Critical Thinking 101: Three super easy steps to spot poppycock on the internet.

Today it happened again.

A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

(quote not by Mark Twain, origin quite interesting)

Someone on facebook forwarded an article that was full of badly written and utterly unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about topic X. (topic X could be anything: politics, health, whatever)

To me, it was instantly clear that the article was 100%, undiluted, hogwash.

Now you probably think that I must have decades of experience separating the internet wheat from the chaff.

While that is true, you too can fortunately very quickly become a wheat-chaff-separation ninja by applying the following three super-easy steps.

1. Ensure that the site with the article is a legitimate source

This is where most people get tripped up. Someone shares something on social media, you see it, and your blood boils, so you reshare without checking.

Next time, break the cycle by quickly checking the address of the news link. This is your first line of defense.

Here are some examples to get you started:

Poppycock: naturalnews.com, worldunity.me, someconspiracy.wordpress.com, … (send me more)

Legitimate: newscientist.com, nytimes.com, theguardian.com, propublica.org

It doesn’t take much practice to spot the pattern.

If the address looks like it could be a BS source, there’s a high probability it is. Remember, we live in the age of fake news, when any idiot can and will put up a website and fill it with misleading information.

Important: Images with text on them shared on Facebook are instantly disqualified. Come on people, we can’t be that gullible!

If you’re still in doubt, continue on to the next step:

2. Search for the site and/or the article contents on Snopes and on Google

Snopes is an absolute goldmine, and it’s free for you to use, so please do.

You can search for any topic or any story, and it will immediately give you a judgement of its veracity and a complete facts-based motivation for its decision.

If you can’t find anything on Snopes, googling the name of the site, or the contents of the story will often reward you with external sources to help you decide. Remember to apply rule 1 to the external sources you find.

3. Find more external LEGITIMATE sources confirming or denying the contents of the article

If after applying steps 1 and 2 you still have some doubt, try to find more external sources, applying rule 1 to each of these of course, that confirm or deny the contents of the article.

If you can’t find any legitimate external sources, that’s usually a sign that the article under study should be flatly ignored.

PROFIT!

Only when you’ve applied all three steps, and they all have helped you to make the call that the link under study is not poppycock, only then consider sharing it with your internet friends.

Furthermore, if you see a suspicious looking article shared by any of your friends, please do gently point them at this post!

Updates

 

Weekly Head Voices #115: So much Dutch.

Monday January 16 to Sunday January 29 of the year 2017 yielded the following possibly mention-worthy tidbits:

On Saturday, January 21, we had the privilege of seeing Herman van Veen perform live at the Oude Libertas Theatre. The previous time was a magical night many years ago in the Royal Theatre Carré in Amsterdam.

Herman van Veen is a living, extremely active and up to date legend. To most Dutch people you’ll ever meet he is a formidable part of their rich cultural landscape.

That evening, we heard so much Dutch spoken in the audience around us, it was easy to imagine that we had been teleported to a strange midsummer night’s performance, all the way back in The Netherlands.

Whatever the case may be, at 72 this artist and superb human being seems to have energy and magic flowing from every limb.

Things which running nerds might find interesting

The Dutch Watch

I had to start facing facts.

The Samsung Gear Fit 2 and I were not going to make a success of our relationship. The GF2 (haha) is great if you’re looking for a hybrid smart-fitness-watch. However, I was using it primarily for running, and then one tends to run (I’m on a roll here) into its limitations.

My inner engineer, the same guy who has a thing for hiking shoes, as they are the couture epitome of function over form, made the call and selected the TomTom Runner 3 Cardio+Music watch (the Runner 3 and the Spark 3 are identical except for styling) to replace my GF2.

Hidden in the name, there’s a subtle hint as to the focus of this wearable.

It has a less pretty monochrome display that manages to be highly visible even in direct sunlight. It does not have a touch screen, instead opting for a less pretty directional control beneath the screen that always manages to select the correct menu option. The menu options remind me of the first TomTom car navigation we bought years ago: Not pretty, but with exactly the right functions, in this case for runs and hikes.

Most importantly, the watch has an explicit function for syncing so-called QuickGPSFix data, so that when you want to start running, it is able to acquire a GPS lock almost immediately. Importantly, the device keeps you informed of its progress via the ugly user interface.

Also, I am now able to pre-load GPX routes. Below you can see me navigating my local mountain like a pro with a sense of direction, when in reality I am an amateur with pathological absence of sense of direction:

That’s me in the corner, losing my Re-Samsung.

Anyways, after being initially quite happy with the GF2, I am now more careful with my first judgement of the Runner 3. What I can say is that the first 40km with it on my arm has been a delight of function-over-form.

