Me in Maclean’s. Also: Nuts.

Sooo there’s an article about me in Maclean’s Magazine (April 12th issue, page 62). It goes like so:

Plain old coffee can be boring, so Mike “Phronk” Battista of London, Ont., likes to put “weird things” in his (he keeps a blog about it). [etc.]

Conspicuously absent? The address of said blog. I guess there won’t be an influx of millions of visitors who will buy my crappy merchandise.

Oh well. At least when I’m old, I can brag to my grandkids about my greatest accomplishment. I’ll be all like, “STOP TALKING. Did you know that I was in Maclean’s?”

And they’ll be all like, “WTF is Maclean’s?”

And I’ll say, “It was one of Canada’s most popular magazines.”

And they’ll say, “WTF is a magazine?”

Then I will get angry and rant about the good old days when you had to physically leave the house to get information, then slowly absorb it from paper to your brain, rather than instantly downloading it into your neural implant. Then I’ll graphically demonstrate how the iPad can suck my wrinkly nuts.

Play TV Canada Pwned: Going Off the Air March 26th

Previously on MikeBattista.com: I complained about a televised scam called Play TV Canada, then examined the nature of the fraud in more detail, and got a response from Global Television.

Global never responded to a follow-up letter highlighting the inadequacy of their justifications. However, every weekend, thousands of people have Googled their way to this blog, and hundreds have commented (especially here), collaborating to find a way to stop these unscrupulous people.

Well, good news! A commenter named Jeremy received the following letter:

“We are in receipt of your letter via the CBSC regarding Global Television’s broadcast of Play-TV Canada, February 20th 2010, on Global Toronto (CIII). In your letter, you have expressed concerns regarding this show suggesting it may be a scamming game show, with no logical answers to impossible questions.

Let me begin by saying that as responsible broadcasters, we are sensitive to the members of our viewing audience and we apologize if this program has offended you. I assure you that it is neither Global’s nor the producer’s intention to do so. As of March 2010, our contract with Play TV will end and the show will no longer air on Global Television.”

He added:

LOL PWN I GOT THEM TO REMOVE THE MOTHER F*****KING SHOW YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

March 26th they’re done.

I made them cancel their contract with them..
I’m a god!!!!!!!!!!!!

As of March 26th, Play TV Canada will no longer be airing. I’m sure this will be justified by falling ratings or other financial reasons. However, while I wouldn’t give this blog, or Jeremy, sole credit for Play TV’s downfall, I have no doubt that our collective complaining and bad publicity had an impact on the decision to end this contract.

A few people are worth singling out in this effort.

  • Jeremy, obviously, who complained and was kind enough to report back here.
  • Dave from CrimeBustersNow, who passion for exposing and taking down scams like this is personal and intense. We need more people like him around. See CBNow’s Post about Global and Play TV.
  • Lisa from Dublin, who brought information from the other, older front in this battle, Ireland. Over there, similar circumstances lead to Play TV’s downfall.

It looks like the next battle site is South Africa. There is a discussion forum for it here, and obviously people are welcome to continue using the comments here as a venue for discussion. Dave suggests further action here in Canada as well, such as trying to push for criminal charges. While I’m not sure about going that far, it is worth considering if you have the time and motivation.

Thanks to everyone who has followed and participated in this international effort. Score one for the good guys.

The Endless Cycle of Checking Stuff

My use of the internet has reached a critical point. A point where, if I’m not careful, it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that is nearly impossible to escape.

It used to be, I’d wake up, check my email, respond if needed, then get on with my day. Maybe check my email again an hour or two later.

Now, it’s wake up, check my main email, check Facebook, check Twitter, check Friendfeed, chat on MSN a bit, check Tumblr, check Google Reader, chat on Google Chat a bit, check my other email address, check the news, and oh, it’s been an hour, so there might be something new at my main email. And Facebook. Can’t forget Twitter. Maybe in between, if there’s time, I think of something to blab about on the blog – hi – and then it’s time for the cycle to resume.

Then, oh, whoops, it’s bed time. I’ve been at the computer for 16 hours. And I’ve wet myself.

What I should do is unplug my router. I should turn off my computer. For seriously, what I should do is, I should cut off my electricity and chop up my desk to burn for heat. You know, really get back to the basics and focus on what’s important – family, friends, pets, a good book.

I’ll just check my email one last time.

———-

Edit: In related news, here’s an article on multitasking in Wired Science. It’s interesting, but could also win the award for most blatant contradiction between the headline and the article.

The Mathematics of Wrong Numbers

What is with getting calls for the wrong number?

I’ve dialed a wrong number once, maybe twice in my whole life. Most people would probably claim similarly low misdial rates.

I’ve received maybe 50 wrong number calls, minimum.

How does this add up? It must mean there is a small number of people making a large number of misdirected calls. Are there people out there who, instead of dialing a number, just mash the keypad and hope for the best? This is even more baffling in the age of cell phones, where you can just speak a friend’s name and your robot phone will call them for you.

Perhaps there are some psychological factors going on. Misdialing is an embarrassing mistake, so surely my biased self-serving memory reconstructs more instances of other people making mistakes (receiving wrong numbers) than me making them (dialing them). However, I doubt that a subtle memory bias could skew the numbers by such a large order of magnitude.

Or am I just weird? Do most of you dial just as many wrong numbers as you receive? C’mon, you can admit it. Everyone (else) makes mistakes. Leave an anonymous comment and let me know. Maybe this could be the next psychology study in my series of completely unrelated research topics.

