Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Internet mental health index

From a pure geek perspective this is one of the coolest things I've seen on the internet lately.
Since August 2005, We Feel Fine has been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Blog data comes from a variety of online sources, including LiveJournal, MSN Spaces, MySpace, Blogger, Flickr, Technorati, Feedster, Ice Rocket, and Google. Every few minutes, the system searches the world's newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases "I feel" and "I am feeling". When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the "feeling" expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.). Because blogs are structured in largely standard ways, the age, gender, and geographical location of the author can often be extracted and saved along with the sentence, as can the local weather conditions at the time the sentence was written. All of this information is saved.

Pretty neat technology, eh? As a result of the We Feel Fine project, one is reminded that there are likely a number of other people around the world who feel the same way you do - something often forgotten in monocultures and regional/demographic sub-cultures of multi-cultural populations. If urban Americans and rural Chinese share some of the same experiences and emotions, maybe that means that on the micro-societal level the goths and the jocks really aren't that different underneath the eyeliner and jerseys? We could have cats and dogs living together before you know it as we break down the stereotypes that separate us and start building relationships on our shared human experience!

Unfortunately, before we all break out into song and belt out a verse of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", there is inevitably a downside to this. I'm a bit freaked out by the privacy aspect of such a massive data collection endeavor.
Because a high percentage of all blogs are hosted by one of several large blogging companies (Blogger, MySpace, MSN Spaces, LiveJournal, etc), the URL format of many blog posts can be used to extract the username of the post's author. Given the author's username, we can automatically traverse the given blogging site to find that user's profile page. From the profile page, we can often extract the age, gender, country, state, and city of the blog's owner. Given the country, state, and city, we can then retrieve the local weather conditions for that city at the time the post was written. We extract and save as much of this information as we can, along with the post.

They also save any photo associated with the post. I'm suddenly having second (well, okay, third) thoughts about blogging at all. If nothing else now I've got an F word I'll do my best to avoid using here in the future.


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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Back from blogcation

tan, rested, and ready to resume blogging...

Someone anonymously submitted a comment to my recent posting about game consoles that pointed to this article about MSN's George Foreman strategy for naming. Instead of approving the comment where it would be buried in a post, I'm making it our featured topic for today (hey, its my first day back, cut me some slack). I'm assuming this is another entry in the 'unfortunate name' category because I picked on Nintendo's Wii (if you play with it too much I've heard that you'll grow hair on the palms of your hands). While a valid example, it's just too easy to pick on MSN. I mean really, this is the group responsible for the iLoo.

That said, the unfortunate-name-game is fun. What else ya got? Don't just restrict yourself to computer technology. Think globally, but do your research first so you don't look like a retard - the Chevy Nova is just an urban legend.


By the way, out of respect for my reader's privacy and valuable time (creating throwaway anonymous gmail accounts takes time) I've changed the blog settings so you don't have to register with Blogger to make a comment. But to cut down on spam I do still moderate comments.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Diebold backdoor a "feature"

Backdoor Found in Diebold Voting Machines (actually, three backdoors - read the article.) The part I find most eligible for blog fodder is this:
A Diebold spokesman did not dispute Hursti's findings, but said that Black Box Voting was making too much of the matter because the systems are intended to remain in the hands of trusted election officials.

"What they're proposing as a vulnerability is actually a functionality of the system," said spokesman David Bear. "Instead of recognizing the advantages of the technology, we keep ringing up 'what if' scenarios that serve no purpose other than to confuse and in some instances frighten voters."

Okay, here are my favorite flawed assumptions:

1. you can trust voting officials. I think the fact that air marshals have been convicted of smuggling drugs on flights is pretty clear indication that federal security screening of its employees is not an accurate indicator of ethics/morals/trustworthiness.

2. no one with malicious intentions will at any time, in any precinct, ever have access to one of the machines. And if you believe that, you should know that "gullible" is not in the dictionary, immediately join the campaign to Save the Naugas (do you realize how many are slaughtered each year to make Nauga-hide dentist chairs?), and be advised that there really are people in Nigeria legitimately trying to transfer money.

3. to the best of my knowledge, no one has explained yet why the back doors were programmed in, and what legitimate 'functionality' they serve. Did the programmer pass the same 'security' screening and trustworthiness rating scale as the election officials?

Bah, whole thing makes me cranky.


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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The enemy of my enemy is my friend...

Microsoft names the Nintendo Wii as their recommended secondary gaming system. Nintendo, not Sony's Playstation 3. Duh. If you have been paying any attention you might have noticed that Playstation and XBox are fierce competitors in the game console space so this won't be much of a surprise to you.

