August 26, 2009

Is Craigslist a mess?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:42 PM

There's a recent piece in Wired entitled, "Why Craigslist Is Such a Mess". The answer according to the article is that Craig Newmark is a pretty weird dude. But while it's an interesting profile, the real question about Craigslist isn't "why is it such a mess" but "why, given that it's a mess, is it so widely used?" And as the article mentions, people use it because (a) it's free, and (b) everyone else is using it, so it's the best place to find what you're looking for. But "Craigslist is widely used because it's widely used" isn't terribly satisfying as an answer.

What I really want to know is: how do people find anything at all on Craigslist? Because I just can't do it, but it certainly wouldn't be popular if everyone else was in the same position. And indeed, the comments on the Wired article are overwhelmingly people objecting to the title alone, protesting that Craigslist isn't a mess. So lots of people find it a useful tool.

Nevertheless, every time I've tried to use it (and I've looked at it at various times for apartments, job hunting, and dating) I've given up after encountering a spectacularly low signal-to-noise ratio. Because there's no cost to posting, and it lacks sophisticated filters, I end up with a huge and unmanageable stream of nearly-undifferentiated posts. And while there's something to be said for its free-form character, this seems to lead to listings that are either unhelpfully vague or hyper-specific.

So I feel like I'm doing it wrong. There must be some techniques out there to using Craigslist successfully (hopefully some Craigslist power users in the readership can tell me what they are). I have some guesses as to what might work:

  1. Liberal use of the search box. I always feel like my search terms narrow the field either too little or too much. But maybe a clever selection of search terms, applied in lots of variations, would improve things.
  2. Less reading, more skimming. Just because it doesn't filter for me doesn't mean I have to read every post. If I learn to recognize useless items and move on quickly, I could move much more quickly through the stream.
  3. Persistence. I know that some people read Craigslist painstakingly every day, looking for the perfect bargain. (From the Wired article, this seems well suited to Craig Newmark's style.) I don't have the patience for it, though, and I generally don't believe the perfect bargain exists. (Or rather, when they do appear they get snapped up immediately.)

Any other advice? Anyone else find Craigslist unusable?

April 6, 2009

Rise (and kneeling) of the machines

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:59 PM

Via Tyler Cowen, this looks like a good way to scam people who subscribe to a very odd theology:

Information Age Prayer is a site that charges you a monthly fee to say prayers for you. A typical charge is $4.95 per month to say three prayers specified by you each day.

"We use state of the art text to speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying," the company states. "Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen."

Prices, however, are dictated by the length of the prayer. As noted in the Information Age Prayer FAQ, "A discounted prayer will cost less than other prayers of similar length."

The scam is not that they don't provide any value: presumably they supply some kind of peace of mind to the sort of person who goes for this, although I'm not sure it's $4.95/mo worth of peace of mind. The actual potential for scamming here is there's no way of verifying that they've performed the promised service at all, short of visiting their physical location (if it even exists). Then again, verifiability is unlikely to be a dealbreaker for someone credulous enough to find this idea attractive. It seems to hinge on some unusual assumptions about prayer, specifically that it's a kind of magic spell that needs to be vocalized, but having a machine vocalize it is a valid alternative to doing it yourself. (On the other hand, to hear Fred Clark tell it, the notion of prayer-as-magic-spell is a prevalent feature in the bestselling Left Behind series, so maybe this isn't such an unusual assumption after all.)

Entertainingly, the Yahoo News article goes from reporting on this service to cataloging occurrences of praying robots in science fiction, naturally including the Cylon religion in the recent Battlestar Galactica. However, Information Age Prayer seems to be less akin to the frakkin' toasters than it is to, well, ordinary toasters.

January 29, 2009

Unfriends forever

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:14 PM

Today the New York Times, in its role as the paper of record, investigates one of the most pressing questions of this point in history: the etiquette of deleting people from your Facebook friends. This seems to be prompted by Burger King's recent promotion wherein the fast food chain invited Facebook users to remove ten friends in exchange for a free Whopper. Contrary to normal Facebook procedure, but better for spreading the promotion, the ex-friends would be notified that they had been dropped for 10% of a burger.

Personally, I thought this was awesome, and was halfway tempted to do it even though I had no interest in actually eating at Burger King. However, apparently the Whopper Sacrifice has been axed by Facebook, who seem intent on keeping the act of unfriending as silent as possible.

So the correct approach, apparently, is to quietly drop people from our lists and hope they don't notice. This works until it's brought to their attention by, say, a mutual acquaintance using the "suggest a friend" option. This actually happened to me (as the unfriendee, not the unfriender), although rather than being offended by the realization I just laughed at the fact that someone had made the suggestion—this was a case where it was pretty clear why I had been unfriended.

