Monday, November 27, 2006

more on academic social networking

i was reading reading a paper today titled "No More SMS from Jesus: Ubicomp, Religion and Techno-spiritual Practices" by Genevieve Bell.

before i get to the meat of my post, first i'll give an amusing quote (the paper is full of them):

In mid-January 2004, the Reuters news service flashed out the headline "No More Text Messages from Jesus" signaling the demise of a distinctive Finnish mobile service. According to the wire story, earlier that month, Ville Nurmi, the Ombudsman for Finland's mobile services and regulatory watchdog organization, shut down a mobile service provider that offered text messages from Jesus Christ. The company, which was not named in the proceedings, promised to answer people's prayer with a text message from Jesus [1]. This service, ruled spam through a complex set of maneuvers that included a determination that Jesus did not own a mobile phone, is but one manifestation of the increasing visible intersections of spiritual practice and technological development world wide.
ok, now for my point. i'm not going to comment on this paper, however i did take quite a few notes, and i wanted to store and compare my notes, maybe post them so others could see them.

there is no where you can easily do this now.

and i'm not just talking about posting comments -- then everyone who ever has a comment, even if it has been said, will post it again. rather, i'm thinking of something more along the lines of post and response. so first, you'd compose your notes on the paper, and they'd be stored as your private note in the academic social networking site (let's give it a name.. i'll think of a name for my hypothetical site soon enough). now, if you wanted to make the notes on this paper public, you could, but if you wanted to add them to a conversation about the paper, you'd click the "add to conversation" button. now, what this would NOT do is blindly add your comments to the end of some big list. instead, it would first show you similar comments and any responses to those comments.

why do i think this would be useful? personally, i've been doing some trading on td ameritrade, and they have a fantastic help system. if you have a question and can't find the answer, you can type in your question and have it sent to a representative. but before they send the question, they show you possible answers and ask you, "do these satisfy your needs?" about 75% of the time they do.

in this academic case, if you find a thread that satisfies your comments, you may not post; otherwise, you might follow-up on that thread. or you might just give some sort of props (a la yelp's "cool, helpful, etc.." links) to the original commenter or responder.

this mechanism is especially important for academic papers, where comments and responses are often quite detailed, and are written anyway (whether others have written something or not... though having these comments available and reading them first might generate better discussions). more generally, this is a technique that should be broadly applied online. sometimes when i want to post a comment on a highly-trafficked blog or digg or slashdot i first read through every single comment to find if my comment has already been stated. this is extremely inefficient -- there should be much better comment search (either via search, or automatic collapsing of comments that are similar so i can explore the unique things that have been said more quickly).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

night at home

tonight raja and i stayed in and drank chardonnay and watched the L word. now, i haven't seriously had any chardonnay in quite a while; i went off chardonnay a while back because i just hated the way the smell knocked me over the head: "i'm chardonnay -- pay attention to me!"

however, my friend gave me a bottle a recently and so i decided i would give it a try. the big oak (vanilla) and creaminess flavors definitely hit my nose, and they were nice! i really enjoy this bottle. i'm back on the chardonnay bandwagon, at least for a bit.

now the L word: the show is about a bunch of lesbians living in los angeles. it has some interesting characters, but my overall feeling is that i could drop it at any moment. not compelling enough. i like how they did a bit more with shane in the 4th episode. hopefully they pursue that (i haven't made it past episode 4). i'm not liking the main couple, to be honest. but i'll continue with it for a bit.

