Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tech and People

Aha! This is what I have been saying! Sadly I do not quite get the same coverage as an O'Reilly person. Via boingboing, from Sarah Milstein:
Our human patterns are surprisingly consistent, and technology evolves to meet us...
Technology changes, people don't.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Fallacy of MMOs

Or, the people who talk about MMOs and how massive they are in terms of players. I'm sure there are millions of people who play cards as well. Solitaire, even, which is played... when solitary... but millions of people play it, at the same time, with their own copy of the cards, and although they don't meet each other when playing it and they don't play against each other, they might read about it and chat about it online.

Some people describe MMOs as this amazing event in our history because of the userbase and how the users all play together. But we know the players don't all play together. In Second Life, you can have 50 or fewer, max, to a server. And you probably aren't interacting with all 49 of them. In a more traditional MMO, say, WoW or EQ, they have many "servers" (different from an SL server), so the massive tens/hundreds of thousands or millions of users will never, ever, interact in the game. Ever. Period. Online on a chat site or the forums, sure. Grouping and raids you will have a bunch of people, and I am not sure of the exact numbers for the different games with their different engines (and PvE versus PvP, perhaps).

Overall this is not too much different from online games from the Call of Duty and Halo series. A large number of people, playing together. The "world" may not be "persistent" in the same way as in an MMO, but it is the "same" in that it is the same map or selection from a set of maps (like selection of certain areas from a larger game world, which these maps often are).

I don't have the exact numbers on these FPS games either (I'll work on that), but these FPS games and the MMOs all have huge numbers of players and the numbers of players that interact is probably about the same, both in-game and outside of the game. If you only focus on the interactions in the game (and there are a lot of ways for this type of interaction) then you are missing out on a lot of important interaction and information sharing that goes on through other channels.

Even with games that were purely single player, like Myst and Adventure (on the old Atari 2600), there were thousands of people playing it and then interacting through other channels. I found the easter egg of the programmer's name in Adventure, but I certainly didn't figure out how to get the invisible dot and where to put it all by myself. A friend of mine told me how to do it. How did he know? Someone told him, or he read it in a magazine. We can modernize that sentence somewhat, "someone emailed him, or he read it online." Same basic human communicative processes.

MMOs are not quantitatively different from what we have already experienced.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

AT&T and iPhone Data Usage

Apparently the people at AT&T thought people would buy the iPhone but not use it. Seriously? Have they not noticed the mad use of so many other communication technologies? Ever? They win a The Latest Idiot award.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Chumby!

I have written about the Chumby previously, and now there is a 2nd-gen Chumby available that is even better than the first one (although I think I like the look of the first one a little better). Cory Doctorow notes it with some links over at boingboing. As Cory writes, "everything from the circuit board designs to the software is open-licensed and freely downloadable. The idea is to produce an adorable, versatile device that any hacker, anywhere, can improve, so that all Chumby owners can get more out of it." Pure win, as they say on teh intarwebs. (Wow it is actually difficult to type in Internet-speak sometimes.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lessig on Copyright and Balance

Yes, one of my favorite topics, but lawyers are pretty good sources to listen to when it comes to copyright laws. The video is the PPT, so starts off blank (it's working, don't worry).

Lessig discusses balance and different situations where copyright is used. Accessible and enlightening as always. From, embedded below. Via boingboing. About an hour long.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Market Research, Design, and Choices

I was writing a contact in the marketing world and I realized why I do not want to do market research for some types of companies, and why I prefer to work in the social media world.

I do not want to work at a research firm where I would have to do research for a fast food company, a tobacco company, or a soda company. I think one important aspect of good marketing, and good understanding of the market, is to make a good product that fits consumer need. This does not mean you make products that manipulate people's brains on a chemical level (fats, sugars, nicotine, empty calories) . Good design is important to me, products that harm people's health are defective by design and I do not tolerate treating people like that.

One reason I like social media is because it can make people's lives better, and it needs to be designed well to do that.

Good design makes life better. Some products are designed to enrich some at the cost of others, but are marketed in quite a different way. For more on fast food, read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.

Monday, November 2, 2009

100 Year Old Griefing

Susan Douglas (one of my PhD advisors), in her 1987 book Inventing American Broadcasting, detailed a 1907 New York Times story about a young man who used wireless. Although the precursor to modern radio, it was not at all like today's radio. There were no stations playing music, it was Morse code, and it was all individuals sending and receiving messages. These individuals could be some young guy in New Jersey, or the radio man on a ship, or a commercial "station" of sort (such as a newspaper contacting ships at sea for news), or the navy.

For the most part (probably exclusively), it was young and technologically-savvy men. But, it was also anonymous, since there was no automatic way to identify people. And, when you have a communication technology and anonymity, you have griefing. Douglas wrote how, in about 1910, “deliberate interference... began to get out of control, and to the military, in particular, it ceased to be in any way innocent or amusing.” (p. 207) Congestion of the airwaves, and general interference, was increasing, but so was “malicious interference” (p. 208)

Some amateurs deliberately sent false or obscene messages, especially to the navy. The temptation to indulge in such practical joking was enhanced by the fact that detection was virtually impossible. Amateurs would pretend to be military officials or commercial operators, and they dispatched ships on all sorts of fabricated missions. Navy operators would receive emergency messages about a ship that was sinking off the coast. After hours of searching in vain, the navy would hear the truth: the “foundering” ship had just arrived safely in port. (p. 208)

Sending navy operators “profane messages” was something else that the amateurs did. The navy, trying to assert some control over the airwaves, would issue “statements about the grave danger posed by the amateurs, and cited many instances of unpatriotic interference.” (p. 210)

Much like today, anonymity played a large part in people’s behavior. “The anonymity made possible by wireless had a leveling effect on the status and power of naval officials: in the airwaves, rank was irrelevant; only technical strength mattered.” (p. 210)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Crowdsourcing Confusion

Crowdsourcing is usually used in either one of two incompatible ways, or in a way that is an odd mishmash of both. One the one hand, it can mean throwing some problem out to the crowd, that is, everybody, and everybody solves it. The second is that you throw a problem out there, and the experts solve it. Experts are not everybody, and everybody, as a whole, is not expert at everything. Most people are experts at perhaps one thing, or less.

The recent Netflix improvement competition, to improve movie recommendations, is one such example. One Wired writer said how "the Netflix Prize competition has proffered hard proof of a basic crowdsourcing concept." The NYTimes Bits blog writer, Steve Lohr, wrote "this kind of Internet-enabled approach, known as crowdsourcing, can be applied to complex scientific and business challenges."

Well, no. The winners of the Neflix prize were not at all the same "crowd" as, say, the Wikipedians (and given that the majority of edits come from a minority of users there, that's not really a crowd either).

The point is that you throw a problem out and hope the get the experts interested in it, you don't care about the crowd one whit. The problem is you don't know where the experts are, and you don't have the capability to approach them (perhaps you lack the time, or the social capital to talk to them directly).

The Netflix prize instead shows the well-known point that teams with diverse backgrounds can come up with better answers than groups where all the people have the same background. As Lohr wrote, the winning team "is a seven-person team of statisticians, machine-learning experts and computer engineers from the United States, Austria, Canada and Israel." Not all computer scientists. Not all statisticians. Not all from the same country. If all you have is a hammer, you'd better hope you only encounter nails. (Van Buskirk got this correct in Wired, "Arguably, the Netflix Prize’s most convincing lesson is that a disparity of approaches drawn from a diverse crowd is more effective than a smaller number of more powerful techniques.")