P.S. I tried Googling “wrong number” for a nice picture to go with this post, but all I got was like 500 pictures of these guys:

It’s Almost Like ESP

Popular psychologist Richard Wiseman is currently conducting a unique study that uses Twitter to gather research participants. He’s seeing if his Twitter followers can engage in remote viewing to detect where Richard is located (explanation here). So the idea is that Richard goes to a randomly chosen location, then asks people on Twitter to use their psychic powers to give any impressions about where he is, then later choose which of 5 locations they think he was at.

When he gave the go-ahead this morning, I was happy to participate.  Here’s what I tweeted to him:

“First thing that came to mind was a star shape (oops, thinking of Zener cards?). Railing. Concrete. A lamp post. Playground?”

I also acted like a real remote-viewer and scribbled a few drawings:

Then it came time to pick which location I thought he was at, out of these five:

Well look at that! My posts, railings, and concrete all over the place. But I thought the most striking resemblence was between my middle picture and his middle picture (C), so that’s the one I guessed.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t where he was. He was at D.  So if I am psychic, it’s only for my future experience, not for remote viewing a real location.

Wiseman’s experiment isn’t really unique except for the Twitter aspect. Similar studies have been done many times, and strangely, usually find above-chance results (i.e., people are able to guess where the remote person is more often than if they were guessing). It’s also full of holes and flaws in its methodology (so many that I hope the true purpose of the study is remaning hidden and this is all a cover story for a better study).  Still, it’s good to see psychic phenomena – which the majority of people in the world believe in with little question – getting some attention and new technology applied to it. I think both religious and scientific bigotry have kept good research from being done in this area, and I hope we can overcome silly taboos to engage in more of it.

Go follow Wiseman on Twitter to participate – it’s going for a few more days. Or see his blog for more details and results.

Book Review: Playing For Keeps, by Mur Lafferty


I love Mur Lafferty. Her podcast, I Should Be Writing, was one of the first I ever downloaded and it hasn’t left my mp3 player(s) since. She’s come a long way, from a self-described “wannabe fiction writer” to full-blown published novelist.

So is she any good at practicing what she preaches?

Let me get the negatives out of the way first. This is Mur’s first novel, published with the small new publisher Swarm Press, and the lack of experience shows. Nearly every chapter is full of one or more typos, grammatical errors, or otherwise awkward prose. Jarring continuity errors crop up (e.g., there is off-hand mention of demons long before they actually show up), and characters often do inexplicably random things. A lack of polish usually doesn’t get in a way of a good story, but here it is so rampant that it can obfuscate the plot and kill any sense of immersion. One careful proof reader could have fixed this. They should hire a teaching assistant, like me; I brutally criticize writing for a living, and do it for almost no money.

But pushing past technical issues, there is a creative and exciting story here. Playing For Keeps tells the story of the superpowered people between superheroes and supervillains. They’re not good nor evil, just ordinary, and while they can do extraordinary things, their abilities are so specific as to be useless outside of a single purpose (e.g., a cook who can predict anyone’s perfect meal; an old man who can take off and regrow one leg). The highlight of the novel is seeing how, when put to the test, even seemingly shitty powers can be jiggered to do incredible things. The plot moves at a Flash-like pace, with twists and turns happening at the end of nearly every short chapter, making it a quick, fun read that’s hard to put down.

Playing For Keeps is a flawed, awkward mess, but it’s very hard to not have a great time reading it. With unlimited sequel and spinoff potential, and hopefully a bit more time and experience for polishing up future endeavors, I can’t wait to see more from Mur Lafferty and the Playing For Keeps universe.

The Death of Long Term Memory

Computer brain.This fascinating article at Scientific American, about human and animal consciousness, contains the following passage:

In humans, the short-term storage of symbolic information—as when you enter an acquaintance’s phone number into your iPhone’s memory—is associated with conscious processing.

A few years ago, when I was first learning about memory, the example probably would have gone more like “your short term memory holds small amounts of information, like a phone number, while you rehearse it in your head until you have it memorized.”

The main difference between the examples is that the iPhone has replaced our own biological memory storage as the final resting place of long term memories. I think this points toward a more general trend, in which technology is taking over many of the functions that our brains carried out before. Why memorize a phone number when you can, at any time, just retrieve it on a screen with a few swipes of your finger? Why commit the times table to memory when a calculator is always close at hand?

Storing memories outside of our brains is nothing new. Scrawling something on paper is much the same. However, the ease with which we can store and retrieve these external memory banks is improving at an exponential rate. Today, a lot of the human race’s collective store of knowledge can be searched in fractions of a second with a few keystrokes in a search engine. Maybe tomorrow, our fingers won’t even be an intermediary step; a direct link between our minds and databases need not be science fiction. Google may not just be the future of computers, but the future of the human race.

As we continue to improve our access to information outside of our heads, I think there will be less emphasis on teaching people raw information, and more emphasis on teaching what to do with information. [self plug] Scientific research into topics like human creativity (which computers don’t seem to have mastered yet) and cognitive psychology will become increasingly important [/self plug], as will disciplines like philosophy and math, which deal purely with how to manipulate information into something useful. We should probably also keep Keanu Reeves around to make sure we haven’t slipped into The Matrix without realizing it.

Christof Koch (2009). Exploring Consciousness Through the Study of Bees Scientific American