Please check out the new INSIGHT skeptic blog!

There’s a new skeptic group blog I’d like to call to your attention. It’s called INSIGHT at skeptic.com, and is supported by the Skeptics Society and Skeptic Magazine. It just launched in September with a fantastic slate of skeptic writers on board. I’ll be writing there too – my first post (on ‘Psychic’ Sally Morgan) just appeared on Friday.

Insight LogoI’ve always tried to maintain the theme of this blog as technology and skepticism, and resisted the temptation to post on other topics. Sometimes that has meant that some posts here are kind of shoehorned into the format, like the ones about my fascination with skeptic history.  But it also means  that sometimes I’ve had things I wanted to write about that I simply didn’t, because the post wouldn’t fit in here.

INSIGHT solves that for me – now I have a place to post general skeptic commentary that does not explicitly relate to technology or the Internet.  Fear not, I will still be posting here on explicitly technical topics. In fact, I may do crossover posts where I explain the high level skeptical part over on INSIGHT and link back to a nitty-gritty technical post here.  Stay tuned!

I’m also very excited to now be writing alongside some great skeptics. The blog is edited by my good friend Daniel Loxton, who I’ve always felt a kinship with because of his dedication to pure scientific skepticism as well as skeptic history.  Other bloggers include my VirtualSkeptics co-hosts Eve Siebert and Barbara Drescher and the founder of Skepticality podcast Robynn “Swoopy” McCarthy. Plus many other great folks including Jim Lippard, Blake Smith, Mike McRae, Laurie Tarr and many more!

I recommend you go read Daniel’s introductory post to the blog as well as the wonderful Eugenie Scott’s guest post which kicked the blog off.  Please subscribe, link to it on social media and recommend it to your friends!

Caption your videos for accessibility – and you may reap a viral reward

Handicapped Accessible signSkeptics should be doing our part to improve accessibility – for our events, our online content and in general. If the message of rationalism and science is truly of value, then it should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities.

One way to do this is to ensure that online audio and video content is provided with transcripts and/or closed captions. This allows deaf and hearing-impaired people to access the content.  That’s 5% of the world’s population, or 360 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization.

Aside from feeling good about doing our civic duty, it can benefit outreach as well. Captions can be used as the basis to translate the content into other languages, allowing your content to reach other countries. And as I explained in my YouTube meta-data post back in January, the additional text of the captions helps make your content more attractive to search engines like Google.

There are some skeptics who are leading the way with this, whose efforts I’d like to highlight in this post. But I’m also going to update you on my own efforts, which recently helped one video become a viral hit.

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Ignite Skepticism will launch tomorrow at #DragonCon #Skeptrack in Atlanta

Ignite Skepticism logoBack in June I wrote a post about innovative mixes of curation and crowdsourcing that I’ve seen skeptic events adding these days. I included some ideas that (to my knowledge) have not yet been tried at the end of that post.

At DragonCon 2014 in Atlanta on Monday, I am going to curate an attempt at one of those new ideas (previously mentioned in my schedule here)! It’s called Ignite Skepticism, and it consists of a series of 5-minute lightning talks.

I hope many of you who are attending the event right now will attend this session, which is in the Skeptrack room, 204 to 207 in the Hilton hotel. The session begins Monday at 10am.

But let me tell you a little bit more about what Ignite is all about…

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WiFi and Internet guide to #DragonCon 2014

Update August 29: Hilton renamed their access points in the last two weeks.
Update August 30: AmericasMart has made WiFi free in 2014.

DragonCon 2014 in Atlanta is this weekend. It is a gigantic convention for fans of science fiction, fantasy, comic books and other pop-culture topics. For several years now it has had a dedicated track of programming for skeptics called Skeptrack, at which I again will be speaking. (You can see my schedule in an earlier post).

DragonCon logoDragon Con is so huge  – spread across six massive buildings in downtown Atlanta – that wireless communication is essential to keep in touch during it. For the fourth year running, I’ve gone to downtown Atlanta and personally verified what WiFi options are available around the DragonCon site so attendees can know what to expect. This post contains my findings for 2014.

