Learn to Google: now with more shoddy journalism!

April 27, 2009

The CNN Article “Mysterious Cleopatra has 21st-century defender” starts out fascinating, talking about a female Egyptian archaeologist who took exception to the negative portrayal of Cleopatra and is working to improve her image by conducting new research (there’s a possibility she will actually find Cleopatra’s tomb!) and writing a book telling the “real” story of Cleopatra, who, she says, “spoke nine languages, she was a philosopher, she was a poet, she was a politician, she was a goddess, and she was a warrior.”

However, the article doesn’t really get better after that line– it doesn’t offer any information on the specific information that Kathleen Martinez is trying to refute, or what her research has uncovered so far. Instead, it returns to the Is Cleopatra Ugly?!?! question! Because, you know, that’s the most important thing about her. It’s nothing new at all– there were some coins with her face that looked ugly, but she had to have been pretty, because nobody could have loved her if she was ugly.

But then it does get interesting, with some gender-neutral looksism:

The same researchers didn’t have a very flattering assessment of Marc Antony either, saying he had “bulging eyes, a large hooked nose and a thick neck.” No Richard Burton.

This does contradict Plutarch’s description of Marc Antony as having “a noble dignity of form; and a shapely beard, a broad forehead, and an aquiline nose [that] were thought to show the virile qualities peculiar to the portraits and statues of Hercules”?

I really just have to say… no. The description of Mark Antony as having “a large hooked nose” does not contradict the description of him having “an aquiline nose.” They are the same thing. That’s what “aquiline” means. “Curving like an eagle’s beak.” From wikipedia: An Aquiline nose (also called Roman nosehook nose or beak nose) is a human nose with a prominent bridge, giving it the appearance of being curved or slightly bent.

Is it sad that that’s the error that motivates me to blog this? Not the weirdly patronizing tone that the journalist takes towards the archaeologist; not the omission of Cleopatra’s story; not the really boring obsession with her looks; not even the poorly-written way the whole thing trails off into bizarre theories about the Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx. No, the part that annoys me most is the fact that the journalist didn’t know what an “aquiline” nose looked like, and didn’t even bother to google it.

Seriously, dude. The rest of it would have taken time and thought to fix. “Aquiline” you could have figured out for yourself.


Learn to Google, or I’ll do it for you!

February 3, 2009

Commenter Gnatalby linked to this application over at Shakesville yesterday, and I have to say, I am in love. My “learn to google” posts have long been my secret favourite kind of rant– I just get to indulge in so much self-righteousness! Alas, it can be a little tough to fine appropriate targets for my rage (post people are at least smart enough to do a cursory google search before spouting off), but you can bet, the next time I have the chance, I’ll leap on it!

You think there are a billion Eskimo words for snow? Let me google that for you.

Suspicious of the flag Obama flew while in Ohio? Let me google that for you!

Not sure of the difference between “thy” and “thine”? I’ll google that for you, too!

And you don’t even have to look hard at half of those results– for the “Eskimo” words one, you don’t even have to click any of the links to learn it’s rubbish, since it’s in the site summary of the second result!

Actually, if I can get a bit serious for a moment, this is something that really does bother me. I have grown up with the internet (literally– my parents, as computer scientists, were using email a decade before I was born) and it deeply saddens me how accustomed we have become to the idea that oh, of course people will be spouting rubbish, it’s the internet, why would anyone try to have a rational conversation on the internet? I always want to yell back, because that’s what it’s for!

The internet isn’t for porn. (That link is SFW. Mostly.) It’s not for urban legends and trolls and 4chan. It is an entirely new communication system whose implications I don’t think we’re really going to see for another generation. Guys, we can search books. Is that not revolutionary? I was studying over the weekend, and I had a question, and I knew the answer was somewhere in my textbook because I remembered reading it before. So I thought to myself, “ctrl f!” I didn’t think, “haha, wouldn’t it be great if I could search for it?” I literally thought the command, just as I would have if I had typed it. And then I looked at my open book in frustration for a good ten seconds before I sighed and went hunting around the index. If I’d had an ebook copy of the textbook (which I do for my other class), half an hour of rummaging through two hundred pages of content, chasing every vague lead? I could have done it in seconds.

And that’s just for a book. What if I want to know about the history of Muslim Spain? Well, this morning I did a couple google searches for broad terms like “muslim spain history,” opened all the promising results in new windows, read through them, did some new searches with more specific terms like “women muslim spain caliphate era” and so on. I had probably millions of pages available to me. True, a lot of them were blurbs for books or papers that I didn’t have full access to, but I do now know of their existence, despite the fact that none of their titles contain my keywords, because they were cited in the content that was available for free. I have no idea how people did research, let alone open-ended curiosity-driven research, before the internet, let alone before computers. All I can figure is that it involved a whole lot of inefficient wandering around libraries.

And I’m not even touching on Wikipedia, and blogs, and email. We can do so much that would have seemed impossible, even laughable, when my parents were my age. There are unimaginable quantities of information available, far more than any one mind could assimilate. My family keeps a laptop in the kitchen specifically so that any time one of us asks, “I wonder what’s in yogurt?” we can google it, and I love it. I love having so much knowledge out there, being able to talk to so many people. And I am in awe of it.

Which is why I just don’t understand people who treat the net as something trivial, something unworthy of respect. A place where you can lounge around in your dirty, faded grammar and old ideas, and it doesn’t matter because lowest common denominator, lol!

