Barrett Manor

Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Sorting Real News From Fake: Can It Be Done?

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I've been giving some thought lately to the definition of "fake news." It's impossible to do that without acknowledging that a "fake" story can sometimes be in the eye of the beholder. Politics aside, ever know someone who is so set in their worldview that they refuse to believe the evidence? 

(Before I continue, I'm going to note that this post is a work in progress and will likely be revised. I'll note revisions in bold text at the top of this post.)

Now, there's nothing wrong with a good dose of healthy skepticism, and that's what you need to determine whether or not a story is fake. How do you do this? First, you have to put aside your bias. That's not easy. You may be convinced Obama is a Kenyan Muslim agent or that Trump is the Antichrist, but you have to dig and determine facts. Screw that "facts have a liberal bias" argument. Facts can be proven. They may be uncomfortable. They may go against the grain of everything you believe, but the point is to dig beyond the headlines and the memes to discover the truth.

My definition of fake news is something that is made up out of whole cloth, but is crafted to appeal to a certain segment of the population. 

How can you tell? One clue is that the links in the story go back to other stories on the same web site. That's not always a clue for fake news. There could be an "as we previously reported..." link. So follow the links. Do they go elsewhere? Does the link that goes to previous reporting link to the outside world? If so, does the linked story support the article? 

Search engines are your friend. Find out what other news outlets are saying. If Fox and CNN and MSNBC and Reuters and the AP are saying the same thing, that's a pretty good indication that the story isn't made up. Look for video, if it exists. There are enough clips and full versions of the recent Trump press conference that you can see and hear what went on - and look out for suspicious edits. 

Wait a minute. This sounds an awful lot like the basic research techniques we were taught in school. That's because those techniques still hold up even in this age of technology. 

The close cousin to fake news is the story that pulls out one or two bits of truth and builds up a false narrative. Say you run across an article that presents as fact that lungfish can breathe air, so that's proof that all fish can breathe air. All those other species are just hanging out in the water for some nefarious reason that has to do with the conspiracy theory du jour.  How do you correct that? Research. Science! I don't suggest you take one of your tropical fish out of the tank and watch it die, because there are plenty of sources to confirm that most species of fish breathe water through their gills. (Yep, I'm being a little simplistic, but you get the idea.)

Then there's misleading headlines, or clickbait. Case in point would be the many articles I've seen shared in the last two days that Republicans have killed the ACA. Buried in those articles is the truth that they voted on a budget resolution that will open the door to to repeal. But the fact is that there are still several steps to go, and your birth control is not going to get more expensive tomorrow. Make no mistake, it could very well happen. (Please don't argue nuance with me. In the end this may be the thing that ultimately does lead to repeal of the ACA, but as of the time I type these words it hasn't happened. I'm not sure enough of our representatives will grow a pair and realize what they're doing, but since that possibility still exits, the ACA may have been coughing up blood last night, but it's not dead yet.)

Then there's satire. Sometimes that can be hard to detect without a label, which you'll find on most satire sites. 

What's not fake news: An article that presents a fact that disagrees with your worldview, if that fact can be readily sourced and proven. Example: Some people are calling the fact that John McCain turned the "showergate memos" over to the FBI fake news. Nope. It's a fact that he did that. He said so himself. And I'm going to let you vet that on your own. Now those memos may turn out to be fake. But the fact is that they exist. 

(My personal opinion is, while I'm experiencing some schadenfreude over this, in the end I hope they're fake because it scares the you-know-what out of me that a foreign power has blackmail goods on the president, or the man about to assume that office. However, we won't know until they're thoroughly investigated. That needs to happen.)

In conclusion, check sources. Check them again. Don't spread stories and memes without checking them first. Do not make me deploy the Laughing Cat of Shame on you.


