Archive for September, 2004

Productive use of email (?)

Thursday, September 30th, 2004

I just heard a song on the radio that reminded me of the year I spent in Geneva my junior year in college exactly ten years ago (* gasp *). How could I forget the familiar lines we used to listen to all the time.. “I’m the lyrical gangster, excuse me mister officer.” (from Here Comes the Hotstepper by Ini Kamoze) Oh, the days…

I decided to email the group of friends with whom I spent that marvelous year. Within minutes I received a couple of responses with the full lyrics and someone even offering to bring the song to our upcoming reunion. These friends were also “thanking me” for getting the song into their heads to the extent that they can’t stop singing it now. I find it amusing to imagine these friends sitting in their offices across the globe, from the State Department to grad student carrels, from embassies to law offices singing “naa-nanananaa-nanananaa-nananaa-nanana”.

Thanks to email, the dissemination of that important little phrase took only a few minutes!

Visiting ILA

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

I gave a lunchtime talk at the annual meetings of the Illinois Library Association today. It was more of a skit than a talk, actually. Ed Valauskas – known in IT-research circles mostly for editing First Monday – and I were invited to participate on a session with the following title: If Google is God Who are Reference Librarians? (not our title, theirs). Given that we were lunchtime speakers, we decided to take a lighter-than-usual approach and we prepared a skit for the occasion. I was the venture capitalist approaching Reference Librarians, Inc. for a potentially lucrative arrangement about tweaking their referral services. Then I played a first-year college student asking all sorts of questions from Ed, the reference librarian, about obtaining information regarding various issues that come up in the life of a student newly arrived on campus. In response to my questions, he just “happened to” recommend the various products suggested by the venture capitalist. In the end Reference Librarians, Inc. decided to return some of the funds to the funders, because the goup’s members felt that they were not ready to compromise their service in that way.

After the skit, we spent a few minutes discussing the ways in which reference librarians do offer added value when compared to search engines. We wrapped up on the point that one of the biggest challenges reference librarians seem to face is more a question of PR. They need to help people understand that they do offer much more than running simple queries on a search engine may yield, especially for the average user.

Midweek photoblogging

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004


night view
I need a better camera, because my current machine just
can’t capture the breathtaking views from my place.

Polls, polls and more polls

Monday, September 27th, 2004

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Mystery Pollster is a new blog for “Demystifying the Science and Art of Political Polling”. I didn’t find it through Kausfiles or Instapundit, I got the recommendation during a phone conversation with a friend who barely reads blogs… but who does work with surveys herself. The blog should be of interest to data & methods geeks and political junkies alike.

Chicagoland restaurants

Sunday, September 26th, 2004

Even before I got to Chicagoland people from elsewhere were already telling me about the great restaurant scene here. They were right. I’ve decided to blog some of the great finds partly as a reference for myself, but perhaps also of use to those many who pass through Chicagoland at one point or another. (Most academic conventions rotate through this city so a compiled list may be helpful to attendees.)

A few days ago I had dinner at a new Japanese restaurant: Kaze. The service was very accomodating as people floated in and out of our group. We just kept ordering things as the evening progressed. I recommend the soy beans for starters as you figure out the rest of the meal. Everything I – and others at the table – had was wonderful so you really can’t go wrong. Smaller appetizer type dishes are $4-7, bigger dishes are $12-$15, desserts: $8 (for which you probably want to save some room:).

The restaurant is located on 2032 W. Roscoe St just west of the Roscoe/Damen intersection. It is not labelled so you may miss it. Look for the black top, window wall on a corner. They are planning on adding outside seating, which would be nice as it is a quiet area.. and additional space will be welcomed as word of this place spreads.

A restaurant I keep meaning to go back to ever since I had brunch there this past summer is Pierrot Gourmet in downtown Chicago (close to the Michigan/Chicago Ave intersection). It serves Alsacian food including a type of pizza (with a different name I do not recall) that has a super thin crust and is incredibly yummy. It’s one of their specialties and they have several types so it shouldn’t be that hard to find on the menu if you look for a group of entrees with pizza-sounding toppings.

Next in this series: a look at some of my favorite places in Evanston.

UPDATE: Chicago Foodies has a similarly positive review of Kaze.

Nice results

Thursday, September 23rd, 2004

I have not been blogging much (I don’t just mean writing, I also mean reading), because I am really close to sending off an article for review. Any moment I have at my machine that is not taken up by immediate email correspondance, I want to spend on my paper. But I know that some people stop by the blog regularly and I don’t want to disappoint by not having anything new here for days on end when they visit. There all sorts of things on my mind for blogging, but I just don’t want to take the time from my piece now.

