November 29, 2009

Burpless sheep??

An uncharacteristically short and focussed post today, prompted by an item in today's news about research into reducing the amount of greenhouse gas produced by sheep.

Enquiring minds want to know ...
  1. Who thought up this project, and did they manage to submit the funding proposal with a straight face?
  2. Did anyone do any sums?
    "Agriculture produces about 16 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and two-thirds of that is methane produced by farm animals ... Cattle produce about 70 kilograms of methane a year and sheep produce about one-tenth of that."
  3. Let's see ... 2/3 of 16 is 10.6666. So sheep produce much less than 1% of the greenhouse gasses in the country. Anyone want to guess the percentage produced by, oh I don't know, cars and factories, to choose two non-sheep things at random?
  4. Do they seriously expect to devise a genetic strategy based on a mere 200 samples?
  5. What sort of a surname is Goopy anyway?
  6. Would a real scientist say something like "I don't know if you have ever been inside a sheep's tummy, but it's the most fascinating part of the ecology," ("tummy"?, "ecology"?)
  7. What scientist refers to pathogens as if they are people: "we're trying to get a handle on who the organisms are"?
No, I think it's pretty obvious that this "research" is merely a sham, and that these are not scientists at all, but an alien life force whose first step in world domination is to occupy the largely empty heads of sheep.
Don't say you weren't warned.

November 19, 2009

People Don't Read

Why don't people read (or listen to) things properly?
Is this a modern phenomenon? A consequence of the digital age? A reflection of our increasingly complicated lives?
Maybe it indicates a disturbing increase in self-absorption, with corresponding disinterest in the thoughts, views and opinions of others?

Case 1
I spent yesterday as a clinical examiner for 3rd year graduate medical students. These are people in their mid-late 20's or early 30's, all of them with previous University degrees, and with only one more year of study until they graduate as doctors. You might reasonably expect them to be intelligent, perceptive, and capable of paying attention.

The station for which I was an examiner gave the very simple instruction to "Select a case you have seen this year which illustrates ... ". There were three such questions, each relating to a different issue, and most students were able to describe suitable cases. However, to my great surprise, not just one but several of them ignored the question entirely and proceeded to talk in general terms about issues arising from their clinical experiences.

All of them knew this would be part of the exam, and they were allowed to bring their case reports with them, so it wasn't as if they couldn't remember any specific cases. It seems they simply didn't read the actual question, and instead gave the answer they wanted to.

Case 2
I have written many times, and at great length about the process of becoming a volunteer editor in the Open Directory Project, as have many other editors (such as my friend and colleague shadow575), and the application form itself contains very clear instructions. These are not at all complicated or hard to follow, and we have had successful applications from people of all ages and levels of education.
To prove my point, here are some of the instructions:
"A poorly written application ... that only serves to hype and promote websites is unlikely to be approved."
And yet we receive many applications every day which are full of careless mistakes, and/or read like advertisements for sites belonging to the applicant.
"You'll be asked to supply 3 sample URLs on your application. The sites you suggest should be specific to the subject matter of the category for which you are applying to edit."
So why do thousands of people apply with only one or two sample URLs, often completely unrelated to the category for which they apply? The form even goes on to explain in more detail:
"By providing a sample of 3 URLs (websites) in your application, you are showing us
  • your understanding of the kinds of sites listed in the category
  • your ability to pick quality websites, and
  • your ability to provide good and useful descriptions."
I simply don't see what is so difficult.
But then I didn't understand why a highly educated person could fail to understand the instruction to "select a case ..."
I think the situation in both cases is the same: the instructions are ignored in favour of what they want to do - a reflection of the "Me" society I guess.
In other words, these people are saying
"I don't really care what you think. I am more interested in what I think, and I will demonstrate this by ignoring your request."
A very selfish attitude in most situations, but downright short-sighted and self-defeating when it comes to exams and applications.

November 07, 2009


I recently read yet another long-winded complaint from an ill-informed webmaster about the "lazy" editors in the Open Directory Project, so I decided it must be time to revive the issue of volunteering. If these persistent critics were willing to give to the Project even a tiny fraction of the time they spend complaining, we would see the directory grow by thousands more sites every week!
After all, it's really very easy to become an ODP editor.

We've had volunteers ranging in age from 12 to 80, from all over the world, of all educational levels, and even some with disabilities like blindness.
There are no time requirements other than at least one edit every 4 months (although many editors do a lot more than that), so even if you can spare only a couple of minutes every month, that is still a worthwhile contribution, and certainly way more productive than all those people who keep on and on and on about what somebody else should be doing on their behalf.

All it takes to apply is half an hour or so of your time to read the application instructions, find sites for the category where you want to edit, and complete the form carefully and honestly. Then wait for a volunteer meta-editor to review your application (usually in less than a week), and Ta Dah! you are a DMOZ editor.
How easy is that?

Unfortunately, the vast majority of new editor applications are completely unacceptable, and having personally reviewed over 12,000 of them, I still don't understand why. It's not as if the form is at all complicated (see my comment above about the range of people who have had no trouble with it), but in any case there are numerous guides and hints for those who do need assistance with applying - including the comprehensive FAQ that I provided here last year.

As with many aspects of DMOZ, there are a lot of misconceptions about the application and approval process, despite all the many explanations that have been provided by my colleagues and myself over the years. So once again, here are the most common reasons for rejection (based on the many thousands in my own personal experience):
  1. Not bothering to read the instructions (which therefore contributes to the following).
  2. Not completing the form honestly.
  3. Not understanding the category.
  4. Suggesting sites on the form which are already listed in the category.
  5. Suggesting only their own site(s).
Note that this list does not even mention the titles and descriptions provided by the applicant, despite the fact that these are often cited by misinformed people as the "main" reasons for unsuccessful applications.
Certainly it is sensible for an applicant to show that they have at least read the editing guidelines, because if they are accepted they will be expected to follow them. But it takes weeks to months of editing before these guidelines become second nature, so it is obviously unrealistic to expect an applicant to demonstrate familiarity.

There are frequent calls for more people to be accepted as DMOZ editors, so why are all these careless or dishonest applications a problem?
Firstly, the integrity of the ODP depends entirely on the honesty of its editors, so applicants must show they are willing to abide by the Conflict of Interest policies. A dishonest application is a very poor start.
Secondly, a person is unlikely to be able to contribute much to the directory if they cannot manage to find even 2-3 worthwhile sites that belong in the category they want to edit, but which are not yet listed there, and which don't all belong to them.
Thirdly, careless applications are a waste of everyone's time. Many hundreds of applications are received each week, and every single one is reviewed by one or more volunteer meta-editors or catmods, taking up to 30 minutes each, and every applicant then receives feedback, so the time involved is considerable, even when it does not lead to another editor joining the Project.

Let me finish with a reminder to all those whose applications were unsuccessful: the feedback you received was intended to help you complete a more careful and/or honest application, and many current editors were accepted only after doing just that.

Please consider re-applying - it's a fascinating hobby, and DMOZ (and the internet community) needs YOU!


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