the modern american news cycle

on the 21st of october, the Marine Corps Times ran this article :

Marine Corps seeks feedback on universal cover for men and women

The article discusses some new uniform changes which may be recommended by the Marine Corps Uniform Board. Among those are a possible switch to a style of hat (“cover”) called the “Dan Daly”, made famous by a World War 1 veteran. President Obama is never mentioned.

on the 23rd, the New York Post ran this article :

Obama wants Marines to wear ‘girly’ hats

This article makes the claim that President Obama is behind the directive to wear these new hats. The sources it cites are some anonymous commenters on the original Marine Times article as well as anonymous Marine officers and an ‘internal memo’ given to the Post, which is not published. The wikipedia article for the New York Post says “The modern version of the paper is written in tabloid format, and is known for its sensationalist headlines and yellow journalism.”

on the 24th, Fox News ran this article:

Obama wants Marines to wear ‘girly’ hats

This article is mostly just a summarization of the New York Post article and cites it as the primary source. It also includes a tangential anecdote about military berets. It does not provide any new citations for the claim that Obama is behind this.

Also on the 24th, the Washington Times ran this article:

U.S. Marines turn up noses at Obama’s new ‘girly’ hats; some fear it looks too French

Which, again, is mostly reporting on the New York Post article but also cites another anonymous commenter on the original Marine Times article for its claim that “some” fear it looks French.

Finally in the evening on October 24th, Business Insider ran this article:

The Story About Obama Wanting Marines To Wear ‘Girly’ Hats Is Total B.S.

The author, who is a former Marine, claims that the original New York Post story is false. He cites a Marine Corps spokesperson he spoke with who claims the male cover is not slated to change and also that Obama was not and would not be involved.

It was also noted on the Colbert Report last night.

So, the timeline of events is as follows:

1. Original source reports on routine, semi-interesting internal affair

2. Sensationalist tabloid fabricates and distorts original source, provides few verifiable sources.

3. “Mainstream” news media parrot tabloid’s report without verifying original story, cite tabloid as source to abdicate journalistic responsibility to verify any information. They also use numerous anonymous internet commenters as primary sources.

4. Blogger reaches out to actual source, discredits the original tabloid

5. Satirical media show highlights tabloid as farcical while the reprinted stories are spread across numerous forums and social media sites, where few will take the time to verify any truth to it.

And there you have it : The New Age of American Journalism.

Takeaways :

1. If your response is, “why bother taking the time to research, these companies lie all the time and get away with it” – It’s not enough to say this company has a bias or distorts information or provides misinformation; you have to have a clear record of evidence to stand behind. Document when media companies ignore standards of journalistic integrity and hold them accountable.

2. If your response is, “well both sides do it so everyone is equally guilty”, prove it. Otherwise it’s pretty easy for one group to get away with misinformation under the guise of false equivalence.

3. If your response is, “well maybe Obama didn’t directly order it, but (he probably would do something like that | he probably did and covered it up | etc)”, you are part of the problem. If you are okay with a ‘respectable’ news organization deliberately lying to you so long as their lies match your existing political ideology, you are tacitly approving of this behavior – not just in that media organization but in all of them.

I only looked into this because the Post story seemed so bizarre : why was Obama involved with Marine hats? When did he actually give any executive order to wear the new hats? Doesn’t he have better things to be doing, like the giant mess that is Those would all be huge problems – if true – but where are all the sources? Furthermore, is it really appropriate to call a hat made famous by a war veteran “girly”, or for a news organization to blatantly insult our military ally France like some sort of Blue Collar Comedian? And finally, have we gotten to the point where news organizations can shout anything they like into the echo chamber of the internet, confident that the only people checking their integrity are pay-per-click bloggers and late-night comedians?

don schlensker

I’ve been taking woodworking classes at the indianapolis art center in broadripple for about a year now. In the spring I had wanted to take the beginner woodworking class, but as that was full I ended up learning how to make a frame-drum instead. It was the first time that teacher had taught at the center, and I was one of two students in the class, so it was a learning experience for all of us. We were in one of the auxiliary art studios typically used for drawing, so when we needed to rip plywood boards to width in one of the earlier sessions, we met early to visit the wood studio and use the table saw. This was my first interaction with Don Schlensker.

