The Importance of Fact-Checking

We’ve all seen them, even if we don’t recognize them at first. A graphic espousing some ideology that we share on social media sites without fact-checking. It doesn’t matter what viewpoint they take, they’re almost always factually incorrect and this is a problem. We jokingly quote Abraham Lincoln as having said you can’t trust everything you read on the internet, but it seems like nobody has taken that to heart and the lack of fact-checking before sharing or re-posting these images damages credibility. If you don’t fact-check this item (typically because it suits one’s ideology) it becomes perfectly reasonable to suspect you’re wrong on other topics, as well.

Nowhere is this more damning or damaging to one’s credibility then a claim that is plainly falsifiable.

The problem is this info is almost 100% wrong.

The problem is this info is almost 100% wrong.

I’ve seen this graphic several times already, but the most recent encounter was from someone whose judgment I question, so I was prompted to fact-check it. This isn’t a political statement, this is purely because the numbers and claims are easily falsifiable. Some who like the message’s premise may protest “Statistics can be made to say anything you want”, but I argue that data cannot. This isn’t about shifting the representation of data, this is about pure numbers and the veracity of the claims. Here we go.

  • $450k is the salary of a SITTING president only. Their pension is less than $200k. There are only four surviving retired presidents. <$800,000 http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/pensionFARQ.html 
  • House and Senate members’ retirements fall under either CSRS or FERS, just like any other federal employee. In 2006, 413 retired members drew pensions. 290 earned ~$61k under CSRS, 123 averaged $36k under FERS. This totals $22,118,000 annually.
  • In 2010, a Congressional Budget Office estimated the average active duty military member receives $99,000 a year in benefits. (Includes medical, etc.)
    http://work.chron.com/average-salary-us-soldier-9060.html
  • In 2009, there were almost 1.4 million active duty military members. This doesn’t include National Guard, Reserve, or retirees (but does include Coast Guard). My calculator doesn’t have that many digits, but it’s about 1.385 BILLION dollars in active duty salary alone. $1,385,000,000.
  • In 2012, 1,944,049 military retirees drew over 52 BILLION dollars in retirement benefits. $52,000,000,000.
    http://actuary.defense.gov/Portals/15/Documents/statbook12.pdf
  • The average annual Social Security payment to seniors is actually $15,600. 38 million people will receive a monthly average of $1,294, for a total of 49 billion dollars A MONTH. In 2014, over 59 million Americans received almost $864,000,000,000.
    http://www.ssa.gov/news/press/basicfact.html

As an aside, being military pays better than the private sector. I’ve worked both and can verify this personally, but there’s data to back it up.
http://truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/88263:the-myth-of-low-military-pay

I understand the sentiment behind the post, I really do. But in reality, the numbers just don’t mean much. For one, they’re just plain wrong and outright lies. But secondly, the politician’s pensions (not salaries) are inconsequential next to the claims being made. If anything, this graphic is playing the “statistics game” by skewing the representation down to the micro level and then suggesting they would be a source of reasonable cuts at the macro level.

  • Total US military spending on salaries and benefits is 150 billion dollars. $150,000,000,000. https://www.cbo.gov/publication/43574
  • Total Social Security benefits received are 864 billion dollars. $864,000,000,000.
  • Combined, somewhere around 61 million Americans will receive this total of 1.014 trillion dollars of government spending. $1,014,000,000,000.

The combined totals of presidents’ and House/Senate members’ retirements is still less than 23 million per year. That is less than 0.0023% of what we spend on Social Security and our troops (past and present). Even if we did away with the politician’s retirements entirely and distributed as the graphic suggests, giving $23 million dollars to 61 million people only benefits them an additional 38 cents per year.

The graphic is factually incorrect, and if you actually run the numbers it’s just plain stupid.

Again, this isn’t a political statement. This is a plea for people to fact-check before sharing things on social media. I chose this example because it was in front of me, numbers are easy to run, and the actual data is publicly available, but a healthy dose of skepticism should be applied to any claim making the rounds on social media before sharing and being identified with it. Because another quote ascribed to Abe Lincoln (likely also not his) is, “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Sharing things that are untrue or just plain foolish makes one look like a fool by association. My name and reputation for honesty and accuracy matter to me as a personal brand. I want people to know that if I say something they can take it to the bank in every circumstance. It’s better to say “I don’t know” than give an answer based on wish-thinking, and better to speak a truth that hurts oneself than a comforting inclination. Because an untrue statement is like a crumbling brick in the structure of one’s credibility- a weak brick, depending on size and location, can bring a building tumbling down despite lots of other good, solid bricks. A building with a bad foundation is untrustworthy. So is a person that allows ideology and emotion to trump facts. I disconnect from repeat offenders, because if I can’t count on them to be honest, why associate them at all?