P.S. Well done Dutchies. The optical heart rate sensor in the previous Spark was based on technology by South African company LifeQ. I have not been able to find a good reference for the situation in the Spark 3 / Runner 3.

Experiment Alcohol Zero early results: Not what  I was hoping

The completely subjective Experiment Alcohol Zero (EAZ) I announced in my 2016 to 2017 transition post has almost run (err… too soon?) to completion.

November of 2016 was my best running month of that year: I clocked in at 80km.

EAZ started on January 4 and will conclude probably on Friday February 3.

Although I was a much more boring person in January of 2017, I did manage to run 110 km. The runs were all longer and substantially faster than my best runs of 2016.

Subjectively, there was just always energy (and the will) available to go running, and subjectively there was more energy available during the runs. This is probably for a large part due to the vicious upward spiral of better glucose processing, better sleep, hence better exercise, rinse, repeat.

I am planning to use some of this extra energy to sweep these results right under the proverbial carpet in order to try and limit the suffering that it might lead to.

(Seriously speaking, I will have to apply these findings to my pre-EAZ habits in a reasonable fashion. :)

Things which Linux nerds might find interesting

My whole web-empire, including this blog, my serious nerd business blog, and a number of websites I host for friends and family, has been migrated by the wonderful webfaction support to a new much faster shared server in London.

The new server sports 32 Intel Xeon cores, is SSD based and has a newer Linux distribution, so I was able to move over all of my wordpress instances to PHP 7.

Upshot: This blog might feel microscopically quicker! (I am a bit worried with my empire now being stuck in the heart of Article 50. I worry slightly more about a great deal of my data that lives on servers in the USA however. Probably more about that in a future post.)

On the topic of going around the bend, I now have emacs running on my phone, and I’m able to access all of my orgmode notes from there. It looks like this:

One might now ask a pertinent question like: “So Charl, how often do you make use of this wonderful functionality?”

To which I would currently have to answer: “Including showing the screenshot on my blog? Once.”

I’m convinced that it’s going to come in handy at some point.

Things which backyard philosophy nerds might find interesting

With what’s happening in the US at the moment, which is actually just one nasty infestation of the political climate around the globe, I really appreciate coming across more positive messages with advice on how we can move forward as a human race in spite of the efforts of the (libertarian) right.

The World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Growth and Development Report 2017 is one such message. As summarised in this WEF blog post, it tries to answer the question:

How can we increase not just GDP but the extent to which this top-line performance of a country cascades down to benefit society as a whole?

In other words, they present approaches for making our economies more inclusive, thus helping to mitigate the huge gap between rich and poor.

According to the report, the answer entails that national and international economic policies should focus primarily on people and living standards. In order to do this, each country will have to work on a different mix of education, infrastructure, ethics, investment, entrepreneurship and social protection.

The countries that are currently doing the best in terms of having inclusive economies, and are generally shining examples of socialism working extremely well thank you very much, are Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Austria. See the blog post for the specific different factors helping each of these countries to perform so well on the Inclusive Development Index (IDI).

Although the countries in the top 10 list all still have room for improvement, it’s great to see that it is actually quite a great idea to combine socialism (which is actually just another word for being further along the human development dimension) with economic survival and even success in today’s world.

(I am still hopeful that one day Gene Roddenberry’s dream of the United Federation of Planets will be realised.

LLAP!)

 

Samsung Gear Fit 2 voice guide at intervals not working at all: The Fix.

This is a really short note to help other people trying to get their broken Samsung Gear Fit 2 voice “guide at intervals” to work.

In short, by activating the “guide at intervals” function on the Gear Fit 2, you can get a synthesised voice to give you all kinds of stats while you are running with bluetooth earphones. In my case, I set it up to give me distance, pacing and heart rate information every 0.5 km. This helps me to control my pace and extend my run.

After a recent phone swap, my Gear Fit 2 stopped giving me any kind of voice guidance. The music would continue playing, but at the first 0.5 km point when the voice guidance should have piped up, the watch would jump back to the watch face, instead of staying in the exercise app.

As seems to be par for the course with the Gear Fit 2, this was highly frustrating behaviour, with no help from the phone user interface or any of the Samsung documentation.

After some to-and-fro on the Samsung forums, Dutch user BarryNL came up with the answer.

It turns out that if the phone language is set to anything other than “English (US)”, the voice guidance seems to crash the running app, dumping you at the watch face during your run.

I switched my phone from “English (South African)” to “English (US)”, rebooted the phone, then rebooted the Gear Fit 2, and finally went out for a quick test walk.

Samsung Gear Fit 2 voice guide at intervals was back!

I am really happy to have this core feature back, and to have the exercise app stay active until the end of my run. However, this undocumented behaviour, as well as the fact that the watch, which has more than enough processing power and a beautiful display, does not give any kind of feedback to help the user correct the issue, makes for an extremely frustrating experience.