I don’t mean that everything has to be formal. Far from it! Half of what’s so valuable is going on in informal conversations, but the key is that they are conversations. The internet is a great resource and it should be to be used to the fullest. The assumption should be that people on the internet are looking to learn something, to connect with people or the world in a new way. And I sincerely believe that something new and amazing is being born, and that it’s by “learning to internet” that we can learn the most about ourselves. So it saddens me to see people who don’t even seem to be trying, people who parrot random chain mails and refuse to consider any arguments, people who go trolling but leave all their commas at home, people who laugh at those who are trying to expand themselves. Seriously, folks. Learn to google. You might learn something.

Learn to Google II: Electric Boogaloo

October 17, 2008

The point of the “Learn to Google” series is not that the recipient of my ire is an idiot for not knowing whatever it is they fail to know. The point is that they are an idiot for failing to do a basic google search before demonstrating their ignorance to the whole wide world.

And so, I bring you: “O” is for Ohio.

In case you’re powerfully lazy: when Obama spoke in Ohio recently, he did not have a special Obama-flag flying behind him. That was the Ohio flag.

True, you have to have a guess that something’s up in order to google “Ohio flag.” But googling “Obama flag” or “Obama O flag” will, notably, not bring you anything except Obama with the usual American flag. These searches ought to inspire some further soul-searching, and some actual thought.

Maybe my expectations are too high for you, O wingnuts of the world, but please. Learn to google.

Petty Rant #372: Learn To Google

October 5, 2008

Hey, Lionhead Studios! I’m kind of excited about Fable II (since you finally realized that a game that’s all about choice probably ought to let you choose a gender) but man did your ads make me wince today.

I mean, I kind of hate the fake olde-tymey “rollover to divine thy destiny” to begin with (especially since “rollover” is such a completely modern word that it makes the whole thing awkward.) But if you’re going to make animated, expensive ads and plaster them everywhere, maybe do some grammar-checking first. So you don’t look stupid by doing this:

“Enter THINE date of birth”? Really? THINE?

Now, maybe I’ve read more historical fiction and fantasy (and Shakespeare) than most people, but that sounded wrong immediately. Just to confirm, I did some googling, and lo! All you have to do is type in “thy thine” and hit search, and literally millions of websites will appear with helpful explanations. I sampled the first six, and they all said, in nice simple small words, that “thy” is singular and “thine” is plural. “Thine” can also be used as a singular when in front of a vowel, but I’m afraid “date” pretty obviously begins with a consonant.

So: Thy boss ought to flog thee. Thine advertisement containeth an error. It maketh me reluctant to become a customer of thine.

(Side note: I haven’t seen them make this error, but too many people do when trying to sound olde-tymey. Verbs only end in “eth” when, in the modern usage, they would end in “s.” So, no, these advertisements do not “faileth.” They just fail.)

I’m not saying everyone should know this. I’m saying one of the highly-paid graphic designers, copy writers, or advertising managers should have known. Or at least checked. If you aren’t sure of something, before you commit gazillions of dollars to something, just look it up.

That’s really what bothers me about this ad. Not that they made an obscure grammatical error, but that no one in the entire ad-creation process cared enough to do a simple google search to make sure they had it right.

Angry 3-am-blogging, “Eskimo words for snow” edition.

September 19, 2008

(Why do I always get so short-tempered when I can’t sleep? I do my angriest blogging when I’m browsing the intertubes in the wee hours of the morning.)

But on to my main point:


“Eskimos have a gajillion words for snow!” Folks, this is a BLATANT LIE. It is not hard to research! When I first heard it, I thought, “Really? That seems like an awful lot.” and I spent five minutes on Google and I found this site and that was that. That’s all it took! Some internets, and not taking absurd statements at face value.

How you can tell this is an absurd statement: just as there is no “American Indian” language, there really isn’t an “Eskimo” language. (There is a “language group” common among many Inuit groups, but no monolithic language.) As far as I know, there isn’t even a group identifying as “Eskimo.” All the First Nations people I’ve met have identified as Inuit (probably because I met them in an Inuit art store– gorgeous carvings!) but there are many tribes, and they are not all the same. Just like all Native American tribes are not the same (and often hate each other), and all African tribes are not the same (and often hate each other) and all Asian countries are not the same (and often hate each other)…seriously, would you accept the factoid that “Asians have a zillion words for rice”? Or “White people have a zillion words for pie”? Then why don’t you question “Eskimos have a zillion words for snow”???

How you can reveal the stupidity of the question: just ask, “How do you define a word for snow?” Basically, the crux of the issue here is that in this language group, it’s possible, by stacking all sorts of wonderfully complex prefixes and suffixes, to take the root “quani-” (for snowflake) and make the single word “They were wandering around gathering lots of stuff that looked like snowflakes.” We’re calling that a “word for snow” now? Also note that this is applicable to every other word in their vocabulary.

I’m going to use the big, scary word RACISM here and declare that the perpetuation of this myth is RACIST. It’s probably unconscious racism, but as Jay Smooth says, even if I don’t have enough evidence to say “you are racist” I can definitely say “that thing you said was racist” and if you’re passing off this “fact” to others without doing your research, well, guess what…that thing you said was racist.

Here’s why: it oversimplifies many groups into the nonexistent monolithic entity “Eskimos,” erases an interesting aspect that their languages have in common, instead playing off the most basic stereotypes of their culture, to perpetuate the idea that their lives are dominated by this one aspect (well, this and igloos. The two aspects are snow and igloos. And ice-fishing. The three aspects are, snow, igloos, ice fishing, and penguins. Among the aspects are such sterotypes as…you get the picture. It seems I also get distractable and silly late at night.)

It produces a caricature of Inuit language groups that is unflattering and untrue.

Would you have any doubt that “Asians have a bajillion words for rice” was a racist thing to say? The same applies here.

Please, when you hear these lies spread, tell people to just do their research.