Archive for December, 2005

Stata pride

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

I was using a computer on Princeton‘s campus earlier today (I’m blogging from the Hungarian Pastry Shop in NYC now though:) and noticed the following on the desktop upon login:

PU Desktop on SPSS vs Stata

In college I was taught statistics on SPSS (isn’t everybody?) and even in the first two years of graduate school I used it including the work for my second-year empirical paper [pdf]. Soon after, however, I started hanging out enough with people in Labor Economics to convert to Stata. And I am so glad I did. Since then, I’m quite sure that Princeton Sociology also uses Stata. So do other programs. (Not to mention some huge fans out there.)

For an inferior product to have the licensing fees that SPSS does, I am not sure how long they will rule all Sociology programs especially since Stata is starting to add some of the menu options that made SPSS more user-friendly for some.

Centrality Journal

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

In November, I joined the group of Contributing Editors over at Centrality Journal.

Today, I posted there about some aspects of Facebook, the social networking site especially popular with college students. In particular, I explore the constraints the system puts on people’s school affiliations and thereby the identities people are able to portray with one user account.

I hope you get a chance to check out Centrality on occasion (or hey, even on a regular basis). There are some very smart contributors there discussing interesting topics likely of interest to several E-BLOG readers.

Festive New York

Monday, December 26th, 2005

This is one of those times when pictures tell the story much better than words. Not that there is that much of a story to tell. I am enjoying a few days in New York. The city is looking very festive and it’s fun to explore the various decorations all over town. I have started a photoset on Flickr to gather up the related pictures. Today, I went on a window-display tour with a friend. We were originally going to do it yesterday, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. Instead, I ended up watching a special presentation on HGTV on holiday window displays. It prepared me well for today’s tour of Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s and who knows which other store we passed.

Explaining the blog hiatus

Monday, December 26th, 2005

If you ever notice, dear reader, that several days go by without my adding anything to this site, it is probably because I am behind on meeting some deadline and I have banned myself from posting updates. I am not sure if there is much use to this practice (or the banning of a practice to be more precise), but it’s one way I try to motivate myself to get certain things done. Now I am back, however, and all that is left is to figure out what were the various things that I had meant to post about during my time away.

Firefox show and tell

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

Firefox screen

Lifehacker Editor Gina Trapani is hosting a holiday giveaway around the topic of efficient desktop uses. She has created a group on photo-sharing site Flickr for people to post annotated pictures of their desktops: Lifehacker Desktop Show and Tell. The idea is to see how people maximize this work space for productivity. I like the idea, but it seems to me that there are alternative ways of going about this. After all, how often do you even look at your desktop? I don’t look at it much. My default screen is Firefox.

So I propose an alternative: Firefox Show and Tell. Unlike Gina, I don’t have goodies to give away, but if you are interested in taking part regardless then share your annotated screenshots of your Firefox screen in the Firefox Show and Tell Flickr photo pool. I find that most productivity tools I have on my computer are embedded into Firefox anyway so it seems like a more appropriate – or at least as appropriate – focus. Perhaps your reliance on your desktop – or lack thereof – depends on the operating system you use. In any case, I think Gina is right that there is much to learn from how other people have optimized their settings for various applications so sharing could be helpful.

If you don’t have a Flickr account, you can create one for free. To add a photo to a group pool, first visit the group page (here in this case) while logged in as a Flickr user. To the right will be a big bold link “Join this group?”, click on that. On the next page confirm that you want to join the group. Next, head to the photo you want to add to the group. While viewing the photo’s page, click on the “Send to Group” icon toward the left above the image. Then choose the group to which you want to post the picture. This may sound complicated, but it should be pretty painless once you have an account and are looking at actual pages instead of following this abstract description.

Maybe Gina at Lifehacker will consider sending some goodies to helpful screens from this photo pool as well.:)

GMail’s new features

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

Google’s email application, GMail has added some neat features in the last few days that I thought were worth a comment.