Monday, November 20, 2006

uplifting quote on education

i've been down a bit of late on my phd program. sigh. anyway, i read this line by the times magazine ethicist, randy cohen, and it brightened my day:
Education is meant to help us examine even our fundamental beliefs -- this can be disorienting, perhaps, but not as unhealthful as silence and obscurity.
you can find the whole commentary here.

cute butts and housework

in the new york times magazine this week, annie murphy paul examines the societal effects of the trend for marriages to be increasingly between people with similar incomes. the article looks at some recent research analyzing this trend, and is informative in that regard. however, the title and byline are ridiculous and inflammatory, a noticeable trend in the times magazine of late: "The Real Marriage Penalty: Husbands and wives are increasingly likely to have similar incomes. Is a more divided society the result?"

then again, catchy bylines are what news editors cut their teeth on.

more interesting is a quote in the article that says women today may be looking for "'cute butts and housework' -- that is, a man with an appealing physique and a willingness to wash dishes." when i read this, i thought to myself, "hmm, i'm lagging. i can do dishes, but who can't?"

Saturday, November 18, 2006

ucla student tasered

john told me about a recent, horrific incident involving the police and a student at ucla. the student was in the library after 11pm. at ucla, they can do random checks on people in libraries after 11pm to ensure that they are students. this student was asked for his id, but he felt he was being targeted because of his middle eastern descent. so he refused to provide his id, and refused to leave. when the library called in the campus police, things went crazy. the student was repeatedly tasered (5 times) even though he was not putting up any active resistance. the la times has a good summary of the incident.

there's a youtube video showing parts of the tasering, though what's happening is not always clear (but the student's shouts of pain are quite clear). below i've embedded a youtube video made by a local news station. they extract the key parts of the video and get some commentary from those involved.

my feeling: this is insane. there was no reason to use a taser on this student. sure, he was being an idiot and a jerk. but this video is a great example of excessive force. the students surrounding the officers seem scared out of their minds -- this just shouldn't happen.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

bank of america jails fraud victim; victim fights back

i found this on boing boing.

matthew shinnick sold his bike and received a check from the buyer that was for much more than the agreed upon price. suspicious, he went to his local bank of america branch to ask if the check was real and if the account had sufficient funds. the teller found that the account had sufficient funds and so shinnick decided to cash it. when the teller began that process, she found that there was a fraud alert on the account and that the check was in fact fake. things went crazy from that point:

From SFGate, Check from a scammer bounces victim into jail:

The teller contacted the business and was informed that no check had been written to Shinnick for $2,000 or any other amount. She immediately passed the check to the branch manager. "I saw him talking on the phone and staring at me," Shinnick said. "A few minutes later, four SFPD officers came into the bank. They didn't say a thing. They just kicked my legs apart and handcuffed me behind my back." The police report for Shinnick's arrest says he was taken into custody "for the safety of the bank employees as well as the bank customers."

shinnick had to pay thousands to get himself out of jail and clear his name, and bank of america refused to reimburse him. so he went to a consumer advocate radio host, and this host implored his listeners to close their bank of america accounts and let him know how much money they removed from bank of america. so far, the consumer advocate says $50 million has been removed from bank of america because of this incident.

this is crazy. i closed my bank of america account years ago because of their awful customer service, but this arrest takes things to the next level. there must be a better procedure for dealing with these problems. indeed, a few questions could have cleared things up. he could've more clearly indicated his suspicion that the check might be fraudulent, and was given to him as part of a transaction. was this kind of response really necessary?

Friday, November 10, 2006

the coffee shop

i used to dislike coffee shops as places to work, but that has changed. recently i've been accomplishing quite a few things at my local coffee shop, coffee to the people. i have some ideas concerning why this might be.

first, i don't think i ever gave coffee shops enough of a chance. the noise isn't distracting, in fact, i feel quite at peace in the coffee shop. no one is going to interrupt me, and if they do, it will almost surely be something very quick. furthermore, the coffee shop disabuses me of my bad habits, like browsing the web (i don't take my laptop) and putzing around with things in my room (like my squeezebox). in fact, i think i actually get more done than i would in my room or office at school, because the distant hubbub of the coffee shop is actually energizing.

i'm going to continue with coffee shops and see what other magic they might inspire.

some links:
  1. this guy might have the right idea about the coffee shop buzz
  2. this book isn't exactly on topic, but it discusses the "third place," where people can have a good time and hangout and converse
  3. i think this might be going to far: Lexmark transforms Toronto coffee shop into small office for Small Business Week

