Thursday, 21 January 2010

It's a real weepy

I went to see Avatar with the family at the weekend.  I couldn't help a "Wossy" style review on Twitter trying to apply for the role of Film 2010 host.  I still haven't read any reviews or any hype, I confess I actually thought it was something to do with a TV series that the kids watch and I have joined them occasionally.  In fact it tuned out to be a fabulous movie and not related to the TV show at all.  I feel that my response to the movie will be forever affected by one particular factor, that moved me so profoundly that I need to, "share with the group".

Not long after my daughter was born she developed a lazy-eye and a squint.  She was very young when she was diagnosed primarily due to the vigilance and professionalism of the GP Surgery.  This is her when she was in the middle of patching.  A practice that in some cases can correct the problem.  In Ellie's case it didn't and ultimately she needed surgery.  In the lead up to the surgery, a traumatic experience for any parent, we were advised that Ellie would never have binocular vision.  Her plans to be an airline pilot were thrown in to chaos but more importantly as a parent we were quite shocked that she would have a lasting permanent effect due to our intervention.

We had that unenviable situation of choosing the lesser of two evils.  Over the years we have not made an issue of this deficiency in her vision, but in the main we have avoided buying "Magic Eye" books or going to 3D movies.  Avatar was in 3D.  We agonised and debated over the best approach - should we avoid making her feel different, will she get upset with everyone else going ooohh arrrrhhh?  We weren't sure and in the end decided that we would explain the potential deficiency in her vision and then hope she could cope with the movie and want to give it a go.  She did.

So the movie starts, I note that its not the same as the TV show and get thumped by one of the kids and soon we settle back in to an auditory and visual extravaganza.  All the time my wife and I have one eye on Ellie to see her response.  The story starts to evolve and, as I said on Twitter, its clearly a modern day parable extolling Eco awareness.  In fact it is truly stunning visually and you soon find yourself absorbed in to the characters.  We reached one part where we began to experience the elemental presence of nature as some supreme force for good.  It was moving and slightly emotional, as spores from the tree of life were floating all around, they were literally (apparently would be more accurate) all around us and then in the soft light, with the pleasant tones of the melodic sound track caressing us, Ellie reached up and tried to grab one of the spores.

Gulp, I'm crying again writing this.  Whats wrong with me I'm 41 and I seem to be loosing control of my emotions.  Yes my daughter has 3D vision.  Either binocular or more likely she has developed sophisticated coping mechanisms that allow her to perceive 3D.  Either way she is able to make the most of the new wave of 3D entertainment that will come our way this year.  I shall probably have to return to Sky HD in the near future.  BT have got me for 12 more months!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Information Error

There is a distinction between data and information.  Similarly there is a distintion between information and considered judgement.

With data such as: total cost of the prison service and the number of prisoners currently incarcerated:-

We get information like: It costs £40,000 per prisoner per year to keep them in prison.

We then get opinions like: The death sentence saves money and Newspapers call for the the return of hanging.

When someone has collected the majority of the pertinent data, if not all of the relevant data; they have agregated it and sumarised a balanced view of the available information; and then they have made evidence based judgements and drawn challengeble conclusions, then they can call themselves a journalist and they are worthy of having their report or article published.

You may not have liked someone's conclusion after they had given a subject this 'considered judgement' but at the very least you could evaluate their reasoning and formulate a plausible argument.

The development of the pace and currency of 24hr "news" channels initially brought a concern about the emergence of erroneous stories.  For me this has diluted a little now and my frustration is more centred around making "news" stories to fill the airtime - BREAKING NEWS: it's snowing in London
- rather than making news up.

In general, these stations have a prodution team and an editorial team ensuring there is a considered approach. They don't get this right all the time and I do wonder at the value of all the pseudo-news pumping out whilst they await a real news event. However this concern is nothing compared to the very recent phenomenen of rapid transmission of data, information and ill considered opinion on a worldwide platform via social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

I note here that I am fully aware that I am an accomplice in this global pumping out of "news" but hopefully you can see I am considering my role in this phenomenon.  I became aware of the potential for poor judgement on misinformation by us (the general public) when I recieved a very well meaning email request to forward a photo of a kidnapped boy. It turns out, with a little research, that it was an urban myth and actually a spam email chain.  Email though isn't as immediate or interconnected as social media sites.