Filed under: News   Life         
1/13/2017 10:36:28 AM
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I Haz New Camera Lens!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

This could very well be the latest birthday present ever, but it was so worth the wait. Last night I picked up a 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 lens for my Oly OM-D E-M5. The standard 14-42mm lens is okay, but gotta have more zoom. They claim it's the equivalent of an 80-300mm focal length lens on a standard DSLR. That makes it a great companion for the stock lens. And yes, we got a very sweet deal on the lens. It was less than half of retail.

Enough of the tech talk. Pictures or it didn't happen!


This is one of the first shots I fired off. Midnight was sitting in Paul's lap, and I was able to get a decent profile without bothering her. This may be where the lens gets the most work - cat pictures!


Midnight asleep this afternoon. Still in the same position.


Some catnip that has survived the recent hard freeze.


The moon shot through the trees.This may be one of my best moon pictures ever, and that's not saying a lot. ;-)

I look forward to taking more pictures, particularly after the cataract surgery when I'll be able to see better.

Filed under: Pictures   Cats         
1/4/2017 5:36:08 PM
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And The Door Starts To Open

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Well, this is interesting. Two nights ago I got about six hours of uninterrupted sleep with no responsibility dreams that I can remember. I'll take that after many nights in a row of waking up every hour or two, sometimes in a panic over a particularly vivid responsibility dream, Those who know what I've been going through lately can guess the nature of the dreams.

Last night I had a dream, but it was low-key as far as responsibility dreams go. And instead of waking up in a panic, I had a revelation on Stalled Novel #1. I have this character who is mostly comic relief that I had been trying to bust out of a stereotype. I not only have a way to work with the stereotype to make a better character, but the character has gone from comic relief to pivitol. 

Without giving too much away, there's a bit of a hero's journey going on. I'd hit the point where the hero is left to face things without the person who had been guiding them, but is still trying to gain their footing and figure out what's going on. This had me flummoxed. I felt someone still needed to be watching them, perhaps clandestinely. The character I'd pegged for that wasn't working out, but I think I know how to work that out. I've spent the last hour typing up notes and snippets of dialogue. Now I think I'm going to dump it all into Liquid Story Binder and see where I can go with it.

Oh, hell. I may stall again. Or not. But it just feels good to have a creative breakthrough. It's been a long time.

Filed under: Writing            
12/28/2016 11:52:33 AM
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2016 Sucked. How About 2017?

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

In short, 2016 sucked swamp water, big time. And I'm not talking about celebrity deaths. I've dealt with deaths in my circle of friends and family. Those hurt far more, even though they don't get shared to death on the Facebook Feedback Loop. 

So I declare next year The Year of Me. Before you berate me for being narcissistic, please allow me to explain. I've spent the last few years (as mentioned in the link above) doing things for other people, and letting my business - and my well-being - slide. So 2017 is for me and my family. 

I know. I'm not big on resolutions in January. But I've given this a lot of thought, and it's time for me to take care of myself before I become a statistic in 2017. 

I also must refocus on creating. That means writing, goods, whatever. I refuse to have two bad years back-to-back. 

Oh yes, the political landscape is terrible. But there are still things under my control, and I refuse to blame anyone sitting in the Oval Office for my own shortcomings. 

This means you may see more self-promotion from me. I kinda hate that, but it won't be all "buy my stuff" all the time, I promise. First, I have to produce some stuff for you to buy, so you won't be seeing the self-promotion for a while. I still have eye surgery to (if you'll pardon the pun) look forward to, along with the recovery period from that. And I have an estate to manage. 

Anyway, thanks for your support in 2016, and let's hope 2017 is truly better.

Filed under: Life            
12/27/2016 6:04:32 PM
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The 2016 Catmas Card is here!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I did say I was taking the rest of the year off, but the Catmas Card must happen!

And yep, I should have taken care of this before the latest round of eye stuff. Oh, I didn't mention that? I'm scheduled for cataract surgery on the right eye next month! Oh, it's very good news, but I have to wear glasses for a while, and I don't see quite as well with those as I do with contacts. It ought to be very much worth it, though.