On the other hand, in some situations a message about the reason for the removal may be justified, and even helpful. This is the case for one of the best reasons for deletion: irritating status messages. These come in many forms: the all-caps shout with twelve exclamation marks; the incredibly pedestrian messages that get updated every five minutes; the message that gets reposted every day but is essentially the same. If you unfriend someone because of their status messages, be sure to tell them why so they might stop annoying the rest of their friends. I was impressed by the person in the Times article who said this:

"I believe it was based on a passive-aggressive update of yours to which I sighed, kinda shook my head and pressed 'delete from friends,' " she confessed by e-mail. "I find negativity a bit tiresome and don't have the patience for it."

This is excellent and we should all follow her example. In fact, there should be a "delete from friends" button next to every status message so that the option is readily available. This might even make people think twice before posting something lame. As they say, an armed society is a polite society.

Wait, no, this is the internet. Here, an armed society is the Hobbesian war of all against all. Maybe Facebook's quiet deletion policy really is for the best...

Permalink | Tags: Culture, Internet

January 22, 2009

Internet ads are annoying

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:21 PM

Internet ads are always annoying, of course, but some ads are more annoying than others. I hardly notice the Google text ads to the right of my e-mail, but I've had to restrain myself from putting a fist through the monitor when those Circuit City flash ads spawn directly on top of the page I'm trying to read. Happily, they went bankrupt, and it serves them right.

One of the webcomics I read had an ad running for a while (for another webcomic) that was so visually irritating that I seriously considered buying up the ad space to displace it. Since the space in question was managed by the Project Wonderful service, the cost of doing this was displayed right below the ad, and seemed like a completely reasonable amount to pay to clean up the page.

This strategy would require rather more funding to take on the current plague of the Internet: the ads for the "one rule to a flat stomach" diet. While these started out as innocuous Google text ads themselves, remarkable only for their questionable grammatical choices, the initial campaign must have been successful: I think sometime last week they succeeded in buying up every ad space on the Internet. (Since then they've scaled back to only about half of all the ads I see.) Too bad they didn't use some of their advertising money to hire an actual marketing firm; instead the ads remain amateurish and off-putting, mostly consisting of shoving large, grainy pictures of exposed stomachs into our faces.

The usual impact of these ads is for me to navigate away from the page as fast as possible. But a better strategy might be to actually click on the ad. After all, charging for click-throughs is a pretty common pricing scheme in internet advertising, and since I'm not actually going to buy whatever snake oil these people are selling, every click from me is a small loss for them. It's even tempting to write a script to repeatedly hit their ads, but it seems like this could get me in trouble. My best hope is that nobody buys their product in the middle of a recession, and their advertising binge sends them the way of Circuit City, but unfortunately I suspect the insatiable demand for miracle diets will keep them in business for a while.

So I guess I have no choice but to endure it, and spend my time contemplating which of their ads is the most appalling. Is it the one with the badly-animated jiggling flab? Or the one which shows a normal, healthy woman in the "before" picture who then looks like a famine victim in the "after"? It's a tough choice.

Permalink | Tags: Internet

February 11, 2008

The Yahoo/Microsoft thing

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:04 PM

So, Yahoo rejected Microsoft's buyout offer, but it is apparently still likely that Microsoft will devour Yahoo in the end. This raises several interesting questions, such as: How much is Yahoo really worth? Will a combined Microsoft/Yahoo be an anticompetitive force on the internet, as Google alleges? Or can we expect this to spur a new round of increased competition with Google, leading to new and better services from both sides?

Regarding these questions, I have no idea and can say very little. I'm more concerned about the one Yahoo service I actually use, Flickr, being assimilated into the Microsoft collective. I've always liked Flickr's clean and simple page layout, and would rather not see it turn into MSN Flickr with a look more like this. Hopefully Microsoft will do what Yahoo did when they bought it and leave Flickr with some independence.

Actually, I use a second Yahoo service: It's true that I almost never posted there since I opened the account, but last week I revived it, and I'm contemplating cross-posting those links to the main blog. (More on this later.) However, has always been ugly, but at least it's ugly in an uncluttered way, which is basically the opposite of Microsoft Ugly.

Anyway, here's hoping Microsoft takes a hands-off approach to Yahoo's Web 2.0 acquisitions.

Permalink | Tags: Business, Internet

June 25, 2007

Proxy class warfare: Facebook vs. MySpace

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:01 PM

This essay about the class division underlying the Facebook/MySpace divide has been linked all over. The basic claim is this:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, "burnouts," "alternative kids," "art fags," punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

I'm on both networks but it's not obvious to me whether this is true, since I'm outside of the relevant demographic—I just don't know that many teenagers online or off. There is a clear divide between which of my friends are on which network, but it's much more due to their different origins: for the most part, my friends who are still in academia are on Facebook, and the rest are on MySpace.