Don’t be a fool. Don’t be dismissible. Don’t share without fact-checking.

Retro 51 Tornado Refill Hack

If you’re a pen geek, and you do a search for “Retro 51 refill hack”, the best and only usable result you’ll find is for a Pilot Hi-Tec-C. While it’s a really good looking result, it simply involves too much work to get there. Cutting the refill down to the right size, then taping a false shoulder onto the refill at the right point to hold the spring because the diameter is too thin, and potentially having to do those steps multiple times? Ugh. Here’s what I did, instead.

Click on a photo for slideshow view and commentary, and remember that switching to a gel ink means writing on glossy paper will always be messier than an oil-based ballpoint.

I’ve settled on the Pilot Precise V5 RT. A quick note, if you do this you must make sure your Pilot Precise V5 has an RT suffix. The RT is what means it’s retractable. I say this for anyone who decides to order a bunch of these pens from an online retailer. I hope you find this useful!

Two Ears, Just One Mouth

I haven’t written here in a good long while now. Mostly because I’ve been learning everything I can. I started going back to school last semester with Arizona State University. They have a wonderful online program for entrepreneurship (rated #9 and #2 respectively for Bachelor’s and Graduate degrees in the nation by US News & World Report), so I’ve been busting my hump and made the Dean’s List carrying a 4.09 GPA. I’m enjoying it and even thinking I may continue on for a Master’s. ASU has a great support network for veterans through the Pat Tillman center that would help with that, and I’d hate to squander the opportunity. And I love that I’m getting a degree from a real university (regionally accredited) as opposed to some fly-by-night degree mill with dodgy accreditation. Being able to trust in the value and quality of my education is a wonderful feeling.

When I’m not studying required materials for school, I’ve been studying the stock market with Investopedia, or challenging myself and reading books that would have been way outside my scope before, like A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I’ve opened up my first investment account that I manage and make trades from, and even been able to wrap my head around Hawking- he’s a wonderful educator and explains the concepts really well. I always try to read and learn as much as I can on a deployment, and this one has been particularly rewarding.

When I sat down to publish this brief entry, I didn’t even intend to write this much. All I really intended to share was this, a Hubble Deep Field image. This is the Ultra Deep Field from 2004, outdone by the eXtreme Deep Field in 2012. Not a picture of stars, but of 10,000 galaxies. Each of them made up of billions of stars. Each of those stars likely a sun to several planets. And the area pictured is “smaller than a 1mm x 1mm square of paper held at 1 meter away, roughly one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky“.

Click to enlarge. VERY large.

Click to enlarge. VERY large.

That’s awe inspiring. Trying to wrap one’s head around the immensity of scale is… humbling. And I think, “I have so much more to learn.”

My Grudging Admission of Harley’s Marketing Brilliance

To paraphrase Wes Siler, it’s no secret that I loathe cruisers because forward controls and ape-hangers are the antithesis of control, and chrome is gaudy. This is where I would normally launch into a rant about how “Harley sucks” because they’re the easiest target. But I have to give credit where credit is due, and their marketing machine knew exactly what they were doing when they introduced the Sportster Seventy-Two.

harley-davidson-sportster-seventy-two

Everything awful about cruisers, now available direct from the factory.

I liked the Forty-Eight from a design perspective and as a rider I came this close to buying an XR1200X, but I was appalled when the Seventy-Two was released. First, because the only good things to come out of the 1970s are Jaws and Star Wars. (If you believe otherwise, I assure you it’s just nostalgia talking. There’s a reason hipsters choose this decade to honor ironically.) But also because Harley-Davidson was finally starting to make some smarter-looking bikes, and in the case of the XR1200X a bike with decent handling and ergonomics. This abomination was an homage to the ugliest possible decade and a huge step backward in handling. The slight warming of my heart to the Motor Company was instantly quenched.

But Harley-Davidson is a company that sells lifestyle and image more than motorcycles, and they understand this very well. So well, in fact, that they saw a youth market where I never would have imagined one as a rider. Harley-Davidson is calling all hipsters. I’m more than a little embarrassed I didn’t realize this until now, because it makes all the sense in the world. The only problem Harley has is that they’re too mainstream. Otherwise, their faux cultures of nonconformity and being trapped in the past (ironically or not) are a perfect fit for each other. In fact, the only way in which Harley may have misstepped is to make this ad just a little too blatant.

