Year: 2008

Media Bias

Photo by VoxEfx on Flickr
Photo by Vox_Efx on Flickr

The vast majority of the news we consume cannot be described as “impartial.” During the past year, subtle or overt bias appeared in almost all of the news coverage of the upcoming election that I’ve seen. It’s disturbing, it’s unfortunate, and it’s impossible to avoid. In what’s become an exceedingly rare occurrence, I agree with the main premise of one of Joe’s recent political blog posts.

Varying degrees of left- or right-leaning bias can be found on all of the major media outlets, whether it’s print, broadcast, online, or radio. It’s difficult to determine when such comprehensive bias hijacked our news sources, but I think the cause is easier to pinpoint. Let’s blame it on the Internet.

A medium itself is impartial technology, generally invented for altruistic purposes, but as soon as a printing press or broadcast gains an audience, there will be an effort to sway the masses that consume it. Mass media bias is not new and has many possible sources and causes. However, for the past century or so, we’ve enjoyed many major media organizations that strove for—and prided themselves on—having as close to impartial coverage as possible. Claiming to be “fair and balanced” while actually being anything but does not count. It’s difficult to maintain neutrality on controversial topics and doing so requires unceasing vigilance, so it’s unsurprising that there are many notable failures in that struggle.

In an era when daily newspapers are bleeding subscribers, when TV stations are losing viewers to the Internet, and when the big money of classifieds has been lost to Craigslist, it’s no wonder that mass media is looking to compete with what’s available online. And it’s no secret that most bloggers have not attended the Columbia School of Journalism. If a blogger can say whatever they wish, they are bound to be more entertaining than an unbiased report; inflection and voice can go a long way. Here’s the problem: mass media has forgotten that they need to be informative first, entertaining second, and the public has forgotten that this order of priorities is ultimately for the best.

Blatant, widespread disregard for neutrality seems to be a recent development: something that’s surfaced in the past few years. Like Christians before the lions, liberals are often called to appear on Fox News, but their purpose is merely to serve as anvils to the hosts’ hammers. While Fox is an easy target for their blatant Republican love, the fact is that no network is untainted. It’s my choice to scoff at John McCain or Sarah Palin after their latest gaffes—most appropriately when assembled in a fantastic Daily Show segment; it’s frightening when respected news anchors are snickering along with me.

Rather than wax on about how Obama is the Second Coming of Christ—though he may, in fact, be the Savior of American Politics—I want the media to ask tough questions and demand answers of all politicians so I can make the most informed choice possible. That’s your job in a nutshell: report facts in a coherent and digestible manner.

Disclaimer: I am one of those ivory tower, far-left wing, liberal elitists.

Polaroid Theme

It still needs some polish, but I think my new theme, Polaroid, can stand on its own at this point. Instead of working from the heavily modified templates of my old theme, I started with a fresh copy of the WordPress default template, making sure that I had widget capabilities for the sidebars and a few other spots. With the exception of the archives page sidebar, all of the sidebars on the site are WordPress widgets.

Eventually, I will be pulling the media section more fully into the WordPress template and convert the backend of those features into WordPress plugins. I also added a new plugin to spruce up the archives page: Compact Archives. This plugin allows you to create a neat block of date archives, similar to how’s archive page used to be structured.

Some pages remain mostly unstyled, including the links and media pages. There are also a few minor style issues with IE6/7, but Firefox and Safari users shouldn’t see anything out of place. Feedback is appreciated! Leave a comment and let me know what you think, good or bad.

Coming Soon

A new design and new content will be available here on Monday. I’ve been tinkering with a new design for a few months in Photoshop and coding a new template locally for the past week or so. It’s a major departure from the current design, which is nearing the three-year mark. The new design will also better integrate the various aspects of my Interweb life into the site and will have some new content.

Cuil Needs Work

The Interwebs are buzzing with Cuil news today, a new search engine developed by a few Google expatriates. Cuil (pronounced “Cool”) aims to index all web pages, something which Google does not do. Considering the buzz and the potential, I gave it a quick test run, but I was not impressed. My first search, like most egomaniacs, was for my last name “mekosh”. This is what Cuil returned yesterday morning:

A screenshot of Cuil\'s results for \

Granted, when every major media organization points traffic at a new site there are bound to be problems handling that server strain. Even Apple suffers growing pains; see MobileMe. I know I’m not an Internet legend, but my name is on dozens of sites; I should be able to see results the first time.