If you're on the snail mail list, the card should arrive before the end of the week.

Meowy Catmas to everyone!

Filed under: Catmas            
12/17/2016 6:29:43 PM
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Taking Some Time Off

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I say this every December, but mean it this time. 

Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy post.

I knew 2016 was going to be hard for me, but I had already made plans to start stepping back from commitments. Ten or so more months, I told myself, and then I could step back. 2016 had other plans. 

This pickle I'd gotten myself into was mostly of my own making. I don't work a standard 9-5 job, and so I figured I could rearrange my schedule to take care of some things. Help some people out. Well, some people looked at that and decided that I could rearrange my schedule for them, too. And I let it happen. Why? Oh, several reasons. It didn't seem like a big thing at first. And sadly, I'm one of these people who need approval. Gosh, maybe people would like me if I stepped up. (Yeah, I was bullied in school. What can I say?) I also took on more things that I really wanted to do, and those things led to other things and people working on projects dumping more stuff on me because, hey, I have a flexible schedule!

So yes, it's on me. I let it happen.

While I tried to juggle family, fannish, and professional things, the professional side slipped. Part of it was the economy. I've always bounced back from a recession. This time, not so much. I watched my income - and my self-esteem - dwindle down every year. When your professional life is tied up in creative work and that stuff isn't happening or isn't paying, it's easy to take it personally. 

So I decided that things would change in 2016. I was going to back off on some commitments so I could concentrate more on the family and professional aspects of my life. (Hey, I'm still trying to find the top of my desk!) Well, 2016 definitely had other ideas. It was a brutal year for several of my good friends, and I stepped in to help because I could, and because I hate to see my friends suffer. 

At the height of all this my mom went into the hospital. I was running a convention, taking up slack for some other people, and spending three or more hours a day on the road, at the hospital, and running my mother's household. I'd come home, stop at the grocery store, grab some food, fix dinner, and collapse - until it was time to do the next task. I'd go to bed and sleep fitfully. People I'd stepped in to help earlier in the year stepped in to help me. Sometimes payback is awesome! Other friends stepped in, too. It was enough to keep me from totally losing it, but my schedule was still just brutal. I love my friends, but they couldn't sit at my mother's bedside. They couldn't pay her bills, take my sister shopping (no one lived that close to her), go vet rehab centers, and do what few professional things were still on my plate. I had also made some commitments, and intended to keep them. It all damn near did me in.

Most of you know my mother passed away at the end of October. This is another very long story, and maybe something for another post. I'm executor of her estate, and it seems things aren't going to be so simple. I was executor of my dad's estate. When he passed away in 1993, my mom took care of darn near everything. She got the death certificates, she met with the attorney and the accountant, she cleared out Dad's stuff. I helped with the inventory, showed up at probate court, and signed papers. 

Mom did a lot to try and make it easy on us, but these things never go as planned. It's been six weeks or so, and we're still trying to get a death certificate. She willed her body to medical research, and the people at UT Southwestern have been great. But no one can get a doctor to sign off on the piece of paper. As a result, Social Security was notified late, and they just now got around to taking back two months of benefits. (I knew those would be going back.) She had put a lot of things in a strongbox in the home office, but I'm still trying to find information on some things. And getting my dad's pension plan notified was a total pain. Even with Google, it took me two weeks to find the correct phone number. Oh, yes. The phone number the company had plastered all over their web site went to a contest line. You'd think a pension plan would like to stop paying benefits to someone who died, wouldn't you?

I was so stressed out and things came to a head a few weeks ago. It was time for my annual eye exam and I'd had a rotten morning. Several things had gone wrong. Then I got in the car and discovered the gas tank was empty (had forgotten to fill it the day before). I barely made it in time for my appointment. My blood pressure may have been a few miles outside of Stroke City, Arizona. I had only seen it that high once, and that was after an asthma attack. When they eye doctor told me that finally, they had found a way to get the insurance to cover cataract surgery on my right eye, I broke down and cried.

