Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category


Friday, May 8th, 2009

I’m starting a new research project (if I manage to get some funding) related to job searching. I was talking about it with my friend danah and she sent me a link to the McDonald’s online job application site for Singapore. (That latter bit is not obvious from the site at all, but it seems to be the one for Singapore.)

McDonald's Singapore job application snippet I looked at the first page an applicant has to fill out and found a question about religion with the options to the right on the screen shot. To be sure, this is not signaled as required information, nonetheless, I found it curious. For one thing, why is there no “Other” option? Anyone know anything about why such a job application would have this field in Singapore? Could this have to do with handling certain types of food? And somewhat unrelated (presumably), any thoughts on why McDonald’s doesn’t make it more clear on the site and form that this is the Singapore-specific job application form?

I’ve uploaded a copy of the full screen here in case you’d like to see the question in context and don’t want to click through to it.

Are you wondering if you’re wondering or are you actually wondering?

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Too often I encounter the following kind of sentence: “I’m wondering if people could improve their grammar?”

One of my pet peeves is when people put question marks at the end of sentences beginning with “I wonder if”. I’m always left wondering if the person is wondering about whether they’re wondering. (Of course, chances are they are not, but why the question mark then?) This is an incredibly common mistake for reasons not clear to me.

To clarify: starting a sentence with “I wonder if” usually results in a statement and statements don’t come with question marks. If you want to make it a question, you can say “I wonder: how does one end this sentence?” or “I wonder, should there be a question mark at the end of this sentence?”, but “I wonder if there should be a question mark at the end of this sentence.” should not end with a question mark, unless you are asking whether it is something you’re wondering about (but frankly, most people won’t be able to help you answer that).

This is a first

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

I don’t like seeing you’re when your should be used and vice versa, but the following took it all to a whole new level: in a recent email I received, instead of your, the person wrote u’re. Yikes.


Sunday, February 17th, 2008

The following in the comments thread of Kieran’s recent post over on Crooked Timber reminds me of an issue I’ve wondered about in the past. The comment exchange:

Do people think it’s worth learning R if you already use STATA*?
Probably in the general sense that it’s worth learning new languages or applications so as not to get too rusty.

I’m not sure whether Kieran meant to refer to computer languages here only or foreign languages as well. I remember reading generals requirements in some graduate program (perhaps my own, I don’t recall) that equated speaking a foreign language with being proficient in a programming language. I’d always found that to be curious. While I believe both are helpful and important skills to have, they seem to be sufficiently different not to equate. Foreign languages (and time spent in other countries) allow us to get to know cultures, histories, peoples in a way that is very difficult to do through translation. Knowing a programming language lends itself to other potential benefits.** The two hardly seem interchangeable. I’m just curious to know what other people think about this.

[*] It’s actually Stata not STATA, I’m not sure why so many people spell it with all caps. Same goes for the Pew Internet & American Life Project. It’s Pew, not PEW.

[**] Yes, yes, I can think of ways in which knowing a programming language might also help one get to expand one’s horizons on those other dimensions as well and feel free to offer entertaining scenarios, but my overall question still stands.:)

Weather icons

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

Just to clarify, this is not a complaint about Forecastfox since i think it’s a great Firefox extension. In fact, it’s probably one of the most useful ones I know and I highly recommend it. This is just an observation.

The icons in my browser this morning were the following:

Evanston weather

(For those not familiar with the extension: the “Sun” to the right refers to Sunday.}

You don’t need to know the Fahrenheit equivalents for the point of my post, but just in case you’re curious: -21C tranlsates to about -6F and -10C is about 14F. (Thanks to the Fahrenheit to Celsius Converter for that.)

What I find amusing about the above icons is that the -21C comes with a sun whereas the considerably warmer temperature of -10C has the “bitterly cold” icy icon attached to it. Granted, it is sunny out and as long as you can look out from a warm building, it’s outright pretty.* In fact, yesterday (with very similar weather) I was reaching for my sun glasses while driving. But still, it’s funny to see those icons allocated as such.