Don was an old, fat, perpetually annoyed man with huge Civil War-era muttonchops and a belly that hung out of his button-down shirt. He ran the open studio hours in the wood shop several days a week and did a lot of maintenance in the room though not teaching any classes and not being paid for any of his work (as he oft pointed out). It greatly annoyed him that our teacher wanted us to use the equipment without proper training, that she hadn’t cleared this ahead of time with the staff, that he would have to be responsible for our safety, that he didn’t know the teacher well enough to know her skill level, and so on. It was nerve-wracking to be in his presence and it was nerve-wracking to use the table saw (and chop saw) not just for the first time but also under his scornful, disapproving supervision.

This fall I took the beginner’s woodworking class. Don was typically in the classroom when it started and did not appear to have cheered up from the spring. It annoyed him how hectic the class always was, how many projects the students could choose from, how some students did not come into open hours to work, how students used machines without really understanding them (and thus creating a mess for him to clean up or a machine to fix).

Most recently I took a class in Arts & Craft furniture. Again Don was in the classroom for a bit at the beginning and was still generally annoyed with internal politics at the art center, people not treating the wood shop tools with respect, people relying on him to teach them when he was just supposed to monitor the studio and ensure safety. Near the end of my 7 week course I started using more of the open studio hours, and having a flexible office I could come in Wednesday and Thursday afternoons when Don was present. The interesting thing about Don was that he disliked being asked how to do something but would gladly offer advice if he saw you doing something wrong, which was often in my case. I’d struggle at a task for awhile, Don would hobble over and very explicitly tell me what I was doing wrong, but also instruct me in the proper way (usually with a caveat of “I don’t know what your plan is” or “this is one way you could do it”). He grumbled when I asked him to change the table saw to a dado blade (but then walked me through the whole process of cutting the notches I needed) and remarked that most people wouldn’t notice the bumps where the piece should be smooth (but that he could still feel the imperfections). He helped me cut curves on the band saw, set a shoulder plane to the exact length in order to clean up a tenon, and lent a second pair of hands when gluing together my project.

Near the end of his open studio hours last Wednesday, another student in the shop got into a discussion with Don about the studio hours, upcoming classes and so on. I stayed around to listen in and after the other student left, Don asked if I planned on coming back in the spring. My plan was to take beginning and advanced joinery, which is mainly a hand-tools class focusing on fundamentals, before taking the intermediate woodworking course (the continuation of what I took in the fall). He vocally approved of this plan – a first in our interactions. I think he appreciated that I wanted to learn the basics before moving on to the intermediate class – in his ideal world, every student spends hundreds of hours practicing basic chiseling, cutting, and joining before ever moving on to building something. We began talking about other classes being offered, what he thought of the courses and the teachers. He showed me a small toolbox he was building and we talked about the value in building something small and simple but that is uniquely yours, and that you can learn new lessons and apply them to version two and three and four. We talked about the value in knowing when to spend money on tools and when ‘good enough’ will do. He said that if I took the joinery class and was interested, we could go over the list of recommended tools at some point and he could give me advice on what brands or models to look for so I could put together a decent, quality, lasting set. He said he was happy about my plan. I think it was the first time I saw him smile.

I knew I wouldn’t make it to the open studio on Sunday and had to leave my project clamped in the woodshop while it was gluing (my last class was last week), so he said I could stop by and pick it up in the afternoon sometime this week as he’d be in there working or fixing things or reorganizing or building new shelves and holders and whatever else he did in there. I had planned on going in today. Instead, this afternoon I got an email from the wood studio that Don had suddenly passed away. I stopped by the art center in the afternoon and had the front desk attendent unlock the wood studio so I could pick up my project. The woodshop, usually alive and loud and busy, was dark and quiet.


I started biking to work this week (I did not ride today) and this story has me thinking. The fastest and easiest way for me to get to work is along the Monon, and for the record I do plan on continuing this (though I guess I now have to worry about more than being run over by impatient Carmel drivers). I see this as an isolated incident, which in a city of this size you will have from time to time, and I still see the Monon as a fairly safe route (certainly safer than the East side of Indianapolis). Also, in the event I am robbed at gunpoint*, I will gladly give up what I have on me – it’s really not worth getting shot over.

