Archive for July, 2004

The story behind red alert

Friday, July 30th, 2004

This short film by zefrank seemed to make it to some corners of the blogosphere in March, but I don’t think it got the type of exposure it deserves. Go behind-the-scenes to learn about the making of the yellow-orange-red alert system (Tinky Winky reference and all!:). Warning, only visit the rest of the site if you have plenty of time to spare!


Friday, July 30th, 2004

Since things seem to be pretty low-key around here, you’ll excuse me if I vent a little. Last night I got a call from a kind neighbor letting me know that it seemed as though one of my windows had shattered. I was in the office finishing a paper to meet a deadline so the timing wasn’t perfect, but really, is there ever a good time for that kind of a call? I decided to head home and check things out. To my dismay I found this (or for a bit more artistic version, this). It is completely unclear what may have caused it. My best guess is a bird although there are no traces anywhere (the neighbors were on their balcony when all this happened and didn’t see anything except for the window starting to break up into pieces after a loud bang). This is definitely one downside of home ownership.. and a clear example of why one must always have some money on hand in a checking account. In addition to the lost $$ a really annoying part is the logistics of sitting around waiting for the glass company and the anxiety produced by not having any idea about the costs. Any upsides? I got to meet some nice neighbors and also learned that I have double-pane windows (a very good thing in such a situation, indeed).

So now I’m left wondering whether I should cut back on some of the fun stuff I was going to do in Princeton and NYC in the next few weeks.. to balance out the costs.. or just accept the fact that trying to save on any of what I was going to do would make not a dent in this additional expense so I should just deal with it and move on. Uhm, yeah, probably the latter.

Weekend trivia

Sunday, July 25th, 2004

I was playing Scattegories with some friends last night and ran into an interesting scenario. The game is about coming up with names of things/people/places/etc that begin with a particular letter. The goal is to get as many points as possible and you get a point if yours is a unique answer for the particular category. Apparently, one of the rules is that you cannot use the same response for more than one category. Initially this did not seem like a big deal. After all, what are the chances that a capital and a menu item or an insect name and a crime would be the same? But it turns out, it happens more often than one might think. I suspect this may be because you are so focused on the letter and the words you have already come up with that if one of them fits another category, you’ll make the connection relatively quickly. You have three minutes to find a dozen matches, that’s a lot of cognitive switching in a short span of time. I ended up with the same response to the following two categories: President and Product Name (which we interpreted as brand name). What was my answer? There are probably several matches depending on the letter, mine happened using the letter H. I got the product name first and then realized there had been a U.S. president by the same name. Knowing the outcome, it would make sense to figure out the match here the other way around, of course.;) Remember, no Web searches available during the game and you have about fifteen seconds to come up with a response. (Of course, from the point-of-view of the game this is a silly exercise since the goal is to avoid such overlaps, but we’re not playing that game.:)

Would you cut up a book?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2004

(I promise to get around to that question in this post, albeit in a somewhat roundabout manner.)

Since Kieran has already reserved the right to ask for $50 bills here, I thought I’d ask for something else. Forget bills, they all look the same anyway. I am looking for something more random. I am still in the midst of unpacking some of my things since my move earlier this year and I recently came across my Absolut vodka ad collection. I haven’t looked at it since college when I began (and ended) gathering all the Absolut ads I could find. I have about seventy. By now there are some helpful Web sites for those of us interested in seeing the types of ads the company has featured. I found a few I had not seen before and would really like to have so I thought I’d see if anyone here can help me out.:) These mostly have to do with ads for places where I have lived (e.g. Budapest, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Texas, Geneva, Switzerland) or visited (Paris, Brussels, Jerusalem, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, St.Louis), but also include some others just because I like them aesthetically speaking or because they are funny. I thought I would find listings on eBay, but I’ve only come across a few there and none of them of interest.

But so what’s this about cutting up a book?