Since I joined Facebook roughly a year ago (I was already on MySpace) I've considered it to have a couple of clear advantages. One is that from a design standpoint it's vastly superior: it's much easier to navigate, and easier to keep track of developments in one's social network. (I'm one who really likes the News Feed.) Meanwhile it takes loading two or three pages to do anything on MySpace, and that's assuming the user doesn't just encounter a random error in the process.

The second point in favor of Facebook is the fact that it doesn't make my eyes bleed when I read it. The visual layout is clean and simple, in direct contrast to the garish hideousness of MySpace, even before users take the opportunity to crowd their profiles with so many animated GIFs that they induce seizures. I invite you to go to just the front page of MySpace, where an advertisement for the Bratz movie has apparently been loaded into a shotgun and fired at the background.

But, as the essay points out, this preference just reveals my bourgeoise values:

Most teens who exclusively use Facebook are familiar with and have an opinion about MySpace. These teens are very aware of MySpace and they often have a negative opinion about it. They see it as gaudy, immature, and "so middle school." They prefer the "clean" look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is "so lame." What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be labeled as "glitzy" or "bling" or "fly" (or what my generation would call "phat") by subaltern teens. Terms like "bling" come out of hip-hop culture where showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued. The look and feel of MySpace resonates far better with subaltern communities than it does with the upwardly mobile hegemonic teens. This is even clear in the blogosphere where people talk about how gauche MySpace is while commending Facebook on its aesthetics. I'm sure that a visual analyst would be able to explain how classed aesthetics are, but aesthetics are more than simply the "eye of the beholder" - they are culturally narrated and replicated. That "clean" or "modern" look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I'm drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace and Facebook.

The author has a point here. What I'm praising Facebook for above is essentially enforcing its users to follow a conformist, generic white-bread design template, resulting in exactly the blandness one would expect. Pottery Barn, indeed. No wonder the more artistic types prefer MySpace. Now if only its interface weren't such a trainwreck...

Permalink | Tags: Internet

June 4, 2007

Blogroll pruning

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:49 PM

I recently cut down on the number of blogs I subscribe to in order since I wasn't able to keep up with all of them. This required me to remove a number of very good blogs that I simply didn't have time to read. In some cases I am relying on the fact that good posts from certain prolific bloggers will be linked by other blogs that I do read. Anyway, I've updated my blogroll to reflect what I'm actually reading now.

One addition to the blogroll is Zifnab's new blog Labyrinth.

I also removed the media links on the sidebar since I haven't been updating them.

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Website

April 9, 2007

Spring RSS Cleaning

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:14 PM

My first act of spring cleaning was to declare RSS bankruptcy (mark everything in Google Reader as read and start fresh), and then remove the subscriptions to blogs I hadn't checked on in the last month or so (roughly since the March Meeting). As a result my RSS throughput has been substantially reduced and I probably have room to add some new blogs. Anything I should be reading?

Second act of spring cleaning will be the e-mail inbox. Actual physical cleaning of things may have to wait until after my qualifying exam (two weeks from tomorrow...)

Permalink | Tags: Internet

March 20, 2007

Gunnerkrigg Court

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:12 PM

During a bout of bored web-surfing, I followed a guest-artist link from Dr. McNinja to Gunnerkrigg Court, where my boredom rapidly evaporated. By somewhere in Chapter 2 I had already decided to blog a recommendation for this webcomic. By the time I finished reading the archives, in one enthralled sitting, it was pretty much my favorite thing on the internet.

The genre is British boarding-school fantasy, but Neil Gaiman is a better point of comparison than J.K. Rowling. (In fact, Gaiman himself has also recommended Gunnerkrigg on his blog.) It's a wonderful exploration of the interface between myths/magic and science/technology. Start at the beginning—it's not a joke-a-day webcomic but an online graphic novel with an ongoing story.

Permalink | Tags: Comics, Internet

February 23, 2007

The brilliant unintentional comedy of Conservapedia

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:01 PM

I don't normally go reading crackpot right-wing sites for my own amusement, but Conservapedia is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. In fact, I'd be certain it's a parody if not for Andrew Schlafly's presence as a major editor. As the name suggests, Conservapedia is supposed to be a "fair and balanced" (in the Fox News sense) alternative to Wikipedia, which apparently suffers from liberal bias. The editors of Conservapedia have helpfully (and hilariously) listed their grievances against Wikipedia, which include such major offenses as:

1. Wikipedia allows the use of B.C.E. instead of B.C. and C.E. instead of A.D. The dates are based on the birth of Jesus, so why pretend otherwise? Conservapedia is Christian-friendly and exposes the CE deception.

5. Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English speaking users are American. Look up "Most Favored Nation" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts the spelling to the British spelling "Most Favoured Nation", even there there are far more American than British users. Look up "Division of labor" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts to the British spelling "Division of labour," then insists on the British spelling for "specialization" also.[3]. Enter "Hapsburg" (the European ruling family) and Wikipedia automatically changes the spelling to Habsburg, even though the American spelling has always been "Hapsburg". Within entries British spellings appear in the silliest of places, even when the topic is American. Conservapedia favors American spellings of words.

Now, this project is still fairly new so one doesn't expect to find extended entries on many topics. Nonetheless I was disappointed to find that many entries are... well, "half-assed" doesn't quite describe it. It's more like 1%-assed. A lot of entries consist of a single sentence lifted from an appropriately slanted textbook (sample title: Exploring Creation With Biology). (I want to mention that I hit the "random page" button once to find that example.) And a lot of the more likely fodder for entertainment (such as the entry for evolution) has already been edited by visiting liberals in an attempt to either correct or parody, either of which makes it less funny. Nevertheless, the best examples of teh crazy occur where you don't expect: these guys object not just to evolution but to relativity, and there are some other gems as well. (I'm linking to people who have quoted them, since the original entries have probably changed by now.) I recommend just clicking random pages until you find something good.

Although the temptation to troll the site is immense, I have to agree with those who say we liberals should leave it alone and see what develops. The intra-wingnut edit wars alone should be worth it.

Permalink | Tags: Evolution, Internet, Psychoceramics, Science

February 8, 2007

Missed opportunities

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:38 PM

Via Dave Bacon, venture capital firm OVP has an amusing list of deals missed. For instance:

A guy walks into your office in the late 1980’s and says he wants to open a chain of retail shops selling a commodity product you can get anywhere for 25 cents, but he will charge 2 dollars. Of course, you listen politely, and then fall off your chair laughing when he leaves. Howard Shultz didn’t see this as humorous. And we didn’t make 500 times our money.

"Not investing in Starbucks in 1986" should go into the regret index...

Permalink | Tags: Internet

January 26, 2007

Six Degrees of Wikipedia

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:38 PM

I assume that someone somewhere has done this before, but in lab today we were inspired to play this game by a recent xkcd comic. The rules:

  1. Go to Wikipedia.
  2. Click the random article link in the sidebar.
  3. Open a second random article in another tab.
  4. Try to find a chain of links (as short as possible) starting from the first article that leads to the second.

I drew Eastern Region of British Railways and Packed bed, which I connected through:
  1. Eastern Region of British Railways
  2. British Rail
  3. History of rail transport in Great Britain
  4. Steam locomotive
  5. Fire-tube boiler
  6. Smokestack
  7. Flue gas desulfurization (this article mentions packed beds but doesn't link to the page)
  8. Wet scrubbing
  9. Packed bed absorber

If you try it, post any interesting results in the comments!

Permalink | Tags: Internet

January 4, 2007

RSS bankruptcy

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:57 AM

With uncounted hundreds of unread posts stacked up in Google Reader after my vacation, I am declaring RSS bankruptcy. After catching up on a few essential blogs, I just clicked "Mark all as read" and started fresh. If there's something brilliant I might have missed, let me know.

Permalink | Tags: Internet

December 17, 2006

Will it blend?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:58 PM

In what Majikthise aptly terms the "greatest online advertising campaign in the history of the internet," BlendTec advertises their blenders by posting videos of blending inappropriate objects, such as hockey pucks, or a rake handle, or an iPod.

Permalink | Tags: Internet

December 12, 2006

On seeing the 100% perfect t-shirt

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:23 PM

I was reading wigu when something improbable happened: I actually noticed a banner ad. (My brain's banner ad filter has been extremely good since about 1997.) It was an ad for t-shirt shop Seibei, and the reason I noticed it is that it had a list of topics which included "Murakami". Of course this was Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite writers (as opposed to pulp novelist Ryu Murakami). Sadly, the shirt in question doesn't appeal to me—I guess I'm not that fond of sandwiches.

The shirt is a reference to the (very) short story, "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning", which can be found online and which you should all read. It can also be found in the collection The Elephant Vanishes. He's got a new collection of short stories out, which I haven't picked up yet (because it's still in hardcover), but I'm looking forward to it.

There was an interview with Murakami recently in the Wall Street Journal (via JSpur), but I'm pretty sure it's behind their subscription wall so I can't link to it.

In conclusion, better Murakami t-shirts are needed.

UPDATE: Here's the WSJ piece, thanks again to JSpur.