But here are some questions I have:

1) How does a city address a 16-year-old a) getting a gun b) robbing and shooting a 58-year-old man? There is a definite societal breakdown that leads to this – and yet our legislators seem to care more about denying healthcare to poor women and banning gay marriage. How does this fit into the gun control debate?

2) How does a city ensure that people are safe on what is technically a public park – in broad daylight? How do you police a 16 mile x 8ft stretch of land? Last year when a man was robbed a half mile south of my apartment (at 2pm on a Sunday), they had a cop car stationed on the trail for a few days, as though the robbers would try again. After that, I have seen no significant improvements to security on the trail.

3) Will the Black community of Indianapolis take responsibility for this? Should they? Is this an Indianapolis problem or a Black problem? Why does the WTHR story (linked) give the races of the victim/suspects but the article not?

4) I criticize the Fox Business story for using terms like ‘hood’ and ‘hizzouse’ to refer to Obama’s guests, as they are clearly racial terms to paint a derogatory picture of the President as a black stereotype. But if I’m out riding on the trail and see several black men / youth together, I will speed up – just as I (and I’m guessing I’m not the only one) will go into ‘high alert mode’ if I’m walking alone at night and see a black man. Am I a hypocrite for criticizing public racism while harboring inner racial prejudices?

5) Where the hell was everyone? That stretch of the Monon is wide open, fully visible from 86th/91st street, and next to a huge apartment complex.

food for thought.


persuasive speech re: doomsday robot apocalypse

cleaning out my room for move, found some old documents. transcribing them to electronic format for posterity.

as far as I can remember, this would’ve been given in spring of 2005 in a speech class. title unknown. had some funny visual aides to go along… not sure if I have the original files anywhere.

“The true enemy of America is already here. They’re vacuuming your houses, mowing your lawns, washing your windows, cleaning your pools, or even milking your cows. And no — it’s not illegal immigrants.

You may believe that the biggest threat to this country lies overseas in the Middle East, but in actuality, there is a bigger terrorist threat among us: Robots.

If we as a society do not take immediate action against the rising threat of robots, they will undoubtedly overtake us in a wave of metallic fury.

You may think this sounds like a conspiracy theory out of a science fiction B-movie, but what I’m going to tell you about the mounting menace of robots may surprise you.

If you are at home letting your vacuum-bot clean your room for you, there isn’t much of a chance that it is going to turn on you. The robots of today are programmed by humans to obey what instructions they have been given. But that same technology could eventually be used against you.

According to the Foster-Miller website, the makers of the Talon robot, 18 of their gun-toting unmanned vehicles are heading to Iraq. The robot, which was named one of the most amazing inventions of 2004 by Time magazine, is controlled by humans via radio controller. But what happens if that controller makes it into the hands of an insurgent?

In an article in PC Magazine, iRobot’s Roomba, an automated vacuum-robot, was listed as being able to create complex algorithms to determine how to properly traverse the room. The Motorola chip inside can also receive customizations or special objectives from the user.

On a page, robotics experts at the University of the West of England are developing a self-sustaining robot named EcoBot II. In an electricity-generating reactor cell, the robot will digest flies and use the sugar from their exoskeletons to power its functions. Although the robot is in testing phase, it would be a step forward to a fully autonomous machine.

What do all of these seemingly unrelated tales of robotics in the world of today tell us? That there could be in the future able to generate its own energy via organic matter (possibly even humans), easily weld an M240 7.62-mm machine gun, and use advanced mathematics to determine the path of least resistance. In other words, this may be the robot of today. He can kick a soccer ball, he can bring you a drink, and he can even do a little dance. But this is the robot of tomorrow: kicking you down a flight of stairs, and doing a little dance on your grave.

Jim Morris, former dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, said that as of now, robots needed to be programmed for every eventuality. However, he says that in the future, robots will be able ‘to change their perceptions of the world and adapt accordingly.’

In 1995, engineers from Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories created a robotic device able to mimic the human hand. With 360-degrees of rotation, four fingers and an opposable thumb, and strength comparable to a human, you might not even be able to tell it from a real hand were it masked under synthetic skin.