* Maybe it’s wrong to assume that the temperature of one’s immediate surroundings influences one’s perception of a scenery, but I have a hunch that if it was freezing cold inside I wouldn’t appreciate the sunny view as much.


Monday, January 1st, 2007

As we say in Hungarian:


or see an English variant here for some geeky map goodness to start off this New Year.

The five-things-you-didn’t-know-about-me meme

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Yaniv over at Hello World tagged me days ago regarding the “five things you don’t know about me” meme. I’ve been too overwhelmed to respond, but it’s time I got around to it. It reminds me, by the way, of the four things meme, which I suspect also revealed a bunch of things people don’t know about bloggers they read.

1. I grew up in Budapest with occasional short-term stays (lasting 4-21 months) in the U.S. specifically in Connecticut (twice), Texas and Hawaii by the time I was 16. Since then, I’ve lived in five additional states: Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California, in that order.

2. When I was 13, I wrote a fan letter to Dan Rather from Budapest. How much fan mail was he getting from teenagers in Hungary in the 1980s? Not much, I suspect. He kindly responded with an autographed photo (not that I had asked), which I found thrilling.

3. I was at the R.E.M. concert in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1995 when the band’s drummer collapsed due to a hemorrhage on the surface of his brain. A bunch of us from the Smith College Junior Year Abroad program went to this concert thanks to money we saved from our daily food allocation from the college.

4. When I was in middle school, I was interested in business (with aspirations of working on Wall Street one day) and so decided to study Japanese (this was the 80s after all). There was only one place you could study Japanese in Budapest at the time. It was fun, but due to subsequent US stays I had to abandon this particular interest.

5. My first choice for college was Cornell’s Communication Department thanks to the wonderful time I had attending the Cornell Summer College Program the summer before senior year of high school. I got in, but since Comm at Cornell is in one of their state schools and I was an international student, I did not qualify for financial aid. It was out of the question for me to attend a school in the US without financial aid. I was crushed. I was devastated. I ended up attending Smith College and absolutely loved it. In fact, I am convinced that it was a much better match than Cornell had been during its regular sessions so in the end all worked out well. Interestingly, years later, I did make my way to a communication department since that is where I am now based at Northwestern.

Finally, I’m supposed to tap five other people: Noor Ali-Hasan, Basket Case, Dan Drezner, Jeremy Freese and Seth Finkelstein – tell us a few things we don’t know about you.

Gift season

Monday, November 20th, 2006

My brother sent me a link to a site about regifting stories some of which are pretty amusing. On the side is a poll asking people about their reasons for regifting. I have considered regifting in the past, but in the end I don’t know if I’ve ever done it. It mostly comes up in cases when I really don’t like something I’ve been given. But then I ask myself: if I really don’t like it then would I want to inflict it on a friend? Plus there’s the potential embarrassment of being thought of as someone who might’ve actually found the item valuable. Hmm…


Sunday, November 12th, 2006

Are you a teacher?
What subject?
I am a sociologist.
Then you must be good at making friends.

Being overqualified

Monday, August 21st, 2006

I was catching up with a friend recently who, after receiving a Master’s degree, decided to move to a professionally less-than-ideal location for personal reasons. She’s been doing okay by picking up work here and there, but it’s been a long process. She was explaining to me the frustrations of being told that you are overqualified for a job. I could definitely see her perspective and was nodding throughout her desciption of various recent experiences. But after the responses I received to my recent post (posted on Crooked Timber, I seemed to have forgotten to post it here as well) about outsourcing advice, I am starting to understand the other side’s position better. A few people emailed me offering their services. The problem is, pretty much all of them seem to be overqualified, which puts me in a difficult position.

