Having an open mind doesn’t mean believing both sides equally or disbelieving them both equally.

Comment on this guest post at This is True: What’s Good for the Goose

Having an open mind doesn’t mean believing both sides equally or disbelieving them both equally. It means looking at evidence and actually *thinking* about what is being said, what is being done, and what else is happening.

If one “side” promotes unfounded accusations (i.e. conspiracy theories) and the other “side” calls them on it, those aren’t equivalent.

If one “side” marches when an election doesn’t go their way and the other “side” violently threatens or attacks the legislature to overturn an election that doesn’t go their way, those aren’t equivalent.

If one “side” complains about propaganda in an election they lost, and the other “side” insists without evidence (unless you count the claims that have been repeatedly laughed out of court) that the votes in an election they lost were somehow faked, those aren’t equivalent.

Sure, don’t trust reflexively – but don’t dismiss reflexively either. Automatically rejecting “both sides” isn’t critical thinking, it’s just another way of reassuring yourself that you’re right.

Flickr Commons and Facial Recognition

Comments on @angeldan’s Flickr post reacting to the NYTimes article on Flickr Commons photos being used to train facial recognition software and the initial reaction of how dare they use our photos for this?

FWIW, it was Yahoo that did this, and they no longer own Flickr.

Also, if they only used photos that were licensed for creative commons or commercial use…well, that’s what those licenses are for, right? Pre-emptively giving others permission to use the work under specific terms without them having to ask?

A. The thing is, you have to make an effort to choose a Creative Commons license for your photos. And the licenses are short, and go out of their way to explain what they do. It’s not the default, and it’s not 40 pages of legalese that you’re required to click through just to use the service. Now, if Yahoo used photos that *weren’t* licensed to allow reuse, then that’s another story.

More concerning, IMO, is whether the *subjects* of the photos would have agreed to this use. Not an issue with identifying trees, birds, cars, etc. – the original Flickr Commons collection wasn’t specific to people – but definitely an issue with the face recognition projects, and that’s where things like the Illinois biometrics law come in.

B. Yeah, the uses that the tech has been put to are in many cases creepy, unethical, and dangerous. That’s always a problem with tech. We often don’t anticipate the ways people will abuse it, and that’s something that we need to do more of. That’s a *huge* discussion in the tech world right now, and one that needs to be examined more closely, from as many angles as possible.

But is this *Flickr’s* breach of trust?
1. It was Flickr’s former parent company that made the original collection, using images that users had specifically assigned creative commons licenses.
2. It was a team at the University of Washington that narrowed it down to the images of faces, created the MegaFace dataset, and encouraged groups building facial recognition technology to use it for training and testing.
3. It’s still other companies that have been actually using the tech.

Amazon Review: Space Opera by Catherynne Valente

Fun sci-fi social satire: The world is a mess, but we can find the sublime in chaos.

Absurdity, social satire, lots of music references, and a fast read that still feels like a wall of words at times. In the same vein as Hitchhiker’s Guide & Year Zero (though in this case humans are the *worst* musicians in the galaxy). Fun, though it’s got some dark moments. The world isn’t totally awesome or totally awful, it’s both: Everything is *messy*, and you can find the sublime in chaos.

Amazon Review: Under the Influence by Trey Ratcliff

A fascinating look at a side of Instagram that I’ve mostly ignored.

I’ve known the high-rolling “influencer” side of Instagram is out there, but for the most part, I’ve tuned it out by following only friends and people whose photos I find interesting (including the author, which was how I found out about this book), rather than following personalities.

The book covers three main topics:
1. How and why people game the system on attention-based social networks, using Instagram as a case study.
2. How attention-based social media games your brain.
3. Ways to keep yourself in control of your social media experience.

I’ve read a lot about the second and third topics, so that part was mostly familiar to me, though I expect it will be more interesting (and helpful) to other readers.

The first topic – which is basically the hook to get people looking at the rest of it – proved to be very eye-opening as it describes the sheer amount of product placement and sponsorship going on, the lengths people will go to in order to make it look like they have a bigger audience than they do so they can get the deals, and the various techniques used to get around fraud detection.

Amazon Review: Dark Knights: Metal

The art is great, and the scope is ambitious, but the story feels really familiar. The Dark Multiverse and World Forge concepts are interesting, but the story follows the same beats as Final Crisis: a dark god takes over Earth and begins dragging it downward into an unending hell while a handful of heroes mounts a desperate resistance in a conquered world where they have to fight twisted versions of their allies.