Sony’s SDR-4X, a humanoid-type robot, is capable of walking over irregular surfaces and even regaining its balance. With seven microphones and a speaker capable of synthesizing voices, this robot can both walk like you and talk like you. The robots of today are not only becoming more advanced, they’re becoming more like humans. Perhaps you should wonder if it’s really science fiction to believe that someday you may not know if it’s really a human residing under that skin.

The question of how to combat a robot invasion is as old as robots themselves. As a society, our number one priority should be to ensure that the technologies we are creating today, as well as the access codes to Zion, do not fall into the wrong hands. But we must also realize that this is inevitable, and therefore should prepare ourselves for the eventual battle between machine and man. For his experience in this type of post-apocalyptic warfare, we should give higher defense funding to the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

No one knows what possibilities are on the horizon as far as robotics. But they are already an integral part of our everyday life. But if we don’t adopt my plan of defense, they can and will turn against us someday.

Today, I have given you six examples of high-tech robots. Combine them together, and you might imagine that the future holds a slew of floor-vacuuming-fly-eating robots that can both hold a drink and a conversation, and perhaps you’re right. But on the other end of the spectrum lies an equally frightening future: a robot capable of adapting to the environment around it or being reprogrammed to serve an evil cause. The technology for mayhem exists today.

Technology plays a vital role in today’s world. Thus, companies should be encouraged to continue researching ways to improve robotics. However, I challenge you all to realize the threat posed by these robots and to support measures for drastic backup plans in case of catastrophic automated system failure.

You may think your robotic dog is cute, but when it’s about to kill you and everyone you love, you’ll wish you had only listened to me.”

grade received: 98/100

everything is data

american consumers pay multiple subscriptions for multiple services, at varying rates typically not grounded in reality, for what is essentially the same product. digital television, phone service, mobile phone, mobile texting, mobile internet, home internet, e-books, music, games, movies… all of these are transmitted via the same basic infrastructure, yet we still pay separately for them. the industries are so large, and have control of so much of the groundwork and fiber optics and wireless spectrum, that it would be near impossible for a newcomer to fix any of this, so for the most part we are stuck with it (unless Google decides to). the end result is this – at some point, someone will offer one package of data, for everything you do, and everyone else will adapt or go out of business.

dear companies

I (and I humbly speak for my peers on this) will almost never purchase or own one of the following:

  • a landline phone
  • a cable subscription
  • a dedicated player of optical media (dvd, blu-ray, cd)
  • an alarm clock
  • any other sort of clock
  • feature (dumb) phones

and we will buy significantly fewer point-and-click cameras, portable audio devices, and dedicated gps devices as our phones take over these capabilities.

Keep this in mind for future business planning.

Also RedBox, Blockbuster, and any other venue that wants to hold onto physical distribution of digital media will fail.



i like to call it lost wages

Back from Vegas. The chill blast of stepping off a plane into freezing Indiana is getting too familiar.

I have a lot of thoughts about Microsoft’s new product line, which I may or may not go into at a future time.

Good networking, though. Good food, good sessions, saw cool movies/keynotes, played a lot of Gears of War 2 / Rock Band 2. Getting up on stage and singing strange songs is nervewracking. Until you realize that when you did it, there wasn’t even an audience, and now the band going up after you is a bunch of Frenchmen who don’t know any English and are still trying to rock out The Offspring, or the little timid Asian girl who comes up later and belts out Livin’ on a Prayer in front of a full crowd.

Everyone there was using a Macbook Pro running Windows 7. This is probably indicative of a lot of things. Although it’s not a surprise to see great hardware running great software.

I still don’t really like Vegas. Everything is tacky and dirty and old, like no one has bothered to update anything since the 70’s. It’s an exercise in consumerism, where the end goal of every facet you see from dawn to dusk is for you to spend money and make poor decisions. It seems like a playground for the rich, to flaunt nice cars and clothes and wealth and status. But most of all, I don’t like it because you don’t really see people being genuinely happy there.

But I guess I shouldn’t complain about a free stay in the Venetian.

march update

1. compliments of the CGT department and Microsoft, I’ll be flying to Vegas next week for the MIX conference about web development and design or something to that effect. this is yet another entry in the ‘someone else pays for neil to fly somewhere and do something’ list, which I assure you still has room to grow.