Even the TV show House played with this idea recently. An annoyingly Internety guy blogs his medical problems and offers a reward for them. The person who solves his problem, it turns out, is not just some guy from "the crowd". It is a medical expert. Not just any medical expert, but Dr. House himself, the uber-expert.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Google H Score

H score is the crossing of the number of publications you have in journals with the number of cites each one has. The H is where you have N number of pubs that have N or more citations to them. When you have your first pub, your H is zero since no one has cited it yet. My Google H=4 as of this post, as I have four pubs that are each cited at least four times. My solo Google H is only 2. Although age of the article clearly relates, I'd say that popularity of topic is relevant. (Edit: Slashdot was hot for a while, as was online Public Sphere stuff, but that article doesn't get a lot of cites lately. Here are the Google scholar pages.)

Article (short title)JournalAuthor(s)YearCited
Mechanisms of an online public sphereJCMCSolo2005*25
To broadband or not to broadbandJoBEMCo20049
Honey, I shrunk the world!MCSCo20068
Playing Internet curveball...ConvergenceSolo20067
A cross-national study of computer news sitesTISSolo20071
Copyright notices...JCMCSolo2008*1
Global citation patterns...IJoCSolo20090
Stratification and global elite theoryIJoPORCo20090

H values as of 9/10/09.
* indicates one self-cite, relevant, honestly!
Neither self-cite affects the Google H value.
The numbers fluctuate from time to time, up and down.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Emojicons on Your iPhone

(What, you don't have an iPhone?)

Emoji (Japanese emoticons, and these ones are very Japanese) are on your iPhone, but activating them, not so easy. I'm not sure what the technical details are behind all of this (I'm curious about it, but not so that I'm going to kill myself Googling), but I just did this on my 3GS and it works.

You need to get this (free) app and follow the directions. There are, apparently, other apps that work as well, so I assume the app makes a call (software call, not phonecall) to the Japanese emoji character set, so the phone then makes it available, but that's just a guess. Some of the emojicons are a little strange, but there are a lot of them. Make sure you use the "updated" number, not the one in the illustrations. No idea why you need to enter those numbers in that order, but it worked.

30k Years Ago...

As you can see from the lonely "History" tag, this has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is about a 30,000 or so year old bear skull, that some pre-historic person placed on a rock in a cave and left there. And there it sat. For a few years. And a few more. A century. One-thousand years. Another thousand years. Ten thousand years. More! Until we modern humans found it, in Chauvet cave in France. (Click on "Visit the Cave", then in the upper right of the map find the green dot that is "The Chamber of the Skull". Click it.)

This is pretty cool. Why? Don't we find old bones, well, not all the time, but, museums are full of them. Yes. But, usually they are in the ground, surrounded by datable strata, or maybe a tar pit, or, like a mammoth, frozen in ice (or like The Ice Man). Granted the bear skull was underground, in the sense that the cave is under the ground, but it was not in the ground, it was sitting on a rock the entire time. Yes we find rock paintings, but those are painted onto rocks. You can't move them.

Typically when we find things that old they are not just sitting there. King Tut's tomb was amazing because it was fairly, but not completely, undisturbed, and is a little over 3,300 years old (so The Ice Man is about 200 years older). Stonehenge is about 4,500 years old. The Egyptian pyramids, which are also stone structures that have been out in the open, are about the same age. But our little skull friend was already ancient when all of those were built.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Second Life, eh?

As part of my current research, I checked out Second Life on and off for about two weeks. There is some interesting stuff there, since it is almost entirely community created content and user generated content, but let's face it a lot of people are creepy when you give them anonymity.

A lot of businesses had trumpeted their entry into the brave new world of Second Life, then silently withdrew when they realized they had been snookered by marketing fear-peddlers yet again. So, lots of Google results for "company name" and "Second Life" which give you articles on their awesome new presence in-world. Ha. Nothing for when they leave, though, but I did finally find one article--thank you, Rupert Neate at the Telegraph. There are so many good quotes in it, you can read it and choose your favorite, since I can't choose just one to print here to entice you to go read it.

Ok ok, here's one, but the entire article is full of win (that means it is all really good).

While the site is still beloved by geeks and the socially awkward, Deloitte’s director of technology research, Paul Lee, says it has been “virtually abandoned” by “normal” people and businesses.

Eventually I decided I needed a haiku, encouraged by some work about craigslist. Here it is:

Second Life presence!
The press releases blooming!
Silently we leave.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Penny Arcade and Psychology

I have long suspected it, from their expressed wisdom... Or perhaps in contrast to the idiocy one encounters online... But, I would not be surprised to find that Tycho has an advanced degree in communication studies or psychology. (Of course, he doesn't, and he's making a very basic observation, but, one that some people never seem to get.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

People and Change (Time)

From Grandin's Fordlandia, p. 224.

[Ford] was twenty-two when, in 1885, most of Detroit refused to obey a municipal ordinance to promote "the unification of time," as the campaign to get the United States to accept the Greenwich meridian as the universal standard was called. "Considerable confusion" prevailed, according to the Chicago Daily Tribune, as Detroit "showed her usual conservatism in refusing to adopt Standard Time." It took more than two decades to get the city to fully "abandon solar time" and set its clocks back twenty-eight minutes and fifty-one seconds to harmonize with Chicago and the rest of the Midwest (the city would switch to eastern standard time in 1915, both to have more sunlight hours and to synchronize the city's factories with New York banks).
Time is relative! (Yes I mean time of day, not the passing of, but that's relative too.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Alternative Computer Games

Via Kotaku, here are three cool indie / alternative games. They're all very different from most computer games, the two from Armor Games are good send-ups of traditional game norms, and the third, from Daniel Benmergui, is just straight up different. Well worth your time.


(added to this post in September)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Diverse Teams? Really?

The Netflix team competition has been in the press for a while now, and deservedly so. I was somewhat doubtful it could be done. Specifically, I was doubtful there was any solid reason to think it could always be improved by 10%, and I think that is true, although I don't personally know when that level is reached, but we should be able to figure it out ahead of time. I don't see what proof there is for, say, 100% predictability, or even 99% predictability. People do change over time, sometimes.

But, in the NYTimes yesterday, a not-purposefully amusing look at the competition.

Here are some choice snippets:

  • Headline: Netflix Competitors Learn the Power of Teamwork

  • It has also changed conventional wisdom about the best way to build the automated systems.

  • The biggest lesson learned, according to members of the two top teams, was the power of collaboration.

  • The formula for success was to bring together people with complementary skills and combine different methods of problem-solving.
So, what they're saying is that, basically, a diverse team approach is best, and that this is a new finding.


If they were some sort of business sociologists, or organizational communication people, or weren't "statisticians, machine learning experts and computer engineers," then they would have known this years ago.