Weekly Head Voices #114: So you know what I did last summer.

WELL HELLO THERE FRIENDS FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE!

It’s definitely time to get out a Weekly Head Voices, so that we can all feel nicely up to date. This post covers the period from Monday December 5, 2016 to Sunday January 15, 2017, which is ever so slightly *cough* later than average.

My excuse is: SUMMER HOLIDAY.

If you have not yet read my 2016 to 2017 transition post, this is a gentle reminder to make some time to do so. There’s some backyard philosophy in that post that you might find useful.

(The main reason for writing this post is to satisfy my NO-GAPS-BETWEEN-WEEKLY-HEAD-VOICES-DAMNIT OCD. I’ve added pretty pictures to help us get through it.

Godspeed fellow traveller!)

The holiday starts

Below is a photo I have quite surprisingly titled “A scene with a beach, the sea and some fluffy clouds in the brilliant blue sky”. The photo was taken on the beach at Boggomsbaai, a really small sea-side village on the East coast where we spent the first few days of our holiday.

Up ahead you can see the bustling metropole (well, it has one really expensive minimarket and an impressive gate) of Vleesbaai.

Boggomsbaai beach. Vleesbaai in the distance. This is a really lovely run.

Head Voices Review. SURPRISE!

After the truly disappointing final death of my Awei bluetooth headphones whilst running on that very beach, I acquired the Samsung Level Link, a tiny bluetooth transceiver which can turn any old set of cheap wired earphones into bluetooth earphones! It looks like this:

After five or six runs with this device of trouble-free music listening whilst running (Flume’s Skin was the business until recently, but I’ve just switched to the Tron Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk which I’m enjoying, although I’m missing some of the Underworld-esque dancing in the summer afternoon sunset feels; THEM FEELS), the Head Voices Review (we’re baaaa-aaaaack!) is currently considering the following initial review:

  • Samsung Level Link: AWESOME.

Surfing

Shortly before Christmas, some of our Dutch besties arrived for a good old fashioned swap-the-Dutch-winter-for-some-guilt-free-South-African-summer shenanigans.

It’s a treat being able to show visitors from our other home around our old and now new again home. This often makes me do things which I should have done a long time ago but kept on postponing due to less important matters getting in the way.

One such thing is taking surfing lessons.

Funny thing is, there’s a brilliant surfing school (Son in Strand, in case you were wondering) which is just a 15 minute drive away.

Our instructor was fabulous, and we are now all surfers as you can see:

You can see by my hands doing a strange mix of sign of the horns and the shaka sign that I still have too much metal in me. Faces of the innocent have been evil-ised. Windowlicker. Respect it.

Getting high

Another favourite local pastime is getting high with friends. Below is a picture of one such occasion. We were only moderately high, in preparation for another planned expedition described further down, but the views were beautiful nonetheless.

Gordon Rock as seen from the middle part of Bretagne Rock in Paarl. The black blob in the middle is GOU#1 practising her weird stealth mutation.

At this point I feel it is mention-worthy that a lion ate my hat later that day. Literally.

That other planned expedition I mentioned was an absolutely brilliant hike to the top of Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge, also known as Platties around these parts.

Platties is the steepest (and probably quickest, if you’re fit enough) walking route up Table Mountain. We were at the starting point before 8 AM in the morning to avoid the morning heat, but it was already quite hot (probably about 25+, it was 30+ later).

The walk was exhilarating (I could almost hear my mitochondria gnashing their teeth), and the views from the top textbook-spectacular:

The view from the top of Table Mountain, photo by cpbotha.net.

Shortly after having arrived at the top, I saw a man wearing only shorts who had sort of just ran up the mountain barefoot.

He did not rest, instead choosing to circle around a bush at the top and going straight down again.

Still barefoot.

Slap-slap-slap, I could hear his feet hit the rocks.

The Beach

Taking a trip along the photogenic coast-hugging Clarence Drive, we stopped to pay a visit to Dappat se Gat, a sort-of-secret beach.

Once you wade through all the trash from the side of the road :( and cross over a bunch of rocks back in the direction of Gordon’s bay, you find yourself on a beautiful secluded beach with a cave or two.

One of the photos I took came out with suitably interesting shading:

It was hard to ignore the extreme hipness of the young people lounging and playing on the beach as we tried but failed to blend in.

After a short hike (with the little ‘uns) up Leopard’s Kloof in Betty’s Bay a few days later, we were rewarded by scenes of the Disa Uniflora, an orchid which is exceptionally exclusive to our little corner of the planet.