And by the end of the book, I feel like it was less about the story itself than about the pieces it set up for the next round of new comics launches.

Amazon Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I learned long ago that “things happened that I didn’t like” and “it was badly made” are two different complaints about a movie. And while a lot of stuff happened that I didn’t like, it was interesting and creative in a way that Star Wars hasn’t been able to be in decades. We knew where the prequels were heading, we knew where Rogue One was heading, and The Force Awakens followed essentially the same plot beats as A New Hope.

It’s dark, yes – but not really much darker than Revenge of the Sith, another film that features the slow, inexorable snuffing out of hope by a powerful galactic-sized force, leaving only a handful of heroes at the end. But with RotS, we knew things would get better (eventually). This time, we get a triumphant return at the end, and a hint at a better future in the epilogue.

The Last Jedi made it possible for Star Wars to be surprising again, and unless Episode IX goes out of its way to reject it (or even if it does), I suspect it’ll be received better in the long run than it has been in the moment.

Review: Mpow BH044 Bluetooth Receiver


I’ve been using this in my car to listen to music and podcasts from my phone for the past year. Sound quality is virtually identical to what I got plugging into the headphone jack (when I had one), plus now I have physical buttons for pause, play, forward and back, which is *really* nice for driving!

Occasionally the connection doesn’t quite work right and I get very crunchy audio, but when that happens I’m able to just turn off the phone’s bluetooth and turn it back on, and when they re-pair the sound is back to normal.

The one thing that bothers me about it is that the battery warning sound (bleeping once a minute) doesn’t start until there’s only about 10 minutes’ worth of battery left, which always seems to happen 5 minutes into a 30-minute drive.

Demonizing Rent’s Benny vs. Lionizing Hamilton’s Alexander

Demonizing Rent’s Benny vs. Lionizing Hamilton’s Alexander via @geekdads

On Twitter

My comment on the article:

Great analysis! I recently picked up the Rent soundtrack again after letting it sit for a while and found that my perspective has changed over the years.

I was thinking about Benny vs. Aaron Burr the other day: Benny’s the designated villain because he’s on the other side of the conflict from the rest of the main cast. Personal flaws aside, he’s not evil, he just has different priorities. But the show clearly presents him as the bad guy.

Hamilton literally has Aaron Burr *call himself* the villain, but the show does so much to humanize him that it’s hard to read him that way. (At least as far as the cast album goes.) Antagonist, yes. Opponent, absolutely. But he’s presented much more sympathetically than Benny, even though he actually kills the hero.

Review: Doma Kitchen

Finally got a chance to visit the new location, and it was great. The lamb stroganoff and kasha with bratwurst were both different takes from what you usually find and very good. There’s a good variety on the kids’ menu too.

The look of the place is a lot different from the old Redondo Beach location. It’s more trendy than homey, but that goes along with the bigger kitchen and menu, so it’s hard to complain. (It’s also a lot quieter when dining outside than it was when they were right next to a major street.)

On Yelp

Answer: What are the current best practices for email verification?

More important than whether the email address exists is whether it actually belongs to the person who is signing up. Not all typos result in invalid addresses. Sometimes the address you get exists, but belongs to someone else.

If you’re sending marketing, the owner of the mistyped address didn’t actually ask for it, which makes it spam. And if you’re sending order confirmations, password reset codes, account statements, bills, etc., you really don’t want to send them to the wrong person.

The only way to be sure that the address you get belongs to the person who signed up is to send a confirmation email with a unique link and wait for them to click on it. (Even then, someone could click on it anyway for the lulz, but most people want to avoid unwanted mail.)

(Side note: I accidentally created a new Quora account. Apparently you can’t merge them, just delete the duplicate, so I’m reposting this under my main account.)

On Quora

Answer: Is it crazy to commute between Orange County and Los Angeles every day?

It depends on how flexible your hours are, how early you can get up (or how late you’re willing to stay out), how long you can stand “driving” through stop-and-go traffic, and whether the train is an option.

I commuted the slightly shorter distance from Tustin to the LAX area for about 4 months before I moved closer to my job, and it was incredibly draining.

Typically, I spent 10-20 minutes getting to the 91, and then anywhere from one to two hours trudging along at ridiculously slow speeds for the rest of the drive. The drive home was typically about 20 minutes longer than the drive to work.