I am happy to see this combination of sociology, statistics, and computing covered in the mainstream media, but it is rather sad to see our understanding of people and work so misrepresented.
“The contest was almost a race to agglomerate as many teams as possible,” said David Weiss, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Ensemble. “The surprise was that the collaborative approach works so well, that trying all the algorithms, coding them up and putting them together far exceeded our expectations.”
Maybe they shouldn't ask Ph.D. candidates in computer science about the psychology and sociology of human work? I don't think it is so much that collaboration worked well, but that a diverse team works well, and that is not new.

(OT, I think my college English advisor was named David Weiss.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Digital Music

I was reading an article covering "casual pirates" over at the NYT and this sentence stood out: "paid-for downloads from services like Apple’s iTunes have fallen short of hopes..."

How strange, I have never heard anything like that before. Usually it's how Apple controls too much of the market, and how well it is doing.

But really, the music industry does not want digital downloads to work. The stakeholders are far too invested in physical plant for that. If digital downloads succeed, that is a failure, and if they fail, that is success.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Death of Newspapers

I love a tired out headline! But I have discovered why newspapers are dying, although I don't have robust timeline data and this may not be why readership is declining (but really if you can access it online easier...).

I was reading Lessig's Remix, and he says how newspapers generally get 1/3 of their income from classifieds, and how the market for classifieds has been decimated by Craig's List (ok ok, craigslist). I don't know of many businesses that can withstand losing 1/3 of their income.

Then I also saw this piece in Salon, about the firing of Dan Froomkin from the Washington Post, which was a pretty good explainer about the death of newspapers.

Note that newspapers are not the same thing as journalism. The people who work for newspapers may or may not practice journalism, but the two are not the same thing. Newspapers can suffer financially but that doesn't mean that journalism is dying.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran and Media

Lots of interesting coverage of Iran. Two things have jumped out at me. One, signs in English (I don't know how widely English is used, or if it is at all, Iranians typically speak Persian), and two, how uses of media technology to distribute information under difficult political circumstances hasn't changed all that much (only the specific technology has).

From an article in Slate by Harry Newman:
During the time of the anti-shah protests, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was exiled near Paris. His speeches were transmitted by telephone into Iran, recorded onto cassette, and then thousands of dubbed copies were distributed to his followers. Today, opposition figures in Iran and abroad are using social-networking technology to publicize their protests. Both then and now, international media—above all, diaspora Persian-language news broadcasts—play a critical role in expanding the opposition forces.
Technology changes, people don't.

Picture with Persian and English signs, credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images, from

Update: Aha! Jason Rezaian writes at Slate, "Many carried signs in English, intended for the noticeably absent foreign media to snap." He is not just writing in a safe little room like I am, here is there (well, if you believe what you read at Slate, and there are plenty of journalists there and a ton of info is really getting out via various channels, so I don't see why not).

Update 2: Finally someone is comparing the theft of the election in Iran with the theft of the 2000 election in the US (Austin Heap at Salon).

Update 4: Aha!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Uncle Alfred in the NYT!

Well, it's not an interview, but he is mentioned up front in a non-lampooning manner in Saturday's column by Maureen Dowd. Cool!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rights and Wrongs

Okay that's an overused perhaps too-easy pun, but relevant in this case. And what is this case? Danger Mouse's Grey Album. Yes, an old story, I know, but check out the EFF summary page. Here's the part that blows my mind:

First, it's important to understand that there are at least 4, and maybe 5, "rights-holders" potentially involved:
  1. Owners of the rights to the sound recording ("master") for the Beatles' White Album. That's EMI.
  2. Owners of the rights to the musical works (songs or "compositions") that appear on the Beatles' White Album. For the Lennon and McCartney songs, that appears to be Sony Music/ATV Publishing, a joint venture between Michael Jackson and Sony. It's unclear who owns the rights to the George Harrison songs.
  3. Owners of the rights to the sound recording for Jay-Z's Black Album.
  4. Owners of the rights to the musical works that appear on Jay-Z's Black Album.
  5. And, possibly, the owner of the rights to the Grey Album (presumably DJ Danger Mouse).
Rights to the sound recordings and to the musical works are different? Are you kidding me? I'm not even sure what the difference between the "master" and the "compositions" are! Copyright law is totally out of control. And it's unclear who owns the rights to the George Harrison songs? Ok honestly I understand how that can be, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vannevar Bush, As We May Think

There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Information Future's Past

Recently, Paul Otlet has gotten some press as a forgotten information future pioneer (from 1934, no less), however, I just discovered that he actually wasn't that forgotten. Going through some articles I had used in my dissertation, I discovered Otlet referenced in a 1994 JASIS article by Donald Case, who is referencing a 1992 article by Buckland. 

Case also references a 1964 article in The Atlantic by Martin Greenberger that you simply must read. And, even better The Atlantic has made it available online. How smart is that? (Very.) A snippet, and remember, this is 1964:
The range of application of the information utility extends well beyond the few possibilities that have been sketched. It includes medical-information systems for hospitals and clinics, centralized traffic control for cities and highways, catalogue shopping from a convenience terminal at home, automatic libraries linked to home and office, integrated management-control systems for companies and factories, teaching consoles in the classroom, research consoles in the laboratory, design consoles in the engineering firm, editing consoles in the publishing office, computerized communities.
Wow! Spot-on. Awesome. Apparently this piece did indeed influence later information society embodiments.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Nielsen and Sampling

For years I have heard nothing good about Nielsen's sampling. We have seen recently how Nielsen completely disagrees with Hulu's own numbers. I have seen an industry exec slam Nielsen at a panel. But now I have some idea of why, even if it's from a 1992 book -- Henry Jenkins comes through yet again, in his important Textual Poachers (pp. 29-30).

As Eilieen Meehan (1990) has suggested, despite the myth of popular choice that surrounds them, the Nielsen ratings reflect only a narrowly chosen segment of the television audience--a "commodity audience"--which can be sold to national advertisers and networks, but which reflects neither mass taste nor the taste of an intellectual elite. 
Given the current diversity of channels (in the broader sense, not just "television channel") compared to "the big three" era (poor PBS, never counted), this approach won't work. Is it Nielsen's current approach? I don't know. But it's food for thought.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Manipulating the Masses

Errol Morris is at it again, with another riveting series of long blog posts over at the NYT, this time about a WWII-era forger for the Nazis, Van Meegeren. Except I don't want to post about that, not exactly. I want to copy a snippet from a Göring quote, Göring the thoroughly evil man that he was, who is part of the story (since Van Meegeren was passing his forgeries off as Vermeers to the Nazis).

The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
That strategy sounds... familiar...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Online Metrics

I have always wondered about numbers and such, say, from NPD where the number of console sales, quarter after quarter (or is it month after month?) end in nice little zeros. Every time. I had no idea that millions of people around the earth would somehow organize their purchasing in order to precisely buy items only in thousands of units. People are so amazing! Unless, of course, it's a... no, it couldn't be! Could it? An... an... estimation?