First, they have finally rolled out Web Clips for everyone. These are RSS feeds shown one at a time just above your Inbox. It seems like a helpful way to keep in touch with what is going on in the world (whether political updates, gadget news or whatever your preference). It is completely customizable. They have some preloaded feeds that you can delete (as I did with most of them). You can then add feeds from various sites including blogs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to add feeds from certain sites (e.g. I tested Eszter’s Blog, but it didn’t rec0gnize the feed).

One unfortunate aspect of this feature is that it doesn’t seem to recognize when you have followed up on a clip so it keeps showing you feeds that you have already viewed. The clips are sometimes ads, which is fine since this is an ad-supported service. It is surprisingly sophisticated. I entered a subject line of two words in Hungarian without any message body (I was just sending myself an attachment as a backup) and it gave me an ad for something in Hungarian.

Second, GMail now gives you the option of previewing attachments as a simple HTML document. This is less exciting for something like a Word file, but intriguing for something like an Excel file with numerous worksheets. It renders them quite nicely. I recommend trying this out next time you want a quick glance at the contents of an attachment.

Class dinner

Friday, December 9th, 2005

I teach a course called “The Practice of Scholarship” whose goal is to teach students how to write a publishable quality empirial research paper. I thought such a course was one of the most useful ones I had taken in graduate school so I implemented it in our program.

Since the students work very hard in this course, I have made it a tradition to have them over for dinner at the end of the quarter. Here are the pictures from this year’s event. Photos are posted with permission.

Expect to see some exciting papers coming out from these students in the near future.

Google users not your average Internet users

Friday, December 9th, 2005

IDG News Service has an article with results from a study conducted by S.G. Cowen and Co. about search engine use by socio-economic status and Internet experience of users. The findings suggest that Google users are more likely to be from higher income households and be veteran users than those turning to other services for search. Finally some data on this! I have had this hypothesis for several years, but had no data to test it. I am usually frustrated when people make generalizations about Web users based on data about Google users (worse yet, Google users referred to their Web sites through particular searches) and this is precisely why. I did not think Google users (not to mention ones performing particular searches on certain topics) are necessarily representative of the average Internet user. (The report says very little about the methodology of the study so it is hard to know the level of rigor concerning sampling and thus the generalizability of the findings.)

Interestingly, the survey found that 52 percent of users cite Google as their preferred search engine, Yahoo! comes in at 22 percent, MSN and AOL at nine percent each, and Ask Jeeves at five percent. These figures are not completely in line with data about search engine popularity by number of searches performed (from a few months ago). The Nielsen/NetRatings figures are somewhat different with over 10 percent of searches (by US home and work Web surfers) perfomed on other engines. According to the current study, only three percent list others as their preferred engine.

Of course, these two sets of numbers are not necessarily at odds with each other. The percentages reported in the current survey consider “search engine of choice”, while the Nielsen/NetRatings figures are about all searches. The SG Cowen & Co study findings may just mean that people who prefer one search engine over another still use several. I wonder if the present study had any questions about the use of different search engines. (A study I will be launching soon does ask about this. I would love to hear about other studies that may have explored that specific question.) A study called “How America Searches” published by iCrossing last summer found that while 77 percent of respondents use Google at some point during their online activities, only 13 percent use nothing but Google for their online searches.

So one question then is whether people will be more likely to switch to Google as they become veteran users. It is hard to say. For one thing, whatever led people to switch to Google a few years ago may not push people to switch to it now. Perhaps more importantly, Internet adoption is not a random activity and so those who have gone online more recently differ from early adopters (e.g. income, education) in all sorts of ways so simply becoming veteran regarding years of use won’t make them identical to the early adopters and thus more years online may not mean a switch to Google. It will be interesting to follow all this over the coming years.