On good days, if I made it to Norwalk early enough to find parking, I could take the Metro Green Line the rest of the way, bypassing the worst of the traffic and letting me read on the train. There was a stop a short bus ride away from my office. It still took an hour and a half each way, but at least I could relax during most of it.

Once I actually made it to work in only 45 minutes. It was a holiday. And the drive home was just as bad as usual.

I did try taking the train the whole way a couple of times, by taking Metrolink up to Norwalk. But because the Metro and Metrolink systems only connect in downtown LA, I had to take a local bus from Norwalk’s Metrolink station to Norwalk’s Metro station, and every transfer adds more time and more things that can go wrong in the process…especially because I had to put in extra effort to make it back to Norwalk that evening in time for the last Metrolink train, with two buses and a train on the way. It ended up being almost as stressful and taking even longer.

Going to Santa Monica, the Metrolink/Metro route might work out better, because you can probably transfer straight from one train to another at Union Station. Also, this was about three years ago, so the schedules might allow for more flexibility these days.

Another thing to consider: Metrolink is considerably more expensive than Metro, though if you’re using it daily, a pass will be a much better deal.

On Quora
Link On Twitter

Review: Mysterious Galaxy

I love this place. They have a great selection of science fiction/fantasy books (I assume the mystery selection is good as well, but since I don’t read mysteries I can’t really judge it), knowledgeable staff that can find or recommend things for you, plus author readings, movie nights, and other events. They get involved with offsite events like book festivals and science fiction/comic conventions as well. They usually get authors to sign a few extra books to sell later. I’ve bought several signed first editions here.

Mysterious Galaxy has become my first stop for books in the genres they carry, and a must-visit stop when gift shopping for readers.

Until recently they shared their building with a cafe, but the cafe closed up shop last week. The tables are still there, and they’ve kept the wi-fi on.

Yelp Review: The Comic Bug

Open and inviting, with friendly staff and a wide, well-organized selection. New and recent releases take up an entire wall, broken down into kid’s books, media adaptations (find your Dr. Who and Star Trek comics easily, no matter who’s publishing them this year), DC, Marvel, Vertigo/Max, and indies.

They also have a large selection of paperbacks and hardcovers, though that’s a little harder to look through since some are filed by author, some by character, some by title, some by publisher and some by topic. If you can’t find something, just ask. And if they don’t have it, they’re happy to special-order it for you.

They don’t have much in the way of manga that I’ve noticed.

It’s also kid-friendly: if you have a child who’s too young to read the kids’ books without destroying them, there’s a toddler-sized table with one of those bead-track toys, and the back area where they do signings and games has a TV where they often show superhero cartoons or movies.

Did I mention signings? They frequently get artists and writers from the LA area to do signings, and I mean big names. Mark Waid was in a few weeks ago, and the first time I walked in the store there was a flyer for a Mike Mignola appearance.

I’ve been going to this store weekly for about a year and a half. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to review it.

Gee, thanks SOPA. Sort of.

Comment on Web Giants Form US Internet Lobby Group

I remember this being something that came up during the fight over SOPA: Namely, that while the entertainment industry is used to lobbying the government, the tech industry was fractured and didn’t see lobbying as a high priority, so the success Hollywood had at railroading some of those crazy ideas just blindsided them. (Stacked hearings, deliberately ignoring experts, etc.) It became clear that something would have to level the field, and since we know the RIAA, MPAA and friends aren’t going to back off on their lobbying (and we know the government isn’t going to stop listening to lobbyists), the solution is a tech lobby.

On Slashdot

Neighborhood Grinds on Yelp: Great local coffee shop…

Neighborhood Grinds on #Yelp: Great local coffee shop. Good coffee, friendly staff, nice, relaxed atmosphere. Plus … https://www.yelp.com/biz/neighborhood-grinds-redondo-beach?hrid=ZslWhvyBS2CbmkqCHAcarw

On Twitter

Great local coffee shop. Good coffee, friendly staff, nice, relaxed atmosphere. Plus they make a mean panini for lunch.

And if you find yourself in the mood for an ice blended drink and get the Triple Chocolate Delight, be sure to get it with whipped cream. Normally I don’t like whipped cream on my drinks, but with this one, it’s chocolate whipped cream, and it makes a huge difference. Without it, it’s technically a double chocolate delight.

