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Correcting misinformation (6) Mon, Dec 22, 2008
I have an unnatural and almost maniacal need to correct factually incorrect information.  Some of my family members witnessed this once again today as I replied to a forwarded email that contained misinformation.  It's not that I'm full of myself and so feel the need to always be right (though I am, in fact, full of myself; also, I'm always right).  And it's not that I'm a jerk who just needs to prove people wrong (though I am, in fact, a jerk; also, people are often wrong).  And it's also not that I like arguing or proving my point or getting everyone to adopt the same opinions as my own. 

[Image: xkcd386.png]

It's just that certain pieces of information are facts while other are not.  The sky is blue; the grass is green.  You can't argue with these pieces of information because they're facts.  They're not up for interpretation or for forming opinions about.  They are black and white facts.  So to allow misinformation to not only remain uncorrected but also continuing spreading, I feel like I'm doing a disservice.  I'm assisting in the spreading of misinformation. 

So this is why I often ashamedly respond to emails to tell people they're hoaxes.  Sorry, people, it's nothing personal.  Except that you're spreading lies.  Other than that, we're cool. #psychology

Four-stroke vs. two-stroke engines Mon, Dec 22, 2008
What's the difference between a four-stroke engine and a two-stroke engine?  This topic seems to come up every once in a while, so I'll record the answer for posterity: 

Four-stroke engines are in pretty much all cars and trucks driving on the road, whether gas or diesel or sporty or work-y or anything else.  The "four-stroke" refers to the four parts of a cycle:  Intake, compression, combustion, exhaust.  HowStuffWorks has a great article with an animation. 

Two-stroke engines are generally in lawn mowers, leaf blowers, chain saws, and dirt bikes.  The "two-stroke" refers to the two parts of a cycle:  Compression and combustion.  Again, HowStuffWorks has a great article with an animation. 

Why use either one?  Two-stroke engines produce more power and weigh less, but they're also louder, require a mixture of oil and gas, don't last as long, aren't as fuel-efficient, and produce more pollution than four-stroke engines.  The reason they're used is because of their power and weight properties. #science

User-contributed search results Mon, Dec 22, 2008
I've found in recent months that search results from Google (and probably other search engines) contain a lot of links to user-contributed answer sites like Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, Answerbag, and Amazon's Askville.  To be fair, some of these user-contributed sites have good content.  The hard part is deciphering between the good content and the bad content.  Good content normally cites sources, uses relatively good spelling and grammar, and doesn't seek to insult or defame anyone in the process.  The bad content is obviously the opposite, but it's often confusingly mixed in with the good content.  As a general rule of thumb, I don't trust stuff from user-contributed sites like this until I find a reason to convince me otherwise. 

A few weeks ago at work, my co-worker was trying to convince everyone that the phrase "robbing the cradle" (dating/marrying someone younger) has an antonym in the phrase "robbing the grave".  We all tried to convince him that "robbing the grave" is not only not a commonly-used phrase to describe dating/marrying someone older, but it's actually a really bad thing (i.e. do not, under any circumstances, profess to be a grave robber).  He got on his computer, Googled it, and came up with some results that mentioned the phrase in the context of a relationship.  I accepted his explanation and moved on, because I'm a firm believer in the idea that if it's on the internet, it must be true.  On a whim, I Googled the phrase myself and noticed that his "sources" were Urban Dictionary and Yahoo Answers.  Urban Dictionary is a great site full of user-contributed definitions for slang and uncommon lingo, but it's certainly not a site you can reference as a reliable source.  Such is the case with most user-generated content.  Be forewarned.  Or be thoroughly mocked at work. #technology

Weather.com's TruPoint sucks (3) Mon, Dec 22, 2008
Weather.com recently changed some portions of their website, making things worse and at times, unusable.  I'm a fan of the hourly forecast because it gives a good indication of when certain weather events will start or stop.  Up until recently, I could search for a zip code and click the "Hour-by-Hour" link to get weather predictions for the next several hours.  But apparently when I wasn't looking, this thing called TruPoint stepped into the picture, creating not only an "Overview" section that shows a graph of hourly weather conditions (cool but not what I want) but also a "Details" section that reports weather in 15 minute intervals.  I don't want weather updates in 15 minute intervals.  It's stupid.  Weather conditions generally don't change that fast, and weather predictions are usually wrong anyway.  Of course there's no easy way to disable this "feature" except by clicking some poorly-placed links that merely collapse the 15-minute intervals for the selected hour.  Weather.com, if you're listening, please know that TruPoint sucks.  Thank you. #technology