My Conspiracy Theory Theory

X files the lone gunment

Frohike, Byers, and Langly are skeptical of this rant.

I grew up with some of the classics. Unique gems like aliens hidden at Area 51, dozens of variations on the JFK assassination (aliens did that too), faked moon landing, Watergate. Today it seems as everything in the news is automatically attributed to some kind of conspiracy.

Well, I have a theory about that.

For each additional person who knows the details of a particular conspiracy, the likelihood of it being successful and secret declines by 5%. As the odds approach zero, the plan is either revealed or falls apart.

Let me explain.

Any conspiracy, by definition, begins with at least two people. A one-person plot is in the realm of lone-wolf, evil genius territory, and talking to yourself (or the fourth wall) doesn’t apply.

Every time you add a co-conspirator, henchman, girl friend1, lacky, nerd hacker, or janitor to the mix, the chance of someone making a mistake or becoming a disgruntled whistleblower increases. If the plan is hot enough, the temptation of book deals and screenplays gradually appear in the distance.

So, if you assume the beginning odds of success for any conspiracy at close to 100%, it only takes the involvement of twenty people to drive the chances to zero. I figure most of these things probably start far below 100% and thus require far fewer people to fall apart.

And of course, every theory needs a corollary…

As the odds of a conspiracy in some way related to President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or the New York Times approaches zero, the chances that it will be adopted by a Fox “news” host, continuously flogged on air, and believed by their viewers approaches 100%.

Yes, the truth is out there. Just not on Fox.

Ultimate conspiracy theorists, The Lone Gunmen were one of the best parts of the X-Files. Sometimes their stories made a whole lot more sense than the main narrative.

1. I’m not being sexist. Conspiracies are almost always a guy thing. Most women I know are too smart to get involved in this crap.

3-2-1 For 12-18-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

Area 51, the top secret military base in the Nevada desert, is the stuff of conspiracies and legends. And, yes, it does exist. While there’s nothing about space aliens and their crashed spaceships, the real story of how the myth developed is still an interesting read. (about 6 minutes)

Although their animation technology is amazing, Pixar’s greatest skills lie in telling engaging and entertaining stories. One of their storyboard artists has been tweeting for years about that process and a graphic artist has put together 22 of the best ideas into a slideshow that includes some great inspiration for your story telling students. (about 10 minutes)

The US is facing a major shortage of qualified teachers in the next decade, and I don’t think the reasons are difficult to determine. But for some great insight into the problem, read this story about one talented science teacher who is planning to exit the profession because “US schools are broken”. (about 14 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

We walk into a room, flip a switch, and expect that we will have light. It wasn’t always so, of course, and for most human history “getting light was a huge hassle”. That history of light parallels economic growth in the world and it’s an interesting story. (20:29)

One summer night in 1979, at a Chicago stadium, disco died. Or at least that’s the verdict of many cultural historians. A new podcast called Undone examines events only to find that they “were actually the beginning of something else”. This first episode is an entertaining story about how disco actually got wrapped into many other musical styles. (39:20)

One video to watch when you have time

Stephen Johnson writes about innovation, both where it comes from and where it leads. In an unusual video from the TED people (no lectures here), he uses stop motion animation to illustrate the idea that innovations like the computer come as much from people playing around as they do from necessity. Maybe more from play. “You’ll find the future wherever people are having the most fun.” (7:25)

3-2-1 For 9-25-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

The old adage is that necessity is the mother of invention. But, according to Scientific American, several studies of humans and other animals point to other reasons why they engage in creative activities. One could be that invention comes when people feel secure in their basic needs. Didn’t Maslow make that connection? (about 5 minutes)

Certainly not comprehensive, this guide to your privacy from the Consumerist blog is still a good, concise review of how much control you have in the areas of health, finance, and communications, plus a section children on the internet. Each section also points to the agency you can complain to if something isn’t right. (about 10 minutes)

Many of us try to recycle as much as possible, thinking that the bottles, paper, plastic, and other waste in those bins will actually be reused rather than ending in a landfill somewhere. That may not be the case with those millions of old smartphones and other electronics discarded every year. Motherboard explains that A Shocking Amount of E-Waste Recycling Is a Complete Sham. (about 8 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

Can better schools improve the economy? Specifically, Springfield, Ohio has reopened the town high school as the Global Impact STEM Academy in hopes it will encourage graduates to stay and bring new high tech jobs to the area. NPR Morning Edition has the interesting, and unfinished, story. (5:48)

The theory that the 1969 moon landing was faked is one of those persistent conspiracies that just won’t die. In a unique approach to the idea, the Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know podcast interviews the director of a new thriller in which two novice CIA agents looking for a Russian mole within NASA find something more sinister. (40:00)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

I am a big fan of movie soundtracks. Not the collections of pop songs used in many films,1 but music composed specifically for the production. A Theory of Film Music is a little geeky but is also an interesting analysis of why the music in most modern high profile films (think anything from Marvel) is not particularly distinctive. He doesn’t touch on my favorites, however, the music from Pixar films. (12:14)

Conspiracy Theory

Last week, Jon Stewart presented a great segment on the array of nutty conspiracy theories that seem to thrive in the desert of Texas. Having lived in Arizona and Nevada, I think there could be something to the idea that the hot, dry weather causes the brain to swell (or shrink?).

Anyway, I have my own conspiracy theory to offer: the probability of any conspiracy actually being real declines by 5% for each additional person whose silence is required for the plan to work.

Moon landing hoax? Alien spacecraft being hidden at Area 51 (for more than 50 years)? The US military preparing to invade Texas?2 Considering the hundreds of people required to keep each of these secrets, all in negative territory of likelihood.

Government agencies conspiring to collect phone data on American citizens? That only took one person, and not even someone high up the chain of command, to expose the deal.

Many, if not most, of these people who claim to see what everyone else has missed (too often on cable “news” channels) also rant endlessly about the incompetency of government. Even though, logically, it is completely impossible for an incompetent organization to formulate complex plots and then keep them totally hidden from everyone except a few loud nutballs.

Of course, logic doesn’t seem to be their strong suit in the first place.

Conspiracy Theory

This school year the IT department here in our overly-large school district implimented a new system that allows students to connect their personal devices to the network without all the paperwork previously required. As best I can tell, it works as advertised about 85% of the time (with lots of noise about the other 15%).

However, the interesting part is that this process seems to have triggered a growing number of students, especially in high school, who suspect that someone, somewhere in some mysterious district office is watching all their traffic and digitally inspecting all the files they’re carrying.

How charmingly naive!

I wonder if many of the same kids think about the vast amounts of data they volunteer every day to Google, Facebook, Instagram, their wireless carrier, SnapChat, Twitter, Candy Crush, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, and so many more.

Not to mention the little bits of data sucked up by the NSA and other government agencies, organizations for which they were never offered 34 pages of a terms of service or privacy policy followed by an “I accept” button to be clicked without reading.

For this particular conspiracy theory, we try to explain to them that our school system, as bureaucratic as it is, doesn’t have the resources to monitor all the traffic on our little corner of the internet.

However, I think the bigger issue we do not address is helping students (and their teachers) understand all that information about them that’s being collected and stored every second they are online. Not to mention the many other data points they contribute to the mix as a standard part of attending school.