Permalink | Tags: Books, Internet

December 7, 2006

Penny Stock Spam: Who falls for this?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:43 PM

The New York Times had an article yesterday about the recent surge in spam volume (which I'd definitely noticed, although Gmail and Thunderbird catch almost all of it). The article reports that the most profitable form of spam is penny stock advertisements:

Many of the messages in the latest spam wave promote penny stocks — part of a scheme that antispam researchers call the “pump and dump.” Spammers buy the inexpensive stock of an obscure company and send out messages hyping it. They sell their shares when the gullible masses respond and snap up the stock. No links to Web sites are needed in the messages.

Though the scam sounds obvious, a joint study by researchers at Purdue University and Oxford University this summer found that spam stock cons work. Enough recipients buy the stock that spammers can make a 5 percent to 6 percent return in two days, the study concluded.

I get lots of these messages myself, so this must be correct. But still: I know there's a lot of stupidity in the world, but who are these people dumb enough to actually buy stocks based on e-mail recommendations from strangers? And how are they able to tie their own shoes? Could anything be more obviously a scam?

Permalink | Tags: Internet

November 13, 2006

Library Anticorrelations

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:47 PM

Like the opposite of Amazon book recommendations, LibraryThing's UnSuggester lists books that are unlikely to be found in the same library as a given title. I entered one of my favorite books, Haruki Murakami's masterpiece of surrealist fiction The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and was amused to get a list of mostly Christian devotional books. It's not that Wind-Up Bird is anti-religious in any way, so I imagine it's a result of demographics more than anything else. (Via Unfogged.) should do a version of this for music.

Permalink | Tags: Books, Culture, Internet

September 2, 2006

Cassette generator

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:38 PM

Via Boing Boing, a website to generate images of custom-labeled audiocassettes. I am totally going to use this for the cover art on a mix CD.

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Music, Technology

August 31, 2006

Yo La Tengo and Hold Steady collecting videos

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:48 PM

Two of my favorite bands are requesting videos from fans: Yo La Tengo simply want a reading of their upcoming album's title, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. The Hold Steady have more open-ended instructions: "We want to you know about what you think about the opposite sex, relationships, love, the whole shebang." They're both posting submitted videos on their respective sites.

Video's not really my preferred medium, so I won't contribute to either unless I get really inspired, but I like the concept. The YLT album comes out on September 12, and Hold Steady's on October 3.

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Music

August 27, 2006

Easier than actual socializing

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:22 PM

I am apparently a sucker for social networking sites—I'm now on Facebook. Previously I've joined MySpace and Orkut, although I don't use the latter much anymore.

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Life

August 22, 2006

MetaFilter Half-Life

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:03 PM

My post about the liquid nitrogen incident drew a few links from other blogs, with a majority of hits coming from MetaFilter. This was great fodder for my obsession with site statistics, and the MeFi-driven traffic spike was especially interesting: it looks just like an excitation process in physics, with a saturation region that lasted about half an hour and then an exponential decay with about a 90 minute half-life.

There was a long tail that remained after many time constants; I suspect there are a couple different populations of MeFi readers, one that visits the site about once an hour and another that visits much less often, maybe once a day.

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Website

July 12, 2006

Life is random

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:13 PM

When I started using Google Reader I complained about the way it mixes all the feed items from different blogs into one column. But as I used it for a while I realized that this has certain advantages, and the perfect metaphor occurred to me: it's like listening to music on shuffle!

Not all of my feeds are blogs, and it's a little weird to have the Physical Review Letters feed mixed in with a bunch of political commentary. But in fact I never used to read the PRL feed at all (even though I was checking it in my aggregator) because it would update in batches of 30 abstracts, 29 of which would be uninteresting to me. But when it's mixed in with everything else I can scan each item as it comes up and star it if it looks worthwhile (like the singing sand paper I posted about). Likewise, Overheard In New York is actually much better when it's shuffled in with the other blog items, rather than reading 20 quotes at once. So I've come around to this style of reading blogs.

Permalink | Tags: Internet

June 23, 2006

Google Reader test drive

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:43 PM

I'm trying out Google Reader after having used Sage for a while now. I like reading blogs by RSS but I have a strict list of requirements for an RSS reader:

  1. It must run in Firefox.

That's it. I've tried some standalone programs but I hate switching windows every time I want to read a full post. So for a while it was Sage, which is a Firefox extension that sits in the sidebar, but Sage has some weird idiosyncracies and annoyances, like occasionally forgetting to check feeds until the cache is cleared (especially BoingBoing's for some reason) or misinterpreting links so that they go to the local hard drive instead of the appropriate web server. At least the Export OPML feature worked, making the switch to Google Reader nearly instantaneous.