Now, as I’ve said before and continue to maintain, a Triumph is a better choice than a Harley in every way and this goes doubly so for hipster appeal. [For the record, I ride a BMW R1200R.] The Bonnevilles have retro appeal, are better bikes, and from a less mainstream brand. But hats off to Milwaukee for seeing the niche. They deserve to profit wildly from the foresight and execution. The only question is if hipsters will spend $11,000 on a new motorcycle when “Thrift Shop” was one of the biggest radio hits of the last year.

Three Motorcycles from Just One Marque

I’ve ruminated before on what bikes I’d have if I could only have three. I’ve written about what I’d own if I could have just one. But what if the goal was to buy three distinct motorcycles from just one manufacturer? I’ll think on this for a few days and write a more fully fleshed out essay once I’ve decided (and have more free time), but whose brand would you choose, dear reader?

If you read my blog, you know that Harley is a non-starter for me, just because there’s not enough diversity in their lineup. But who, then? Ducati? Triumph? BMW? Do I betray my love of European motorcycles and say Honda? (They’ve made a really strong showing in the past year.) If you had to be a brand loyalist, whose brand do you choose?

Big Mysterious Goal

New Year’s resolutions come and go. We all know this, and it’s become a trope to admit it. Last night, I stumbled into a way to motivate myself for several smaller goals for 2014 and I’m a bit nonplussed that such a simple mechanism hadn’t occurred to me sooner.

My Big Mysterious Goal is a reward.

Well, it’s a reward to myself, and a challenge, and a goal in and of itself. It’s an adventure. It’s going to be a source for lots of words spilled into my journal or here on this blog. It’s going to be difficult, and awful, and a story to tell, and…

It’s going to stay a secret for now.

Not that I’m swamped with readers, but I have plans of writing about my progress for at least six months- and who wants to know the end of a story at the beginning?! That removes all the drama of the big reveal. As agreed upon with my wife last night, I have to meet some smaller goals as prerequisites for the BMG, which I hope to reveal around June.

My wife really only made one condition, that I drop thirty pounds by May 18th. I’ve gained far too much weight in the past few years and really only complained about it, but not done anything about it. This stops now. My BMG is going to require me to be more physically fit, both for ability and safety.

From there, I’m setting several other, smaller goals for myself. Some I’ll talk/write about and some I won’t for fear of tipping off my plan. For instance:

  • Come May 1st I plan on weening myself off of caffeine. For a coffee-holic like me, that won’t be easy.
  • I don’t just need to lose weight, but get more physically fit. I don’t have set standards I need to meet yet, but I’ll need to define some goals or the BMG is cancelled.
  • The BMG is going to require planning, and even training.
  • I need to read up on apps, photography, and GPS. EXIF data and geo-tagging will come into play.
  • To lose weight and get fit by my goal dates, I’ll probably start eating Paleo again. I’ll share my favorite recipes here, since I have a grossly underused Food & Drink category.
  • And yes, my motorcycle will probably come into play. Expect reviews on any gadgets or experiments I try.

2014 could be a banner year, but I really do have to stress that it’s all due to my wife. (And honey, I know you’ll read this, but it’s not just to get on your good side.) I’ve always thought it was hokey to say “I married my best friend” but I’ve learned it can, and probably should, be true. She encourages me, pushes me to be better, worries about my safety, and helps me. I just turned 35, I’m finally going to make a real effort toward accomplishing a “bucket list” item that I either couldn’t or likely wouldn’t without her.

Here’s to conquering the challenges set before us. Here’s to slaying dragons.

Seiko 5

The problem with being a watch geek is two-fold. First, it completely invalidates anything I say if I feel like teasing my wife about how many shoes she owns. Second, mechanical watches tend to be much more expensive than their quartz counterparts.

075

Enter the Seiko 5.

We’ll just have to keep hoping that link remains active, because Seiko’s website is fairly awful. (So is Casio’s site for G-Shock watches, with no feature filter to help you through hundreds of styles.) As a matter of fact, if you just go to Seiko.com (USA, anyhow), you can’t even find any mention of the Seiko 5’s existence. But a quick Google search led me to the microsite for the 5 and it’s 50th anniversary. 1963 was a very busy year, with James Bond movies also celebrating their 50th, “I have a dream”, and JFK’s assassination- but I digress. Let’s talk about the watch.

My favorite thing about a mechanical watch is the rapid ticking, like the opening of a 60 Minutes episode, as the second hand makes several discrete jumps between each second rather than the inelegant full second clunk of quartz.

While all mechanical watches I’m aware of share that attribute, the Seiko 5 is unique in a few ways. First is the extremely low cost. MSRP on the watch is $185 USD, but they can be found on Amazon.com for $50-60 all day long. The movement is made in Malaysia and I’m guessing that’s for cost savings. The crystal watch face is a lower grade of Seiko’s proprietary “hardlex” which is a mineral crystal, just not sapphire, to keep the price low. Second is the crown, which leads into how the 5 was named.

