Sigh. It’s a plane, D&C. You’re looking at a plane.

Who doesn’t love space? All those planets and stars and shit. And when we get to see a little space magic from right here on Earth, most of us react with the commensurate joy and wonder. Once in a while, we do so a little rashly and without thinking.

So it was that today, the D&C – the paper of record in the Rochester, NY area – decided to publish a reader photo with the title, “The view from Greece: Meteor? Flare? UFO?” The objects in question are two deep orange conical shapes that appear to dart towards the Earth from the heavens. They sorta look like orange jellyfish on their way to visit our planet, presumably with either conquest or destruction in mind. Are they not one, but two UFOs, bent on malice that only the dulcet strains of Tom Jones can defeat?

Never minding, of course, that we have no less than the Strasenburgh Planetarium as a resource on which to rely for clarification. As well as the Astrophysics Department of the University of Rochester; the Astronomy Department at Rochester Institute of Technology (featuring umpteen telescopes and a working observatory, no less) and even the Rochester Astronomy Club. All could have verified the object in question.

A bit of common sense could have helped, as well. Let’s take a fast look at the image in question (you’ll have to link to it. Copyright and soforth) to see what we can parse out of it.

The photographer in question says he was out shooting long-exposure shots of the Lake Ontario shoreline. That means the photographer kept the shutter of the camera open longer than normal, to capture more light. When he reviewed his photos, he saw those orange smears, which were not visible when he took the photos.

We can see the water is definitely glassy and blurred, which means that the waves have been moving while the camera was open. So that sorta checks out, though he can’t have had the shutter open too long.  Otherwise, the lake would be one flat smear of color. It’s hard to imagine that the three or four seconds the camera was open allowed the orange smears to streak so far across the image.

So, let’s look at the orange blurs. They’re very, very big. And they’re flat in the front. And well,.. they’re orange.

Only two things could account for the orange color. Either they’re burning or they’ve caught an angle of the setting sun’s rays, which prism around the Earth. That prismatic effect, by the way, is what gives you a sunset of orange. Whatever it is, if indeed it comes from space, is not burning. That’s because most everything that is shooting past our Earth is made up almost exclusively of ice: meteorids don’t burn so much they melt and steam.

And in the case of the recently-reported meteorid visit to the Rochester area, you can clearly see that they’re typically very, very white and very, very visible. They’re also pin-straight until their eventual expiration, in this case, in a blast of white light. No jellyfish-ness. One line and maybe a boom.

In fact, it’s worth noting that the objects in the photo bear a much more striking resemblance to a comet than an asteroid. A comet gets it’s tail from the solar wind whipping off it and shredding ice particles off as it passes. But – and this is key – the direction of a comet’s tail has nothing whatsoever to to with it’s position relative to the Earth. Therefore, we can also rule out two simultaneous – and unknown to science – comets that both point seemingly towards the Earth.

Wait. They both seem to point towards Earth, don’t they? Look at the photo again. You can clearly see that the photographer must be using some sort of star filter on his camera to get those radial bursts around the sodium lights on the shore. If you take a scrap of paper with a straight edge and hold it up to the photo on your screen, you can see that the “meteors” in question both point directly at the center light. In other words, the most likely explanation is that the “meteor’s tail” can be purchased at Rowe Photo for about $7.

Here are a few much more plausible – though admittedly less click-worthy – explanations for what we’re seeing. One is that the flare lens caught a bit of stray light from the shoreline lights higher up on the image and reflected it back on the picture. That might even be the most plausible. But secondly, many satellites are visible from Earth and we barely register them. They pass overhead in a matter of minutes, and being metal objects that are reflecting sunlight, very often take on the reds, oranges, and other tones of the prismatic sunlight as they cross in and out of Earth shadow.

Most embarrassingly of all for the D&C, it’s entirely possible that, just because the photog didn’t see a plane in the area, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. I note a very heavy collection of clouds to the left of the image. Perfect for obscuring a plane high in the sky.

Headlines that end in question marks are pure link bait. Click whoring. I know this because I do it too. Glass houses and all that jazz, right? And everybody loves to have fun with a mystery, especially of the extraterrestrial variety. But science is more than fun and mysterious enough without the need to add easily-debunked confusion into the mix.

Journalism Rochester Technology

Everything you need to know about getting around the Gannett paywall

To be clear: I have no problem with anyone – anyone at all – making money. I also having nothing against anyone saving money, either. And I suspect, nobody has any problem with the fact that the creative friction between the two is what makes our great nation of Amurica the great nation that its great at being. Isn’t that great?

So with that said, is finding a way around the D&C’s paywall unethical? Well, let me put it to you this way: have you ever gone through the line at a store with your significant and two identical coupons? And those coupons say, “one coupon per customer, per visit?”

If you decided to use two different lines and get double the discount, then you’ve already become well-aquainted with the idea of game systems. And Gannett News has clearly decided that your consumption of their product is a game. A game where you get as far as your knowledge takes you. And somewhat perversely for an organization ostensibly charged with informing the public, it is a game where what you don’t know could cost you either money or information.