I have been thinking about this one for a while, and I was away at ICA, but the numerical disparity between Hulu's numbers for Hulu and Nielsen's numbers for Hulu is insane. The Hulu people have their own web server logs, Nielsen does not. I have seen a marketing exec trash Nielsen for lame digital know-how. I'll go with Hulu on the numbers. 
While Nielsen reported 8.9 million visitors to Hulu in March, another measurement firm, comScore, counted 42 million. 
Clearly, one or both of those are hugely wrong. Hugely. (A.k.a. to you purists, "orders of magnitude," there feel better?)
Web publishers are never entirely happy with the online ratings they receive from measurement companies. Their internal numbers, collected via clicks to their servers, are almost always higher than the third-party estimates.
So, do you want actual hard figures from the web server, or do you want an estimate
Nielsen counts video streams by using “beacons,” which inform the company whenever a video starts playing.
So, if I watch Hulu, I somewhere agreed to allow Nielsen to spy on my clickstream? When did I do that? I don't think so! Oh what's that you say, in the EULA that no one ever reads? Maybe? Not sure?

Hulu could just release their server logs. That would solve most issues. Why not? IP addresses, cookie data. Honestly, this stuff is fairly straightforward. Amazing that people get paid to make a mess of it.

Hitler DMCA Meme

I will not pretend to be a master of "the Hitler meme" from the movie Downfall, although I have seen a few. This one, from the EFF, is absolutely amazing. You must watch it. All of it. 

There are many amazing lines, here are two:
Screw them. If they don't run Windows, who cares?
Those YouTube people are pussies.

The video is, of course, posted on YouTube...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Battle Over Language

So, Fox is still in a kurfuffle over the money they might have lost with those Wolverine downloads. 

"Piracy is a serious issue for us. We now estimate that there are above 4 million downloads of that stolen 'Wolverine' movie that was up there," News Corp. COO Peter Chernin told Wall Street analysts on Wednesday.
Notice he says "stolen". This is inaccurate, as Fox still has the movie, it was not stolen from them. It was copied. Fox still has as much of the movie as it had before, all of it. Nothing is missing. Although Chernin makes a financial assessment, it is not at all like theft from a bank where actual physical goods ($) are taken from the bank and the bank no longer has those goods in its possession. 

This... is hegemony! What a great word. It is the battle over ideas, if you accept that intellectual property is exactly the same as physical property, then you are thinking what they want you to think.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Recent Reads

A few fun recent reads, as April draws to a close.

Clay Shirky takes it to some idiots who should know better. This is my favorite kind of piece. I only hope I will never be on the receiving end of one...

TimeWarner may spin off AOL, finally. A strong starting point to the article, by Tim Arango, "an untangling of what many consider one of the worst mergers in American corporate history." Ha! Synergy, take that. I read Nina Munk's Fools Rush In, which was a blast and so, so sad. (Aside, there are actually a lot of books with that title, which explains why all/most of them have subtitles.)

Also, two amusing post by Tycho over at Penny Arcade (post one and post two), bemoaning online discourse, although to use the word is to sully it. (Oh now look I'm writing like Tycho.)

Wait wait, what in the world is that? As I edit this post, there is a tab up above, "Monetize". Posting, Settings, Layout, Monetize. What does Google think this is, 1999?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Academic Reviews

I am reviewing a piece for NMS. The last time I submitted to NMS they got back to me in six months with no comments and it was a complete waste of time, I swore I would never submit to them again. Now they say they have a three week turn around on reviews. Ha.

But, I was about to Google for papers similar to the one I am reviewing, to see if this subject has been covered recently in the same way (no, I do not know every academic paper out there, no one does), or if there is a paper that the author should cite but didn't, and realized I might encounter the paper as a conference presentation, and that would be bad because reviews should be blind.

So, I stopped there, since it really seemed like an untenable situation.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

To Save a TV Show, Don't Watch TV

I like this article over at Slate, Want To Save Your Favorite TV Show? Stop watching it on television, by Chadwick Matlin. Discusses how, unless you are a Nielsen household, no one has any idea that you are watching a TV show on TV... Unless you are watching a TV show online. Hulu? iTunes? They know. Suddenly your viewing preferences count. I am sure there is some decent discussion of samples and sampling in the survey out there somewhere. (It is a very technical issue, I've seen a Forrester senior analyst misinterpret the representativeness of a sample. Tisk.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bentham on Rights

Bentham - yes, that Jeremy Bentham, him of Wired fame for his Panopticon idea - did indeed, I have just learned, have other ideas. Other, amazing, ideas. Thanks, Nick Kristof!

One of the few exceptions was Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher who 200 years ago also advocated for women’s rights, gay rights and prison reform. He responded to Kant’s lack of interest in animals by saying: “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”
Clearly, that is great.

A.P. Still in 1999

So, the A.P. has a YouTube channel with its content, but apparently some people at the A.P. don't understand what YouTube is. If this were 1999, it would be funny.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Old Media + New Tech = Disruption!

Newspapers are all after Google for including snippets of their news, or something. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The Author's Guild is all over Amazon for text-to-speech in the Kindle

Reminds me of, well, everything. The radio powers (initially AM) suppressing FM technology (which was better) so as to protect their AM investments. The TV establishment fighting cable TV and the VCR until they could profit from them (I cannot resist the "Boston Strangler!" comment, who can, it is perfect). Newspapers hating the internet. Oh wait that's where we still are!

Established powers like the status quo, it's what sustains them, even if they draw on a formerly disruptive technology. They always seek to stop challenges in any way possible, and when consumers make it very clear they would use something new, the established powers seek to destroy it, often legally. Eventually if they can they co-opt the new technology, but that doesn't always happen. 

Challenge is opportunity. Embrace it (but not like an anaconda would).

Economists Rejoice!

Apple's iTunes Music Store now has different prices for different songs. Someone please do a paper. Do lower prices increase purchasing and still raise revenues (where is the optimal price?), and do higher prices on new songs not reduce purchases too much while still increasing revenues? That's the bet. Let's see what happens.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Recent Work

I've been doing a bit of work for Tiplet. The Mac is so easy, it's somewhat difficult to come up with user tips. Antivirus? Nope, don't need it. Registry corruption? Nope. Everything is pretty straightforward, actually. And it's Unix. Ease of use with industrial strength. Nice.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Quote of the Day

“We don’t do advertising at all. We don’t believe in advertising,” says Raju Vegesna, a Zoho marketing executive.

(From Small Company Offers Web-Based Competition for Microsoft Word, By Randall Stross.)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Digital Disruption

Two articles in the NYT this morning, both of which are completely aggravating.

First, Times Co. Said to Consider Closing Boston Globe.
The New York Times Company has threatened to close The Boston Globe unless labor unions agree to concessions like pay cuts and the cessation of pension contributions, according to a person briefed on the talks.
Seriously, "a person"? I thought the Times has a no-anonymous source rule.

Sounds like it's just posturing, but that they would make such a threat shows the lows to which the newspaper industry has sunk (if only they understood it's not about newspaper anymore, but news is still important).

The Times bought the Globe in 1993 for its color presses, and proceeded to make the Globe a lousy paper (imho) so it wouldn't compete with the Times. Well, that's my take on it anyway, I used to enjoy reading the Sunday Globe but in the last several years it has been terrible. There used to be a great Op/Ed section, but no more.

The Globe seemed to do a semi-decent job with, but, not perfect.

The second article, Google’s Plan for Out-of-Print Books Is Challenged, is far more annoying. 