  1. Automatic winding
  2. Day/date displayed in a single window
  3. Water resistance
  4. Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position
  5. Durable case and bracelet

These five attributes were unique for the time and, considering these watches were devised and cost effective before the Quartz Crisis/Revolution took place, I can’t help but imagine they were the ultimate sports watch for a five to seven year window of time.

072

My initial impression of the 5 was shock at how small it is. Honestly, it’s about the same size as most watches I grew up with, but the fashion in recent years for men’s watches has been a larger size (which I think is played out and they’re getting smaller again). But since 37mm doesn’t mean much to me without comparison, here are some photos.

US quarter, the 5, and Kinetic Dad gave me when I graduated high school. Click to embiggen.

Right to left: US quarter, the 5, and Seiko Kinetic my Dad gave me in ’97.

The quarter is 24.11 millimeters. All measurements were taken with Mitutoyo digimatic calipers. There were various decimals but most measurements were within 0.15 mm so I rounded to the nearest whole number with three exceptions.

TAG Heuer Grand Carrera 17, Seiko 5, Oakley Holeshot

Right to left: TAG Heuer Grand Carrera 17, Seiko 5, and Oakley Holeshot.

For the face I measured the diameter of the crystal and you can see on the Oakley that’s not truly representative of the clock face part of the display. (The Oakley’s odd case also skews those figures.) The cases’ diameters were measured based on their radius (again, see the Oakley, who claim 47.5mm), then again including crown, and finally from bracelet stem-to-stem across the face. That explained, the watch sizes are as follows:

  • Seiko 5 – 29mm face, 37mm case, 38.5mm w/crown, & 43mm stems.
  • Kinetic – 29mm face, 38mm case, 40mm w/crown, & 43mm stems.
  • TAG – 37mm face, 43mm case, 47mm w/crown, & 50mm stems.
  • Oakley – 31.5mm face, 45mm case, 49.8mm w/crown, & 50mm stems.

For thickness, the 5 is 10.5mm, Kinetic is 10.3, TAG is 15, and Oakley is 11.8. A US mint quarter is 1.7mm for comparison. I can’t imagine wearing anything larger than the TAG without it being ridiculous and tacky (cough, cough, most Diesel and Oakley), but it also feels just about perfect. It’s been so long since I’ve worn my Kinetic that going back to a smaller size felt like I was wearing a ladies watch at first, but that feeling passed quickly and now it’s like the perfect daily wear timepiece for a jeans and t-shirt guy.

The look (as if you can’t see the face from the pictures) is simple and relatively clean. I like the geometric design, and the hands are large enough that the luminous material is legible in the dark on all three. The case is stainless steel, but in a flat finish. The watch is small enough that this is a non-issue anyway, but the crown being recessed and at 4 o’clock precludes any rubbing or irritation on the back of the wearer’s hand. While the case of the watch is water resistant, I have no desire to stress the cloth band and do not wear this watch in the shower.

The exhibition case back is really just to prove this is a mechanical watch as you watch the balance wheel cycle back and forth. Otherwise, the movement isn’t that fancy and doesn’t have any jeweling on internal parts. The text printed on the back crystal is disappointing, but you’re almost never going to be looking at it.

Excess strap is held in place by two metal loops, one captured within the weave of the band and one sliding free to adjust as you need.

It’s about as basic a watch as you can get, save for the day/date complication. And of course, because it’s mechanical it won’t be quite as accurate as quartz. But who cares about that when we all have mobile phones in our pockets anyway? For just slightly more than a Timex Weekender (an excellent pick for quartz and style) you can own a mechanical watch. No more batteries to die or change. Granted, a mechanical watch should get serviced every now and again to keep it within tolerances, but wouldn’t you love to brag to your friends that your watch is EMP proof (even if it’s not strictly true)?

The short of it is this: in my limited writing on watches I’ve never recommended one. My TAG is too pricey to say “everybody should own one” and the Oakley looks too dude-bro frat boy. As of the date I write this, I’m on a WordPress.com site with no Amazon affiliate link. That means I gain nothing when I tell you this, gentle reader: if you’re interested in watches at all, you owe it to yourself to pick up a Seiko 5. The black model is fifty bucks and free shipping if you’re Prime member. The holidays are over, so you’re free to buy things for yourself again without ruining somebody’s gift plan. (And big, BIG thanks to my wonderful wife for tolerating and contributing to my watch obsession!)

There is quite literally no reason to not own one.