I tend to read blogs from different computers depending on whether I am at home or in the lab, so it's actually extremely useful to have a single aggregator I can access from both places. I didn't realize how valuable this was until I tried it. (Bloglines would be the other obvious choice for this, and I'd be curious to know how it compares with Google Reader.) The major downside to this approach is having to wait on the aggregator site to query feeds, as opposed to being able to query them directly and get immediate updates.

A minor complaint about Google Reader: The interface, while clean and simple, is difficult to scan for interesting items. All posts are mixed into one column regardless of their source, while most readers I've used in the past separate them by blog. When I have a lot of updates to read (usually in the morning, since the east coast bloggers have been going for three hours), I'm used to clicking on the blogs I'm most interested in first as a way of sorting through the large quantity of updates. Presumably I could do something with labels to separate out the top tier of blogs I read, but it still feels weird. On the other hand, Google Reader does show the post author prominently—Sage would not display this at all, which was immensely confusing for certain group blogs. (Sometimes I would make a game of guessing which blogger had posted each post.)

A side effect of the switch is that my self-imposed limit on RSS subscriptions has been removed. I used to control my blog reading by not adding so many items that I needed to scroll in the Sage pane to see them all, so the number of blogs I kept up with was limited by the size of my Firefox window. Now my subscription list isn't visible, so I can just keep adding feeds without encountering any psychological barrier (until I wake up Monday morning to 500 unread posts).

Anyway, I think I'll continue using Google Reader for a while, and see how it goes.

Permalink | Tags: Internet

June 19, 2006

Quantum wiki

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:44 PM

Via Mason, some guys at Caltech have set up a quantum information wiki intended for the research community. I added a page for myself, a stub page for the Clarke group, and updated their list of blogs to include this page and Mixed States. At the moment there's not much there from the solid state angle, so I may be back to contribute a bit more.

Permalink | Tags: Caltech, Internet, Physics, Quantum Information, Science

May 24, 2006

BSL, a blogge most scholarlye and literarye!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:57 PM

I can't believe I haven't linked Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog yet. This is definitely the funniest Middle English blog out there. In a recent post, he rewrites the opening of The Da Vinci Code in the style of the Canterbury Tales. An excerpt:

So Sauyniere lyk Sinon storye tolde
False as the devil, and seyde yt forth ful bolde
For he hadde yt rehersd many a yeer
(Ye notice, o myn gentil rederes deere,
Ich telle yow nat of what thys ‘thyng’ might be-
Yt ys a tricke poetic vsid by me
To kepe yow yn confusioun most plesynge
Thurgh alle thys vague and nonspecific tesyng).

It's quite an improvement over Dan Brown's writing. For further reading, the best post ever on that blog is the one where he writes a rough outline for the Canterbury Tales. (Those of you who read Making Light have already seen all this.)

Permalink | Tags: Books, Culture, History, Internet

March 20, 2006

Spammers Destroy Trackback

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:42 PM

I turned off trackbacks a while ago due to spam, and I see that two blogs much larger than mine (Marginal Revolution and Brad DeLong, both on my list of daily reads) have done the same. Indeed, looking in my server logs I see that there has been a massive, distributed trackback spam attack underway since last Monday—presumably this is also what's hitting the other blogs. There's no way I could have policed this last week, in Baltimore with my computer broken, so I feel vindicated in closing off trackbacks several months ago.

Making Light has a way to prevent individual links from contributing to the Google pagerank of the linked site; this will indeed make this kind of spam pointless, but I don't think it will act as a deterrent. It's basically free to post trackback spam and I doubt any spammer will bother to check which sites are tagging links with the "nofollow" attribute. Certainly they haven't noticed that I don't even have trackbacks anymore.

Ultimately the result will be the complete abandonment of the trackback protocol, as we are seeing already. I hope this won't also happen with blog comments, but since the value added to the blog is much higher for comments it's more worthwhile to police them for spam rather than close them entirely.

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Website

January 18, 2006

Against my better judgement

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:27 PM

I'm trying the social networking thing again, this time on MySpace. My profile is here. I hear this is a good way to find new music, although I also hear that they have sold out to The Man (aka Rupert Murdoch). Regardless, as far as I know only one of my friends is on this thing, so let me know if you have a profile so I can add you.

Permalink | Tags: Internet

December 7, 2005

Sing along, you know the words [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:42 PM

This is brilliant: Now That's What I Call Blogging! Some of these have been heard on occasion around here...

My body may be rebelling against my intent to make it run 26 miles this weekend. I can only assume this is why I seem to be contracting a cold at this precise moment. Anyway, I'll be traveling this weekend since the race is in Dallas. Then I go back to Berkeley for about ten days and then back to Dallas again, followed by Connecticut. Maybe I should throw in a visit to Pasadena?