My motivation for looking into outsourcing was twofold: 1. to see whether I could find additional assistance with work since undergraduate students don’t always have as many hours to give to a project as is necessary and there are a limited number of graduate students locally; 2. to see whether I could save some money by hiring people elsewhere.

Certainly, removing the geographical constraint of the job helps and clearly there are people out there who could use some work that is open to a flexible schedule. However, it’s not at all clear whether there is much money to be saved.

First, my impression regarding outsourcing services available online is that they may be cost-effective if you need highly qualified people (specialized tech skills, for example), but there was nothing on the various Web sites that made me think I would necessarily come out ahead by hiring people from elsewhere for the jobs of interest to me (some data entry, transcription and such). I pay undergraduate students $8-$9/hour and the sites I saw didn’t seem to compete with that well.

Second, I got responses from people who sound like they would be very responsible and could definitely do the job well, but they seemed overqualified. Years ago I paid graduate students $10/hour so today that seems inappropriate. However, I wouldn’t want to pay more for these tasks than I do to people working on them locally. I have no idea what the going rate is in various fields. I know in computer science it is much much higher, but what is it in humanities fields? Perhaps what seems inappropriate to me would be fine for some people who are really just looking for something flexible to supplement their income.

I definitely know from experience that I don’t always do a very good job of estimating what may be a perfectly acceptable job and wage for a student. I sometimes feel badly about giving out very simple tasks, but then I remind myself that I was just fine with cleaning bathrooms and dishes – those were two separate jobs:) – in my first year in college and was outright happy later on with my job in the library and doing simple tasks for professors.

But when it comes to graduate students or people with advanced degrees, this all gets trickier. I do not want to insult someone with an advanced degree by suggesting a rate that seems way too low to me. At the same time, the potential employee does not want to mention a rate with the fear of asking for less than what I am willing to pay. Regarding this latter point, the potential employees don’t know that I won’t pay people in similar situations less than what I already pay others. (I would if the person lived in a country with much lower cost of living. Thus my inquiry about outsourcing.) That is, if an undergraduate student came to me to volunteer his or her services for free in my lab, I would still only hire him or her with pay, because I believe that a person will take the job more seriously if he or she is getting paid for it. Moreover, because others in the lab are getting paid, I believe everyone should unless there is a different payoff to the assistant. For example, an undergraduate student might work without pay on one of my projects if he or she is getting course credit as per his or her preference.

Of course, it is too simplistic to see this as nothing but an hourly wage issue. It is completely possible that people with more training or background with related work would do the job more efficiently and thus would not cost more on the aggregate even if their hourly rate is higher. But this would require quite a bit of logistics to figure out. (There is some cost to starting work with a new person and training them for a task so you don’t want to get too many folks involved.)

I will be hiring for a full-time position soon. I will make sure to post the salary up front to avoid the above complications. If people see what a position pays then it should be fair to assume that even if they are overqualified, they are willing to work for the offered amount if they decided to submit an application. That still doesn’t solve all concerns, by the way, given that the employer may fear losing the employee to a better opportunity. But at least it removes one point of confusion.

Raise your hand if you are not here

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

On a flight I was taking the other day, passengers were asked to fill out a survey. I question the utility of such an instrument given that the feedback was mostly about satisfaction with the crew who likely knew that the survey would be administered and thus may not have been going about their business as usual. I took one to fill out, because I am always curious to see how surveys are constructed.

I found the following question puzzling:

In-flight survey question

The survey was only available in English as far as I could tell. They cetainly didn’t announce any alternatives in English or any other language. This question was on the third of four pages. Assuming the question is about one’s English abilities, does it make sense to assume that anyone needing language assistance would’ve gotten to the third page of the survey? And even if they had, how reliable would their responses be?

Or am I missing something and is there some other type of language assistance one might need? I doubt that if a hearing-impaired passenger needed some type of assistance they would refer to that as “language assistance”. So what’s the point of this question?

