Archive for September, 2009

Race and Class Divisions in Online Social Networks

23:25 29 Sep 2009. Updated: 01:26 30 Sep 2009

I haven’t had time to formulate an opinion yet, but I respect past work by danah boyd and am quite certain that she’s onto something important in the research that led to her talk “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”, some of the implications of which she discusses in an interview, “MySpace to Facebook = White Flight?”. A key line: “We’re seeing a reproduction of all kinds of all types of social segregation that we like to pretend has gone away.”

That, in itself, is extremely important, and as more people use online arenas as “public spaces”, the fact that these arenas are actually deeply stratified and subject to a variety of hidden pressures becomes more and more significant. Also significant is how the other arenas, while technically easier to encounter because of all the wonderful information-sharing aspects of the internet, become almost hidden because stratification and habituation make each of us less likely, rather than more, to venture into spaces where we don’t have connections.

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Attitude Test Clip

23:30 28 Sep 2009

The following is a short clip of news footage from the Pittburgh G20 protests:


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Yankees Win 100, Reclaim AL East

22:17 27 Sep 2009

After not making it to the playoffs last year, the New York Yankees returned to their rightful spot atop the American League East. They clinched against the Red Sox, and hit the one hundred game mark for the first time since 2004. Their record gives them home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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Friday Flash Games: Orisinal

14:19 25 Sep 2009

I came across Orisinal while browsing Play This Thing!, and I’m not sure what to make of their games. The first one I tried was Sunny Day Sky, which involves controlling the umbrella of an ambulatory teddy bear so that the bear can fly above cars and buses while avoiding flying ducks (I think they’re ducks). There’s just a single control—clicking the mouse button opens or closes the umbrella.

An exceedingly simple game, based on a single mechanic. It’s very cartoony, but its aesthetics are very polished. I was curious enough to look at some of the other games there.

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RTF/Word–reStructuredText Toolchain

12:05 24 Sep 2009. Updated: 14:19 06 Oct 2009

It took me a while to get there, but I now have a working toolchain to automate going from an RTF file (or a Word document) to reStructuredText. The final link took the longest to find, and turned out to have been right there all along (no, I’m not going to turn this into a retelling of The Alchemist). But if you’re interested in how to get from Word to a sane format (like reStructuredText), this post will interest you.

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Literacy and Online Life

14:10 22 Sep 2009. Updated: 19:51 24 Sep 2009

I always thought that the explosion of personal writing (email, instant messaging, blogging, microblogging) as the internet has gained acceptance would of necessity lead to an improvement in writing skills; it’s difficult to see how a massive increase in the amount of writing people do would fail to have that impact.

Indeed, the Stanford Study of Writing documents just such an improvement, as Clive Thompson reports in Wired. (Via SarahM.)

Despite voice communication, video, and online gaming, the internet is still primarily a text environment, and will continue to be so. The technical restrictions that forced it to be almost text-only at first may have been around just long enough to force a sufficient mass of people to use text and realize how powerful and efficient a medium it can be—a realization limited to a vastly smaller number of people in the pre-online era.

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What Conflict of Interest?

23:47 21 Sep 2009

There are arguments for the death penalty. One significant argument against it is that any human system is going to be fallible and prone to mistakes, and that no amount of mistakes are acceptable when the state executes people as a result.

The judicial system of Texas is providing some awfully good support for that argument. Take the case of Charles Dean Hood, currently on death row, whose case was decided by a judge who had an affair with the prosecutor.

Well, people are human, these things happen, but there’s a system in place to guard against such misconduct, right? In Texas the Criminal Court of Appeals is where Hood’s case would end up—except that the CCA essentially said it wasn’t interested.

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“Nutritious”: ”Has Nutrients”

16:07 20 Sep 2009

Friday’s post about Froot Loops and the “Smart Choices” program reminded me of a portion of the McLibel case, in which McDonald’s brought in an expert witness, Verner Wheelock, to assert that statements claiming that McDonald’s food wasn’t ”nutritious”, or was “junk food”, were false. I can’t find a transcript online—the site that should have them is producing errors instead—but Wheelock defined “nutritious” as “contains nutrients” and “junk food” as “whatever a person doesn’t like”.

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The Smart Choice is Froot

13:29 18 Sep 2009

Apparently in response to increased public interest in eating better, the American food manufacturing industry has put together a campaign called Smart Choices. This is essentially a marketing effort masquerading as a health information campaign, as demonstrated quite well by the fact that Froot Loops qualify as a “smart choice”.

To defend this, the president of the Smart Choices board, Eileen T. Kennedy, gave the New York Times one of the most egregious pieces of dodgy rhetoric I’ve seen in quite some time:

“You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal,” Dr. Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. “So Froot Loops is a better choice.”