The search for my surname appears to be returning results now, but they are not the results I’d expect from a Google-killer. On the first page of results for “stephen mekosh” is a proxy site stealing my content and inserting links into it. Not cool. Furthermore, the most obvious result for “mekosh” would be this website, but doesn’t even appear on the first page of results; it’s on page four. It’s hardly necessary to mention that Google does much better.

I would hope that even if the first page results aren’t that useful, they would at least be arranged in a helpful manner. This is not the case either. As my friend, Joe, mentioned, the multi-column layout makes scanning results an annoying and slower process. Furthermore, the images next to the results are rarely accurate. Several people and images were combined with results for my name, yet none of them were correct or applicable to the content.

Some websites are humble giants, all massive influence and little bravado; Cuil is neither. When you launch a site with the tagline of “The World’s Biggest Search Engine,” you had better bring your A-game. At this point, Cuil is nothing more than a reminder that Google search is still the best available.

Xbox 360 on the Cheap

I’ve wanted an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 since the moment they were sold, but I didn’t want to spend $400 or more to own one; I just don’t play video games enough to justify it. I had been leaning towards the PS3 because of its Blue-ray capabilities and the fact that the hardware is more robust, but game selection is still lacking and it’s a more expensive system.

When my brother bought a 360, it pretty much sealed the deal for me in terms of system selection, but there was still the price issue. A few weeks ago, I found out a friend had a 360 with a bad DVD-ROM and was willing to part with the system—including original packaging, power supply, and controller— for $60, if I was able to fix it; no charge if I couldn’t get it working. He said the DVD drive would not eject properly and that the disc would skip while playing because the drive tray was loose.

Let me just start by saying Microsoft really does not want you to take apart the Xbox 360. At all. Ever. I’ve cracked open computer cases, replaced car stereos, and tinkered with other electronics so I figured I could just take apart the Xbox case and have a look around. Yeah. After struggling to get part of the case open and fearing that the force I was using would destroy the Xbox completely, I searched online and found this great tutorial:

I could have done without the generic techno, but the video was a HUGE help. Once I had access to the DVD drive itself, I thought I’d open that and see if any of the mechanics of the drive were out of whack. All of the gears and teeth looked fine; the drive was a little dusty, but no more than expected. I restricted the side-to-side wobble of the tray by bending the metal drive container in a little bit to give it a snug fit. The tray now slid in and out smoothly if you manually ejected it with a paper clip, but the eject button was useless unless you tapped HARD on the top of the drive case while pressing ‘eject’. After a few hours of experimenting, I concluded the magnet was not the problem.

What did fix the weak drive tray motor issue was cleaning the small, black rubber band that connects the two pulleys used to open and close the tray. I used a Q-Tip to clean the pulleys and cleaned the rubber band thoroughly in warm water. I dried the rubber band and put it back on the pulleys; closed up the box and it works great now. No issues with skipping games or ejecting discs. The drive still screams like an aircraft and makes odd clicking sounds so I will likely need to replace it sometime in the next few months, but it plays games just fine now.

Jumping the Shark

Photo of my fish tank

It all stems back to a faulty thermometer. I’ve liked pet fish for as long as I can remember, but I’m appallingly bad at keeping them alive. Growing up, I had serious allergies so a dog was out of the question; I kept tropical fish instead.

At some point, my fish started dying—one fish every few days until only a small shark remained. A few days later, my little sister saw the shark jump out of the fish tank and land on the carpet; luckily, we were able to get him back into the water quickly and he survived a few more days until he jumped the tank again. His second suicide attempt succeeded.

While the fish were dying off, we noticed that the water heater wasn’t keeping the temperature warm enough and necessitated raising the heater power to keep the temperature at a healthy level. Cleaning the tank after the shark died, we noticed the water seemed fairly hot; it was much warmer than than what the thermometer stated. Further inspection revealed that the thermometer—not the water heater—was broken and the fish were dying because we were slowly cooking them alive.

I set up a fish tank in my apartment this past October and have had two die-offs since then; only one of the original October fish remains. On Monday, I replenished the tank with a half-dozen new fish, including a three-inch, red-finned shark. Sometime later that evening, my shark jumped the tank.