So, I get evaluated for eye surgery next week. I can't see (if you'll pardon the pun) any scenario where I'll have the surgery before the end of the year. I suspect a lot of people schedule cataract surgery for this time of year so they can recover over the holidays. When I had my left eye done four years ago I had to go without contacts for two weeks so they could get accurate measurements for an implant. I assume that will be the case again. I anticipate surgery will be sometime in January. After that will be time to recover and then I can go back to my optometrist for any vision correction. And I will need it, because I'm not dropping $2500 on a multifocal implant. I will drop the money ($300 last time) on a procedure to reduce my astigmatism. It's not covered by insurance, but when I look at what I've spent on vision correction in the past, the procedure will pay for itself. 

I am doing ConDFW in February. In fact, I plan to have a dealer table there this year, so I have to get busy making stuff along with everything else.

And on top of it all, I just need to rest. And find the top of my desk.

Filed under: Life            
12/9/2016 3:56:55 PM
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Oh. Dear.

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Found this while going through an old recipe book:


Filed under: Life            
12/3/2016 5:06:28 PM
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Defending Our Freedom

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Amid all the memes and the prayers and the outright lies about 9/11, one veteran dared say something that didn't follow the "sacred" rules. And Facebook shat on him for it.

Jim Wright is a navy veteran of 25 years. He owns firearms. He is a certified instructor in use of same. Until recently, he lived in the wilds of Alaska, working in his wood shop, herding cats, and keeping a popular web site called Stonekettle Station.

Oh, and he's a liberal, which seems to have pissed of a hell of a lot of people to the point that his essay on 9/11 was removed from Facebook. Facebook's reason is that it violated community standards.

Wait a minute. Facebook allows people to post conspiracy theories, question the president's birth, call for the assassination of our leaders and presidential candidates. And yet, when these same people who vehemently stand up for their rights to post this utter bullshit get offended by a veteran who pisses on their "freedom" parade, they make sure the post gets taken down. Hypocritical, much?

Wright's post went viral on Facebook, and the site has been busy swatting down all copies of it they can find. And yet, the very people he offended still get to go around calling him all sorts of nasty names and crowing because they got his post taken down.

I don't have to agree with what Wright says to defend his right to say it. He spent 25  years putting his life on the line so I could have the freedom to share my own opinion. Why the hell can't he have his? Is he supposed to toe some imaginary "freedom" line because he once wore a uniform of our armed services? 

Just because I can, I'm posting the link again. Go read it. It may offend the hell out of you, and that's your right. But the next time you complain that liberals are stomping your rights to free speech in the ground, remember that it was conservatives who got this guy's post taken down on Facebook - because they were offended. 

Facebook is a private entity, and we agree to its terms of service when we sign up. I didn't sign up for mob rule. I use Facebook to connect with people, and an now reconsidering whether or not it's good for my business to be associated with a company that allows hate speech to be spread on a daily basis while removing posts of people who attack those who spread hate speech. 

Go take a look at the article. I'm deliberately not posting an excerpt because Wright's words have been ripped off and used without attribution or payment. Some have twisted his words to mean something else. You need to read the source and decide for yourself. Yep, I'm deliberately driving traffic to his site.

Agree or disagree if you wish. But don't get your tighty whities in a wad because he dares to speak an opinion that goes against the grain. Drown it out with your pictures of eagles, your memes without root in truth, your petty name-calling. Just don't try to boot his posts from Facebook while you get to post your own opinion. Someone may very well try to drown yours out next.

Update: Jim Wright reports on Facebook that his post has been restored.

(I'm leaving comments open, but my house, my rules. Same goes on Facebook.)

Filed under: Facebook   Freedom of Speech   Stonekettle Station      
9/12/2016 7:58:30 AM
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Stop It.