On a different note, this post brought to you by the free wi-fi weekend at the San Francisco Airport for T-Mobile customers.

Free weekend SFO wi-fi for T-Mobile customers

A flickr of new spam

Thursday, April 6th, 2006

Recently, I have received a few requests from Web sites asking permission to use my photos posted on Flickr. Of course, there is a flattering element to all this. Wow, someone thinks some of my photographs are worthy of being reproduced. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, these requests are rarely for photos I consider particularly good or interesting.

The last such email I received had a curious subject line: “Re: Your jennifer Aniston Photographs”. I don’t have any “jennifer Aniston” photographs, not any I can recall. That was clue #1 as to the possibly fishy nature of the message. Clue #2: the link provided in the email that I should click if I was interested in sharing my photos with the site’s members seemed to be an individualized link (a sequence of numbers after a generic URL) suggesting that my response was being tracked. The URL had “flickr” in it, a convenient way to confuse people and have them think that they’re simply clicking on a Flickr photo link. No, it was a link to the site being advertised by the message.

Yes folks, I think these supposedly flattering messages are all about advertisements for the sites in question. They don’t really care to use our photos, they are mostly just interested in getting the word out about their sites and services. Some of them at least put in some effort by looking up a relevant photo to suggest for inclusion. But others don’t even bother to pretend that they have any connection to you other than including you in a new type of spam scheme.

I know there are several Flickr users who read my blog. I have heard from one of you about a similar experience. Anyone else? I’m purposefully not listing the sites that have contacted me, I’m not going to play along. However, I’m curious if anyone else received a message from “Calder” with the cryptic link.

Public speaking pet peeve

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Today’s Lifehacker special is a piece I wrote on “Public speaking do’s and don’t’s”. I list ways in which one can prepare for a talk and suggestions for how to make the most of a presentation. I welcome additions to the list, in the comments here or to the original post.

I won’t replicate the entire piece here, but I do want to mention one of the issues I discuss. One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to presentations has to do with most people’s inability to stick to the time they have been alloted for their talk.

Few people are such amazing speakers that the audience can’t get enough of listening to them so it is best to wrap up a speech on time. One of the most common pitfalls is to add “brief” introductory remarks to one’s prepared talk. There is usually nothing brief about such comments. Moreover, given that most conference presentations – the ones with which I tend to be most familiar – are supposed to take about 15 minutes, adding just three minutes of intro uses up 20 percent of the time allocation. However, most people are already short on time so this way they get even more behind.

I have considerably less experience in industry and other realms. Is this better elsewhere?

A related pet peeve concerns moderators who are unable to tell people that it is time to wrap up and give the next person a chance to speak.

Four things meme

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

I don’t think I have ever participated in one of these blog memes before. The inability to sleep at 4:30am is as good a reason as any to get on board.

Four jobs I’ve had:

* Teaching Assistant, Computer Literacy (Computer Science
Department, Smith College)
* Reporter, Magyar Hírlap (Budapest daily)
* Translator (from French to English at small NGO in Geneva)
* Webmaster, NYU Sociology Department (their first Web site way back when)

Four movies I can watch over and over:

* You’ve Got Mail
* The American President
* Hello Dolly!
* Sex and the City (I realize it’s not a movie, but it is something I can watch over and over again:)

Four places I’ve lived:
(Tom Coates seems to have changed this to “liked”, but most others seem to be writing about “lived”)

* Budapest
* Honolulu
* Geneva
* New York City

Four TV shows I love:

* Law & Order SVU
* Law and Order Criminal Intent
* Grey’s Anatomy
* Hungarian cartoons from the ’70s (Kukori és Kotkoda, Frakk, Mézga Család, Dr. Bubó, Vizipók Csodapók)

Four places I’ve vacationed:

* London
* Amsterdam
* Zermatt (Matterhorn)
* Lake Balaton

Four of my favorite dishes:

