I have something against Knowledge Base modules. My complaint is this – they’re all crap!
Knowledge Base modules are supposed to be this repository for a given service, and this repository is supposed to provide all kinds of helpful Q&A-type articles to make using the service easier and more efficient. They’re typically intended to be a first-line support item, to be used by the end-user _before_ calling customer support and bugging an operator or a technician with your problem or question. It’s a pretty nice idea – in theory.
The trouble comes in when you actually try to use one of these so-called Knowledge Base modules. I have, as yet, to find a single one that actually provides me with any useful knowledge. The way I figure it, at least half of my queries into a Knowledge Base turn up zero results. The rest of the queries usually only produce a list of ‘related’ articles that have nothing to do whatsoever with what I actually want to know. They reason _these_ articles show up at all is because the search term(s) I entered happened to be mentioned once or twice in the course of explaining how to do something else. Usually after a couple of tries, I just throw my hands up in exasperation and dial the customer support number – only to have them refer me _back_ to the Knowledge Base. ((Just for the record, I’ll have none of that. I make them give me my answer and explain that the Knowledge Base didn’t have the answer I needed.))
This all goes along with the problem that documentation for most things also leaves something to be desired. I know, I hate writing documentation, too. It’s a pain in the neck and can often double the time it takes to release the product to the public. But for the end-user, that documentation is a critical part of using the service or software and can be the deal-breaker if it’s poorly done.
I’m not a coin collector, but I do love the ‘new’ presidential dollar coins. I’d originally heard, back when the new Washington dollar coins were released, that it was a movement by the US Mint to replace the paper dollar with coins. This was all hearsay, of course, and there is no shortage of dollar bills in circulation currently, so I’m inclined to think it was nothing more than rumor and speculation.
But I really like these coins. They’re about the same size as a quarter and maybe a little heavier, with a shiny, faux-gold color. Personally, I wouldn’t mind at all if the dollar bill _was_ replaced with these beautiful little coins. They do provide a surprising amount of satisfaction when you’re able to drop just one coin into a vending machine in order to get (in my case) a water or an iced tea.
Like I said I’m not a coin collector, but these coins almost make me want to start – at least on this series. Weird the sort of things that spark my interest, sometimes.
I don’t generally do link roundups, but in this case, there are a handful of notables, and I don’t really have the time or energy to write about each one individually.
“Antibiotics for Sinusitis”:http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=12 – This article from _Science-Based Medicine_ sums up exactly my thinking about the germs floating around out there right now. I’ve been sick twice this winter, and in both cases, I needed high-powered antibiotics to muck everything out, and even then it took two or three weeks to shake it off. From what I’m hearing from folks all over the country, this isn’t exactly unique – the bugs are bigger, stronger, and longer-lasting. It’s likely that over-prescribing antibiotics is one of the prime factors for this.
“SpySat stuff”:http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2008/02/21/spysat-stuff/ – Is it bad that I ignored all news about the US government shooting a missile at the spy satellite until Phil posted about it (as I knew he would)? Sorry, I just don’t trust the information given back on this sort of thing until I see it on the Bad Astronomy blog, and I have even less use for most of the unnecessary drama that surrounded this particular event. Why must the media blow stuff like this out of proportion? I appreciate Phil’s level-headed presentation of the facts.
“Wireless Digital Display Tattoos”:http://gizmodo.com/359018/cellphone-display-concept-designed-by-dracula-is-bloody-ridiculous – Call me strange, but I think this idea is really neat. Of course, I’m the guy who’d love to have a neurological uplink to a computer, too, so embedding a subcutaneous, wireless tattoo interface in my skin isn’t a huge leap from there.
“Um, Yeah – Grapefruit”:http://xkcd.com/388/ – xkcd apparently unleashed a monster with today’s comic about fruit. Bear in mind, it’s highly subjective, so his mapping may match yours. (In fact, it’s safe to say that it probably won’t.) Go easy on the guy. Just because he’s wrong doesn’t mean you need to beat up on him.
Over at “io9″:http://io9.com/358406/5-reasons-scifi-does-better-in-movies-than-in-tv, there’s an editorial about why science fiction does better in movies than in TV. Disregarding my own opinions on which is better and more enjoyable, this quote picked out of the list touches on my approach toward my “Reclaimer”:http://comic.shamuswrites.com comic:
bq. Joss Whedon famously said that a television show is a question, but a movie is an answer. That’s why Firefly spun out tons of mysteries, like what happened to River in her special school, or what was the deal with the Reavers. And Serenity, the movie based on the TV show, had a self-contained plot and answered all your lingering questions in the course of two-ish hours. TV shows, especially in this era of arc storytelling, spin out endless plots that reward obsessive viewers — and scare away casual ones.
Comic books are a lot like TV shows in that they drag out plots and sub-plots over an extended period of time, usually raising more questions than they answer. For those whose attention spans can handle that kind of lengthy story-telling, this is a lot of fun because you can mix intense action in with intricate storylines indefinitely.