By the power of the internets, I present you with new, more grainy photos of this pretty flower growing peacefully right next to a waterfall:

In sharp contrast to last year when I welcomed the new year from the comfort of my bed and a book (hey man, some of us were gestating!), this year a significant number of us entered 2017 in Light Party Mode.

In fact, as the clock struck 00:00, we found ourselves on a rock formation in the sea, in the dark, with waves crashing around us. Pretty neat now that I think about it.

That reminds me, I did see for the first time fully bioluminescent waves! As each wave broke, the foam had a distinct green light. The fact that we were not able to film this (not enough photons) only served to make it more magical.

During the day we were able to try out them new-fangled smartphone high speed video functions, yielding pretty slow motion captures of crashing waves, such as this one:

The holiday ends

For the last few work weeks of 2016, I could not help but notice that it was time for a vacation. I had to apply substantial amounts of raw will power (that is, buckling down, hard) every day to maintain my usual levels of production.

This vacation has been wonderful in the sense of causing total brain switch-off from day one. The surroundings definitely played a role in this, but for a large part I think it was due to the active holiday programme we pursued with our friends.

This, and previous experiences, further strengthen the observation that true rest and mental refreshment can be better accomplished by running up and down mountains, swimming in the sea and being generally really busy taking part in new experiences, rather than, you know, actually resting.

However, even after this holiday’s mental rejuvenation and renewed energy, I was still not completely happy with the (admittedly less than before the vacation) amount of will power that was required during the first days of work.

I remembered this to have been much easier in the old days.

Serendipitously, I read and more or less immediately absorbed Cal Newport’s Deep Work into my atoms after my first week at work.

After two weeks of weaving more deepness into my work, it seems that this was indeed the missing piece of the will power puzzle.

Have fun friends! I hope to see you sooner rather than later.

 

 

Fixing the Samsung Gear Fit 2 GPS lock delay when running without phone

For the past few runs, I noticed that my Gear Fit 2 would only lock onto GPS after more than 0.5 km. By “noticed”, I of course mean “got super frustrated with and considered briefly throwing the gadget onto the ground and arranging for its utter disintegration through repeated jumping on it”.

Besides losing the first 0.5 km of my run data, the pacing information, delivered via synthesised voice, would be wildly inaccurate for the rest of my run.

Judging by this 22 page thread on the Samsung community forums, there are other users who were also less than happy that the Gear Fit 2 built-in GPS does not seem to work as advertised. Understandably, people bought the gadget in order to be able to go running without having to lug their smartphones along.

Fortunately, it turns out the explanation is quite logical, although Samsung really has to do better to communicate this to their users.

Why does my Gear Fit 2 take so long to acquire a GPS lock?

In short, at the start of my run, my smartphone was lying on my desk one floor up. At that point the Gear Fit 2 still had a bluetooth connection to the phone, and it was planning to use the phone GPS instead of its built-in unit. As far as I know, the gadget’s use of the phone’s GPS is not well known.

As the distance between me and the office building increased, the Gear Fit 2 obviously lost the bluetooth connection to the smartphone. With the current firmware (R360XXU1BPL1 at the time of writing), it takes the Gear Fit 2 about 0.5 km to realise that the connection is really lost, and that it should switch to its built-in GPS.

This as all pretty logical, but highly frustrating when you don’t know what’s going on. Samsung clearly has to do better.

The Fix

Knowing what the issue is makes the fix pretty straight-forward.

Before starting your run, disable bluetooth on your smartphone, and wait for the Gear Fit 2 to register loss of the connection. It should vibrate on your wrist, and then show a little rectangle at the top right of the display, like this:

Samsung Gear Fit 2 should recognise that it has lost connection with the phone, as shown by the rectangle at the top right.

You can now start the exercise app and then start your run.

This morning, my Gear Fit 2 acquired a GPS lock almost instantly. You can see this by the location icon which briefly flashes and then stays on (it’s very important that you ensure that it stays on before running off), and by the fact that the on-screen distance gauge (you only see the distance gauge if you have set a distance target) starts climbing immediately.

(Update: I’ve had more runs since. Sometimes the GPS struggles for half a minute or more to get a lock, with the location icon remaining in the flashing state. In these cases, I sometimes stop the run, and start over, until that damned flashing location icon goes stable. Frustrating.)

Samsung Gear Fit 2: Even casual runners should think twice.

For the price, the Samsung Gear Fit 2 packs a lot of features.

However, between this undocumented (as far as I can see) and sometimes plain frustrating GPS behaviour, the voice guidance which breaks easily and mysteriously (see another post of mine on that issue and how to fix it), and the battery life (a 40 minute run with music and GPS can use up 30% to 40% of the battery), slightly more serious casual runners (strange category, I know) might want to consider carefully their alternatives.