Spoon: Gimme Fiction: I kept hearing "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine" on internet radio, and liked it better each time, so I finally bought the album. Pretty straightforward and well-executed indie rock; "They Never Got You" is another excellent track. I hear their older stuff is good too, so I should look into that. (The clerk at Amoeba recommended Kill the Moonlight.)

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Music, Open Thread, Travel

November 27, 2005

Useful Physics Aggregators

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:34 PM

Those of you who come here for the physics blogging (which has been somewhat absent of late) may be interested in a couple of links I found recently, via referrals and Technorati:

Mixed States aggregates the RSS feeds of a number of physics blogs (including this one). Since the included bloggers are listed by their real name, it's a nice way to see who else in the community is blogging (although I didn't recognize any names that I knew from physics rather than from reading blogs).

Coherence * is a blog reviewing work in superconducting quantum computing, something that should be useful to me professionally (perhaps more so than the cond-mat RSS feed, which is high volume and a bit tough to sort by topic). Above their blogroll they list professors working in the field, including former Clarke group member and current collaborator Britton Plourde, but strangely not John Clarke himself. (However, there are at least four of John's former students/postdocs there, among other familiar names.)

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Physics, Quantum Information, Science

November 15, 2005

Fish, Barrel, etc.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:13 PM

This link is of course mean, cruel, and shallow, not to mention that it takes aim at some extremely easy targets. But when I was feeling frustrated by my experiment today, it's amazing how much my spirits were lifted by The First Annual MySpace Stupid Haircut Awards. (Via memepool.)

Permalink | Tags: Culture, Internet, Randomness

October 14, 2005

The (imagined?) perils of academic blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:10 PM

There's been a bunch of commentary among academic bloggers about whether blogging hurts one's chances of getting tenure. (For example: Sean Carroll, Chad Orzel, PZ Myers.)

Tenure considerations are still many years off for me, but I will admit to having similar worries with regard to the process of landing a tenure-track job in the first place. The job market in physics is very tight, and I hear from people going through the process that candidates are scrutinized very closely. Physics postdocs are expected to devote pretty much all their time to research, and in that regard my having a blog might be interpreted as insufficient dedication (or something). Maybe that's irrational but this is how the worry goes.

Of course, this too is a long way off for me—probably four to six years. Four to six years ago, hardly anyone knew what a blog was, so the culture may be very different by that time. If I wanted to play it safe, I could close the public blog when I graduate (which itself is probably two years off) and if I wanted to continue blogging, do so at some other site under a pseudonym. (The blog will have to relocate in any case, assuming I leave Berkeley.) The disadvantage of this is that I wouldn't be able to talk about my research in any detail without the risk that someone would recognize me.

Most likely I'll just keep on blogging as normal; it's too much fun and a job that frowns on it is probably a job I don't want anyway.

Permalink | Tags: Academia, Internet

October 8, 2005

The blogs, they are multiplying

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:24 PM

Regular readers will not be surprised to know that Mason has posted more comments here than anyone else (well, besides me), and his habit of saying exactly what he's thinking has inspired some excellent discussions as well as potshots from anonymous visitors. So I'm pleased to add Mason's new blog, Quantum Chaotic Thoughts, to my blogroll. I for one am looking forward not only to his posts but to the anonymous responses he garners.

However, I do think he should have used a well-known anagram of his name in the blog URL. He'd probably get more hits that way, too.

Permalink | Tags: Internet

September 29, 2005

Arcane Gazebo goes mobile, thanks to Google

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:47 PM

If you have a mobile phone with a browser, you may know that Google will translate your search results into mobile-readable WML. I discovered yesterday that they've improved this service, adding text formatting and form capability. This relieves me of the need to put together a WML version of this blog.

How to read Arcane Gazebo on a WML-capable mobile phone: Go to and search for arcane gazebo. Follow the link on the first result. It actually looks pretty good (on my Motorola V551), blockquotes and italics are preserved, and posting comments should work (I haven't tried it yet myself).

Permalink | Tags: Internet, Technology

September 2, 2005

Blogging by proxy

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:42 PM

I had this collection of things I was going to post today, and then I realized that Making Light already had them all. So just go there and read down the page. In particular, the map of disaster-prone areas in the US, and George W. Bush's impossibly tasteless jokes about Trent Lott's house. (Will people finally realize that he's neither a "good Christian" or a "guy you'd like to have a beer with", but a fucking aristocrat in the grand Louis XVI style?)

Permalink | Tags: George W. Bush, Internet, Politics

August 30, 2005

Hurricane relief info

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:52 PM

For a more rational and compassionate response to the hurricane than the one in the previous post, see this list of relief organizations.

I just discovered that my three months living in Britain no longer disqualify me from giving blood, so I'm going to see about making a donation soon.