Books that are out of print and will never be printed again and that are orphaned, are perhaps a problem. (This is also a problem in the software world.) Perhaps they are so bad they are unreadable, useless. But they are still part of the greater meta-library of ideas of humanity. Copyright still applies to them, but for some reason I never totally understand the rights holder is essentially unknown. If the author died.... Then what? Does the law give us guidance? If the publisher shut down... Then what? Seems weird. Typically authors maintain copyright over books. Finding heirs of the deceased can be tricky.

But Google is trying to put a bunch of these books online. Typical furor ensued. 

If Google doesn't do it, who will? That is my question. And complaining about high prices for database access, or, more accurately, prices that may become high, seems odd since librarians should be all up in arms about the ridiculous prices that they have to pay for journal articles (some are).

Addendum: I've said before that the NYT's best work is in their blogs, and this expansion of the Google and orphan works piece is no exception. Much better, more points of view, and many links. I find it somewhat amusing that the Harvard libraries director (private university) is against the agreement, while the Michigan library dean (public university) is for it. Most University of Michigan libraries are open to the public to some extent (except the law library always caused trouble in that department).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Blast From The Past: 1997, WebTV

12 years certainly does allow for some perspective, although people were insane in 1997 before the dot-con bubble burst (no "con" was not a typo). 

From Microsoft Took WebTV Risk, Despite Loss, by Steve Lohr, May 5, 1997.
WebTV's under-the-hood technology was probably the real lure for Microsoft, says Roger McNamee of Integral Capital Partners, an investment firm. Imagine the day when HDTV, he adds, becomes affordable and popular, with Microsoft charging the manufacturers a license fee of, say, $50 a set for the software that brings the Internet to those souped-up sets.
Well, HDTV is affordable and popular. Microsoft has the Xbox360... Sony's PS3, Apple's Mac TV approach, we have Boxee, Tivo, DVRs, even open source DVRs (Myth). I could go on about other parts of the ecosystem (like, Hulu). The internet is not currently the best delivery system for HDTV (digital cable, satellite, blu-ray...), even though I get both my internet and TV over the same cable.

I hate when analysts say dumb things.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fox Misses Opportunity With Wolverine Leak

Piracy Puts Film Online One Month Before Open from the NYT.

The short version is that the Fox lawyers are all freaking over the fact that they still can't control human behavior through technology (DRM, anyone?) and law (DMCA anyone?) because someone leaked a pre-final version of the movie Wolverine onto the internet.

So, their response is to freak out and worry that the "untold thousands of people" who watched it won't like it since it wasn't the final version. If someone is going to watch an unpolished version on a small screen, don't you think they will want to watch the real thing? (Unless it is really horrible, that is, but whose fault is that?)

This is a missed opportunity for Fox. (Idiots.)

Run an ad. Lawyers (white guys in suits) running around, throwing paper into the air, yelling in panicked tones, "It leaked! It leaked! The internet!" Then have a calm person with all of that in the background, face the camera (like Alec Baldwin in the Hulu ads), and say "Thousands of people wanted to see Wolverine so much, they grabbed an unfinished version from the internet. Unfinished! Missing special effects! Can you imagine what the final cut must be like?" (Or something like that, I don't usually write advertising.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Link Targets

As in, how much text the anchor tag surrounds. This has driven me nuts for quite some time. At the NYT, they do it right. At Slate, they do it horribly. I submit, for your eyes only dear reader/link-clicker...



Which is the better target? So obvious. Slate's "single page" does take you to the middle of the article, truth be told, but still.

Ada Lovelace Day - Maria Mitchell

Well, it appears to be one of those new, bloggy things, but someone is trying to start an Ada Lovelace day where we honor and blog about women in science. You should all know who Ada Lovelace is anyway! Why March 24th, I am not sure, it isn't her birthday according to Wikipedia (but you never really know with Wikipedia....). 

My favorite woman in science is, and always has been, Maria Mitchell. (Sorry Madame Curie!) Quaker, Unitarian, Nantucketer, scientist (mainly an astronomer).

I am also a big fan of the Maria Mitchell Association, of course. 

Alas, NYT - Almost But Not Quite

The NYTimes doesn't quite get the net, not yet. They still think they are a newspaper company, as in, paper, meaning, on paper. They need to really internalize that they are (and yes, "they are", not "it is", reification is a no-no but grammatically preferred, what to do?), that they are an information company. So when I was just reading an article about immigrants to the US and hospitals, I found this interesting bit:

So, "hospitals" should be to some source about Swedes and Norwegians having different hospitals, right? (They used to be one country, so, different hospitals? Must be interesting!) But no. It's a NYTimes link to NYTimes stories about hospitals. Not helpful! When will they get it?

Viruses, Botnets, Compromised Machines

What articles almost never mention is that these computers all run Microsoft Windows. Global Chinese spy net? Attacking Windows. What you should do? Not run Windows at your business. 

Conway's Law

A great article from 1968 I used for my dissertation... it's online? The author has a website? People who were publishing in 1968 have websites?


There is an overview and the paper (which is short) is also online. Amazing. Go, the internets.

Conway, M. (1968). How do committees invent? Datamation, 14(4), 28-31.

Conway's summary:

Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure.
Ties in nicely with Chandler's Strategy and Structure.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

When Things Disappear From Google

On occasion I admit I look over how many cites my academic papers have received. No no, not vanity! Honest! Really I want to see who is citing them and what their work is -- maybe it is something interesting that I want to read! My Slashdot piece has 21 cites listed, but I thought it had 22 once. Slashdot is not the hot topic it used to be, so maybe the other, newer, pieces will survive the test of time (statistically speaking this is unlikely, most papers are never read, it is quite the long tail).

But this Google Scholar link used to have all of my papers, and now my most a recent one which had been listed and actually cited by someone I know is no longer listed. What happened? My "A Cross-National Study of Computer News Sites: Global News, Local Sites" (The Information Society, 23, 2007), is no longer listed (well, not currently). It's just gone. Weird.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When Branding Overshadows Product

Snapple? Pepsi? The SciFi Channel? Tropicana? What are the people who work for these companies... these brands... thinking? Why rebrand? Or, in Tropicanan's case, un-rebrand? Was something wrong with the old brand? Is changing the spelling or a logo "rebranding"? If the product is exactly the same...

Clearly, the branding mavens are out of control, and have sunk their claws deeply into the belief systems of the influentials at these companies. Tropicana managed to escape (honestly I didn't mind the new logo, but I thought it was some abstract modern design and didn't initially notice it was just a glass of orange juice). The SciFi Channel seems to have gone insane. A rose is a rose, people.

Let's recap for a bit those of you who don't follow the insane branding world.

The worst of the four above recent examples is the SciFi Channel, which is changing how its name is spelled to "SyFy". Pronounced the same, it is unusual enough that it can be a legal property. "The SciFi Channel" and old logo weren't? Sure they were! Idiots. The NYT has a good writeup of the plain facts (and mentions Tropicana's reversal).

The NYT image caption is a head-scratcher, though. "Fans of other-world TV know how to say their channel’s new name." Well, no, it's not their channel. Seriously. 

Here's a good writeup about how scifi (and scifi/fantasy) is actually tremendously popular (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lost...) (And I know a Margaret Lyons but she seems to have vanished off of Facebook. Hmm.) The writer at cnet actually mentions New Coke. Ouch! But accurate. 