2. compliments of Heartland Neurology, I’m on round 2 of taking a bunch of random drugs till we find something else that works. Also getting an MRI at some point. Doctor suggested this could all be from a concussion or two back in the football days. seems reasonable.

indiana weather is depressing

it’s rarely pleasant to have to forego one event in order to attend another, and it’s even less so when both events are funerals for people you really liked; people who had tremendous vigor for life and were taken far before their time. people the world could’ve used more of. I wonder anymore if, as the saying goes, the good really do die young, or if the rest of us just grow bitter and old. let us hope the spirit they brought with them will stay above ground and live on with those who knew them. RIP John & Tex.


I try to look at the positive side of any situation, which is occasionally difficult when so many negatives seem to be apparent. being all but broke seems to fit into that category.

Not that I am criticizing any companies/individuals (okay I am), but if you come to a point where you aren’t in the financial position you’d like to be, the right course of action is not to sit back and hope someone comes along and bails you out. even if it takes futile efforts (as it turns out, most sit-down restaurants in the greater Lafayette area are, while cheerfully accepting applications, not interested in hiring) or drastic measures (anyone wanting to buy a laptop?) or, as I’m hoping to be the case, a kick-in-the-ass towards proving some caliber of knowledge in the skills I’m theoretically learning.  Ideas about freelance graphics works, running my own design firm/website, programming a video game, etc, have always been mulling about in the back of my mind. they stayed there, though, because why bother if you don’t have the need?

okay, so let’s take this personal experience and expand it to take some actual message out of it, possibly applying it to the American youth I’ve apparently been representing over the last few years. let’s say American children just don’t have the financial need in order to truly innovate, and that’s why in the long run the foreigners will develop skills faster and be better motivated. would I have ever seriously started looking into doing freelance graphics work online had I not been in a not-so-great financial position? perhaps after college, or somewhere else down the road. now I see that the majority of the competitors in all of these freelance fields – graphics, coding, writing (even English), etc – all foreign workers, willing to work quickly and cheaply.


so is it a good thing that the rest of America is also going broke? depends on the timeline. people aren’t going to be happy about it anytime soon, and I certainly wish I could buy a nicer coat. the global economy will enter into a lasting recession, and though the stimulus will provide jobs, they won’t be at the same level as those they are replacing. major companies across every industry are laying off mass numbers of businessmen and women, technicians and IT professionals, 6-figure white collar and blue collar and any other collar. Now we’ll ask them to go put on some orange vest and rebuild infrastructure. It’s like the end of Office Space, only not so much out of choice.

in the long run, I see this as positive. but I’m not sure how many people allow themselves to look in the long run anymore. the short-run problems, such as the large amount of homework I have due in less than 12 hours, always seem to get in our way.

not everything is falling

some businesses are failing. in fact, a lot of businesses are failing completely. a lot of people are going unemployed or underemployed. there are many industries which are built on the notion that people will always have disposable income that they would rather spend on consumer purchases than save for later times.

some businesses are thriving. nintendo had a great year, as did amazon. walmart, mcdonalds, etc will all do fine throughout this, as low cost sellers. differentiation companies, like starbucks, will have to rethink their entire perspective or face a grim year or two. and this will last at least through 2010.

so in the meantime, we have to look at this as an opportunity. in 2 million minutes, one of the commentators notes that Americans lack the basic economic urgency that Indians have, and thus are not as committed to innovation. well, I wouldn’t count on our security blankets to last too much longer. the financial bailout has done nothing. the auto bailout will do nothing. in the end, we will probably have to nationalize large swaths of public companies just to stay afloat. and to those laissez-faire free-market proponents, I’m sorry, you had your chance, people got greedy, and now we’re SOL.

what I ask myself, as a hopeful entrepreneur, is how to develop and deliver value to someone in a time when money is sparse, consumer confidence is low, and no one wants to buy anything. mainly I see that I don’t want to enter the job market anytime soon. even still, my prospects as far as employment opportunities/future education are looking great, so I’m not terribly worried. I’m worried for the rest of my peers. this may not be something that we bounce back from and grow stronger because of; this might be something that irrevocably changes the dynamics of the global economy. so what side of the globe will you be on when all is said and done?