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Archive for December, 2011

On Finding a Blogging Voice

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ll be honest: my first attempt at blogging was a complete, abject failure. It wasn’t because I didn’t update it regularly, or that I neglected it. The problem was that I didn’t assign a specific direction to the blog and just posted whatever happened to be on my mind. After a while, it looked like the random hodge-podge of topics that one might find in an old, battered Trivial Pursuit box. While it was fun and provided a way for me to hone my writing skills, it proved to be somewhat disastrous. After all, a meandering blog filled with an overabundance of topics can’t really keep a target audience.

So, you may be asking, what does this have to do with A Rushed Joke? Why should I care? Is there a place around here a guy can get a drink?

I can answer the last question fairly easily: Ashley’s in downtown Ann Arbor, on State Street.

The first two questions are a bit trickier. Simply, my posts here have been spread across a number of topics. Proper blogging protocol suggests that I should find one topic that really interests me and focus on that, and as time goes on, narrow that focus even further. Some very successful blogs stick to one area of expertise and only deviate rarely. However, some of my favorite blogs have covered a wide range of topics very well. It’s a tricky proposition.

The decision I’m facing now is this: should I narrow the focus of this blog, or write about a full range of topics which are listed and adhered to? I think that because of the many different paths my life has taken, and the number of things which I’m interested and learning about, the best option will be to allow myself latitude and cover a number of topics. If I manage to get a larger readership I may consider focusing the blog more as time goes on.

Therefore, this is a comprehensive list of the topics I shall be covering regularly:

  1. Science Fiction: Reviews, essays, themes, news, etc.
  2. Video Games: Reviews, essays, news, etc.
  3. Movies: Reviews, essays, news, etc.
  4. Books: Reviews, essays, news, etc.
  5. Writing: Contests, creative endeavors, etc.
  6. Comedy: Stand-up, improvisation, ideas, etc.
  7. Technology

Here is a list of topics which I shall cover less regularly:

  1. Television: reviews, essays (most likely covering only Doctor Who and other science fiction shows).
  2. Opera, musicals, and other such live entertainment.
  3. Politics and current events: Academic essays, critical analysis, scant election coverage.
  4. Updates on my own life and important events

On a more relevant note, I’ve never been too interested in specializing in one topic. The world is just too big and has so many interesting things. I’m not trying to win some sort of award for the “bestest blog evah! omglolz,” so perhaps I have more freedom to discuss a wider range of things.

Perhaps, as time goes on, I’ll make another ancillary blog to focus on one specific topic that I want to specialize in so it doesn’t get mixed with these musings. The internet is vast, so the only limitation I have is time.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy my blog. I don’t update it as often as I’d like, but I think that the content makes up for that.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

December 22, 2011 1 comment

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, but it really is a must-see for any ardent fan of science fiction.

The encyclopedia is free, and offers information that covers just about anything you can imagine. It has search function which cover themes, media, and culture, as well as authors and more. I think the theme and culture search functions are especially useful. For example, this entry on Hard Science Fiction, while not expansive, does provide many interesting and relevant facts.

I think that this website goes well with another, The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. This database is useful for looking up specific issues of old and new science fiction magazines, among other things. It has been an invaluable tool for my work coding magazine covers for the Genre Evolution Project. One of my favorites is from an issue of Amazing Stories dated July, 1942. The cover story is called “Blitzkrieg in the Past” and show a T-Rex attacking a German tank.

This also highlights another useful function of the ISFDB. When you peruse the catalog and examine the different years, you can see how historical events impact how science fiction developed. The World War 2 years, in particular, had a profound impact on the type of science fiction that was published, as well as the art.

I hope you enjoy these two wonderful resources as much as I have. I really do believe that they’re invaluable.

In Which A Study Is Actually a Joke

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Ed. Note: I started writing this in August, and as such, it is dated. However, I feel that this topic is still important, so I finished it and decided to publish it

Well, I’d never thought I’d see the day. The news media has taken a study and completely botched reporting it. Via PCMag.com, apparently there’s some sort of studying making rounds on the internet and on the cable news channels (which I don’t watch, thank Zoroaster).

Look, I think that the reporting on this study is so ridiculously craven and catered to the pearl-clutching mother demographic that the only real word I can think of to describe it accurately is “GGAAAAAAAHHHRRRRRFFFFFFFAAAAHHH!” That’s right.

There’s this narrative going on that “teh Facebook” causes people to do stupid things. The study, as reported by the media, tries to paint a causal relationship between Facebook and teenage drug use (among other things). This is why we can’t have nice things: the study actually only looks at correlation and because of the nature of the study, it is simply not valid to say that Facebook causes drug use. It just so happens that teenagers who use the social networking website Facebook also have a social life. Shocking, I know.

In essence, the study examined two variables:

  1. Social network use
  2. Drug, tobacco, and alcohol use

While study found high correlations between social network use, such as Facebook and MySpace, and access to drugs and drug abuse, the study made no claims that these networking sites caused drug use. This is an important distinction to make, especially in light of the way that the media has been reporting it. It is, simply, incorrect to report that the study claimed a causal connection. There are many variables that exist outside of the purview of the study which most likely contribute to the problem more than Facebook or MySpace. Teens who do use alcohol and drugs most likely have  live social circles that exists alongside their technological counterparts. It seems unlikely, then, that these networking sites are a large factor, because these social circles are, I believe, the primary enablers and motivators of this behavior.

Let me explain in greater detail why the correlations found in the study shouldn’t be used to establish a causal connection. The first set of data reports that teens who use social networking sites are more likely to have used tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana (p. 13). The study also reports that teenagers who use social networking websites experience higher levels of exposure to pictures of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana being used by their peers (p. 14).  While this may be true, it doesn’t prove that social network use causes teenagers who view those picture online are being influenced by those pictures, and not other factors. For instance, if their main group of offline peers are the people who are displayed in those pictures, the influence may come from old-fashioned peer pressure.

This is why it’s so important to have a skill set to interpret the results of these studies. I really wish I didn’t have to say this, but the way that the news media reports studies like this is just not usually very accurate. I can’t say if this is because news outlets lack the ability to determine the very real differences between correlational research and experimental designs (which often make claims about causation), of if it’s a strategy to hook readers and get more eyes reading the article.

Either way, it’s highly misleading.