* Madártej
* Chicken paprikash with cucumber salad
* Fish soup
* Hungarian pancakes (“palacsinta”)

Four sites I visit daily:

* Flickr
* Google
* Answers

Four places I would rather be right now:
(I’m actually quite happy right where I am, but here are some possible alternatives)

* In bed getting some sleep (did I mention it’s 4:30am??)
* the Alps (in Switzerland)
* Paris
* somewhere where it’s warm and sunny outside

Four bloggers I am tagging:

* Jeremy (of JFW)
* Barb
* Gina
* Rubberducke

Some others of you I’m not tagging, because my hope is that you’ll take this on even without being tagged. Basically, if you are reading this and have a blog, consider yourself tagged!

What were they thinking?

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

They weren’t. Or they certainly weren’t thinking about anybody else.

At 4:58am this morning I heard a very loud bang. Then I heard another. Then I heard a whole series of them. By the third I decided to get up. I saw small fireworks a few blocks away. Who decides to set off fireworks in the middle of a densely-populated residential area at 5am?!

Even more on Katrina

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

[Also posted on CT.]

I really appreciate Ted’s offer over at CT to motivate/thank people for donating to relief agencies. I encourage everyone to donate what they can. In case the suggested $100 is too much for some, I thought I’d offer an incentive/thank you for smaller donations. If you give $35 to the Katrina fund of a relief agency then I will send you (restricted to US addresses*, I’m afraid) a copy of my parents’ book Symmetry, a Unifying Concept. It’s a nice book filled with hundreds of wonderful pictures. I will also add a unique thank-you card not available in stores.:)

If you would like both a CD from Ted and the book then why not donate at least $135?

Send me a note at letting me know that you made the donation and when. Be sure to include your mailing address.

Offer ends when I run out of books. I’ll update this post when/if that happens.

*If you live outside the US and make a donation, I can send a book on your behalf to a US address you specify (gift for a friend?).

Craig’s List for Katrina victims

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

[Also posted on CT.]

Numerous people are turning to community site Craig’s List in an effort to find information about family and friends from the New Orleans area and also as a means to reach out to victims with offers of help. People from across the country are offering free housing. If you know of victims who left and are stranded in various parts of the country, the notices on the site may help them out. Of course, as with all such things, one needs to proceed with caution.

It’s sad to see, however, that even these sites are not immune to spam.

Calling all sofa and moving experts

Friday, August 19th, 2005

[Also posted on Crooked Timber.]

Super smart and super nice blogger Jeremy Freese is calling out to the blogosphere in a desperate plea to help him figure out how to get his sofa into his new place. Jeremy just moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and it turns out his beloved sofa won’t make it up the stairs into his new apartment. Even before his furniture arrived earlier this week he had already succeeded in finding wifi and keeping his blog readers updated regarding his move. Not having any furniture for a night didn’t pose any major challenges, but the sofa’s arrival yesterday meant the start of some real stress. It is still standing in the hallway its legs now only held up by the remaining three screws that won’t come off.

Anyone with suggestions on how to solve this puzzle, please leave a note on Jeremy’s blog.

I’m sure everyone has and knows of hellish moving experiences. One of the worst stories I recall concerns a friend gearing up for her last year in graduate school. The university’s housing office told her that they could not accomodate her any longer so she had to move. She packed up all her stuff and transferred everything to the new location. Unfortunately, it turned out that several items among her possessions would not fit through the doorway and hallway of her new apartment. In the end, the univ housing office let her back into her old apartment. But so why exactly was all that packing up necessary?

The winner of the most unfortunate move in my circles is my brother. He was in the midst of moving in between cities and spent a night in a motel. His truck in the parking lot got broken into overnight. The culprits managed to take all the really personal stuff that could never be replaced leaving the few things that were perhaps of any objective value (e.g. a computer). Go figure.

It seems that moving always entails some hellish experience, the question is more about the magnitude of the unfortunate events that will unfold.