I’ve figured out a middle ground: I’ll briefly blog about the paper I am writing. :-) This may get a bit technical, but fellow geeks who stop by here may appreciate it.

One of the goals of my dissertation project was to figure out survey measures of people’s actual online skills. In most of the existing literature, when people include measures of computer skills (the existing lit is mostly about computer-use skill not online skills), they rely on people’s self-perceived abilities. That is, researchers simply ask users to rate their skill. As you can imagine, this measure may not be very good. However, collecting data on actual skill is quite time-consuming, labor intensive and expensive, so we often don’t have a choice but to rely on survey measures. The question then is whether we could come up with better survey measures.

In my project, I measured people’s (one hundred randomly selected adult Internet users’) ability to find various types of information online and their efficiency (speed) in doing so. I also asked participants to rank their skills (as per the traditional skill measures) and to rate their understanding of a few dozen computer and Internet-related items. (There’s more on what I did to see whether perceived understanding is a good proxy for actual knowledge, but for that you’ll have to read the paper.;-)

I then checked the correlation of the various survey measures with actual skill. I constructed an index measure of skill based on the most highly correlated survey questions. I then looked to see to what extent the self-perceived skill measure explains the variance in actual skill versus the extent to which my index measure based on knowledge items explains the variance in actual skill. I am happy to report that my index measure is a better predictor of skill than people’s self-perceived abilities.

An additional exciting bonus is that some of my survey measures were replicated on a national data set (the General Social Survey 2000 & 2002 Internet modules) so others can use these better measures as well.

I’m excited. The study I did was pretty risky in some ways. There was no guarantee that I would even find any variance on the most crucial variables (such as skill). But I did. And now these findings with the new versus traditional survey measures of skill suggest that there is something generalizable there, which is exciting.

Yes, I’m a data geek.

TSB Speaker Series

Thursday, September 23rd, 2004

We have finalized our Technology and Social Behavior Speaker Series for the 2004-2005 academic year. We have quite an exciting line-up, it’s fun to be in such an interdisciplinary group.

New homepage location

Monday, September 20th, 2004

My homepage has finally migrated over to Northwestern. I even managed a pretty funky URL thanks to some very kind, accomodating and savvy tech support folks (or one in particular to be precise:). Voila: http://www.eszter.northwestern.edu . I’m still working on migrating some parts of the site so apologies if things remain a bit in disarray for a while. If you run into a broken link, please let me know (I’m aware of the ones off the gallery page).

M&M

Sunday, September 19th, 2004

My good friends Marcy and Melissa visited me from the East Coast this weekend. I showed them Millennium Park (a really neat place!) and all sorts of other fun and beautiful places in the area. I also hosted a little party (is ~20 people still considered little?:) so they could meet my new friends. The theme of the party was M&Ms (Marcy and Melissa, get it?) and we probably gained several pounds trying out the new M-azing candy bars.

As if all this wasn’t exciting enough, my dear friend Darren was also in the area this weekend so I got to give two Evanston/Northwestern tours. That was fine, the weather was beautiful, it was the perfect weekend for visitors.

Marcy, Melissa and I talked about how easy it is to pull off such a weekend visit as long as one doesn’t obsess about travel as some major undertaking. (Sure, I realize it depends on all sorts of circumstances, but given certain parameters, it does not have to be a big deal.) It took Marcy five hours door-to-door to be back in her apartment in Manhattan. As she put it, “Chicago is local”.;-)

I’ve posted some pictures of the visit.

Fun with maps

Friday, September 17th, 2004

The people behind this Web site are smart. Attract people with a fun quiz, show them what they don’t know and offer them toys to help improve their knowledge. You can take a little geography quiz on the site. I scored 9 out of 10, but was fairly lucky by having gotten this group of countries : Colombia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Samoa, United Kingdom, and Vietnam. I know I would have done worse depending on the region of the world most represented among my randomized list. Can you guess which one I missed?

Highlight the blank section of the next row for the answer.
Latvia. I placed it on Lithuania’s area. D’oh. In case you’re wondering why I know where Samoa is located, I lived in Hawaii for a while and although the two are about 2,600 miles apart, I think it’s fair to say they’re considered regional neighbors.;)

In light of Kieran’s last post, I should probably take a moment to thank the Academy.. oh no, wait, that would be missing the point of his post.. I would like to thank the Hungarian educational system for my above-US-average knowledge of geography, although beyond shoving a lot of facts down one’s throat I did not find it to be a particularly good system. Then again, it seems like it helps me do well on random online geography quizes so maybe I’m being too critical.