Sony names the Nintendo Wii as their recommended secondary gaming system. Nintendo, not Microsoft's XBox 360. Duh*2. If you have been paying any attention you might have noticed that Playstation and XBox are fierce competitors in the game console space so this won't be much of a surprise to you. (deja vu!). On top of that, in the article Sony tries to make a case for the lofty PS3 price tag with the whole Blue Ray justification. Some folks just aren't buying that argument though, and I must admit that I tend to agree...

So in a moment of blinding clarity and insight, one blogger points out: doesn't that mean that the Nintendo Wii will be the primary gaming system with the most market share, and Sony and Microsoft will be the secondary systems? uhm, well, it depends on whose marketing team you are on.

I think though that primary and secondary console crowns shouldn't be driven purely by market share but mind share. I've got an XBox 360, and expect I'll get a Wii (despite the truly unfortunate name). But which will I spend more time playing? That is the true measure of which console is master and which is slave.

wii wii wii, all the way home

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

No patch for human stupidity

The New Yorker recently ran a story about a 57 year old Vietnam vet Christian psychotherapist who not only fell for a 419 scam, but ended up being prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison. He spent over $40,000 of his own money and owes $600,000 in restitution for fraud committed over five years trying to help the "Abacha's".

I think I am supposed to feel sorry for this guy who was swindled, but I don't. He deserves every last thing that happened to him. Seriously. When interviewed post-conviction/pre-incarceration:

When I asked Worley what he wished he had done differently, he didn’t answer directly. Instead, he spoke about hoping that the Abachas would get back in touch with him. However, before they could resume work on the multimillion-dollar transfer, he expected them to send the six hundred thousand dollars that he needs for restitution.

“What if they sent you a check?” Barbara [Worley's wife] demanded. “Would you put it in the bank to see if it cleared again?”


“John!” she said.

“I don’t know,” Worley said finally, sounding defeated. “I have to have time to think about what I would do in that situation.”

“My husband is naïve,” she explained to me. “He trusts people.”

Honey, your husband isn't naive, he is a freaking idiot.

There are some people who think they are fighting back against the Nigerian con artists who are taking advantage of hapless marks/rubes/fools by wasting the time and money of the con men. Check it out.
I'm not convinced this is really doing anything to minimize or prevent fraud, but I guess if they have the time to kill and find it entertaining, who am I to criticize. Some people juggle goslings.


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Friday, May 12, 2006

Some people have waaaaay too much time on their hands

For centuries, creative people given time and resources have produced amazing things.

On the other hand, some creative people use their time this way:

these things are also amazing in their own way; after all, Lord of the Peeps is far more entertaining than an aqueduct. But I suspect these don't possess the same durability and cultural impact as Persistence of Memory...


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Thursday, May 11, 2006

life can be so entertaining...

Is it social engineering? performance art? civil disobedience? I don't know - but what I do know is that it is damn funny.

You may have already read on Slashdot or Gizmodo or about the roughly 80 people who one at a time entered a Best Buy wearing blue polo shirts and khaki pants (similar to the employee uniforms), dispersed through the store, and then stood around "waiting for my girl/boy friend". Of course the reason this is getting attention is that the organizers were smart enough to plan it well and documented the whole stunt here. Its creative. Its amusing. Its something people can rally around. And its something to stick it to the man, to thumb your nose at the establishment and say "I can wear whatever I want wherever I want and I can bring all my friends along dressed just like me, and you can't really do anything about it". The only leg the store had to stand on was that the participants weren't shopping and therefore could technically be considered loitering. Had the 80 people all had legitimate purchases to make, would Best Buy have still kicked them out? It would be an interesting twist on the social experiment if you are thinkng of trying something similar.

The best reactions from the Best Buy employees described in the article are:

"Security guards and managers started talking to each other frantically on their walkie-talkies and headsets. 'Thomas Crown Affair! Thomas Crown Affair!,' one employee shouted. They were worried that were using our fake uniforms to stage some type of elaborate heist.


Both security guards loudly advanced their own theories about what was going on. One security guard didn't know who the group was, but suspected that it was some cult, because, "They all have that zombie look in their eyes. They just stand there staring at nothing." They also argued about if the prank was funny or not. One did not think it was funny at all and the other said he thought it was "kinda funny," and tried to explain the humor, "What if you went into Home Depot and there were all these people wearing orange aprons all over the store?"

