Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from November 2003

Busted by search engines 3: Imperfect data

November 30th, 2003 · 4 Comments

Richard of JustAGwailo and Jay at MakeOutCity take issue with my claim that search engines make us smarter. The Internet, they point out, is full of false information that claims to be true.

I completely agree. So, if I don’t believe “the truth is out there,” how can I claim that search engines make us smarter?

One of the great insights of the nineteenth century was the power of numerical data–statistics–to answer questions that once were unanswerable. Statistical questions don’t require “perfect” or infallible data–so long as you can estimate what kinds of errors are likely to arise. Results you can count and numbers you can compare–search engines are great at finding just such answers.

Questions you can’t answer with search engine data: Why are we here? Who wrote Shakespeare’s sonnets? Can anonymous spammers make my package bigger?
Question you can answer with search engine data: Who gets more play in online news media–Dean or Kerry? (Last week–Kerry. Rick Heller found he was mentioned almost twice as often as Dean..)

Search engines can also make us smarter by introducing us to websites we wouldn’t otherwise find.

Another smart way I’d love to see Rick Heller using Feedster is for ongoing comparison of candidate weblogs. How much substantive policy talk, how much fundraising talk, how much negative chatter about opponents went on in each weblog this week? Wouldn’t this be a great way to promote a more positive campaign?

So, when I say search engines can make people smarter, I don’t mean that they can answer every question or turn the internet into a perfect place. I just mean that they can help us solve problems, some of them important, that would be very much harder to solve without them.

Tags: Feedster

Busted by search engines 2: Rhetorical questions

November 29th, 2003 · 2 Comments

“Would Mr. Updike [who described a fictional someone as ‘a rich Jew’] describe someone as ‘a rich Catholic’ or ‘a rich Protestant’?”

New York Observer, Nov 26, 2003.

Rhetorical questions don’t really seek information. They assume that nobody can really give an answer–they strongly suggest that we know what the answer would be.

“Happily,” (to quote Timothy Noah’s Slate chatterbox column) “we live in an age when this sort of accusation can be subjected to empirical analysis.”

Noah used the appropriate search engine–in this case, Amazon’s new search-inside-the-book rather than Feedster–to answer the Observer’s no-longer-unanswerable question.

  • Noah found no example of Updike’s using “rich Protestant” or “rich Catholic.”
  • Noah found several places where Updike refered to characters as “rich” in paragraphs that gave their religious affiliation as “Catholic” (twice) and “Presbyterian” (once)
  • Noah found many examples of other writers using the phrase “rich Jew” as if it had no antisemitic intent.

My point here is not that I like Updike’s wording myself. “Jew” makes me uncomfortable in a way that hearing “Catholic” or “Presbyterian” used as a noun would not–no matter who sticks what adjectives nearby. (My own background? NH-folksinging-Catholic.)

My point is that rhetorical questions get used to ratchet up conflict with nasty but thinly disguised accusations.*

I don’t like to see my opponents use dirty tricks–I like even less to see dirty tricks being used by folks on my side.

This is one more way search engines make all of us smarter.

* A second example from the Observer piece: “Is The New Yorker implicitly endorsing anti-Semitism in its pages?”

Tags: Feedster

Worth reading

November 28th, 2003 · Comments Off on Worth reading

Tags: Invisible primary

Comment on post 857

November 27th, 2003 · 2 Comments

A great post to read early on Thanksgiving morning (west coast time) – being in the midst of a huge kitchen remodel which is running months late, we’re not hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in like twenty years, instead doing it at my parents house. Reading your post made me smile and relax – thanks, and have a great holiday weekend!

Tags: Old Site

To be thankful for…

November 27th, 2003 · Comments Off on To be thankful for…

I am so thankful Thanksgiving is finally here. In just a few hours, family and friends will be here–all of them people I’m longing to see.

Right now, I’m thankful that my ambitions for today have been squished by the pressure of time back to finite reality. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t go back to the grocery store for just-one-more thing. (How many times did I go back yesterday?) Do I have time to….

  • …clean the whole house before everyone shows up? No.
  • ….cut up raw vegetables. Yes, plenty of time for that, nothing to worry about.
  • ….lose 10 lbs before everyone gets here? No.
  • ….write a blog entry? No. But I’m doing it anyway.

All over the US, fervent prayers are rising from every kitchen. Oh, Lord, you know I don’t know how to cook this ugly bird. By your mighty power, keep the breast meat from drying out while ensuring that the rest of it gets cooked. In your infinite kindness, don’t send me more than two people this year who always, always, and only want a drumstick. And please, by your merciful aid, don’t let any parts of it burn and stink up my kitchen.

In my kitchen, prayers get even more complex. Of course I have turkey–what do I look like, a furriner? But it’s not the main event for most of the family.

Frank won’t eat meat, though he’s very fond of fish. Kevin hates fish–thank goodness he does like turkey. Mira won’t eat meat or fish, but she is looking forward to my big vegetable pot pie and the green olives stuffed with feta cheese she said she wanted and I found for her. Zoe is vegan–I’ve got lots of veggies and something beany, for her. I can’t serve anything with eggs in it, by the way–not unless I want to watch Father V taken away in an ambulance–he’s terribly, terribly allergic to eggs.