Permalink | Tags: Internet

August 23, 2005

Notes on Spam

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:10 PM

1. What kind of comment spammer only posts links to Google? Someone was seriously posting these all over some recent threads this morning. Testing out new spamming software maybe? I'm mystified.

2. Even my UC Berkeley spam is now advertising Texas Hold 'em. Next they'll be trying to sell me herbal viagra.

3. I worry about the search engine traffic I'm going to get once Google indexes this post.

Permalink | Tags: Internet, UC Berkeley

August 17, 2005

Outsourced Astroturf Blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:25 PM

Via Marginal Revolution, this is either a well-done hoax, or an earnest attempt to start a business selling blog posts which are outsourced to China. In their own words,

Our general business model is a two tiered effort to hire Chinese citizens to write blogs en masse for us at a valued wage. The first tier is to create original blogs. These blogs will pop up in various areas of the net and appear to the unknowing reader to be written by your standard American. Our short term goal for these original blogs is to generate a steady stream of revenue through traditional blog advertising like google adwords. We estimate that our current blogforce of 25 can support around 500 unrelated blogs. Hopefully a few of those will be hits. The long term goal is to generate a large untraceable astroturfing mechanism for launching of various products. When a vendor needs to promote a new product to the internet demographic we will be able to create a believable buzz across hundreds of ‘reputable’ blogs and countless message boards. We can offer a legitimacy to advertisers that doesen’t exist anywhere else.

This is hilarious enough, but there's lots more comedy gold to be mined from that site. This post, for example (all emphasis mine):
On the blog creation front I have been working hard trying to help Jeff make our product more believable. Our initial results have been a little bit below what we expected. To increase our authenticity we are trying to isolate and remedy problem groups. Our design process centers around 3 general groups. They are:

1. Teenage girls
2. Normal Bloggers (yuppies, moms, average college students)
3. Super Bloggers (bipolars, cynics, liberals, outcasts, super-hip)


The biggest problem spot right now is Group 3. Group 3 is the most difficult to reach through traditional media so it has the potential to be our biggest astroturfing area. To create convincing Group 3 product we need to have extensive faux-archives (to give the illusion of a faithfully updated blog) and we need to drop a lot of obscure pop-culture references. The key to good Group 3 is to spend 80% being negative about certain areas of culture and 15% excessively positive. The last 5% should be used for self-loathing because the blogger likes certain ‘un-hip’ culture. Currently I am trying to isolate some popular music to provide to our bloggers for source material. Right now I have:

Group 3 Music Source Material:

Insult: Coldplay, John Mayer, Neptunes, American Idol-related bands, Good Charlotte

Praise: Neutral Milk Hotel, Handsome Boy Modeling School, The Kleptones, Gwen Stefani

Anyway, regular blog readers for the most part already have the ability to filter out crap and find the quality sites among the millions of existing blogs, so (if this isn't a joke) I'm not too worried that this will reduce the signal/noise ratio. Besides, they've got a long way to go if they're putting Gwen Stefani in the wrong column. (Or maybe they've found a client already...)

Permalink | Tags: Internet

August 16, 2005

The senator I don't like to talk about

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:57 AM

I meant to post this yesterday, but somehow it slipped my mind. Anyway, I've often posted kind words for California's excellent junior senator. However, I rarely mention our other senator, Dianne Feinstein. Generally she just doesn't get my attention as often as Boxer, but when she does I get the impression that... she kind of sucks. It was a post on Eschaton that brought this to mind:

Andrew Raisiej, who's running for New York City Public Advocate, writes about a response he recieved when he gave a technology presentation to the Senate Democratic Caucus:
First Senator Dianne Feinstein raised her hand and said, "Senator Daschle, the Internet is full of pornography and pedophilia, and until that's clean up, I don't think the Senate should be on the Internet." (And she represents Silicon Valley!)

After banging my head on the desk, I wondered what the chances are we could get a primary challenger. Probably not so good. Sigh...

Permalink | Tags: California, Democrats, Internet, Politics, Senate

Shrillblog returns, shambling and oozing.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:37 AM

Brad DeLong, using dark and forbidden magicks, has singlehandedly resurrected the Shrillblog, which hosts the best Lovecraftian political commentary on the internets. I promptly failed a sanity roll, took a point in Cthulhu Mythos, and bookmarked its RSS feed.

Permalink | Tags: Bush Administration, Cthulhu, Internet, Politics

August 11, 2005

Newly Bookmarked

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:03 PM

My friend Lemming, who once guest blogged here, has started his own blog: /dev/shm. Lemming's perspective is always unique and entertaining, so I encourage everyone to check it out. And I'm not saying that just because he can blackmail me with embarrassing stories from my college years.

Now, do I put it on the blogroll under "d" or under "/"?

Permalink | Tags: Internet