There are books out there that feature Absolut ads. So if I was really desperate (which I am not, to be sure) to find some of the above ads then I could simply buy a copy of the book and then cut it up (assuming I wanted to have the pieces individually, which I do, because I want to put some of them up on my walls). But that just does not appeal to me. I cannot imagine cutting up a book. I have absolut(e)ly no problem cutting up newspapers and magazines. It is not as though some books don’t exist in numerous copies. In fact, publishers sometimes find themselves destroying books to save on storage costs, a sad reality when I am sure many schools, libraries and individuals could use additions to their collections. Many books are not a scarce resource and can actually be obtained for less than certain magazines. Thus it is not a question of scarcity. So why the aversion to cutting up books? In this particular example it may be partly that there is something about collecting ads that have appeared as ads and not simply collecting the images. But that is not fully convincing given that I am interested in some of these images purely for decorative purposes and I am not a fanatic collector. Clearly I have been socialized to consider books as something quite sacred if I am not willing to go at them with scissors. (I also won’t use pen to mark books although I will mark them using pencils.)

By the way, as a thank you to those who can contribute to my Absolut ad collection, I will be happy to send the contributor a copy of this neat book filled with great images, for free. (Just don’t tell me whether you decide to cut it up in the end.;) Send me a note for more info.

Pizza, cholesterol check, the works

Tuesday, July 20th, 2004

This little Flash movie by the ACLU about the loss of privacy is hilarious and, of course, scary at the same time.

A different kind of road trip

Thursday, July 15th, 2004

Here’s a way to go on a fun and useful road trip this summer: drive to swing states to register Democrats to vote. Driving Votes provides all the necessary forms and helps you coordinate with others.

Allowing comments on blogs

Thursday, July 8th, 2004

The recent discussion of blogs and their democratic characteristics (or lack thereof) prompted by Laura|AMP|#8217;s comments at Apt 11D in response to critiques of her blog study|AMP|#8217;s survey instrument has gotten me thinking about the comments option on blogs yet again. It is a question I have pondered numerous times already, probably ever since I started reading blogs and certainly since I decided to start my own.

For me, the question of whether a site that calls itself a blog has comments option turned on is actually quite directly related to what constitutes a blog in the first place. I realize this is a question that is probably impossible to answer in a way that would satisfy everybody, but it is one still worth asking especially if one is to do research on the topic (as I am doing now) where a definition would be helpful.

One of Laura|AMP|#8217;s concerns is that the blogosphere is not very democratic. That|AMP|#8217;s true (she mentions some reasons and others have discussed this point at length elsewhere as well). However, blogs can have a democratic component: Comments. Why is it that certain bloggers decide to go without comments? And what makes their Web site a blog in that case? (Clearly I am showing my bias here in that I believe comments are an essential part of a blog. That said, I do realize and accept blogs as blogs even when they do not have comments turned on.. but do so mostly because the community has decided to consider them blogs. You know which ones I mean.)

Laura herself does not have comments on her Web site. This makes her blog more undemocratic than many other blogs. The only way someone can comment on an entry posted on a non-commentable blog is by posting an entry on their own blog. This already excludes those numerous readers who do not have blogs of their own, but more importantly, it also leaves the original post untouched by critical response. And that makes blogs less interesting in my view. And certainly less democratic.

Of course, I understand some of the reasons why people may not allow for comments. It can be an extra burden on the blogger. If one doesn|AMP|#8217;t want certain types of material present on a site then one must constantly monitor comments. This can become tedious in the case of blogs that attract a lot of attention and response. But comments can add a very interesting and important component to blogs. Crooked Timber would be quite different without the insightful and witty (although in some cases very frustrating) contributions of our readers. I wouldn|AMP|#8217;t have it any other way (here I only speak for myself and not the entire CT crew, but I suspect many would agree). A reader can always decide to skip reading the comments (which, of course, underscores the fact that commentators do not have the same level of input as the posters), but those who are most engaged with and interested in a post likely do read the responses from other readers. (Perhaps that idea needs to be tested, but I think it|AMP|#8217;s a reasonable assumption.)