—William Neuman. “For Your Health, Froot Loops”. The New York Times, 04 September 2009.


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Pool-Playing Robot: Deep Green

13:27 17 Sep 2009

The Robotics and Computer Vision Lab at Queen’s University Ontario has produced a working robotic system that can play pool. Called Deep Green, it appears to have an excellent understanding of geometry, although it’s not clear that it understands the rules of the game per se, or that it can do its own shot selection.

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Dreamsnake Review

21:02 15 Sep 2009. Updated: 12:54 12 Oct 2009

Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake won the 1978 Nebula and the 1979 Locus and Hugo awards. I’m having trouble figuring out why. This is not to say it’s bad—it’s quite good, and I’ve definitely encountered worse award winners. But it won all three while seeming to me like a good but unremarkable novel, and my expectation is that the “triple crown” winners would be remarkable in some way.

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Del Potro Defeats Federer for 2009 US Open Title

23:11 14 Sep 2009

Well, I didn’t see this one coming. I really thought that Federer would be too relaxed, too experienced, and just too good to lose this final.

He wasn’t. He lost 6–3, 6–7 (5), 6–4, 6–7 (4), 2–6 in a match that was actually closer than the scoreline reflects—Federer really had multiple chances to close the door on Del Potro and just couldn’t seem to quite take them.

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US Open 2009: Del Potro, Federer, Clijsters

21:29 13 Sep 2009. Updated: 13:10 11 Dec 2009

Rain delays over the last few days mean that the US Open men’s final isn’t until tomorrow, with the men’s semifinals and women’s final today. Those three matches produced some excellent tennis, although none of them were particularly close.

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Favorite Books of 2007

10:44 11 Sep 2009

My total number of books read for 2007 dropped significantly from 2006, to 50. This was mainly due to not reading much in the first six months of the year. I read significantly more non-fiction, and that difference felt more marked because almost 50% of my favorite books from that year are non-fiction.

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404 Pages

23:36 10 Sep 2009. Updated: 00:38 11 Sep 2009

wpbeginner has a list of their favorite WordPress 404 pages. There are some good ones in there, but none of them do what I think they should do—that is, as well as provide helpful links to popular pages, also provide a list of guesses about where the user was actually trying to go. Coincidentally, today I also read this excellent article about finding the longest common subsequence between two strings. So, at some point, I’ll improve my blog’s 404 page so that it calls, probably via asynchronous request, a Python script that checks the user’s requested URL against all valid URLs WordPress knows about, and then suggests to the user whatever the closest matches are. I’m somewhat surprised that this isn’t done more often, but it seems that far too many sites are really blasé about 404s.

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Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game

02:58 08 Sep 2009

I played Fantasy Flight Games’ Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game last night, and was extremely impressed by it. I’ve played two other games by them in the past, Twilight Imperium and A Game of Thrones, and liked both, but I think that Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is the best so far.

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US Open 2009 Midpoint Notes

09:29 07 Sep 2009

The biggest story so far is Andy Roddick getting knocked out by John Isner in a battle of big servers. I was somewhat surprised, as I’d thought that Roddick would do well, and that he was a likely semifinalist. But in coming up against another big server in a five-set match in New York, he had to face a final set tiebreak against someone he didn’t have a serving advantage against. Isner took it with a single point against the Roddick serve and without losing any on his own serve, 7–5.

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I Just Want to Look Up One More Thing…

07:30 06 Sep 2009. Updated: 15:36 16 Nov 2009

Emily Yoffe has a Slate article about our compulsion to acquire new information—and how it means we’re extremely susceptible to addictive behaviors around Internet use. Critical points: we have drives for both pleasure and for “seeking”, and it is this latter drive that the modern always-online environment feeds. Or overfeeds.

I don’t know how accurate this journalistic take on neuroscientific discoveries is, but I do think that this would be a good article to have printed out, and highlighted, next to my computer.

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Friday Fast Game

16:28 04 Sep 2009

Via Greg Costikyan comes The Nemean Lion, a very short text adventure. I find it interesting partly because it’s somewhat like microfiction, and because it plays with the form somewhat.

While I’m here, I should also mention Hamlet—The Text Adventure, which I’m rather fond of (and which is a signficantly larger game, although probably not huge by text adventure standards).

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“Today’s 5K”

06:18 03 Sep 2009
Bouncing heels off butt
Shaking out the kinks
Am I ready to run?
Thumb on the button


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Fun Boarding Planes

05:37 01 Sep 2009

I travelled from Dublin to Timişoara and back recently, and had a great time at and around Kev and Oana’s wedding. I’m not going to write about the good times, though—I’m going to write about some of the maddening little things that can make travel so vexing.

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