain about the alarmingly bias (and often dishonest) coverage of controversy but honestly have little expectation of it actually being read, none-the-less receiving a response.  So I’ve  decided to republish my letter here, complete with the typos I made in my rush to write the e-mail and move on to more pressing matters of the day (namely the ones that pay my bills).

I know I’m not alone in my growing frustration with the Advance and SILive.  Maybe this will encourage more of you to speak up and write letters to the editors, and in particular Mr. Laline who bears ultimate responsibility for everything published in the paper.

To Mr. Laline,
Honestly your coverage of what is a very important local story has been nothing short of horrendous.  As a “news” outlet you should be ashamed of yourselves.  There is a difference between being impartial and failing to report facts accurately.  Your unwillingness (or perhaps desire not to) accurately portray those opposing the mosque as the bigots they are do a disservice to you and your staff as well as the reputation of Staten Island and its citizens.  One needs only to look at the most recent article “A Move On Staten Island To Broker Mosque Peace” to see how glaringly you are failing the people of this Island.

Please read the following two quotes taken directly from the article:
“Because the contract was drafted quietly, without input from residents, and because of traffic, parking and other concerns, hundreds of area residents have expressed their opposition to the plan.”
&
“The disagreement expressed by residents has been perceived as hatred and bigotry by Muslims, who said they see their constitutional rights being trampled upon.”

A. As a private entity I fail to see what responsibility the church had to draft the contract in public.  They may be a member of the community and openness is appreciated, but they are under no obligation to do so. No one would be complaining if it was a corner store changing hands “quietly”

B. To describe the issue as having to do with “traffic, parking and other concerns” is dishonest and childish. Why not be honest “other concerns” is code for Islam.

C. “perceived as hatred and bigotry” Are you serious with this line? This is one of the most patently dismissive things I’ve ever read and it’s very hard to keep from reach for profanity to express how frustratingly ignorant that is to say.  This is clearly driven in large part by hatred, bigotry and fear.  One need only read the comments on the article to see that.  Allow me to give you some highlights of the things that SI’s fine residents had to say in response:

“FIRST AND FOREMOST WE DO NOT PRAY TO THE SAME GOD !!!!!”
“This photo makes me sick. If this is “YOUR COUNTRY” then PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO IT. Stand at the flag raising. Salute that soldier! I don’t think you will…..it is NOT your country!”
“HA HA HA!!! What a bunch of bull! We have no desire to learn more about Islam – you taught us all we needed to know on 9/11. Sorry that YOUR people have made us AMERICANS feel this way towards you but it’s your own fault. Why would you want a Mosque in a place where NOBODY wants you?”
“this is Catholic holy ground–there is an altar in that Convent…a mosque should be FORBIDDEN”
“Where were the rights of all the people on 9/11. The trains in Spain . And on and on these killers look for help to in slave the world. Next they will say bombers religious heroes”
“I’m with cr50l .. These people don’t have a country they just move in (where there not wanted) and try to change everything to their liking…”
“YOUR RIGHTS SHOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN AWAY WHEN YOUR SO CALLED RELIGION KILLED OVER 3,000 PEOPLE. PLEASE TAKE YOUR MOSQUE SOMEWHERE ELSE!! “

Not to mention the several comments that contain completely baseless accusations about connections to terrorism and Al-Qaeda.

If in the face of that overwhelming response based entirely in bigotry and fear you still cannot bring yourselves to admit the obvious in your “news” coverage then you’re not a news outlet.

Additionally if you’re going to allow comments on your articles it is your responsibility to engage with the audience and correct misinformation being presented.  The purpose of comments is not to let readers mouth off as they see fit, it is to create a path for communication, part of the responsibility of the editors and reporters is to address what is posted in the comments.  That means no only moderating them and removing what is clearly hate speech, but to spark discussion and prevent the spread of what can only be called lies.

If you plan to maintain any form of credibility and relevance in the coming years it’s going to take some deep soul searching.  At the moment though you’re not doing anyone, including yourselves, any good.

Sincerely a concerned citizen and journalist,
Terrence O’Brien

‘Going Rogue’ is One of the Worst Books I’ve Ever Heard

Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue'Because I hate myself, and my ears, and my brain, I’ve been listening to the audio book version of ‘Going Rogue,’ as read by Sarah Palin.  Even ignoring my distaste for her politically and her many questionable claims about events on the campaign trail this is an awful, awful book.  And more than awful, it’s downright disturbing thanks to Palin’s performance reading it.

Let’s start with the fact that Sarah Palin, who got her degree in communications with a focus on journalism, and her collaborator Lynn Vincent, a former editor and senior writer at ‘World‘ magazine, can barely construct an English sentence, none-the-less a cohesive narrative.  Grammar and style errors the least of ‘Going Rogue’s  problems though.  The book shifts tone, voice, and topic so frequently and dramatically that I often find myself shaking my head, wondering if I have blacked out for 15 minutes and missed a large chunk of the story.