I certainly do not mean to glorify comments too much. There are excellent and very valuable blogs that do have comments turned on yet receive little response. That does not mean that they are not being read nor that people do not have reactions to what is said on the blog. It seems to take several thousand readers to produce a few dozen comments so only a few blogs will receive lots of comments. Nonetheless, the issue here is the option to comment.

So bloggers, why no comments? And readers, do you care? (I realize it|AMP|#8217;s a bit problematic to ask that question here, but this is just for discussion, it|AMP|#8217;s obviously not a scientific poll of any sort.)

Paddling for bandwidth

Tuesday, July 6th, 2004

When I was in Paris I spotted a guy sitting on a corner on the ground just outside a bank with a laptop. It looked pretty random, but then it occured to me that perhaps this was the best location he could find for WiFi signals. Now I see that CTD over at ionarts blogged what he considers a possible |AMP|#8220;techno-geek historical first |AMP|#8230; |AMP|#8216;warboating|AMP|#8217;|AMP|#8221;. He and his brother went out on a fishing boat for signals. Not bad. I|AMP|#8217;m curious, what|AMP|#8217;s the craziest/weirdest thing people have done to find wireless connection?

The right to a soda.. at any price

Tuesday, July 6th, 2004

I was sitting in the St. Louis Amtrak station yesterday (huh, that would be a glorified name for a shack1) and observing with curiosity people|AMP|#8217;s reaction to a soda machine that was sold out. Given the hot day and my tourist explorations of the morning that left me tired and thirsty, the soda machine was the first thing I looked for upon entry into the waiting room. The two machines I noticed at first were selling snacks and coffee. I couldn|AMP|#8217;t believe that there was no soda machine |AMP|#8211; unfathomable for this type of an establishment in the U.S. |AMP|#8211; so I circled the room. And there it was, of course. The first thing I looked for was to see how much the soda cost. However, instead of a price, I found the words SOLD and OUT flashing. Bummer. But now came the fun part: observing how other people reacted to the sold-out soda machine. At one point I was almost convinced we had a candid camera scenario. It was quite amusing to watch how few people bother to check signs. (This was second in a series that day after having watched just a few minutes earlier a woman in front of me exit |AMP|#8211; or try to do so in any case |AMP|#8211; a building through a door clearly labeled and also taped shut by a sign stating that the door was out of order. After pushing it a few times she noticed the sign at her eye-level letting her know that this was not going to work.)

Most people approached the soda machine with bills or coins in hand and started to feed (or attempted to do so) the money into the machine. The machine seemed to be configured so it would not take bills when empty (good call) and the coins fell through and came out in the coin-return section immediately. These signals did not prompt most people to look for clues about what may be going on. Rather, they continued to attempt feeding the machine with their money. The most interesting case was a young man who walked up to the machine with much confidence and tried to feed a dollar bill into it. Soon enough he noticed the SOLD OUT sign. This did not faze him, however. He decided to try again. You can guess the result: nothing. At that point he walked over to the other two machines with much confidence intent on satisfying his soda needs. His stride made it seem as though by marching with enough confidence those machines would transform themselves into selling sodas. Alas, that|AMP|#8217;s not how it works. Oh, the world is so unfair!

What seems interesting in all this (in addition to the obvious) is that people were ready to buy the soda no matter the price. After all, the SOLD OUT sign was where the price would be displayed. But other than one woman (in addition to me), no one cared to check it before starting to feed their money into the machine. Sure, it may be that all these people go to the St. Louis Amtrak station all the time and are already familiar with the price of a soda, but I doubt that that is the case. People probably have an expectation for how much the soda might cost and are willing to pay in the vicinity of that sum regardless of the specifics. Next up in the candid camera saga is a soda machine that charges $7.50 per bottle. Stay tuned for reactions.

1 The station is so remote (although downtown) that a woman on her way there stopped her car when seeing me walking toward it to offer to drop me off saying that it was all too dirty and messy for me to have to walk to. Some people are so nice. (No, I did not take her up on it, but did think it was a very kind gesture.)