The Sanctity of Logic

I got into a long debate a couple of nights ago with a self-identified Catholic pro-lifer, Suzanne Fortin (@Roseblue), who has an answer for every question as to why same-sex marriage shouldn't be allowed. None of them rely precisely on legal precedent; rather, they seem to stem from a specific set of historical values, a reading of what "natural" means, and an insistence on a property that only a pair of men and women can share.

I spent hours engaged with this woman partly because I wanted to know exactly what people who maintain this line of reasoning are really espousing. Here's what I came away with.

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Silver Linings MacBook

How geeky am I? Lynn and I went to see Silver Linings Playbook last weekend. I'd heard it was good, quirky, and raw at times. The first 15 minutes I was concerned that I might hate it. But then it all snapped together when Jennifer Lawrence appears. She and Bradley Cooper have great chemistry, and the film is full of both tropes (meet cute-ish, etc.) and anti-tropes (some very raw and honest moments in which truth is being spoken).

But the thing I found most amusing is that as the movie progressed, I was more and more confident that it was shot in 2008 and left in the can. The iPod generations shown and a house-wide iPod drop-in system that Cooper's friend installs. Lawrence's white MacBook and iPod speaker dock of that era. Nobody has an iPhone (which would have been mostly outside the socioeconomic and technical interests of the movie's main characters). People are still using flip phones. They must have shot this in 2008 and left it sitting around, right? But why do the actors not look younger?

We leave the movie and I look it up. The movie was made from a book that tracked the football season and the Eagles performance in 2008. Of course. Lynn and I don't watch sports, so some of the events that year would be absolutely memorable to football fans or anyone who follows sports with anything like attention. The movie kept the timeframe the same. We laughed at ourselves. At least half or more of the people watching the film would immediately have understood from the football what year it was. I looked at the tech!

Get the Name of the Bit

I've written before about the concept of "get the name of the dog" in reporting. This is an oft-repeated maxim of Roy Peter Clark (who got it from the St. Petersburg Times). When you're reporting first-hand, details matter, and readers demand them. If you tell a story involving a dog and omit his or her name, they notice, and the story's incomplete.

I had a "name of the dog" moment while reporting on the Voyager missions recently for The Economist. I've got a piece going up online soon at the Babbage blog based in part on an interview with the mission's chief, Edward Stone, who has run the project since its inception in 1972. He mentioned that the most recent true glitch was a "flipped bit" in the memory of Voyager 2. They dumped the core, downloaded it (a neat trick at 160bps and 18 billion kilometers), figured out the problem, and reloaded the software. This happens even on earth due to cosmic rays, silicon expansion, and other random facts. It's remarkable the Voyagers haven't had more of these. But I realized when I got back to Seattle from Pasadena, I didn't know what state the bit had flipped between.

Get the name of the dog. I found NASA's log on the matter, and, sure enough, they report that the bit flipped from 0 to 1. It's in the story. Now, the state of a bit and the name of the dog aren't the same thing. But reading that a bit flipped from 0 to 1 is more specific and more concrete than reading that a bit "flipped." It also explains what happened to less technical readers: a value changed and they know what values were involved. No, I didn't get the memory location. This isn't a 1980s BYTE magazine article.