On a different point regarding the IDG article: there is an unfortunate use of the term “Net-savvy” in its title. The author seems to equate Internet experience (measured as years of use not frequency of use) with Net-savvy. Research I have done shows that years of use is not a very good proxy for Net-savvy. In one study, I found that number of years using the Internet is a weak predictor of Web-use skill (measured as the actual ability to find different types of content online, quite relevant to the topic of search-engine use). Self-perceived skill is a better measure, but still not as strong as an index of items asking people their level of understanding concerning various Internet-related items. Perhaps it sounds more interesting to say “Google users wealthier, more Net-savvy”, but it’s a leap from the data available in this study (or at least the data that are discussed in the piece).


Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

Dan Drezner, Eszter Hargittai and Sean Carroll at WGN

As soon as Milt Rosenberg mentioned the word “bloguest” (“blogguest”?) he recanted. But that did not stop us from bringing it up a few more times during his show. As Henry kindly mentioned yesterday, I was on Milt Rosenberg’s Extension 720 radio show last night with Dan Drezner (blog) and Sean Carroll (group blog). It was fun. I don’t think they make it available online in archives so I am afraid it is not possible to listen to it at this point.

[UPDATE: It turns out I misunderstood. It wasn’t “bloguests”, it was “blogessors”. Hmm…]

We discussed all sorts of topics starting with an explanation of what blogs are to blogs and politics, the role of blogs in academia and the risks of blogging about certain issues. At times the conversation went a bit off topic (e.g. when Milt asked Sean whether there are multiple universes), but for the most part we talked about blogs and blogging.

Some of the call-in questions had to do with how people can find certain types of content (e.g. blogs on particular topics). Needless to say I see this linking in nicely with my research on user skill differences. There are lots of users out there who don’t know that much about how one finds various types of content or how one navigates certain online services (e.g. RSS feeds). It is too easy to assume evryone is as savvy as you are, but that is often the wrong assumption.

Thanks to Milt for hosting us and providing interesting questions. Thanks also to Maggie Berndt, producer of the show, for all her work on it.

I have posted some pictures taken during the commercial breaks and after the show.

“Nature” on blogs

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

The current issue of Nature has several articles about “Science in the web age” including a focus on scholarly searching online, the digitization of books, and the sharing of research ideas through the use of blogs, which discusses the use of blogs by academics to communicate about their research.

The latter is of particular interest here and something I have written about before. This being the last week of the quarter I am running around like crazy and have little time to comment. The short summary of some current thoughts I have on this are as follows. Traditional academic outlets rarely offer the opportunity to publish short think-pieces. But many thoughts, while valuable, do not require or necessarily merit a 25-40 page paper. Where to publish them then? Blogs seem like an obvious and helpful outlet in such a case. And yes, blogs can have a peer review component if comments are allowed and knowledgable people are reading the material.

Subsidizing your donations

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

In the past couple of weeks I have posted two entries about donating to worthy causes. And this really is the season when you know organizations will be contacting you for money (if they haven’t already). I know I have given more this year than any other year previous. So wouldn’t it be nice to have that offset a little by a third-party?

Here is how this can work. It is not some crazy pyramid scheme, don’t worry. Instead, it is thanks to a bank with a very nice interest rate attached to its savings accounts. The bank is giving this money to people who sign up through referrals. The referrer – in this case hopefully me:) – also gets $10.

The bank is ING DIRECT. I opened my account with them through such a referral over a month ago. Everything went smoothly. They seem to have quite a security system implemented, which should help those who are not yet used to online banking.

Here are the specifics: You have to be a U.S. permanent resident or a citizen to take advantage of this offer. You will have to deposit at least $250.00 in the Orange Savings account to get the $25.00. You earn 3.50% Annual Percentage Yield on an FDIC-insured savings account with no fees, required minimums or service charges. In case you are wondering whether this is a good deal, take a look at what you are earning on your current checking or savings account. I suspect it is not even close to this amount. So with the $25.00 plus the additional money thanks to interest you will definitely come out ahead.

