Archive for April, 2005

Starbucks espresso brownies – lose the fudge!

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

I don’t drink coffee so a store like Starbucks has much less appeal to me than to many others. I am also not fooled by most of their pastries. They tend to look good, but usually do not measure up in taste. (I have fallen for the looks enough times now to know better.)

There is one exception, however: the Starbucks Espresso Brownie Bar. Unfortunately, in the past few months I have noticed that they have added fudge on top. It is a really bad innovation (if you can even call it that). They have pretty much ruined an extremely good pastry. Yes, I can get dramatic when it comes to chocolate. I don’t like people messing with a good chocolate product.

It turns out that you can still get the fudgeless type in other markets. During my recent travels I have noticed them at various airports. But the store on my block only has the fudge type.

Maybe introducing the new version in some markets is their way of experimenting to see if the change holds up. If you’d like to join me in saving a perfectly good pastry then please send the company a note by filling out this form on their Web site.

Sources, please, it just requires a tag (and careful reporting)

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

I was reading this article in Wired when I came upon the claim that “Google: Accounts for almost four out of five internet searches (which includes sites that license Google’s search technology), and 75 percent of all referrals to websites.” No references are offered for these figures. The rest of the piece is filled with other supposed facts without one link to or mention of a source.

Having followed the search engine market for a while the numbers in the quote above sound suspicious to me. I have never seen figures suggesting that Google (with or without affiliates) accounts for 80 percent of all searches. I contacted the author for his sources. To his credit, he got back to me very promptly. However, he did not point me to a source that can verify the information. (I do not quote from personal communication in public unless I indicated to the author that I would – which I did not – so I will not give you his exact words, but there is no source with the above figure that I can pass on to you or a collection of sources whose aggregated information leads to the above number.)

Newspaper and magazine articles do not require citations so unless the source is mentioned in the text as part of the article (e.g. “a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found…”) then the reader has no way of verifying the information (unless the reader decides to contact the author and the author responds). In academic writing, it is well understood that you have to cite your sources whether you are referencing ideas or specific facts. I realize that this may be tedious to do on the limited pages of newspapers and magazines. However, it seems that in online publications there should be less of a constraint to cite sources. If the reporter did his or her job and looked up relevant references for an article then why not link to them? Sure, if these are proprietary sources then that may be difficult. But I am sure that is not always the case. Yet we rarely see references to original sources in traditional newspaper and magazine pieces.

Now that the above article has appeared in Wired with the mentioned numbers stated as supposed fact, future writers (of blogs, newspaper articles, academic papers or what have you) can simply cite the Wired piece as the source of these figures and be done with it. And then we will have an unverified (and highly unlikely) figure taking on a life of its own.

PS. It is a whole other issue to figure out what it really means that a search engine accounts for x% of all searches. That may still just mean y% of all users (where y is a much smaller number than x). You can read more about this here. It would take a whole other post to get into why this may also be relevant here. I’ll leave that for another time.

Lansing, Michigan

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

I am happy to report that the Lansing, Michigan airport has free wireless.

I just finished a visit at the Quello Center at Michigan State. It was a great visit, the Center seems to be thriving. Also of note is that its Director Steven Wildman and Executive Director Johannes Bauer have assumed the editorship of the Journal of Media Economics with Stephen Lacy also of Michigan State.

Feminist humanist modern version Haggadah for Passover

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

It’s that time of year again when the Passover page on my Web site starts attracting lots of visitors. A few years ago I compiled a feminist humanist modern version Haggadah for Passover as the traditional ones I could find did not meet my needs. I would have preferred to just grab one from a Web site, but none provided the type I was seeking. Once compiled, I figured others may find it helpful as well so I decided to post it. Feel free to grab a copy if it is of interest. It contains no references to a higher power, it includes an orange on the Seder plate, it is inclusive in language to both Jews and non-Jews and it refers to contemporary plagues such as hunger, war and racism. It is certainly not meant to offend. It is meant to offer people an alternative that better aligns with their beliefs and concerns about the world. (The Web page does not contain a Creative Commons license because I myself grabbed most of the material from elsewhere so it’s not really up to me to make a decision on that. I credit the sources on the document and include links to their Web sites. )

Wonderful hack

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

A fellow user of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has created a wonderful hack for Google Maps using Greasemonkey. By installing the script in Firefox, it is now possible to get addresses to overlay on the CTA system map. This was a feature seriously lacking on the Transit Authority’s own site and has caused many frustrations for me in the past. This is an awesome feature. [thanks]

Here are some step-by-step instructions on how to get this to work.

