One Star

I make purchases from a lot. I can get practically everything I need online. I shop around for the best deal, not necessarily the lowest price, and I value the customer reviews. On Amazon, customers are encouraged, rather, cajoled into leaving some feedback on their experiences with their purchases. It is important to note that not all Amazon reviews are from actual Amazon customers, and the site recently implemented a change that gives greater weight to verified purchasers. But I still think it’s worth something when I’m shopping for a product, and someone has something, anything, to say about their experience, no matter where they made their purchase.

When I’m shopping online, especially on Amazon (the rating/reviewing feature is ubiquitous on the web these days), I pay close attention to how many reviews a product has as well as the proportion of 1-star reviews there are to the total. For example, a Texsport 6 person dome tent has an overall rating of 3.2 out of five stars. More than half are 4- and 5-star ratings. But the number of 1-star ratings is 12%. By contrast, North Gear Camping 6 person dome tent has an overall 2.4-star rating. 60% of the reviews rate it 1 star, the lowest rating. To be fair, this tent is much less expensive than the Texsport product. But price is not an indicator of quality in all cases. Yes, you get what you pay for, but slapping a Kelty logo on a tent doesn’t always make it better. It’s worth noting that the North Gear tent received only 5 reviews.

I like to read the 1-star reviews. They’re sometimes off target, blaming the shipper, rating the product poorly because it arrived damaged. Sometimes a negative review is given because the buyer was unhappy with customer service, which is a valid reason to be dissatisfied. And once in awhile the customer is just telling us shoppers about their particular experience and not necessarily that the product is defective or inadequate. But I value the negative reviews almost more than the positive ones. That being said, it’s human nature to complain when something goes wrong rather than to sing praises when things are just okay.

Do I want myself rated? Not necessarily, but I do subject myself to feedback when I speak in Toastmasters. After some time you do develop thicker skin, not that people are brutally honest in their assessments. Maybe they should be, but we don’t want to scare anyone off. If we could speak face-to-face with those online merchants, would we be willing to be so frank, or in some cases, cruel? Probably not. The ostensible anonymity of the web makes it easier for people to be more “honest.” If you read Youtube comments, you will see that it often goes too far. And people are uncivil in their comments to what end? They very often do not offer constructive feedback, and they complain about things that cannot be changed. The worst of them are openly racist or homophobic. And it gets a lot worse.

That 1-star review might be a very good thing, when it is offered in earnest of making a difference. Telling someone that I didn’t like something without offering a suggestion for improvement is a pointless endeavor. I work harder every day to be more constructive. Of course, sometimes I just complain. I do it here. I’m probably doing it right now. There’s value in the negative. It enables us to hear about ways to improve, provided the review process is being handled the right way. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but we need honesty without too much emotion to get in the way. We shouldn’t be afraid to let our opinions be heard. And don’t use the word “humble”. Opinions are bold. They’re part of our makeup. And they matter, to us at least.

Most people won’t bother to offer feedback. It’s overwhelming, actually. The other day I was watching an awesome video on Youtube. It had, at the time, over 800,000 views. Disproportionately, it had 7,000 likes. That’s less than 1 percent! You might have noticed that many YouTubers solicit for likes and subscriptions. They practically beg. And it’s no effort at all. But people just don’t want to leave feedback, even if it means only clicking a button. But if they hate it, you’d better believe they’re going to say something. And that’s the power of the negative. I guess this is why we hold to the adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Even if this is a myth, it appears to have a little truth to it. Well, I’d give that at least 3 stars.



A Trip to the Moon

I just watched Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune, produced in 1902, a year before Orville and Wilbur Wright made their historic flight in Kitty Hawk, NC. The film was “rediscovered” in the late 1920’s, but only after much of Méliès’ work was destroyed. This silent movie is only 15 minutes in length, but considering what must have been required to film it, it is really outstanding.

