Archive for the 'Crooked Timber' Category

NYTimes promotes BugMeNot.. again

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

I found it curious that in March of this year The New York Times mentioned the Web site in an article to which I included a link in the May 16, 2005 issue of E-LIST. Curiously, a new NYTimes article published this weekend repeats this recommendation.

For those not in the know, BugMeNot helps you find a username and password for sites that require registration. This means that you can proceed to viewing articles on, say, sites like without having to create an account for yourself on such sites.

Firefox users may be interested in this helpful extension that allows use of BugMeNot through the click of a button.

Helpful search tool

Friday, June 17th, 2005

Thanks to browsing people’s bookmarks I came across the following helpful online service: YubNub. As its creator Jon Aquino explains, it is “a command-line for the web”. Impressively, it was his submission for a 24-hour programming contest.

What does it do? It helps you access search results on various sites directly. That is, say you want to search for a book on Amazon. As long as a command has already been created for searching on Amazon, you can simply enter the following in YubNub:
amazon booktitle
and you will be redirected to Amazon’s search results for “booktitle”. Or let’s say you want to search for an address on Google Maps, you can just enter:
gmaps address
and YubNub redirects you to the Google Maps result.

What is additionally great about YubNub is that if a command does not yet exist for your preferred search, you can add it.

To try it out, I created a command for searching the archives of Crooked Timber. If you go to YubNub and start your search query by typing in ct and then proceeding with whatever terms are of interest then you will be redirected to the results of your search here on CT.

So now you may be thinking: Well, that’s nice, but why would I bother going to to run the query instead of just going directly to the site where I want to run my search? Because you don’t have to go to Several people have written Firefox search plugins for YubNub. So assuming you use Firefox and have a search toolbar in your Firefox browser, you can just add this as an additional engine.[1] MOREOVER, because YubNub defaults to Google when you do not enter a specific command, you can just leave YubNub as the default engine in your toolbar and still use Google (assuming that’s of interest) for generic searches without commands.

The service is evolving. Its creator has some suggestions and it sounds like he continues to work on it. Unfortunately, there is no way to make corrections to typos in submitted command lines so for now that has to be handled through emails. It is also easy to see how some people may create numerous commands that are not very interesting to most people. But overall, it’s a great service, I recommend trying it out!

For those savvy Firefox users who are wondering how this adds to already existing features in Firefox I should mention Jon Aquino’s inspiration for creating this service: not having to replicate the same keywords on different machines. For those of us who use more than one machine this is very helpful. Thanks to YubNub, it’s enough to add it to the toolbar and you’re ready to go.

1. Far be it from me to assume that you do use Firefox. But this would be a good time to start.

Cross-ideological conversations among bloggers

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

This weekend I’ll be at the annual meetings of the International Communication Association meetings in New York. All of the members from my research group will be participating in the conference and we’ll be reporting on several of our projects. Sunday midday we will present a poster summarizing some preliminary findings from our project on cross-ideological conversations among bloggers. I thought I would give a little preview here.

Cass Sunstein in his book talks about the potential for IT to fragment citizens’ political discussions into isolated conversations. Borrowing from Negroponte, he discusses the potential for people to construct a “Daily Me” of news readings that excludes opposing perspectives. Sunstein argues that for democracy to flourish, it is important that people continue to have conversations with those in disagreement with their positions. However, he is concerned that with the help of filtering out unwanted content people will fragment into enclaves and won’t be exposed to opinions that challenge their positions. The book is an interesting read, but it does not offer any systematic empirical evidence of the claims.

I have been working on a project this past year with Jason Gallo and Sean Zehnder on empirically testing Sunstein’s thesis. We are doing so by analyzing cross-linkages among liberal and political blogs. You may recall that about two months ago Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance came out with a report on “The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election”. My first reaction was one of panic. Here we had been working on our project for months and someone else came out with the results first. However, a closer read made me realize that our project has some unique elements. And if nothing else, seeing that project has made us more careful and critical in our work showing that more research in an area can be fruitful, because hopefully it inspires the agenda to move forward in a productive manner.

[I updated this image on June 1 when I realized the right graph wasn’t displaying exactly what I had described it as.]

Our work has focused on addressing two questions. First, we are interested in seeing the extent to which liberal and conservative bloggers interlink. Second, we want to see what kind of changes we may be able to observe over time. Sunstein’s thesis suggests that we would see very little if any cross-linking among liberal and conservative blogs and the cross-linking would diminish over time. We go about answering these questions using multiple methodologies. We counted links and calculated some measures to see how insular the conversations are within groups of blogs. We also did a content analysis of some of the posts in our sample. We continue to work on this project so these are just preliminary findings.
Read the rest of this entry »

Store Wars

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

Learn the ways of the farm with the help of Ham Solo, Chewbroccoli, C3Peanuts, Tofu D2, Obi Wan Cannoli, Cuke Skywalker, Lord Tader and Princess Lettuce. [thanks]

Blogging innovations

Friday, May 20th, 2005

I didn’t write this post.

My G!

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

Google arrives at Yahoo! 1999.

MyYahoo! in 2000

[Image extracted from the Web Archive.]