What if indeed. PLEASE NOTE: I am in no way advocating impersonation of police officers, firefighers, lifeguards, doctors, or any other uniform which could lead to human injury or suffering if mistaken for the genuine article. But what really is the harm if everyone wore red shirts and khaki pants to Target? Green aprons in Starbucks? Rented Roman Centurion costumes and wandered around Caesar's Palace?

I understand why security guards and management would freak out at any of these establishments. They feel out of control, they have no idea what is going on, they fear theft and manipulation, or acts by the imposters that will reflect on their establishment. I suspect Caesar's Palace would have the least tolerance and have the best organized and professional response. But all the same, what can they really do? What if you were just so freaking excited about the hotel theme and all the money you won at the craps table you decided to wear a toga and celebrate Caesar with the 30 guys there for your bachelor party? Would they really ask you all to leave? What if it were Halloween?

As usual, I have no answers or great insight. I just find the entire situation to be fascinating and thought I'd point it out to Hideaway readers. The reactions of customers, of employees, of management - fun stuff to observe for any student of human nature.


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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

content only matters if the audience is listening

I have an office job and I attend a lot of conferences. Those two things mean that I end up seeing a lot of presentations. A few are very good. Some are very bad and lead many to the belief that slideware is evil. Most are mediocre. So I’m only going to say this once: if you are giving a presentation you owe it to your audience to stop hiding behind the ‘I’m an engineering geek who can’t make a slick slide deck or speak to people engagingly’ excuse. I’m not saying you need to go get an MBA and have m4d ppt skillz, but for gods sake don’t read the damn slides to me. I am capable of reading on my own, and if I feel like I could have given your presentation for you with the deck and 20 minutes prep time, then you are wasting the time of your audience and insulting their intelligence.

Now I’m not claiming to be a slidedeck guru, but here are a couple links to things I’ve found useful, and suspect most presenters could learn from.

Presentation Zen (humorous AND educational, a virtual treasure trove)

Making a (Power)Point of Not Being Tiresome

And to lighten things up a bit more…

The Many Uses of Power Point


yeaaaah, that last one, I’m not sure what to call it so the URL will have to do. But trust me when I say it is pretty damn funny, and advice everyone I know would love to take regardless of whether they do any public speaking or not. :)


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Monday, May 08, 2006

We'll get around to making first contact as soon as I clear this level...

I've been meaning to make this post for a week now... seeing as I'm now taking abuse for not keeping up to date on blogging, I figure I better eat lunch at my desk and get down to business...

On May 1, Seed Magazine published a fascinating article by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller. Dr. Miller suggests that the reason we haven't made contact with aliens is because they too have created x-boxes and other diversions such as porn, and are no longer investing time and energy in things like space exploration.
Basically, I think the aliens don't blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they're too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don't need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain's ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good.

Obviously the larger message is that we here on Earth have messed up our priorities and need more rocket scientists and fewer game developers. The article ultimately ends up being fairly anti-technology and anti-consumerism, suggesting that the only people who will survive long term are the super-family oriented breeders who eschew trivial diversions like computer games or even reading novels.

The article is right up my alley - the intersection of humanity and technology. I've wondered for years if advances in electronic communication were really bringing the global community together, or isolating us from real people and real life just outside our door. But even I'm not as big a cynic as Miller appears to be. Sure, you have people becoming so engrossed in virtual life that they are living fraudulent existences, creating in some case multiple personas for the identity they want to portray to others and carrying on 'relationships' with people they not only have never met, but never will meet. All the while not interfacing with the real people just down the street and developing real relationships which result in reproduction of our species. But on the other hand, you have people who do not have the means to travel learning about far off cultures and becoming better global citizens for this expanded understanding, or meeting their soul mates on eHarmony or whatever the matchmaking website du jour is. Technology itself isn't a bad thing, it is people's lack of willingness to live in reality and the allure of an ideal existence that leads to mixed up priorities. And that sounds like a problem that will happen regardless of what the particular diversion is (computer gaming, porn, television, etc). The path to enlightenment is not the rejection of all entertainment, it is finding a way to make entertainment an inspiration for real life action instead of a substitute for it.

Of course I would very much like to meet aliens or colonize another planet (or even our own moon for heaven's sake) during my lifetime. That would be cool. So kids, stop playing Oblivion and get back to your telescopes and dreams of becoming an astronaut when you grow up. Maybe by then we'll have political leaders in place that will actually put some funding behind space programs... OOOH, and cloning and hybridization, that's pretty slick cutting edge research too. Go study genetics and biology if space exploration doesn't do it for you. Remember Dark Angel? See if you can't do that in a non-evil way. See? Entertainment for real life inspiration. hah.


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