Hat tip: Neat New Stuff.

Congratulations to Caroline Persell

Thursday, September 16th, 2004

Congratulations to Caroline Persell, Professor of Sociology at New York University, for winning the 2005 Contributions to Teaching Award from the American Sociological Association. I studied with Caroline when I spent a year in the Sociology PhD program at NYU. Even after I left the program she remained an inspiring mentor for which I’ve always been grateful. She is both a great researcher and teacher, overall a great asset the to discipline. Currently, she is the Vice President of the American Sociological Association so it is fair to say that in addition to everything else she does she also contributes to the profession at large.

Guilty by search

Thursday, September 16th, 2004

Here is another tidbit in the CBS memo saga, but with a different twist: a case of mistaken identity.

My name is Robert Strong, and I am indeed a college professor. I am not, however, the Robert Strong who spoke to CBS. I never met Killian, I never lived in Texas, and I never served in that state’s Air National Guard. But on the Internet none of this matters.

Ever since the 60 Minutes broadcast, I have been getting angry e-mails from Bush supporters who are sure that I am a key player in a vast left-wing conspiracy bent on diminishing the president’s not extraordinary record of military service.

How did I become the enemy du jour of all those spiteful Republicans? I guess it has something to do with Google. Last week, if you typed the words Professor Robert Strong in the popular search engine, a webpage that happens to be about me appeared at the top of the list. For those who have been filling my e-mail inbox with vicious vitriol, that was apparently evidence enough. CBS says that its Bush-bashing documents have been authenticated by Strong; Google tells everyone on the Internet that I am Professor Strong. That’s it. I am guilty as Googled.

At first, I found all of this a bit funny. Here I was in the midst of my 15 minutes of fame, and it was just a case of mistaken identity. But the more e-mails I read, the less amused I became. The meat they contain is more raw and distasteful than any spam I have ever encountered.

Read the full article for more info. (Hop on over to BugMeNot if you can’t get through.)

Cooking across continents

Wednesday, September 15th, 2004

Cuisines in one culture take completely for granted ingredients that are not at all common in other cultures. Hungarian cooking has some pretty basic dishes (e.g. dairy dumplings) that require farina. But farina is not something you can necessarily obtain in the nearest food store in American towns. Fortunately, I have finally figured out that Cream of Wheat works just as well. And Cream of Wheat is a very common item in American supermarkets. It seems to me that it is basically just farina, but with a corporate logo slapped onto it and “enhanced” so it can be repackaged with that logo (I guess). I don’t know how it is enhanced, but I do know that it works in the exact same fashion as farina in recipes. So there you have it. Next time a recipe calls for farina, no need to scratch your head, just grab a container of plain Cream of Wheat.

Shana Tova

Wednesday, September 15th, 2004

I just wanted to wish people a Happy New Year. I am not going to say anything profound, just post text from an email that was forwarded to me a few days ago. Of course, depending on your perspective, some of those lines could be considered pretty profound.

Otherwise, you can head over to the Unsealed Room to read up on the amusing circumstances of Madonna’s/Esther’s[1] visit to Israel (e.g. please, no Jewish photographers, wouldn’t want Jews to violate the High Holy Days).

1. I’d just like to add that I’m really glad she went with the English spelling so as not to upset my Google rankings. :)

[I got this in an email forward without information about the author. I’d be happy to post credits if anyone can point to a source.]

THOUGHTS OF A JEWISH BUDDHIST

Let your mind be as a floating cloud. Let your stillness be as the wooded glen. And sit up straight. You’ll never meet the Buddha with posture like that.

There is no escaping karma. In a previous life, you never called, you never wrote, you never visited. And whose fault was that?

Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story.

To practice Zen and the art of Jewish motorcycle maintenance, do the following: get rid of the motorcycle. What were you thinking?

Be aware of your body. Be aware of your perceptions. Keep in mind that not every physical sensation is a symptom of a terminal illness. If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Forget this and attaining enlightenment will be the least of your problems.

The Tao has no expectations. The Tao demands nothing of others. The Tao does not speak. The Tao does not blame. The Tao does not take sides. The Tao is not Jewish.