For something that’s been around for so long (personalized portal pages) My Google isn’t offering much at this point. But how interesting that they have picked sites like Slashdot as one of only a dozen options to feature for now. I would like to see the behind-the-scenes of what led to these twelve particular items being featured. Some are quite obvious (e.g. redirection to Google movie searches or Google Maps), but others probably have to do with deals. Gosh, all this reminds me of my article in 2000 on the role of portals in channeling user attention online. I discuss the implications of the underlying commercial decisions in this piece.

Isolated social networkers

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

[This on CT. Worth checking out for comments.]

Some physicists have come out with a paper on the Eurovision song contest. Of course, we at CT like to be ahead of the curve and thanks to Kieran’s ingenuity reported similar findings over a year ago. So much for this being “new research”.

There has been much excitement about and focus on social networks in the past few years ranging from social networking sites to several high-profile books on the topic.

Interestingly, much of the buzz about recent work covers research by physicists. It’s curious how physicists have expanded their research agenda to cover social phenomena. I thought their realm was the physical world. Of course, since social phenomena are extremely complex to study, as a social scientist, I certainly welcome the extra efforts put into this field of inquiry.

What is less welcomed is watching people reinvent the wheel. Sure, partly it’s an ego thing. But more importantly, it’s unfortunate if the overall goal is scientific progress. Much of the recent work in this area by physicists has completely ignored decades worth of work by social scientists. If we really do live in such a networked world where information is so easy to access, how have these researchers managed to miss all the existing relevant scholarship? Recently Kieran pointed me to an informative graph published by Lin Freeman in his recent book on The Development of Social Network Analysis:

People whose overall work focuses on social networks are represented by white dots, physicists by black ones, others by grey circles. (Click for a larger version of the image.) As is clear on the image, the worlds exist in isolation from each other. It would be interesting to see year-of-publication attached to the nodes to see the progression of work.

I have been meaning to write about all of this for a while, but John Scott from the Univ. Essex addressed these issues quite well in some notes he sent to INSNA‘s SOCNET mailing list a few months ago so I will just reproduce those here. (I do so with permission.)

Read the rest of this entry »

AUT boycott follow-up

Monday, May 16th, 2005

From the APSA:

“The American Political Science Association, through action by its Council and its Committee on Professional Ethics, Rights, and Freedoms, supports the views expressed in the May 3, 2005 statement by the AAUP against academic boycotts. We join in condemning the resolutions of the AUT that damage academic freedom and we call for their repeal.”

I am waiting for the American Sociological Association to follow with a similar statement. According to Jeff Weintraub, the ASA Council has taken the matter under consideration, but no outcome so far.

Art of Science

Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

For some neat images, check out the Art of Science online exhibition hosted at Princeton. [thanks]

Crosses, crescents and another anti-Israel boycott

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Jeff Weintraub (via Normblog) writes a post I have been meaning to write forever. It relates to why I don’t donate [1] to the Red Cross: the International Federation’s refusal to grant the Israeli branch – Magen David Adom – full membership. The post is motivated by this editorial in The New York Times. The author of the editorial explains:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies includes Red Cross organizations from North Korea, Iran and Cuba, but not from Israel. The reason it gives is that the corresponding Israeli society, Magen David Adom, uses the Jewish star as its emblem and will not adopt the red cross or red crescent, emblems that are recognized by the Geneva Conventions and the international Red Cross movement. Understandably, the Israelis do not want to adopt either of these emblems because they are heavy with religious meaning.

It seems like the issue is all about symbols. But as Jeff Weintraub notes, the opposition to admit the Israeli branch comes from particular countries and reflects more politics than a conflict over images.

Opposition by Red Crescent branches from Islamic countries, including but not restricted to the Arab world, has always been the decisive factor preventing the inclusion of Israel. It is now more than a half-century since the creation of Israel, and it is time for these countries to come to terms with Israel’s existence – not to endorse Israel’s policies, or even necessarily to make peace with Israel (if that seems too radical), but just to accept its existence. If they can’t bring themselves to do this, then at least the international Red Cross/Red Crescent organization should do so.

The NYTimes editorial ends by explaining why it is ironic and troubling for the actions of an organization such as the ICRC to be so politically motivated:

Despite all the talk of emblems, it is politics that have impeded Israel’s entry. That situation puts the Red Cross movement in an unfortunate position. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the arm of the movement that works in conflict zones and visits prisoners, often finds itself urging nations to put politics aside and do the right thing, such as in its current work on behalf of the detainees at the American prison in Guantánamo Bay. It will be in a better position to make these moral appeals when it can show that it is part of a movement that does what is right, rather than what is politically expedient, when it comes to running its own shop.

1. Of course, my actions may well be unfair to the American Red Cross given that it has tried to pressure the International Red Cross to ending its boycott of the Israeli organization. Nonetheless, there are enough other organizations in need of donations that I will continue to channel my support away from ones with strong ties to such overt anti-Israel stances.

Boolean confusion

Monday, May 2nd, 2005

This just came through on Drago Radev’s IList:

I was visiting a government office recently and I noticed the following sign at the entrance:


I was tempted to walk in with a can of soda and absolutely no food on me but I eventually decided against it 🙂


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.

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

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
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 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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?”.