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


I woke up this morning to the devastating news of shots fired at a protest last night, killing four Dallas Police officers and one DART officer.

Predictably, the race baiting started - from both sides - even before the ink was dry on the newspapers. (Pardon the outdated metaphor, but it beats the inflammatory one that sprung to mind at first.)

Stop it. 

Let the officers do their job. As of now the one suspect killed apparently talked of killing officers. Three more are in custody and aren't cooperating.

Absent lack of evidence, we speculate.

Stop it.

Because of the nature of the protest, fingers are pointed in various directions. Black Lives Matter. White cops. The president. The KKK.

Stop It.

I've said this before in the aftermath of tragic shootings, and I'm going to say it again. Let the police investigate. Allow them to gather evidence, to interview suspects. Most of all, allow them to grieve for their fallen fellow officers. 

Relatives of the officers and other victims could very well be your neighbors, your co-workers, people in your congregation. Students at your school. Instead of engaging in useless speculation, offer some comfort. Pray with them, if that's your (and their) inclination. Offer to bring some food. Do what people do when they've lost someone close under other, less incendiary circumstances. 

Yes, I'm angry. I'm hurting. But it does no good for me to vent my anger in the wrong direction. There will be a time for that. For now, let's vent our anger towards doing something good. 

We are better than this.

Let's start it.

Filed under: News            
7/8/2016 9:22:39 AM
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SoonerCon Wrap-Up

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

SoonerCon celebrated their 25th convention this weekend, and boy, did they pull out the stops! Kudos to the entire committee for another excellent event!

SoonerCon is my con home away from home. FenCon is always my home con, but since I help run it I never get to see much of what's going on. I always come home from OKC doing my Sally Field impression. And this! So many wonderful people, so many hugs, so many nice things. So, what happened? 

Friday was an up and down day, but the down bits were absolutely no fault of the convention. First, my watch had failed to charge overnight. I was glad I remembered the charging stand, so I did have enough of a charge on it in time for my panel. We got on the road early, to the con early, got set up in the Art Show, and then I realized I was late for a panel. I left the Art Show stuff undone, ran to my room to get stuff for the panel...and realized the panel was an hour later. Kudos to the Art Show staff for being understanding. So the first panel (I was moderating. Eeep!) was "Stump a Whovian." It kind of wandered around a bit, but I think a good time was had by all. Sadly, I missed the Art Show reception as we decided we had better go get some food before it got to be too late. And that was where I didn't choose wisely. We ate off-site, and while the food was good, I was up most of the night. And we'll leave it at that. Then I went to plug in my tablet, and found it wouldn't charge. But of course it had material for a Saturday panel on it.

Saturday I went to the Kaffeeklatche, caught up with a few people, and then sat in a corner nursing half a cup of coffee and a muffin so I could be awake for the hat panel at 10. I coaxed enough power out of the tablet to be able to show the material. The panel was good. The audience had some excellent questions, too. That's one of the things that makes for a really good panel. Next up was "I'm an Oakie from Orion," which was kind of a celebration of fandom in flyover country. That was a topic with potential to go all over the place, and it did. Heard a lot of funny stories there. 

Saturday night was the costume contest and the radio show. This year's offering was "It Came from the North Canadian River," and it seemed to go over well. (Click the link to get to the show.) 

Then we had the FenCon party. Thanks to everyone who attended, and especially to Ellen, Mike, Karen, and Louann for all their work to put it on.

Sunday! Sunday! started out with a panel on Classic Doctor Who. That one kind of went all over the place, too, but it worked. Sometimes it's good when that happens. Then there was the "Story in an Hour" panel. I learned more than I contributed, I fear.

One thing I thought was very cool was that several employees of the hotel and conference center got into the spirit by wearing costumes. 

So a good time was had by all, and now I get to rest. Thanks again to the SoonerCon committee for inviting me and for putting on such a great show.

Filed under: Conventions   SoonerCon         
6/27/2016 2:29:24 PM
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