So I’m a bit hassled right now. (Stop blogging, Betsy!) But I’m also thankful. Thankful the day is here at last. Thankful my life includes people I love enough to fuss over like this. Thankful for the super-special people who show up way early to help.

And aren’t you thankful you don’t have my family to cook for?

Postscript: A couple of people left Thanksgiving morning comments–I don’t know why the software decided to hide them. Maybe the tech gods were running around their own kitchens? Anyway, I copied and pasted them here. Betsy

From Oren Sreebny: “A great post to read early on Thanksgiving morning (west coast time) – being in the midst of a huge kitchen remodel which is running months late, we’re not hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in like twenty years, instead doing it at my parents house. Reading your post made me smile and relax – thanks, and have a great holiday weekend!”

From marcum: “I did not have time to blog either. Lol.”

Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

“Conventional wisdom”: Busted by search engines!

November 26th, 2003 · Comments Off on “Conventional wisdom”: Busted by search engines!

Rick Heller over at Blogging of the President used Feedster search to track the number of times each candidate got mentioned.*
In the comments on Rick’s post, arguments broke out. Supporters of different candidates swapped accusations. I was sad to see how each side’s conventional wisdom imagined the others in very negative ways.

I was thrilled to realize that Feedster (and other search engines) could kick down the walls that turn each “conventional wisdom” into an ugly echo chamber.

Good news! These are no longer unanswerable questions:

  • What’s the ratio of positive-to-negative comments in each blog?
  • Which candidate’s blog talks most about substantive issues?
  • Which candidate’s supporters talk most about substantive issues?

Knowing such comparisons can be done should motivate all of us to campaign for our own guy in a positive way.

* I blogged about Rick’s research on Feedster’s Fuzzyblog, but I want to talk about some different stuff here.

The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human. – Aldous Huxley

Tags: Feedster

Gary Farber made my dog pee on the rug

November 25th, 2003 · 5 Comments

Hope I have your attention, because this is telegraphese.

Gary Farber of Amygdala just made my 14 year-old dog (that’s 112 in dog years) pee on the dining room rug.

What are *YOU* going to do about it?

Gary is one of the first bloggers I found, read, blogrolled. The quotes in his sidebar are worth the price of admission, all by themselves, and that price (if you will be guided by me is $55 in personal check made out to Gary and sent to an address in Boulder he’s hidden in the comments on his blog.

Gary just ran out of money. Well, not just, days ago, but I didn’t know because I just got a new job and am now time-challenged as never before.

When I just found out–his cyberbegging is way up on Popdex, I was very upset, and stopped running around doing my own stuff and started running around finding a card and envelope to stick a check in, and writing a blog post….

And I was ignoring Marianne’s dog dances, which instead of the usual “Biscuit Time Dance” turned out to be the “Pee Time Dance.”

And now my internetless new neighbors just phoned to ask if they can come do email, so I’m racing to write this.

The first 10 people who send Gary the $55 I suggest, and tell me about it in my comments here, will receive a limerick on the topic of your choice.

If you don’t send him something, I’m bringing my dog to your house so she can pee on your rug. And now my neighbors are here. If this is misspelled, well, tough.

Send Gary some money, ok?

“Before impugning an opponent’s motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments.”
— Sidney Hook, one of many fine quotes from Gary Farber’s site.

Tags: Heroes and funny folks

What’s a blog anyway?

November 25th, 2003 · Comments Off on What’s a blog anyway?

O’Reilly Network: What We’re Doing When We Blog [Jun. 13, 2002]

Tags: Feedster

That sucking sound you hear is Big Media

November 24th, 2003 · 6 Comments

Remember that story about White House sources leaking the CIA connection of Valerie Plame, as a move to discredit her husband Joseph Wilson?

Sure you do. I remember it. So does Salon blogger Michael Parker. I bet the CIA does. But Big Media cares a lot more about Michael Jackson.

I looked for that story in Google News this morning–gone. Erased from the planet. Karl Rove and George Bush and Dick Cheney must be so happy.

The most recent mentions (last week) come from (I kid you not) Manila and Pakistan.

It’s just not an important story. Big Media, left and right, agree about that.

Michael Jackson, OTOH, made the front page of the New York Times.

Tags: Good versus Evil

RSS: Greyhound Bus? Or great big chopper?

November 22nd, 2003 · Comments Off on RSS: Greyhound Bus? Or great big chopper?

For a lot of you veterans this RSS stuff is old hat–not to me! About six months ago I clicked my first XML button, and figured I’d just done something *bad* to my browser…

Check out these two different visions from two different blog friends:

Scott Johnson of Feedster, in a Waffle Iron interview.

“Think of blogs as your friends. No one really wants to travel to see their friends — not when you have a lot of them. What you want is them to come to you. And that’s what RSS does — it lets your friends (blogs you read) come to you.”

Lisa Williams at Cadence90:

“Western food .. involved a different division of labor between the cook and the eater — western cooks might put a steak on the plate, but a Chinese cook would be more likely to slice the steak into bite-size pieces easy to handle with chopsticks.

In a similar way, development of RSS is changing the division of labor between the author of web content and the reader of web content. Right now, the author is responsible for almost everything including the visual layout of the page. In an RSS world, the reader has much more control…”

Tags: Feedster