December 23, 2010

The Internet is Forever

Category: Life — Cranky @

I wrote a while back about Einstein and autism. If you google it you’ll find thousands of sites claiming Einstein was a famous autistic. The problem is that three biographers, at least one published by the Cambridge press with complete access to everything left of the man, failed to turn up a single piece of evidence that this was true. Further, the man wrote eloquently on topics from science to religion to philosophy, without having any trouble communicating. In person he was a fine speaker (and as a result a noted philanderer). In short, there isn’t a single reason to believe he was autistic… unless you search the internet. By the way, virtually every genius you can think of appears on the list of autistics provided by those sites.

While not a genius, I myself have a number of symptoms of the autism chart. Doesn’t mean anything. But this article isn’t a rehash of that topic. My point is that even if we discovered all of the causes and symptoms of autism and determined that, without a shadow of a doubt, Einstein was NOT autistic, in 20 years you’ll still believe he was if you search the internet.

That’s because there’s no way to force the remove of incorrect information from the internet. A false idea that people want to believe in will propagate and live forever. That’s why it’s far easier to find anti-vaccine articles than articles that mention hundreds of studies around the world, not one of which concluded that there was any link between vaccines and autism. The one article that kicked it all off was denounced by it’s publisher and retracted, and it’s still everywhere. And you can certainly find Jenny McCarthy spouting ignorance on the topic with ease.

Again, in 20 years there will still be vast numbers of people that get that exact same bad information from the internet. It’s the perfect propagation system for conspiracy theories, because one complete lie becomes gospel on ten thousand sites overnight, and it cannot be removed. If proof against part of a theory is posted to one place, nobody spreads it, because nobody wants that. People who aren’t conspiracy theorists probably aren’t dedicated enough to post to tens of thousands of places.

It gets worse. A student posting a lie online online accuses a teacher of molestation can destroy that teacher’s career in a moment. Even if redacted, the accusation lives forever online, and any potential employer searching the name will likely see it. People just don’t get that what you put online lives forever. Even if you take it down it lives in caching sites. I can find stuff I wrote in the 90’s that hasn’t been online in a decade.

What this all boils down to is that in general you cannot trust anything you read online. If it’s too easy to believe, it’s time to look for the source. All the Einstein-claiming autism sites cite each other. And remember Cranky’s golden rule of email: “If it is forwarded to your email, it is absolutely false.” That might seem a bit much, but I guarantee you a 95% accuracy rating if you disbelieve it all.


December 13, 2010

Weightlessness and Methane

Category: Uncategorized — Cranky @

So it occurred to me today that I have no idea how they handle farting on the international space station. What’s the etiquette? It must be explicitly defined, especially since one of the physiological effects of prolonged weightlessness is excessive flatulence.

What do you suppose they do? My first guess is that they discretely go to an unoccupied module to let one off. I mean, talk about your confined spaces. Maybe, though, some forward-thinking (or backward-thinking, depending on your mindset) engineer thought of this scenario, and there are little fart capturing suction ports that one could sidle up to and use. That doesn’t fix the audio issue, but it could alleviate the odour problem.

Whatever the solution, I’m sure that their diet doesn’t include a lot of beans, cabbage, or eggplant. Maybe they are expected to just save them up and use the space station sealed toilet system. If that’s the case I think the astronauts spend a lot of time with mild stomach issues.

Now that I think about it, the astronauts on the space station have it easy. What about those on the shuttle? Or even the capsules from the 1960’s? Good heavens, I wonder how they handled the etiquette in those confined spaces? Probably just fire and forget, really. Ignore it. Actually, they wore space suits, so if the helmet is on it’s probably your own personal dutch oven. “Give me a second. I need to fart, so I’m putting my helmet on.” Talk about throwing yourself on a grenade to save your friends.

One thing’s for sure, farts in space are sure to be problematic.