Every good game needs cheat codes. So here you go:

Everything you need to know about getting around the Gannett paywall:

  • The paywall counts the number of articles you have viewed. More than 20, you’ll have to pay.
  • Unlike the New York Times paywall, the Gannett paywall ALSO counts articles you’ve viewed through social media links towards your 20 free.
  • Blogs on the D&C DO NOT count towards your 20 free.
  • Clicking articles multiple times. This is very odd:
    • Clicking the same article multiple times DOES count towards your 20 free. What the hell?
    • Once you’ve reached your 20 free, clicking the same article multiple times DOES NOT trigger the paywall block. You can still view any previously-viewed articles….
    • So, clicking the same article 20 times will screw you, but as long as you really, really like that article – which, presumably, you must – you’re all set.
  • The paywall relies on sessions, which in layman’s terms, means that the paywall can only count the number of articles clicked on one computer, one browser at a time.
    • Switching browsers – using Chrome or Firefox instead of Internet Explorer, for example – means you’ll have a whole new 20 free articles.
    • Switching to your work computer means 20 additional free articles
    • Switching to your laptop means 20 more articles.
    • Switching to your smartphone or tablet… you get the idea.
  • “Well, fuck me old boots, Tom!” you say in an exaggerated British accent, “Nobody wants to have to manage all those different browsers!! I just want my horribly biased, pathetically misinformed editorials and aggregated AP content with my morning coffee.”  No worries, mate.
    • Instead, just clear your browser’s cookies and you can start all over again.
    • As mentioned in comments, Firefox and Safari both have private browsing modes. Close your browser when you’ve hit the cap and reopen. Presto! Chango! You’ve reset the clock.
    • Rather than dumping your whole browser cache, those who use developer tools in their browsers can find and delete the cookie named EMETA_NCLICK to effectively reset the clock.

This is a pretty good list for now, I think. If you have any additional insight to add, please do so in the comments. I’ll update the list as either new info comes to light or the rules of the game change.

Economy Politics

Come on, @DandC: Get a Fracking Clue

I flagged this Marist poll earlier this morning. Now it appears that the Rochester @dandc has opted to guilelessly report on the same poll, showing that New Yorkers are “split” on the issue of hydrofracking:

State is split over use of fracking, poll finds | Democrat and Chronicle |

The trouble is: how many people actually know what hydrofracking is and how many does this issue actually affect? My guess is that many of the respondents live somewhere that fracking will almost certainly never occur. How can we expect them to have an informed opinion on an issue that doesn’t affect them? Their opinions matter as a matter of politics, perhaps. But as a matter of substance? Not so much.

Both the original Marist poll and the above-linked article concede that in Upstate, where the fracking plans are most prevalent, fracking appears to be much less popular. Yet they both choose to lead with the less-illuminating title. Why?

Media Politics Rochester Technology

The Twenty-Dollar Online News: Could it Be a Good Thing?

Noting that the New York Times( @nytimes ) has had a respectable start to its new paywall system, I wonder if the twenty dollar subscription fee ends up being a workable model for former print media companies in other markets. And by other markets, clearly, I mean Rochester.

The NYT enjoys huge a huge national audience as well as a history of being something of a status symbol paper. You cannot think of their audience as quite reliably local as would be the case here in Rochester with the Democrat and Chronicle( @dandc ). But for the sake of scale, if you think in terms of subscribers to population, they’ve got about eight percent of the city in three months time.

Its obviously much too early to tell whether the Times will be able to keep up with those numbers once readers get charged full price. But its not too early to think about what a paywalled news media might mean.

Personally, the volume of news I read – and the variety of sources – makes the prospect of paying twenty dollars for each impossible. I’d have to cut down my reading considerably. Which would at first blush seem cut down on my reason for blogging considerably.

But then there is something intriguing about the prospect of a city full of bloggers, Tumblr accounts, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages with only the D&C in common. Of a community where notoriety might come from being the first to spot a crucial detail missing from an article. It could be a very good thing for journalism in Rochester, the effect quite apart from the information doomsday that media consolidation normally brings to mind. My mind, anyway.

We shall see….


I’m No Journalist, But. . .

Shouldn’t the Democrat and Chronicle at least mention the fact that Eric Massa has introduced credit card reform legislation when discussing credit card reform legislation in a news article? Gosh, maybe they didn’t know. They should really read more blogs over there. . .


M&T or B&S?

One wonders at the Herculean effort that must be required of the editing department of the Democrat and Chronicle that they’re able to have psychic space for the subject of my last post and this latest article in the same moment:

Wall Street roughs up Buffalo-based M&T | | Democrat and Chronicle

According to M&T’s quarterly filings, the bank has an increasing amount of bad debt related to the nation’s real estate woes, with $99 million in loan charge-offs for the quarter, up from $22 million the same quarter a year ago. Those charge-offs, M&T said, in large part were loans to residential real estate developers and builders.