Drink tea and nourish life. With the first sip, joy. With the second, satisfaction. With the third, danish.

The Buddha taught that one should practice loving kindness to all sentient beings. Still, would it kill you to find a nice sentient being who happens to be Jewish?

Be patient and achieve all things. Be impatient and achieve all things faster.

To find the Buddha, look within. Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers. Each flower blossoms ten thousand times. Each blossom has ten thousand petals. You might want to see a specialist.

Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?

Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis…

Photoblogs

Tuesday, September 14th, 2004

I’ve added a new category of links on the right: Photoblogs. I don’t visit photoblogs often, but whenever I find myself doing so I really enjoy it (so I should probably do it more often.. but that’s a slippery slope…). A friend of mine just started a photoblog so I thought I would put up a permanent link to it.

9/12

Sunday, September 12th, 2004

There were the personal tragedies of 9/11 for the family and friends of those who died.. and then followed all the other tragedies. Michael Froomkin links to this disturbing film.

Memories of my dissertation

Saturday, September 11th, 2004

In the Fall of 2001 as I was coding and analyzing data for my dissertation on how people find content online, I realized that some Web sites had changed a few design elements after the events of 9/11. I put up a little Web page documenting some of these changes because I thought they were interesting and worth archiving. I wish I would have had time to find more.

There were some more direct links between 9/11 and my dissertation. One was logistical while the other brought it all up close and personal. I think about these issues sometimes, especially the latter, and thought today would be an appropriate day to share them.

I did the recruitment of participants for my project by sending letters and brochures to randomly selected residential addresses in Mercer County, New Jersey. It turned out that this was precisely the area where post offices were shut down due to anthrax concerns so letters that I thought had been sent out to residents were not leaving the post office and letters that may have gone out before the sending office closed down were not arriving at the other end. This led me to delay the study even further – having put it on hold right after 9/11 – in order to be able to pursue the original course of recruitment. I think a mention of anthrax thus made it into my dissertation in a footnote.

The other link is more interesting and touching. Respondents came to my university’s campus to participate in the study. First, I sat with them and orally administered a questionnaire about their general Web use patterns and some additional questions. One issue of particular interest to me is the role of social support networks in people’s Internet use. I had a question on the survey that asked about whether there were people the respondent knew to whom to turn with questions about Web use. One day a participant gave a curious response to this question: he said that there used to be someone. Since you know the context of my blog post, you may see where this is headed. But in the context of the interview this was a curious response and so I asked again to confirm that I had heard the response correctly. I looked up from the questionnaire and asked: “You used to have someone you could ask but that is no longer the case?” He looked at me and said: “It was my son. He used to work in the Twin Towers.”

Where I blog

Saturday, September 11th, 2004

A year ago I started blogging over at the great group blog Crooked Timber. Since then, I have only blogged at CT simply replicating all of my posts on E-BLOG. Recently I started to realize that the group nature of CT made me more selective in my blogging than I preferred. After thinking about this for a while and also prompted by some of the comments on Dan Drezner’s blog about whether he should move toward a group blog, I decided to come back to E-BLOG and do some writing here in addition to my posts over at Crooked Timber. Of course, it may seem silly to extrapolate from people’s comments about Dan’s blog to possible opinions of my readership given that E-BLOG only ever had a few hundred readers. Nonetheless, some of the comments resonated with me so I decided to return to E-BLOG more actively. I’ve revamped the looks and started using a new blogging software with added features so hopefully that will make things even more user-friendly than before. As always, thanks for reading. And of course I’ll keep blogging at Crooked Timber and very much continue to encourage people to read it given all of the great material that’s posted there by my co-bloggers.

Evanston sunrise

Saturday, September 11th, 2004

Evanston Sunrise This is not such a bad view to wake up to.. even if the waking up
takes place way too early for a Saturday morning.

E-BLOG logistics

Saturday, September 11th, 2004

Since WordPress makes the creation of categories very easy, I am now using this blogging feature. I thought I’d take a moment to explain some of the categories.

I blog over at the group blog Crooked Timber and any entry that I first posted there will be filed under CT here. This may be of interest because CT attracts many more visitors and commentators than this blog so follow-up discussions are often more active and thus exciting there.

Links that I featured on my mailing list Eszter’s List will be labeled E-LIST just to give credit to that other undertaking.:)

Snapshots is the category for posts that include images.

Maintenance entries are about E-BLOG technical issues.

I think all the others are self-explanatory. If not, just post a note and I will be happy to clarify.