Using the Firefox browser go to http://greasemonkey.mozdev.org/.

There’s a link called “Click Here to Install Greasemonkey” – click on that. Be sure you’re letting Firefox accept downloads. (If you are not then a warning message will come up right below the location bar of the browser letting you know and instructing you to click on a button to allow downloads from that site.)

Next, go to http://www.holovaty.com/code/firefox/greasemonkey/cta_google_maps.user.js
Once you’re on that page (it’ll just be script) then under the Tools menu of Firefox choose Install User Script.

That’s it. Next time when you go to http://maps.google.com/maps you’ll see a new link on the page: CTA map. You can click on it whenever you want to view your address on the CTA map.

Village Voice on academic bloggers

Friday, April 15th, 2005

I exchanged a few emails with Geeta Dayal a couple of weeks ago about academic blogging. She now has a piece out on the subject in the Village Voice. There is an additional document with some links to an assortment of academic blogs. U. of C. blogger Sean Carroll is quoted in the article right before my comments. We report on similar experiences regarding how we approach our blogging. We both mention how we take considerably more care in what we make public on our blogs compared to what we may mention to someone in passing. This may seem obvious, but reading some blogs I sometimes wonder how much thought goes into some people’s writing. (Then again, you may still be wondering about that even on this blog.) U. of C. blogger Dan Drezner not only gets a listing on The Guide to Blogodemia page, but also this nice comment: “Politics blogosphere-wise, he’s one of the heaviest hitters.” Right on.

The article was helpful in reminding me about the number of science bloggers out there. Although their numbers may be smaller than those among social scientists and legal scholars, they definitely make their mark on the blogosphere as well.

Don’t worry, be creative

Friday, April 15th, 2005

Before I link to yet another advertisement for your amusement, I thought it was worth noting the interesting twist in some of us actually seeking out and making conscious decisions to view ads. Aren’t consumers supposed to hate advertisements? Isn’t the great fear about TiVo and similar devices that audiences skip over all the ads? That may be the case if the commercials are horrible, which many of them are. But the fact that people voluntarily visit sites that feature ads suggests that there is room for advertisements in our world. They just need to be good enough to capture our attention. Remember the Honda commercial called Cog? Talk about creative. I personally liked the Get Perpendicular Hitachi flash movie to which I posted a link yesterday (although that may be a bit too geeky for some). The Ad Forum hosts thousands of ads from across the world (although only a small fraction seem to be freely accessible). Again, some of them are creative enough that people will voluntarily go to the site to check them out. Here are some recent popular ones: Frogger and The Banana. So dear advertisers, instead of getting upset about new technologies how about getting creative?

UPDATE: I had also meant to post a link to the video depicting the shot made by Tiger Woods the other day. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll understand the connection to this post once you view it.

More traffic coming to a Chicago street near you

Friday, April 15th, 2005

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is facing some major budget crises and has been contemplating various ways to deal with it. This week, the CTA decided to propose a plan that would cut dozens of bus routes AND the Evanston Purple Line express that runs during rush hours on weekdays. This would be extremely unfortunate for those of us in Evanston who use the Purple express.. and pretty much anyone between us and our destinations. I suspect those of us who have the alternative of getting into our cars will opt to do so. This will cause increases in traffic.. obviously not just in Evanston but to and from our destinations as well. It will be especially unfortunate for parking at Northwestern, which is already in a bad state. I foresee more and more people deciding to drive to work instead of taking the El. Overall, the environment won’t thank us for these changes either.

One of the most shocking parts of all this is that the one area in which the CTA decided to recommend no changes is charges to tourists! That is one of the most likely populations to go along with whatever changes are implemented so why leave them out of the plans?

Take a break

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

By this time in the week most people are ready for a break (that’s probably why you’re checking out blogs in the first place, right?:). Here is an amusing link (in that geeky sort of way at least:).

  • Get Perpendicular! (you’ll want to check this out when you can have the sound turned on)

Upcoming meetups

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

Now that Meetup has decided to start charging for its services, I wonder if Upcoming.org is going to take off. It seems like a promising service and many new features are being added these days. It’s not clear why it’s been so slow to spread. It seems it’s still lacking the necessary critical mass. It’ll be interesting to see how the recent additions of features to it and the changes at Meetup may influence its future.

Where does our money go?