Palin’s musings on politics and policy are thrust into the storyline haphazardly, and loaded with awkward name dropping and bragging.  She speaks of being obsessed with politics and current events, yet never displays any understanding of these things beyond what could be ripped from the summary paragraph of a Wikipedia page.  More awkward than her political interjections are the moments when the narrative switches from her plain-spoken prose to cliché-laden, pseudo-poetic descriptions of the “sinister, black muck surging against the rocks” and other such nonsense.

The most disturbing moment though is Palin’s description of her miscarriage.  The  matter-of-fact telling of this personal tragedy should serve to humanize this larger-than-life character.  This is especially true when faced with her account of the surprisingly unsympathetic doctor who informs Palin that, “there’s nothing alive in there,” and tells her, “you have a couple of choices about getting rid of it.”  Palin says she felt “sick and hollow” and described the event as something that “rocks a relatively untested faith.”  Yet she reads this section as coldly as you imagine the doctor informed her of the loss of her child.  The passage is delivered with the same inflection and lack of emotion as the fair scene that opens the book.  In fact she sounds almost cheery as she speaks of the “devastation and loss.”

The worst part? I’m only about an hour into this roughly seven and a half hour pile of aural dreck.  Wish me luck.

NaNoWriMo, Take Three

NaNoWriMo Header

The past two years I have taken part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), simply as an excuse to flex my writing muscle in an avenue that doesn’t involve USB ports or touch screens.  It’s also an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone, since I don’t normally write fiction.  The last two years however, my dedication to the idea has fallen somewhat (read: very) short of the goal of writing a 175 page, 50,000 word novel by November 30.  In fact I’ve yet to make it through a second page.  It would be easy, and understandable, to blame my failure on the fact that I spend all day sitting in front of a laptop writing as a means to pay (some of) the bills. Or to claim that the additional work load of being a full-time student makes finding the time to write a novel literally impossible.  This year I have decided there are no more excuses. I’m not guaranteeing I’ll actually finish a novel, but I will make an honest attempt to do so in the time allotted.

In the spirit of keeping myself honest I’ll be posting excerpts from it here as I finish them.  Note that these excerpts will not be carefully proofread, if proofread at all.  I will run a spell-check then post.  All editing will be done after the manuscript is complete.

I encourage anyone to post critiques, suggestions, and point out my errors after I post sections of the story.

NaNoWriMo officially kicks off November 1, so check back that night for the first part.

The Frustrating Limits of Human Knowledge

Warning: Despite what this post might lead you to believe I have not been smoking a lot of pot recently.  But, I have been reading Brian Greene’s ‘The Elegant Universe‘ and watching a ton of specials on cosmology.
hubble-deep-field
Perhaps it’s a reflection of what a huge dork I am, but one of the most frustrating things in the world to me is knowing that there are things that we, as humans, are actually incapable of knowing.  And I’m not talking about intangibles, or the spiritual realm. There are things in our physical world that we will never be able to understand, no matter how advanced our science.

For example — the Big Bang.  Our science has evolved to the point where we can map out the sequence of events that took place mere fractions of a second after the Big Bang and the creation of our known universe.  While we can’t explain why or how many of the events transpired, scientific theories (such as string theory) are working towards a complete understanding of the forces at work.

But even if string theory is able to take us all the way back to the moment of the Big Bang, that is where our understanding will cease.  We will never be able to understand what existed, if anything, before the creation of our universe.  Is ours just one of many universes?  Was it spawned from an existing one?  Are we the rebirth of a former universe that collapsed on itself?  We will literally never know.

It is my understanding (and please physicists out there correct me if I’m wrong) that any record of a pre-existing universe, or information about the origins of ours would have been destroyed at the moment of singularity which we believe would have preceded the Big Bang.

This isn’t a “what does it all mean” moment. I don’t care what it means. I’m merely interested in the facts.  It’s not just disappointing, but depressing that there are things we will never know.  Not even long after I’m dead and decayed.  Perhaps this is the one place where I’m actually envious of those who have faith and religion.  Not to be glib about it, but for them the answer is clear — it was god.  I can take no such comfort.

<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393058581?ie=UTF8&tag=terrence-obrien-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0393058581″>The Elegant Universe</a><img src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=terrence-obrien-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0393058581&#8243; width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />

My Nightmare Continues

So after thinking that everything was squared away (though I wasn’t assuming anything with CSI), I get a call today telling me that I need yet another letter from the chair of the English department explaining that the graduate level (read above 300) writing course I’m about to take qualifies as an above 300 level writing course. Make sense? No? I didn’t think so.

Well this makes it official that there is no way in hell that I am going for my masters at CSI.

Update:

Well I got my letter saying I’m graduating.  I won’t feel better until I have that diploma in my hand.

I should feel relieved and excited, but the whole experience left such a bad taste in my mouth.