Most serious writers are avoiding the entire "it sounds like the word syphilis in Polish" debacle. So much for global brand awareness. (Thus it needs to be mentioned.) And really, they show wrestling! Pathetic. 

Tropicana is of course owned by Pepsi. Why did they rebraaaaa..... Ok ok, re-logo. They are both the same brands, let's be honest here. Same product, same executives, same company, same misguided branding mavens, the only thing that changed (and will unchange in Tropicana's case) is the logo. Changing a logo is not changing a brand. If you cannot make a decent product, the logo is irrelevant, and I think the entire "branding" mess overlooks this vital step. Here is an accurate take on the Tropicana logo remake

And Snapple. New logo does what? Snapple was the first big iced tea, but the field is crowded now, and to me it's a product problem. I want less-breakable plastic bottles (which I recycle), less sweet and no high-fructose corn syrup. Oh, the new logo does none of that? Really? Well then. (I think they may have expanded their product line, but I don't follow the tea market that closely.)


From "Google submission hammers section 92A", by Ted Gibbons, for New Zealand PCWorld:

Google notes that more than half (57%) of the takedown notices it has received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998, were sent by business targeting competitors and over one third (37%) of notices were not valid copyright claims.
You see what's wrong with that, right? The 57% doesn't bother me so much, but only if the claims are valid. The 37% is horrible. I could go on to explain why, but I'll let the EFF explain the DMCA.

Monday, March 16, 2009

It Does Not Just Work

I am occasionally moved to use strong language in email to certain close friends, since there is occasionally maddeningly inane material out there (well there always is inane material online, just it's worse when it comes from a source that should know better). 

One of these friends, however, works at a place that has filters on its email server, so I get a 550 "denied by policy" error every time (so infrequent I always forget). Oops.

So much for the Internet and the free flow of information.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Found! Old and New Phone Photo

I just came across my digital copy of AT&T's videophone, I forgot I had it in a file. Here is the phone recently at the Gizmodo event, and below in an original advertisement. Adjust your antennae for maximal signal clarity! (Ok really he's just selling hats. The hyper-connected information future is always about never leaving your home while buying everything. Nature is too uncontrollable to let people out in it.)

The advert places the phone on a dais (not quite a desk). It is sublime, it cannot be questioned. Futuristic chairs, too.

Late edit: I came across the cite for the photo with the man in the chair:
Lipartito, K. (2003). Picturephone and the information age: The social meaning of failure. Technology and Culture, 44(1), 50-81.
The image is on p. 71.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Subversive Internet

Two very exciting posts (no, articles) about the Internet over at the NYT. One is about a Saudi woman who posted a video of herself driving on a public road to YouTube. As you know, that is currently illegal in Saudi Arabia. (I do not know why it is illegal, seems like straightforward old oppression of women.) The other is about the dreaded Chinese grass-mud horse.

Not bad for a mythical creature whose name, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity. Which is precisely the point.

Although the large amount of spam found hourly in my spam folder (go, Google filtering!) attests, sadly, to the dimmer side of human nature (notice I did not say "to the dimmer side of the technology"), these two examples are exciting because they show some of the potential for the anti-authoritarian subversive uses of the Internet. Now of course if you are a Chinese filterer, or a Saudi official, you might disagree, but then you could go write your own blog about it. This blog is mine.

I especially like the Saudi driving, because the Internet can act as a medium to slowly introduce and maintain a conversation about the issue, bringing it into the mainstream. Even if it is disagreeable to many, just having it more widely covered is a step. Change often takes time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Books As Technology

Besides being a big fan of Penny Arcade, I am also a big fan of books. They just work. And they are durable. I could expound on Innis' theories of time and space, but let's just say that books can easily be sent across space (no, not outer space, geographical space) and can also survive across time (with acid-free paper). 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Will They Learn? TW and Phone Support

So, my Time Warner Cable Internet phone connection is not working. As you can see, my Internet service, provided by same, is. I had no dial tone this morning. So I went online to the TW phone assist page. It said chat is a great way to connect, but there was no active link. (Later it would appear that their chat starts at 1pm.)

Instead I try the Road Runner (Internet service) chat help, thinking they could point me to the TW phone help chat. But no. First, the web page asks for my information such as email address and name. Then I get a chat window. The first thing the tech asks for is my email address and name. Incredible.

Eventually he gives me a phone number to call. I hope you see the problem here, because he didn't. He also gave me a 15 digit ticket number. Does he really expect me to read out 15 numbers over the phone? 15? Are they insane?

I then got another tech in chat, via the phone help space, but he too said he could not help (but not why), and he too gave me a phone number to call.

What in the world is Time Warner Cable doing? 
(Luckily their phone people -- I went outside to use my mobile -- actually know what they are doing and fixed my problem, but they still ask for your phone number after you have entered it. If I give their system my phone number, they shouldn't make it so obvious that they don't use it in all the ways it would make my life easier. It's a simple information hand-off between systems. They can't do it. If they can't do such a basic function, what other basic things can they not do?)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Book Industry Has Not Learned

Apparently the book industry failed to notice anything about the difficulties that the music industry had with online distribution and pricing. Idiots.

From Amazon in Big Push for New Kindle Model in the NYT (Feb. 9), by Brad Stone and Motoko Rich:
“We do not agree with their pricing strategy,” said Carolyn K. Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “I don’t believe that a new book by an author should ipso facto be less expensive electronically than it is in paper format.”

Mr. Bezos disagreed. “E-books should be cheaper than physical books. Readers are going to demand that, and they are right because there are so many supply chain efficiencies relative to printing a paper book,” he said.
Unbelievable. Ms. Reidy, you win the idiot of the day award. Printing, paper, and physical distribution have no cost? Or you think you can charge a (huge) premium for electronic content? But Bezos is right, users are not all idiots, they know about "supply chain efficiencies" even if they don't know the term.

In other news, you (reader) and I are smarter than the CEO of Simon & Schuster. 

Turn Me Off

So, I was recently in the Yucatan, and was using a digital camera. Sadly my Elph broke on the way down, the light-sensor became detached (it's old), but anyway. 

So I noticed how the power button is right next to the shutter button. Did you notice that they are both buttons? And right next to each other? An old camera I had used a ring around the lens, no way you'd mistake that for the shutter button.

You really have to wonder who designs these things, and if they have ever heard of user testing

When you want to take a photo with a little digital camera (not an SLR), you are looking at whatever you want to take a photo of through the viewfinder or on the screen. You do not typically look up at the top of the camera to place your finger on the correct one of two similar adjacent buttons. So you feel around for the correct button with your finger, and unless you read braille (in which case most likely you aren't actually capable of sight), there's a 50/50 chance the designers have caused you to turn the camera off when you wanted to take a photo.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

When Official Numbers Are Wrong

I was just working on some numbers for Internet usage, and was pulling down some data from the ITU. I noticed the following curiosity in the US statistics:

YearSubscribers% Subscribers
200762 mil21.19%
200662 mil21.19%
200562 mil21.19%
200462 mil21.19%

You, my astute readers, will notice that the only number that changes is the year. Fine, good. But the population has been increasing, so if the number of Internet subscribers has stayed constant, the percentage of the population that subscribes to the Internet decreases (yes, "subscribes to the Internet" is a weird phrase, I know, just focus on the numbers). ITU has something wrong somewhere. Maybe things will change with the 2003 data, I just did 2004. Liveblogging the numbers.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Collapse of the (Information?) Economy

The economy is toast. Which economy? If we really were in an information economy, I'd say we just saw the fragility of it. But, although information (all the wrong information) did indeed play a part of the economy's collapse, I'd argue that it was not the information economy, but an economy of far more tangible objects (perhaps houses and oil and more, I'm not sure, if it were easy, we would have avoided it I think). So I'd argue we weren't really in an information economy, although information is an important part of the economy. Either, information was the primary part of the economy and it collapsed, so an information economy is a stupid thing, or, it wasn't the information part of the economy that collapsed and thus I would argue we weren't really in an information economy.