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sale Starts Tomorrow

i saw this digg post on windows vista titled "Windows Vista GOING GOLD TOMORROW"

going gold means that the final version of the software is ready to ship. no more code changes. now, microsoft has been saying this for a long time (though i think this time they actually mean it). but in any case, this reminds me of a story my father told me about a store in india.

outside the store there's a sign that says "Sale Starts Tomorrow." of course, that might get you interested to go in and check things out. so you go in, see some things you like, and then wonder, "will i actually come back tomorrow, or should i just get them now?" so you buy them now.

the trick is, the same sign is always outside. the sale is always starting tomorrow.

now, i'm not sure how this makes regular customers feel. maybe they just get a laugh out of it after a while. i think it's quite amusing.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


doubt, a feeling i'm sure we all have had, is also the name of a play that met rave reviews in new york city. it's now playing in san francisco, and i had the opportunity to see it tonight, on its opening night. it stars the fantastic cherry jones (pictured above in character), who really steals the show.

here's a blurb about jones and the show from the chronicle:

In the 90 minutes Cherry Jones spends onstage as Sister Aloysius, in John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Doubt," she inhabits a deeply dimensioned space of fierce will, spiritual righteousness, crinkly humor, granitic isolation and blinding determination backlit by an existential unease. It's all played out in a lean psychological thriller about the fictional principal of a New York Catholic school in 1964 and the priest she accuses of "interfering" sexually with a male student. The play, featuring Jones' eagerly awaited San Francisco debut, opens this week at the Golden Gate Theatre for a four-week run.

it's playing at the golden gate theatre in san francisco for 4 weeks. check out the official website, which has a nice video about the show.

the play is only 90 minutes, but it hits on a lot of ideas and makes you think. my take away was a lot of thought on despair, loneliness, and, of course, doubt. it's very well written.

highly recommended!

Friday, November 03, 2006

academic social networking

have you ever tried to navigate a professor's web site? or connect papers between people, and figure out who's working on what? or tried to figure out if a professor is around, working on X, or completely incognito?

academic work is very public, as it should be. these days, you can find most papers online, as well as many courses and teaching materials. yet there is little sense of presence online. furthermore, the online academic world is supremely disorganized.

now, don't get me wrong: there's lots of academic work available online (google scholar is quite a good source, as well as various publishers). but what about the connections? between the works, between the peoples, through time... and what about evaluation? that seems hidden.

here are some questions you might ask of an academic: what are you working on now? who are your students? what are they working on? what do you think of paper P? can you give me a list of reading material that would provide sufficient background for your paper on doodads?

it's unlikely you would get a timely answer. you might eventually get a good answer.

so i was wondering why there isn't a good network site for academic information, and for academics and researchers? it could be a social networking site, but it would also be a public place for browsing and searching, because after all, academic production is supposed to be public. furthermore, much academic data is online, just waiting to be surfaced more effectively. for instance, if we think of the social networking possibilities for a moment, consider that many academics have a web page, where they list all their publications, as well as their students. couldn't we build a resource that simply effectively connects these pages, people, and papers? and what if we let people contribute directly to this resource? what if we tried to build a community around it? there's a cite called rexa that's supposed to do some of this for the computer science community (their slogan is "Research * People * Connections"), but i can only tell you how poor it is because to find out for yourself would require signing up and logging in, and who wants to do that?

what about a service for effectively publishing, detecting, and supplementing the act of doing background research on a topic? building communities around papers and people? there's some work in tagging for the academic domain, see citeulike

why haven't many academics got in on the online video craziness? are they that far behind?

i tried to see if others had commented on the lack of such spaces online. i found one blog post, with some good ideas.

i have a whole 2 or 3 pages of notes of ideas around this... as a graduate student, as an observer of research getting done (and not getting done), i can see the potential for something in this space. anyway, i may do something about this if i get riled up enough.