How Is It the End of February?!?

Odin's articles, thoughts, and more!

How Is It the End of February?!?
"Swallowtail Butterfly. Painting for Life Magazine cover 'The Flapper' by Frank Xavier Leyendecker, 2 February, 1922." by Swallowtail Garden Seeds is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Hello, I hope you’ve been enjoying a nice weekend and taking my advice from last week to slow down and treat yourself right.

Personally, I’ve been sick all week, which sort of forced me to slow down. Then, I had to speed right back up again. Sometimes in life, slowing down too much makes it harder to get going again. We exist on the back of a wave of stressed-out inertia, speeding along without even realizing how fast we’re going.

I have an interesting collection of writing for you this week.

I had fun setting up the humorous piece where I turn the new ChatGPT program on its creators so that it rants about capitalism and the evils of Elon Musk. The world is changing at dramatic speed, and these new machine-learning models are the cavalry of that charge.

I also have an article full of fan-made films from the Star Trek franchise. Some are probably what you’d expect—low-budget passion projects. But a few of these rival anything produced by major studios (even featuring original Star Trek actors). I have not been a fan of most of the modern Trek offerings, particularly disliking both Picard and Lower Decks, much to my own sadness. Watching these fan films is a treat because, even in the cheesiest, I can see the real love for the story that I also feel.

The other article is a short piece on leadership that briefly recounts my experience running the tech team for the 2020 World Fantasy Convention. I think that good leadership is a matter of communication-building and community rather than hierarchy, and I have some thoughts on that. But, sometimes the best leadership is revolutionary—with the key being a return of that gifted power once the revolution ends.

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World Wide Web

I’ve got a few things for you today, starting with two news topics close to my heart.

COVID-19 and why we can’t trust appeals to authority

This weekend, I went to go see a play. It was a one-woman show acted by an old friend and directed by another, and it absolutely blew me away with emotionality and power. And I was able to go and enjoy the experience because the people in the theater were wearing masks. This behavior flies in the face of the growing laxness on masking, a laxness that’s made it difficult for me to have much of a social life beyond limited (and risk-assessed) contact with friends.

But I can’t, and don’t blame the ordinary people who neglect to be as conscientious as I. There are three major factors that make things difficult:

  • Decision fatigue: People are exhausted. Both from the pandemic, and from other elements of a tiring life. People don’t have the extra willpower even to wear masks, let alone research the best kind, buy the best kind (also a lack of funds), and face up to the social pressure of their peers.
  • Lack of risk training: Most people assess risk very poorly. I tend toward the side of extreme risk assessment, and then try to correct my behavior toward a reasonable norm from there. But most people either over or under-react, and then don’t self-correct at all. This isn’t a moral failing, it’s a lack of training.
  • Poor messaging from authorities: Authority is a poor stand-in for an educated, community-driven, and self-aware populace. Ever since the pandemic began, authorities around the world have handled the messaging poorly. And this brings me to the main topic for today: a new meta-study from the Cochrane non-profit.

A meta-study is a study of studies: it gathers data from multiple collections and tries to showcase shared or diverging outcomes. In January of 2023, Cochrane published a meta-analysis of mask use, checking to see if the use of masks reduced the spread of respiratory illnesses. Since then, it’s become a flag waved on the front lines of anti-maskers, conspiracy-theorists, and armchair pundits everywhere… because the results were inconclusive.

Cochrane’s own takeaway was: “We are uncertain whether wearing masks or N95/P2 respirators helps to slow the spread of respiratory viruses based on the studies we assessed. Hand hygiene programmes may help to slow the spread of respiratory viruses.” But, considering how serious this issue is, it seems pretty irresponsible to not highlight the study’s own weaknesses a bit more clearly. Of course, the study’s lead researcher has espoused rabid conspiracy-theorizing himself, so that probably explains things. Indeed, the biggest problems came from an interview he gave, not from the study itself.

Kelsey Piper at VOX wrote a small opinion piece on this that struck me as lucid:

The new Cochrane review paper strikes me, and may strike you, as something of a scientifically irresponsible way to represent these findings. It gets at one of the core challenges of science: There is no methodology that can straightforwardly find answers in messy study data without many judgment calls by scientists, who are humans with their own strength, weaknesses, and eccentricities. A meta-analysis, after all, can’t meta-analyze itself.

This meta analysis fails in a huge number of ways, but its deepest failure is in providing extremists with ammunition for bad public health decisions.

The future of libraries

In another piece of depressing news (sorry), The Internet Archive is being sued by a number of major publishers who are trying to destroy its digital library. This is another extremely dangerous push by major corporate powers to consolidate their chokehold on consumers in such a way that we might never be able to breathe again. These seemingly-specific fights have wide-ranging legal repercussions.

Some more enjoyable things from the net

In 1990, Warren Beatty made a Dick Tracy movie. But no one would let him make another one, and even tried to do a TV show without him. He got so mad he decided to find a loophole in his contract and get decades of petty revenge.

Every couple of decades, he makes a no-budget 20-some minute TV special where he complains to Leonard Maltin while wearing his old costume, and releases it unannounced in the middle of the night on TCM. This week, at 85 years old, he premiered his new one, called Dick Tracy Zooms In. He didn't even have to show up on set. However, he has gone to court to make sure that they legally count as sequels, and thus renew his rights to the character. He does this solely so that no one else can legally use the character for anything.

This new special will make the character his until 2027, when Dick Tracy goes into the public domain and anyone can use him for free.

This is art. This is some A+ Andy Kaufman-level trolling. I will never watch either of these specials, because the whole point is that they are unwatchable, low effort, and awful enough to be a middle finger to some bean counting whipper snapper who made Warren Beatty mad in the 90s. But I am so happy they exist. I'd rather know these bird flips by an old man taking a grudge to the grave are in the world than a Dick Tracy Disney+ show staring Chris Pratt.

I found the above piece while surfing the net, and I enjoy the spunk so much. Anything that slaps the big corps in the face makes me happy.

Also, coral reefs can be restored, and they’re so beautiful when they are:

Before/after undersea photo: 1) 2015 “before” with a dried up, dark, barren floor comprising dead coral; 2) 2022 “after” with a colorful coral reef, bustling with many swimming fish

What’s next?

Now that I’m on the mend from this cold, I still have to mend from the severe sciatica that’s been plaguing me for a month. The daily pain I experience is not particularly fun, and the willpower needed to cope with that has been detracting from all my other projects. Once I catch up on some of the backlog, I want to get back to making videos about my experience in the MLIS program, and I’d love to review some more mystery books for The Strand. It’s hard to say how long that will take me, but you all will be the first to know!

For now, this weekly newsletter format has been working well for me, so I think I’ll continue it for the time-being. However, I have considered moving my free newsletter into a monthly pattern, and having smaller weekly updates only for paid members. These smaller updates would include writing advice, note-taking advice, and second-brain management ideas. I’ll give everyone a heads-up before any such changes get made, however.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts and comments, so please leave those below!

Until next week, go easy, and if you can’t go easy then go as easy as you can.


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