On Yelp

What am I Reading? (With Robot 6)

I read the first issue of Elric: The Balance Lost this week. When I first heard that BOOM! was going to be launching an Elric series, I was somewhat interested, but not certain I’d pick it up. It wasn’t written by Michael Moorcock himself, and besides I hadn’t enjoyed his most recent Elric novel nearly as much as his earlier works. But then I read the preview they released for Free Comic Book Day, and I was hooked.

The story spans at least four worlds in Moorcock’s multiverse, and four incarnations of the Eternal Champion: Elric, last ruler of a dead empire, who wields the black sword Stormbringer and absorbs the souls of those he kills so that he can live; Hawkmoon, champion of a distant future Earth who defeated the conquering empire of Granbretan; Corum, last of a dead race who fought to protect the humans who inherited his world; and Eric Beck, a game developer living in a world not unlike our own. The first issue establishes all four characters and the worlds they come from, so that new readers unfamiliar with Moorcock’s work will understand the basics, and shows each world threatened by the tipping balance. Elric finds himself in a world overrun by chaos, while Eric Beck’s more familiar world is beginning to shift too far toward order. By the end of the issue, Eric finds himself drawn into the adventure. It’s one of the most effective first issues I’ve read in a while, managing to mix exposition and action and end on a hook that makes me feel like the next issue will jump straight into the story.

The Unwritten continues to hold the spot as my favorite ongoing series. The latest issue is essentially a caper, with Tom, Lizzie and Savoy trying to infiltrate the auction of author Wilson Taylor’s estate. It’s got all the twists and turns in terms of allegiances, who has the upper hand, and who *thinks* they have the upper hand, that you’d expect, and in the end it manages to both answer some questions about Tom Taylor’s origins and call into question some of what we thought we knew, all while setting things up for the next phase of the story. I’ve always been a sucker for stories about stories, which I’m sure is why Sandman resonated so well with me when I finally started reading it, but The Unwritten tackles the concept from an entirely different angle, focusing on the way stories — whether history, fiction, propaganda, or the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions — shape the world.

Of course, as a DC reader and a Flash fan, it would be virtually impossible to avoid Flashpoint. I’m reading the main series and six of the tie-in miniseries. Of those, the ones I’m enjoying the most are Frankenstein and the Creatures of the UnknownKid Flash Lost, and Citizen Cold. The first issue of Frankenstein is crazy World-War II action featuring the Frankenstein monster and lawyer-friendly versions of Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and features Frankenstein personally killing Adolf Hitler with a sword. It’s hard to go wrong with that. Citizen Cold feels like a return to the glory days of the Geoff Johns/Scott Kolins run on The Flash, only with everything shifted around to make Captain Cold the protagonist. It’s interesting to see how little has changed in Central/Keystone City when the rest of the world is vastly different. Kid Flash Lost feels more like a continuation of The Flash Vol.3 than Flashpoint does, except better. It’s faster paced, despite the fact that the main character has lost his speed for the duration. It manages to justify some of the odd choices from “The Road to Flashpoint” that just came out of nowhere. Most importantly, Sterling Gates really understands Bart Allen’s personality in a way that I never really saw in Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans or Flash runs (though there were glimpses of him in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds).

As for Flashpoint itself, it continues to remind me a lot of Geoff Johns’ first Flash story, Wonderland. The first two issues didn’t really grab me, but things are picking up with the third as it moves beyond exposition and into rising action. Maybe it’s just me, but in a five-issue miniseries, shouldn’t you be done with setup in the first issue, not half-way through the third?

Other comics I’ve read recently: Farscape is moving toward the conclusion of its year-long story about the invasion of the Uncharted Territories. It still feels a bit too much like New Jedi Order, with the arrival of an unbeatable enemy and the wholesale demolition of large chunks the universe that had been built up by four years of the TV series, but it’s continuing to hold my interest. And Tiny Titans #41, the All-Flash issue, was a welcome counterpart to the grimness of Flashpoint: Legion of Doom and Grodd of War.

Guest post at Robot 6

DC only seems to have room for three main Flashes at a time

DC only seems to have room for three main Flashes at a time: Past, present and future. Sometimes that shakes out as Jay, Barry and Wally, sometimes as Jay, Wally and Bart, and most recently as Jay, Barry and Bart. They’ve got four major Flash characters to work from, and they want Barry in the “present” role…and now that they have a chance to rewrite history, they can get rid of the “extra” character.

That suggests two likely possibilities:
1. They erase Barry Allen’s grandson and reset his nephew to being Kid Flash.
2. They erase Barry Allen’s nephew and keep his grandson as Kid Flash.