The map has been updated with some new hotspots and to remove ones that are gone. Much of the hotel information is unchanged from last year, but be sure to check the hotel you are staying in to be sure. The devil is in the details.

Just some of the info in this post that can save you time or money or both:

  • Every host hotel this year has at least some free WiFi – and the paid options in your hotel room now typically include from 3 to 5 devices. I’ve got details.
  • Is the hotel WiFi overloaded, and you desperately need to upload something? I’ll tell you several places to go in the nearby area that offer alternatives.
  • Would you rather use a less overloaded WiFi by logging in with your existing WiFi account? (e.g. AT&T, Boingo, Xfinity, etc.) I’ve found several places you can do that including many new Xfinity hotspots added since last year.
  • Do you need some Internet access but are not bringing a device? I’ll tell you which two hotels have computers you can use for free.

All that and much more, after the jump…

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Tim Farley’s #DragonCon 2014 Schedule

DragonCon logo

Updated Aug 26: added Star Party links.

The US Labor Day holiday is next weekend, which means it is time for DragonCon!

Once again I will be attending and speaking on several panels on both the Skeptrack and the Electronic Frontiers tracks – all in the Hilton hotel. Prior to the main festivities, a satellite event (pun intended) that I’m also involved with is the Atlanta Star Party.

And of course I will be out and about with the other skeptics who are attending. Please be sure to come up and say hello! I promise I don’t bite.

DragonCon itself is gigantic and you’ll want to check the entire schedule for other cool things to see. Fortunately there’s an app for that. I highly recommend you log in there and start marking things you want to see. In addition to the mobile-ready web version at that link, there are apps for the major smartphones that you can download via a button on that page. In addition, the Skeptrack has its own page on Lanyrd here (with its own smartphone app and other features).

Coming up next week I’ll post my annual WiFi and Internet guide for the event. But for now, below is my schedule for DragonCon weekend.

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The value of answering your own questions at Stack Exchange

Stack Skeptic logoThere’s much to learn when you are interested in skepticism. There’s the human psychology, the history of various scams and hoaxes, the science (and pseudoscience) of alternative medicine, and much more. As a result there’s plenty of material to read – books, magazines, newsletters, blogs and so on.

In my reading, I inevitably come across lots of interesting little tidbits here and there. Finding stuff like this was the basis in part for both What’s the Harm and my Skeptic History daily fact.

But sometimes you find a neat fact that you’d love to call to everyone’s attention, but you don’t have the appropriate place to put it. Social media is often too ephemeral, and blogging is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Let’s assume you don’t have a popular website of your own (most people don’t) and don’t want to start one. Some topics just aren’t appropriate for their own Wikipedia (or even RationalWiki) article. Either there just isn’t enough meat there, or other editors might question the “notability”.

Wouldn’t be nice if there was another place to publicly bookmark little items like this, set up so the general public could easily find them? There is such a place and let me explain why it’s ideal for this.

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“Right to be Forgotten” may affect skeptic outreach

"Forget-me-not and Blue sky" by Heike Löchel licensed under Creative Commons

“Forget-me-not and Blue sky” by Heike Löchel licensed under Creative Commons

Because skeptics constantly criticize the claims of others, we often provoke angry reactions. Ideally this provokes some educational debate, but sometimes it goes sour. That can take the form of trolling, harassment or even escalate to legal action. In the United States the legal option tends not to be too successful, thanks to our First Amendment rights. But that doesn’t apply outside the US.

Some opponents of skeptics seek out more creative ways to shut down our commentary. A few years ago a German named Claus Fritsche was paid by homeopathy manufacturers to create spam websites that would poison the search engine results for Edzard Ernst’s name, in an effort to discredit his critiques of alternative medicine. Numerous skeptics have been targets of spurious DMCA claims on YouTube over the years.

Recently the European courts have created a brand new way for the people we criticize to tamper with (at least in Europe) our ability to reach an audience. It is called the “right to be forgotten” and skeptic webmasters need to stay on top of their tools in order not to get blindsided by this.

Read on and I’ll explain.

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