As I argued many years ago, oil is king. Still is. Not that we are in an oil economy, but, maybe we are. Info? No.

Friday, January 23, 2009


It is really nice to have a legit President (one who was actually elected) and one that can speak English really, really well.

Transcript of Obama's inauguration speech.

Analysis by Stanley Fish.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Davidson, R., Poor, N., Williams, A. (Forthcoming).

Hooray! We've only been working on this paper for about four years. We added a major dimension to the statistical analysis (major regroupings for ANOVA), re-ran all the analysis, then the dataset was cleaned up so we had to re-run everything again on slightly different variables, then revisions and more revisions. All three authors have moved since we started.

Davidson, R., Poor, N., Williams, A. (Forthcoming). Stratification and global elite theory: A cross-cultural and longitudinal analysis of public opinion. International Journal of Public Opinion Research.

Wow, I had no idea that was the title. I wasn't in charge of that part, I did all the analysis and SPSS work.

Dear Dr. Davidson,
Thank you very much for your revised manuscript "Stratification and Global Elite Theory: A Cross-Cultural and Longitudinal Analysis of Public Opinion" and your extensive letter to the editor specifying how you dealt with the remarks of the reviewers. We are delighted to let you know that we will publish your article in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research under the condition that you make a slightly revised version of the manuscript based on the remarks in your manuscript.

Sweet! Now all we need to do is minor revisions. Feels good.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Diversity is Strength

Technologically, biologically, culturally. Think diversity of opinion.

The president’s elderly stepgrandmother brought him an oxtail fly whisk, a mark of power at home in Kenya. Cousins journeyed from the South Carolina town where the first lady’s great-great-grandfather was born into slavery, while the rabbi in the family came from the synagogue where he had been commemorating Martin Luther King’s Birthday. The president and first lady’s siblings were there, too, of course: his Indonesian-American half-sister, who brought her Chinese-Canadian husband, and her brother, a black man with a white wife.

(From the NYT, by Jodi Kantor.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Content vs. Channel

Too many companies out there have not understood that they are content delivery companies, and instead become fixed on the idea that they are solely about delivering that content over one (or primarily one) type of channel.

The music industry... Even though they had seen transformations from vinyl to CD, they also had cassette and 8-track in the mix, but lately they became obsessed with CDs and only CDs. If they had understood that they were a content company, and needed to deliver their content over a variety of channels (like the Internet), they would have managed the transition much better.

The movie industry, despite Jack Valenti's famous Boston Strangler comment, seemed to deal with VCRs, DVDs, rental stores, and now online delivery a little better.

Newspapers still haven't figured it out, and have been struggling with and against digital distribution networks for about 30 years. Yes they're online now, and I think the NYT is slowly figuring it out (multimedia, photo essays, and I especially like some of the blogs there), but they think they are newspaper companies. No no, newspaper companies [sic], that's your channel. You're a content company. You have content. Your business plan is to deliver it in the best way(s) possible. If newspaper is not the best channel, then find the best channel(s). Maybe papers, the web, and TV. Yes I just said TV. How about a (satellite?) radio channel? Yes, there is value in the newspaper distribution network, but the primary value is the information.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thai Food Blog

I am very tempted to title this "Food Porn" but I think some people don't know the phrase (no it does not typically mean anything to do with porn, it's just foodies have a similar reaction to it). But, the photos are beautiful. Makes me think I need to re-post all the food from my defunct UM blog.

Thai Food Blog

Friday, January 16, 2009

Media Misattribution

Two things in the media have been rather horribly wrong, although the second one was only today but two things was one too many.

The NY Post, which is very trashy and revels in being so, had the big front page splash (pun intended) about the airplane landing safely in the Hudson. The call it the "Miracle on the Hudson." Sorry, no, that assumes that the pilots didn't know what they were doing, and that they were doomed to crash and many people were going to die, except that some unknown, invisible force (which had just moments before thrown some birds in the engines, so nice!), intervened. ("Engines Missing" is the headline, well yes, they do tend to get ripped off the plane in the event of a water landing, so, no surprise that they're not attached -- but they're not missing, they're just at the bottom of the river.)

The pilots on American commercial jetliners are heavily trained in dealing with emergencies and are highly qualified to do so. No miracle, just good training, and the good foresight to train pilots in case of emergency. Luckily there was enough open space on the Hudson, which is fairly large, but it is also full of boats. Hitting a boat is probably worse than hitting a bird.

But, the Post is trash. It's like the Boston Herald. Waste of paper.

The second, also annoying, is how in the many Bush reviews now that he is finally leaving, too many commentators are unproblematically saying that Bush has had, over his eight years, both record high and low approval ratings, with the low being current (and for a while), and the high being right after 9/11.

Except, his high approval rating after 9/11 wasn't an approval rating for him at all.

That's why we have training (like pilots!) in survey methodology. Just because you ask a question that looks simple and straightforward doesn't mean that it is. Human psychology is way too complex for it to be that easy. Of course, Bush didn't do anything after 9/11 except make some speeches, so there wasn't much to approve of. What people were responding to was showing faith in their country and patriotism. The President is, among other things, a figurehead, a human representation of the country. Expressing faith in the president is, in some cases, equivalent to expressing faith in the nation. Given that Al Qaeda had just shown us that we shouldn't have had much faith in our nation's ability to defend itself from terrorism (did you forget the first time they tried to destroy the WTC in 1993? You did? Shame on you! Didn't think they'd try again, huh? Complacency!), many people felt it was an important time to express faith in their nation. (The horribly sad story of the complete failure of the communications on that day is so depressing -- given how good the republicans are on security, you think they would have done something about that ahead of time -- oh, they didn't did they? They didn't defend us from the worst (so far) terrorist attack on US soil -- how good at security are they, you have to wonder. If they were any good, 9/11 wouldn't have happened.)

Here it is right here in the NYT today.

In surveys that began with Gallup polling in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Bush has the distinction of being the president with both the highest and lowest approval ratings. The highest, 90 percent, was recorded shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

So, it is disturbing to see media talking-heads repeat this statistic which is completely incorrect. They don't understand surveys, and not even the survey people are apparently pointing this out. Lies, damned lies, and statistics indeed.

I Do And I Learn

One of those supposed "Ancient Chinese Proverbs" (might actually be, how to tell?), I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I learn. That's why we have students do in-class exercises, presentations, and write papers and exams -- so they do things, and learn. Like sports. Do you: listen to descriptions of basketball to learn it, watch tape to learn it, or, do you actually practice which means you are doing the sport? You do, and you learn. Yes you listen and watch too, but, you do.