This is pretty much the way I’m hoping to approach _Reclaimer_ – a lengthy storyline that presents plenty of action while raising lots and lots of questions. In the end, I expect to have something along the lines of a graphic novel with a story arc that’s been brought to a relatively firm conclusion. Whether or not I’ll continue into another story arc with the protagonist remains to be seen. Everyone who has been following the story so far seems to be enjoying it, so I suspect that a lot of that decision will be based on how much my readers want _Reclaimer_ to continue.
So, apparently my blog underwent a minor attack last night. I woke up this morning to an email saying that my new blog had been set up at shamuswrites.com. Now this sent a slight cold chill down my back, since I clearly already have a blog here. The email gave the typical administrative username, but what really made my blood run cold was the next part that read, “Password: Inherited.” I checked the site, and sure enough, what I saw was the initial setup screen that asks for the name of your new blog and an email address for the administrator. Not good. Not good at all.
My next step, then, was to log in to phpMyAdmin and double-check the database for my blog. All the tables were present and accounted for, and the sizes looked about like they should for 4.5 years of blogging. So, I backed up the database real quick and then repaired all tables (since I’ve had problems with a table breaking in the past and messing up my blog). After that, everything came back to working order again, which is a huge relief.
My theory is that someone tried to access the install.php file, probably by a roundabout means, in an attempt to either access my site or corrupt it irreparably. The attempt clearly failed, but it did nearly cause me a minor heart attack. I’ve since deleted both the install.php and upgrade.php files, just to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. In theory, not deleting them shouldn’t cause any harm, since accessing them after an install or an upgrade generally only returns a message saying you’ve already done that, but I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if hackers have found ways to exploit those files for their own amusement. I’ll likely make a point of backing up all my DBs on a more regular basis now (especially since SSH makes it so darn fast and easy to do), just to make sure that if I do get hacked at some point in the future, it will be an easy task to return things to a general state of order again.
Well, at long last, I finally figured out the trick to installing Subversion on my server. As such, I’m working on switching most of my WordPress installations to Subversion in order to make it _much_ easier and faster to upgrade in the future. I just switched this site to a Subversion-agreeable install, and I’m pretty sure that I copied all my custom files and directories over. But, I’ve been known to make mistakes, too, so if you notice something not working properly, do please let me know.
Two of my favorite webcomics are “xkcd”:http://xkcd.com and “Irregular Webcomic”:http://www.irregularwebcomic.net. I’ve got quite a few webcomics plugged into Google Reader, but these two stand head and shoulders above all the others. The primary reason is because they are intelligent comics, relying on a brand of humor that appeals to the mind rather than relying on what I consider to be locker-room humor. Nearly all the webcomics I read deal with geek humor in some fashion, but only xkcd and Irregular Webcomic rely pretty exclusively on ‘smart’ punchlines. Comics like Ctrl-Alt-Del and Penny Arcade focus a lot on crude and crass topics and the main reason I keep them in my list is because of the occasional appearance of something truly witty.
Here are a couple of my favorite strips from the last couple of days:
See? Smart humor. Funny without the crudity. That’s my kind of funny.
I’m kind of annoyed by all the so-called intelligence tests that keep popping up on Facebook. Most of these tests cover topics like celebrities, TV shows and movies, music, etc. – essentially topics involving entertainment and popular media in US culture. There are several things about these ‘tests’ that annoy me:
Entertainment is a stupid metric for an intelligence test. The only thing that entertainment surveys actually measure is how much of your time is spent watching TV, listening to music radio stations, or reading celebrity gossip. There are a number of high IQ societies that serve up an IQ test that covers all areas of knowledge, ranging across math, science, literature, history, current events, and yes, even entertainment. But the entertainment questions are just a small subset of the total test. Most of the weight is placed on all the other areas of the test. So, ‘IQ tests’ that use entertainment as the sole field for testing one’s intelligence are just plain stupid.
On the technical side of survey design, all of these ‘IQ tests’ on Facebook are way too short. A good survey will run anywhere from 50-300 questions, depending on the scope of the data needed. Generally speaking, the more questions you have, the greater the level of accuracy you will get. Very few of these Facebook tests go beyond 20 questions (and most barely break 10).
True intelligence tests also go through a rigorous set of reliability and validity tests. The reliability tests help ensure that the test consistently measures what it’s supposed to and that it is internally consistent. Validity tests check to see if the survey generalizes to the survey population, that it actually gathers useful and accurate information. You can bet that none of these Facebook IQ tests have undergone that sort of process.
I know, I know – most people just take these tests because they’re fun to do, and I’m probably over-analyzing things. I guess, as someone from a field of study where surveys are part of what I do, I get a little bit bugged by these casual IQ tests that don’t actually measure anything useful, primarily because most of the people who take them actually think that they _are_ IQ tests and take the final scores at least somewhat seriously. It’s misleading, and I find that mildly irritating. Call them what they really are – quizzes that test your knowledge about popular entertainment.