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

John Maeda has some nice visualizations comparing U.S. tax dollars spent on science vs the arts or the Whitewater/Lewinsky Investigations vs the 9/11 Commission. His source is an article in Parade whose print version apparently has much more info than the online one. [via]

The “man date”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

If there wasn’t such a stigma attached to being gay for so many, would men really have to be so paranoid about catching up with a male friend? It seems like such an unfortunate waste of energy to tiptoe around these situations. Of course, I understand why I can’t simply say “So what if someone thinks you’re gay even if you are not?” given that it may have implications depending on the circumstances. But that is what’s so unfortunate.

Recent innovations

Monday, April 11th, 2005

Hardly a week goes by without one of the major search engine companies – they are so much more than search engines at this point – announcing a nifty innovation. This article in Newsweek argues that the “winner in the search competition is you” and these days I would have to agree. Or in the least those of us who follow these innovations. The author summarizes some of them on page 2 of the piece. Some of the most intriguing recent innovations have been GMail with its threading of content and ever-increasing storage capacity, Yahoo!’s 360 community site, which recognizes that one may want to share certain blog posts and pictures with only a subset of one’s networks, and A9′s images of geographical locations. Google’s satellite photos are great, too, but seeing the actual storefront is even more helpful in some cases. It is also increasingly easy to get answers to common queries without having to click through to another page, e.g. weather info, calculations, dates of holidays that fall on different days every year.

For those who are in the know, these services offer more and more opportunities to save time while looking for information. I suspect the majority of users are not aware of many of them though and one challenge for these companies is to integrate the innovations in a way that less savvy users can take advantage of them as well.

Fun with Google maps

Monday, April 11th, 2005

I suspect by now many will have heard of the satellite maps available at the click of the button at Google Maps. When you look up an address in the U.S., you can click on the Satellite link located in the upper right hand corner of the page to get the satellite view of the area. Soon after this service went live, people started coming up with fun ways to use it: Google Sightseeing points out interesting locations on the satellite maps.

Here is another neat use of Google Maps, unfortunately this one has not been integrated with the satellite feature. This service merges information from the real-estate section of Craig’s list (limited to US metro areas) and Google Maps. You can browse apartments for rent or units for sale on the map directly with pictures of the units available for immediate viewing while still browsing the map. To browse the neighborhood through the satellite images, you will have to type in the address of the property and click on the Satellite link.

60 years ago today

Monday, April 4th, 2005

Since you can’t find this anywhere online and I think it’s worth a mention, I thought I’d do the honors. April 4, 1945 was the end of World War II in Hungary. When I was growing up, it was referred to as the day the country had been liberated and big celebrations ensued with one of my favorite Soviet-era songs (“Április négyrõl szóljon az ének..”). Not surprisingly that approach didn’t survive the political changes of the 1990s. Nonetheless, the fact that the significance of this day in the country’s history has been completely obliterated saddens me and leaves me frustrated. Talk about the social construction of holidays and historical dates. I would be much less bitter about all of this if the country had decided to commemorate the end of World War II on some other day, for example, the end of the war in Europe or across the world. But no such luck. Ignoring this issue is completely consistent with Hungary’s inability to face up to its horrific role in that war. Celebrating the war’s end would mean acknowledging that the country had anything to do with it and that’s clearly asking too much.

Dinosaur attack

Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

This is pretty cute.

What’s so crunchy in your snack?

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

Reading up on hometown blogs I came across the unfortunate news that rat poopie was found in a warehouse holding airplane snacks at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (and you don’t have to live in Chicagoland to use that airport during your U.S. airtravel given how many transfers occur there). The article states that “inspectors discovered more than 1,000 rat droppings where pretzels, beer and other airline snacks and beverages are stored”. To this a Chicagoist reader responded with the following astute question: “who got stuck with that counting job?”.

Email space race

Friday, April 1st, 2005

Yahoo! recently announced that they will increase the size of their free email accounts to 1 GB likely as a response to Google’s GMail, which gives users that much space. But GMail seems to be ahead of the game even as Yahoo! is still just preparing for the increase. Today, on the first anniversary of the launch of GMail, Google announced that they will continue to grow the size of GMail accounts beyond 2GBs. They have a nifty little counter on the GMail homepage that shows the increase of the mailbox size. (If you’re a GMail user and are always logged in, you’ll have to log out to see the number.) There’s also a cute little infinite-plus-one figure. As you watch the number grow, you can quench your thirst with some Google Gulp (in beta, of course).