M&T said it also saw increased amounts of bad home equity loans and residential real estate loans.

So, the “conservative” principles that local banks rely on have kept them in good stead. . . except when that 99 million in defaulted loans becomes convenient to explain the loss of profitability.  Figure that out.


Subprime: No Consequences for Rochester

It took me a few days to find it, but I just got done reading the D&C’s latest installment of misinformation on the Subprime/ARM Mortgage crisis brewing throughout our country.  Now, it hurts to think.  I know it’s easy to criticize the media for incomplete reporting, but in this case, the Pollyanna tone of the piece and the fundamental lack of depth are just positively astounding.  Take, for example, the dismissive tone that begins the piece:

A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking the U.S. financial industry is on the brink of collapse.

Indeed.  And I’m sure a professional observer could be equally forgiven.  But according to the D&C, that’s all just silly pussy talk:

Is it cash-under-the-mattress time for those of us who don’t know a derivative from a debenture?


Take a deep breath, sit back and listen to Dan Burns, president of the Rochester division of M&T Bank, explain that our local banks — the Canandaigua Nationals, the First Niagaras, the M&Ts and others — are run conservatively and are, in fact, quite healthy.

Yes, now that the irresponsible practices of banks and lending institutions have brought our economy to unbelievable pains and left thousands homeless, let’s all sit right back, take a big hit from the hukka and listen to yet another banker tell us why we needn’t worry our pretty little heads about it.  Sleep deep.  After all, these banks are run conservatively, and conservative equals good.

It is a consistent narrative within the larger D&C world view that Rochester is always exceptional in some way or the other, especially in cases of crisis.  There seems to be some “Big Daddy” complex that compels the editorial board to assure us all that, no matter what the situation, Rochester will be OK because we’re just a far away, sleepy conservative town that nobody would ever want to hurt.  We don’t need to worry about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan; we don’t need to worry about terrorism; we don’t need to worry about the mortgage crisis.  Sleep deep.  These too shall pass.

And I would prefer not to be seen as the reactionary counterpart, but if seventy percent of the mortgages in America are being underwritten by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – yes, including some of those issued by Canandaigua National – then whether or not East Bumblefuck National Bank ever had the money to even play the subprime game, much less suffer the consequences directly, matters very little.  To the extent that this article is about local banks, it is great to know that they’ve done OK despite the problems so far.  But when the article is address to those of us who “don’t know a derivative from a debenture,” and sets a “don’t worry” tone – consistent with a common D&C theme- there is the air of irresponsibility.

Now is definitely the time to worry; now is definitely time to check the fine-print on your mortgage; now is definitely the time when you should be searching Google News for your mortgage lender’s name; now is the time to pay attention to the news about the mortgage problems and educate yourself to the extent you can.  Now is not the time to panic.  The problems of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac not only have the potential to directly affect those sleepy burgs that choose not to pay attention, but are in fact indicative of market forces that will directly affect our lives.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac certainly have their problems as institutions.  Nevertheless, the sudden near-collapse of these two lending agencies is not simply bad timing: in an effort to bail out banks and mortgage holders struggling with the ARM interest rate snap-back that’s caused this whole subprime crisis, the government encouraged people to transfer to Fannie- and Freddie-backed mortgages.  Now, those institutions are completely overwhelmed and there’s more to come.  Here in Rochester, according to one recent report which I discussed a while back (note: Empire Justice’s website appears to be down at the moment, so you can’t actually see the report, which sux), forty four percent of subprime mortgages in Monroe County are in trouble.  Even if those mortgages aren’t through local banks, the problem they present is still quite local.

And oh, by the way?  Hiding cash under your mattress doesn’t matter much if the financial institutions that back that currency collapse.  No, now may not be the time to hide cash under your bed, but if we’re unlucky, it may be time to start ripping copper wire out of your house and protecting your gold fillings.

So, D&C: quit patronizing us and do your freakin’ job.  Tell us what’s happening, ask tough questions of local institutions.  Do I have to be all on my own reporting the news around here?


If Comments Could Kill

Jon Greenbaum discusses the comments in the D&C with a lot more passion than I’ve been able to muster these days.  Will it take a lawsuit before the Democrat and Chronicle starts actually moderating it’s comments?  How many more blogs/politicians/activists need to publicly point this out before Gannet shows an ounce of shame?


D&C on the Dem Primary

Of course, if anyone likes to project their opinions on their readers, it’s the D&C.  True to form, the D&C anoints Hillary Clinton as the all-but-decided leader in New York State in this article.  Of course, we all know that “likely voters” is a very subjective term for a season in which we have seen record numbers of Democratic voters, so it’s pointless to put too much thought into polls.

But most distressing of all is this line: “Clinton just beefed up her forces in the state in hopes of securing the 151 delegates up for grabs.”  That makes it seem like the winner of this contest gets all the delegates, and this is simply not true.  To me, that seems like a way to subtly depress the turnout for Obama and Edwards supporters by making it seem like there’s no point in coming out for a guy who’s not going to gain anything for the effort.