Echo Chambers

Do you live in an echo chamber?

It's easy to. And it only seems to get easier.

Before we go on, you might like to read this article at The Atlantic which covers a large, recent echo chamber.
In case you don't read it, I'll summarise: Those on the further reaches on the political right in America are shocked that Barack Obama won a second term - because the right wing media they watch spent six months before the election saying that Obama would lose. It was regarded as disloyal, unpalatable and (at an editorial level) unprofitable to say anything else.

That's an Echo Chamber.

I don't follow much national or international news these days, but when I do I use three websites - The Independent, The Telegraph and BBC News. That covers most sensible biases.

And I often find myself in disagreement with The Telegraph, but I still read it. Exposure to a different point of view is healthy.

Technology makes it easy to live exclusively with your biases today. And that's purely a human failing - one which can be cured with a mere few clicks or taps.

But for convenience, the trend is towards aggregation that mirrors our preferences - a prison we build for ourselves out of satins and silks, that strokes our ego as it draws the curtains on the world outside.

Reading an uncomfortable viewpoint every day should be the mark of the stable, reasonable adult in our society.

Review your news sources. Add discomfort. Leave the Echo Chamber.

Flaming Heart

The Flaming Heart is a fine whisky by the excellent folks at Compass Box.

At the launch there was some pyromania:
Flaming Heart

There are a few more photos in this set, but that's the one I like the most.

(It's almost as good as the whisky!)

Remember folks, alcohol and fire don't mix. Only do this kind of thing in the presence of a professional mixologist!

Couch 2 5K

I don't think I ever expected to be writing a review of an exercise programme, much less something like Couch 2 5K.

Back in March I had a health check, and discovered I was clinically obese. (To be honest, the huge belly I had was also a hint, but one I was studiously ignoring.)

After some time looking at my options, I was surprised to find that running was my best bet, and that C25K (as it's known) was probably the best way to start.

 

I hate running, but C25K had a reputation for delivering results, it had low costs, and it didn't require a lot of time or equipment. So I could get started straight away...

Very soon I found myself in the quite unusual state of running. For all of a minute - then walking again. Because C25K really does start off gently, and the first week is basically:

  1. A five minute warm up walk
  2. Sixty seconds of running, then ninety seconds of walking, repeated for twenty minutes
  3. A five minute cool down walk

It's very achievable.

 

The whole programme does, of course, require you to run more than just a minute by the end. Each week has three runs, and with the warm up/cool down walks they're never longer than three quarters of an hour.

I'm not going to bore you with details of all nine weeks, but will mention that weeks five and six are the ones where you're really pushed further than before - if you're planning on starting C25K, you might want to do it when your calendar will be empty for those two weeks!

 

When it comes to equipment, you really just need running shoes. Now, you have to bear in mind that I am a man of minimal wardrobe, who owned two pairs of footwear - walking boots for leisure time, and shiny shoes for business wear.

All I bought to start with was running shoes, a weatherproof holder for my phone, and an app to help me through C25K. (I'll review the app later, today I'm concentrating on the programme itself.)

 

Here are some things you'll inevitably think if you try Couch 2 5K:

  • "I'm knackered. Running is hard."
  • "Oh. When they say run, they mean jog!"
  • "It's much easier now I've got a feel for the pacing"
  • "I've not run for this long since I was at school..."
  • "That wasn't so bad - it's all psychological really"
  • "Is that a stitch?"
  • "OW! That is a stitch!"
  • "I haven't had a stitch since I was at school..."
  • "Done it. Shouldn't there be some kind of fanfare and ceremony?"
  • "OK, so now I just run 5K three times every week. Why does that not sound difficult anymore?"

I'm genuinely impressed with Couch 2 5K. It's a great programme which is nicely designed.

I still don't like running. But I like its results. And I like how Couch 2 5K made it easy. So it gets a full 5/5 from me.

Improvements to comments and antispam

This is just a quick note to mention that I've improved comments in two ways.

Firstly, I've added comment notification. Now, if you leave your email address, you can be notified of other comments on a post - or just of replies to your comment. Or not be notified at all.
Hopefully that will help people seeking help for vCardSplit, and things like that.

Secondly, the previous antispam system I was using wasn't working as well as I'd hoped. So I've swapped it out for a fancier one which uses Defensio from Websense to figure out what is and isn't spam. I doubt it will be perfect either, but it's worth a shot.

There's a spam counter showing live stats right now. 4 have been stopped just in the time I've written this little note, and I'm sure that figure will only ever go up...

A depressing discrimination

This week I read a very depressing thing - this editorial on a ruling against Netflix.

It's depressing because it rails against the idea that Netflix should have to make their products accessible to the deaf without charging them extra.

But you should read the comments that this attracted

Or rather, you shouldn't. They're very depressing. Some even go as far as to say things like "This is what happens when one values equality over the costs imposed by disabled people" and "I am not convinced that the ADA had a good purpose. People are not all equal, and a strong country moves ahead by helping those who have the greatest return on investment."

Yeah, sorry you had to read that.

But the most interesting thing to me is that copyright law is the underlying reason for the fight. In the same way that Amazon removed text to speech from the Kindle to avoid a copyright fight.

 

In both cases, the less able suffer because the incumbent industries have decided to split off a part of their product to be sold under a separate license - subtitles/closed captioning for Netflix, or audiobook rights for Amazon. (And I should stress that this isn't the fault of Netflix or Amazon. These differences are put in place by the content producers, not the retailers.)

They're trying to segment the market to make more money, but are harming the less abled in the process.

As a hearing user, I don't want or care about subtitles and closed captions - so wouldn't pay more. So as far as I can see, this split simply exists to punish those who have hearing problems.

And because I have vision, the text-to-speech feature of an eReader has little interest to me. If I did want to hear a book being read, I'd prefer the soft and dulcet tones of Mr. Fry to the half-arsed mechanical attempts that computers usually manage. And look at the price difference at Amazon - the first Harry Potter book is £9.09 in hardback, $4.59 in paperback, £4.99 on Kindle, and £15.34 as an audiobook.
Now, the talented voice actors who perform in the audiobook are almost certainly worth their money. I don't question why the price is higher. I do question why anyone would think that a computer generated voice would be competition - it's not really the same product.
So protecting audiobook rights by banning text to speech seems to be doing nothing but punishing those with vision problems.

 

So there's one obvious question here.

Why are we allowing this discrimination?

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