It’s worth watching, and I’ve linked to the “colorized” version; an original print was hand-colored frame-by-frame. It’s funny to think about how people were thinking of space travel back during a time when homes were lit by candles, and people seldom traveled very far from the place where they were born.

Méliès acknowledged the works of Jules Verne as his inspiration, especially the 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon. Just about 100 years later, NASA astronauts would be the first to see the far side of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. No one really knows about Apollo 8. Of course we know about Apollo 11, the moon landing, one small step and all that. But in 1968, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were the first people from earth to ever leave earth’s orbit. They established orbit around the moon, where the famous earthrise photo was taken on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968.

Earthrise – Apollo 8 mission

It’s easy for us in the 21st century to imagine that we will return to the moon or travel to Mars or beyond. But unless you were a dreamer of the magnitude of Jules Verne, you could not envision such a trip. We live in an age of wonder, and yet we are obsessed with trivial things, fashion, celebrity news, and the like. I am confident that within my lifetime, people will walk on Mars. I don’t know what will happen after that, but I know what can happen. I know that we could reach other planets in our solar system. I know that colonies could be established. I know that great ships could carry whole communities to the stars. We just have to get past a few obstacles. The fact that scientists overcame seemingly insurmountable hurdles allows me to have this kind of optimism. It’s just a matter of time before someone figure it out.

When I look at the above photo, I think about what was happening on that little blue orb in December of 1968. The Vietnam War was becoming less popular in the US, Richard Nixon had been elected President of the United States a few weeks earlier, Led Zeppelin in the US, martial law in Brazil, and the Zodiac killer. Looking at the picture of our little planet, it’s easy to picture the events happening on it today: Syrian refugees streaming into Europe, ISIS, the Taliban, drug cartels, and the list goes on and on. Those three astronauts must have been thinking about their time as they circled another world which offered no life, just an inhospitable, barren and cold expanse. With all the world’s problems, it is still the only home we have, which is perhaps why the three men recited the first ten verses from the Book of Genesis, the creation story, while orbiting the moon.

The film is strange yet compelling. It reminds us how far we’ve come. The moon had been a mysterious place until about the time I was born, when humans began to realize they could go there. By the time I started school, NASA stopped sending rockets and astronauts. People lost interest. It became mundane. Imagine that!

I hope we return. I hope we keep traveling farther out. I can’t imagine it will be a waste of time or effort. Where else are we supposed to get our heroes from? Sports?

How to Count to Infinity

Things to Make and do in the Fourth Dimension should be my next read. If you don’t want to watch the video – and who could blame you, it’s a mind-bending trip – you might consider my take on countable infinity:

Imagine you wanted to shake hands with every human on the planet. You would walk down the street, knocking on doors and shaking people’s hands. If you could do this, and you didn’t have to wait for people to come to the door, assuming they would be home, you could cover a city population of 300,000 in 55 days, that is, if everyone lived within ten meters of one another. You could cover the entire population of Norway in…

150 years!

Countably infinite means it is beyond our ability to rationally arrive at the “end” of the line. You would never be able to shake everyone’s hand, much less have an encounter with each one, before another generation arrived to take their place. And you could not live long enough to realize the goal. (Don’t feel bad. Just try to meet the people on your street. That’s better than nothing.)

Infinity is not an imaginary or unrealistic number. But we humans cannot count high enough to conceptualize the Googol (10100). It’s often said that the universe is infinite. It’s hard to imagine, but it is a reality. The distant star’s light reaching our planet started its journey perhaps 300,000 years ago, and by now, any planets in that solar system are now lifeless and the star vanished from the heavens. New stars are being born right now, and their light deceives us because they could be flourishing suns in the skies of distant worlds, but we will never see it. If we ever reach the stars, we might be able to see what became of the lights in our night sky. But we might also witness the births of unimaginable civilizations. History in the making.

My favorite thought of the day: Infinity + 1 = infinity, therefore, 1 + 1 = 1

Take that, [insert middle school math teacher’s name]!