So, this is old hat.

MIT just got on board with its physics classes. Nice!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lie to Me Does Indeed

Highly annoyed by the advertisements for the new TV show, Lie to Me. Basic cop/mystery show (like CSI, Law and Order, NCIS, etc.) and the twist is the main character who can tell, based on body language alone, if someone is lying. The premise here is that non-verbal communication (that's the term of art in the academy) is a dead giveaway, is readable, and is accurate.

That's a lie. It isn't.

I've taught it, so, I've read the material. And if it is so easy, then why can only the main character do it? I think there is a connection between the idea that it is easy to figure this stuff out with the idea that yes, untrained idiots can easily spot terrorists. As others have pointed out, when you have amateurs doing terrorist surveillance, you get amateur-level security (for instance, see Patrick Smith's "The Hazards of Flying While Muslim", and the horrible story of an innocent techno-art student almost being shot by police).

The only amusing thing here is that one of the advertisements for Lie to Me, like the recent NFL ads, uses a Morrissey song (Glamorous Glue, in this case). Two in one year, that's a record.

Architecture and Cooking

I recently realized how architecture and cooking are pretty much the same thing. Artistic and scientific (if you doubt that cooking good food has anything to do with science, watch Alton Brown). Different regions of the world have their own versions of both that are easily recognizable. Often made to reflect local materials. Both are good. Often, simpler is better.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reading List

Three items for you, dear reader ("dear reader" is so Victorian of me, I don't believe I actually do that, I think it is funny but personal). This way you don't have to read my writing, you can read someone else!

Bono (of U2 of course!) in an NYT opinion piece.

An article about Mark Shuttleworth and Ubuntu Linux. If you do not know what... no no, read it anyways if you do. I haven't actually read it yet. That is how much faith I have in it being something you need to know! And this is only the second time I recall seeing the word "hegemony" in an NYT article, so, must read. Here's a snippet:

Close to half of Google’s 20,000 employees use a slightly modified version of Ubuntu, playfully called Goobuntu.

Ok Google is using this. How successful is Google? Very? Insanely? Very insanely? Then, why isn't your company doing the things you do in the way Google does their things? Like.... using Linux! Come on, this isn't rocket science. And anyway, how many MBA's did it take to destroy the global economy just recently? I hope you see my point.

For the more visually-inclined, how about Lawrence Lessig on the Colbert Report?

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Of Surveys and Statistics

Two items today: A very bad online survey (sadly most surveys I take online have problems), and the statistical package R makes the NYTimes!

Let's start with R. You can read about R in the NYT story, or on Wikipedia, or go to R's homepage itself.

But, what I want to point you to (besides R's open source status), is the horrible quote in the NYT article from a marketing shill from SAS, a competing statistics program (along with SPSS and Stata).

...Anne H. Milley, director of technology product marketing at SAS. She adds, “We have customers who build engines for aircraft. I am happy they are not using freeware when I get on a jet.”

If it is free, it is bad. So annoying, this is FUD. She has no facts about R to back up her claim. What we do know is that she is badmouthing a competitor. She must be concerned, which gives legitimacy to R when she was trying to do the opposite. If SAS is paying her to market for SAS, why is she marketing for R? (It's always a bad day when I can do marketing better than a marketer.)

In survey news, I took an online survey this morning -- it's fun to see what they are asking about, and (especially for me) how they do it. Often they do it badly.

Today's inbox offering turned out to not be a survey, but a pre-survey. Do you qualify to take a survey? That's annoying. Don't make your sample jump through hoops. Given that the emails only go out to people who signed up (and who have an Internet connection), the sample is already rather small and unrepresentative statistically speaking.

One question in the pre-survey (this is important for the story) was about brands of jeans, and which brands I might have heard of. There was a large list of brands, and in many cases I had heard of the brand but didn't know they made jeans (that was not important to the story, but was just something I found interesting). But, there was a list. Keep that in mind.

So, eventually after saying "no!" to the common "do you or anyone in your household work in PR, marketing, advertising, or market research" question since you know if you say yes they don't let you take the survey, I got to the real questions. One other important tidbit is that the pre-survey and the survey were by different companies.

The survey asked about purchasing habits and jeans. The survey authors made lots of bad assumptions. One was that they assume I remember how much I paid for my recent jean purchases. I have no idea. None. Seriously, if I like them (and price is a factor), I buy them (assuming I am actually shopping for jeans, that is). Once I notice that the price is acceptable, I don't need to know the price anymore or ever again. It is completely irrelevant. This is a serious error in a lot of online surveys.

Another problem is that they assume I know where I purchased the jeans. I know I bought Gap jeans at the Gap, but couldn't remember where I bought Levi's (there are a million stores here in NYC). Oh, wait, I got them at the Levi's Store, maybe. I think so. I don't know exactly, it isn't important. (War in Iraq, global economic meltdown, those are important, where I bought some pants, not a big deal really.)

Another problem (am I using that phrase too much?) was when the real survey asked me what brands of jeans I had heard of. This was the exact same question I had seen in the pre-survey. Yes, two different survey companies, but the list seemed identical and the two companies are co-ordinating anyways because of the pre-survey. Technically I had heard of all of them just a minute previously! When you create a survey, you need to be aware of question ordering, and you need to be aware of what facts (or not) you prime the respondent with (so if you mention to respondents that Gerald Ford was photographed falling down the steps of an airplane, some respondents might think he was clumsy while others might feel sympathy for him, or if you mention how he went to UM, people who are pro-UM might feel more positively about him, while OSU and MSU people might feel more negatively about him -- might).

The other issue with the second question was that the HTML layout was terrible compared to the first version. For the first question, you could click a "yes" box if you had heard of the jeans, but otherwise ignore the entry. For the actual survey, there was a yes and a no button for every entry. There were about 30 brands. I don't want to click yes or no 30 times, how about I just click yes for the 7 I know? Don't make it difficult on your respondents to answer your questions.

What really irritated me, from a methodological point of view, was this question. Let me first point out they (whoever it was) made the survey so you couldn't copy and paste (way too complex HTML), but luckily there is always the "view source" option.
Q: Which two of the following categories are most important to you, meaning you would not be willing to cut your spending if you needed to spend less on something?

The categories were mundane, such as apparel, personal electronics, dining out, home improvement, sports, and the like. The problem is that they assume that their categories include two things in which you the respondent would not be willing to reduce your spending. That is a horrible assumption and it is flat out wrong. With incorrect questions and incorrect answer sets you end up with incorrect data. If the economy is bad enough, and it is, I'll cut spending across the board! What they think they are doing by forcing the answer set on you is forcing you to reveal your deeply-hidden inner truths. In some survey circumstances (which are far removed from this type of question), that may be appropriate -- for instance, asking a 4-point question (very yes, somewhat yes, somewhat no, very no) and not mentioning "not sure" but actually having it as an option (usually in face to face or over the phone interviews, this doesn't work with fixed online surveys).

"Most important" does not equal "not be willing to cut your spending."

And why two?

Update: About forcing answers/opinions... From Bennett and Iyengar, in the Journal of Communication, 58(4). They mention " polling that pushes people with no basis for having opinions into opinion expression..." That's what I'm talking about.