Recently (as you know if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin) I've just started reading the Gruaniad on an app on my iPhone and there was an article about a Guatemalan lawyer having a post death video uploaded on to YouTube that surprisingly predicted his death.  This article was in the technology section during the week. Yes, tech is one of my favourites, as is politics.

Apparently, he was murdered and at his funeral a video was played that had him predicting his death at the hands of a corrupt regime. Worldwide public opinion swung in to action and the Guatemalan President was nearly twittered off his perch and YouTube'd into iNfamy.

The dust settles, time passes, journalism investigates (and let's face it CIA covers-up and Politico-doctors spin) and we start to see a considered opinion that is opposite to our twit-gut response.

I don't wish to comment on the Guatemalan lawyer specifically as I have only read the linked article. I am concerned though that it is indicative of a trend in global media, of humanity's desire to achieve prescience.  To be the first to know, to tell everyone that they new before, despite the need to consider facts and context prior to forming a judgement.  I'm not sure this trend can or should be halted, I just hope as a society we are able to handle this new toy.

I would liken it to giving someone a box of matches. With the right guidance, it could be a force for good. Without advice, socially accepted norms and a desire to learn, and even without any nefarious motive- it could cause a destructive inferno.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Publication Bias

Are journalists aware that their profession's propensity for choosing a fact to support their story is part of the theory of statistics? To be fair, it's a general foible of mankind, it's just that journo's do it with such volume. So clear is it that these "so called" peer reviewed quality journals are selecting positve results to publish, you have to adjust for it in any analysis of published data.

Outside of the scientific press this regurgitating of apparent facts to support whatever axe is currently being ground is sufficiently prevalent now that it is commonly considered as absurd. "Boffins say xxxx causes cancer shocker!" or "innoculation with xxx gives your kid nasty disease yyy instead".

It's no surprise then that we now hear that "if only the government had listened to the experts before Christmas and bought more Grit, we wouldn't be in this mess".

From the Daily Mail

Edmund King, president of the AA, said he had written to ministers on November 16 to warn about inadequate salt supplies, only to be accused of ' scaremongering'. 

'I'm afraid what we predicted has come true and it is pretty scary on the roads out there and on the 
pavements where people are getting injured.

Hey, I know, why didn't we create a  European grit mountain in Surrey, then we'd have enough to make sure all the whinging daily mail readers were able to go to their Tuesday night whist drive. Oh, yeah that's it, we've got a European debt mountain to dwarf Everest!

What about all the other things people were saying before Christmas? If it hadn't have snowed and we'd spent £15 g'dzillion on grit mountains we'd have stories like "£15 g'dzillion wasted on grit, and pensioner starves" or "£15 g'dzillion wasted on grit, and immigrants still pouring in from Eastern Europe" or "£15 g'dzillion wasted on grit, and hard working tax payers don't get life-saving expensive drug".

I suggest that when it snows journalist should be forced to stop work and go and play in the snow like normal people - also it should be allowed to throw special snow balls with stones in the middle if the journalist is identifiably from the Daily Mail.

 Rant over.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Christmas Games

In a previous blog I discussed my belief that playing games was both for the joy of playing and to try to win. I have recently commented on Stephen Conway's  facebook page (of the spiel) where he eloquently expresses his disquiet at a professional team that chose to loose, in front of a crowd of over 67 thousand fans, so as to rest their team for a bigger game - we get this in the UK too with premiership teams discussing etiquette for the squad that they should field for a league cup game.  We also saw a year when Renault bosses allegedly instructed Nelson Piquet to crash to allow Alonso to win the Singapore Grand Prix.  Its all cheating really

Surely games are "trial runs" of what we expect life to throw at us, a practice ground, if you like, and we are only cheating ourselves to bend the rules - excepting you need to make the game a gentler environment for newgamingfolk and kids.

I understand the motivation but when a (to remain nameless) family member declared about 1 hour into a game of formula de "put me where you like, I don't mind", to me, I felt a bit cheated.  I appreciate that there are non-competitative types but if you elect to be in the game, my view is you should at the very least, try to win.  The sibling rivalry that my brother and I adequately displayed left me feeling much more satisfied - despite the fact that I took too big a risk on the last corner and span off - it was a tense and enthralling challenge [and we managed to not fall out!].  let me assure you, the rivalry was fun, engaging and relatively good natured.  Actually, we all enjoyed the game even my Mum, oops I mean the nameless, non-competitative family member :-o declared it was her favourite game.

William witnessed this, actually he came in a close second, so maybe he can fly the family colours next year and knock Uncle Rob into second place.