Send me a note if you are interested in receiving a referral from me. As I mentioned, you have to sign up through such a referral to get this deal. Plus that is the only way I will get the $10.00 so if you do pursue this I would appreciate having the opportunity to be your referrer.:) You then get two weeks to use the link in the email to sign up. Please only write if you really will sign up as I only get so many referrals. But yes, the process is completely confidential and I will not know who used the link in the end.

Once you have that extra cash, you can either put in your donations to EFF, Creative Commons or the charity of your choice. Or you can go out and buy some truffles for yourself. It is up to you.

UPDATE: I’ve gotten a few emails about this. People are either telling me that they already have an account (and are happy with it, fyi) or they have requested a referral. I’m posting this just as confirmation that this really is a good way to handle money you don’t have invested otherwise.

‘Tis the season…

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

.. when you’ll be getting more solicitations than usual from organizations asking for your donations. Obviously, there are lots of worthy causes. I thought I’d put in a plug for Creative Commons. They are having a Fall fundraising drive. John Quiggin over at Crooked Timber had a helpful post about Creative Commons as a default rule a few months ago. This would be a good time to catch up on that reading if you missed it.

One of my favorite applications of CC is its use on Flickr. I use the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License as the default in my photostream. Occasionally I’ll change it to Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs. But so far I have come up with no reason to post anything specified as All Rights Reserved. It is really heartening to see that millions (over six million and constantly growing) of photos on Flickr are posted using a Creative Commons license. Of course, many many are posted under the traditional circled C license. I sometimes wonder if at least some of those people opted for C over CC, because they don’t know enough about the latter. If I hadn’t known about CC before starting to use Flickr, I am not sure I would have thought to or gotten around to specifying the above-mentioned licenses.

Larry Lessig comments that one of the reasons CC launched such a fundraising campaign this Fall is that the IRS requires this kind of public support for non-profits in addition to donations they may get from foundations. Please consider supporting this cause.

Video with tags and comments

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

Reading the comments to this post on the Social Software Weblog I got inspired to try vSocial, a service that lets you embed videos easily into blogs posts, including social features attached to the video such as tags and comments others may have made on it elsewhere.

This video is more like an audio file with a nice image attached to it. I recorded it at a piano concert I attended during the World Science Forum in Budapest last month. The pianist is Gergely Bogányi, an extremely talented young artist. His concert in the main hall of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences kicked off the World Science Forum on November 9th.

Just in case the video above is not working, I have also put up a copy of it on Google Video.

Klezmer on Christmas Eve

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

More than once I have posted about klezmer concerts after they have happened. This time I am giving you enough time to plan accordingly.

On Christmas Eve, the 92nd St Y in NYC is hosting The Klez Dispensers and King Django’s Roots & Culture Band. I have mentioned the Klez Dispensers here before. They are great and the type of music they play at these concerts is really fun. In fact, I am told that there will be plenty of room for dancing so dress accordingly. Tickets are $13.50 (including service charge) and can be purchased on the Y’s concert site. Feel free to let me know if you are going, perhaps we can have a little CT meetup.

Flickr milestone: 10,000 views

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Celebrating 10,000 views

< ahref="">My Flickr photostream went past 10,000 visitors yesterday. Flickrite Rune T gave me the idea to celebrate the occasion by posting a “stamp collection” of some of my own favorites. (They are also among visitors’ favorites.:)

The stamps are thanks to the Framed Photo option among fd’s fabulous Flickr Toys. (ONLY click on that link when you have some time to spare.)

In all fairness, I should note that I was able to achieve 10,000 views so quickly thanks to a few of my not-at-all that glorific pictures that have been viewed by a LOT of people due to them following links in blog posts, which led to numerous visitors. Oh well. There are still thousands of other “more legit” views to celebrate.:-)

By the way, Rune T has got to be one of the most exciting Flickr contributors so be sure to visit there!