Category Archives: Tubes

A Cute Coincidence

I just today found out that Khoi Vin, the design director for since 2006, was also responsible for the 2005 redesign of The Onion’s online newspaper.  In that design project, he said the hardest task was to make the site look like an actual newspaper.

If the results look suspiciously like a green version of The New York Times Online, it’s because we spent a lot of time studying how the Gray Lady delivers news — but I like to think we were conscientious enough not to steal crassly.

Library of Babel

In the interests in demonstrating that the blogosphere is dense in the space of possible topics: a blog devoted to cataloguing the typos of prominent liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias (he is famous for those typos).  Thanks be to Neil Sinhababu for the reference.

Quote of the Day

I’ll cop to being genuinely interested in the potential of Facebook to keep me in touch with friends, introduce me to strangers, and provide low-grade constant novelty, but I still killed my account recently. The main reason was that Facebook was showing me my peripheral acquaintances — high school classmates, spouses of friends — at their least appealing, and I realized that charity demanded I stop learning just how needy and insecure they could seem when they put their minds to it. As my network of quote-unquote friends grew, that much-touted “network effect” compounded the problem — Facebook is like a breeder reactor of solipsistic fatuity. (Matt Frost)

Temperament matters.  Do you combine unabashed interest in the exploits and opinions of everyone you know with an easy indifference to their excesses? If, on the other hand, you linger over inanities, then Web 2.0 is not for you.


Other people are focusing on the fact that this is the might be the most brazen political corruption that has come to light in the years that I’ve been alive.  I prefer to meditate on the hidden omens concerning the ascendency of new media. To be honest, this is actually the first thing that came to mind.

Please Adapt to the Internet, Dear Journalists

A rule: if you’re a web publication, and you write an article that says pollution clouds are blocking out the sun, and can be seen from airplanes, you really have to show pictures.  Not because I doubt you, but because it would be really cool to see aerial photos of how the sun is blocked (real color satellite photos are fine, but fake color ones are not).


Also, I’m bad at using the GIMP.  The above is based on a blank template for qwantz comics, but I didn’t send it to Ryan North.

Web Design

This isn’t a subject that I know about (I switched from blogger to wordpress because wordpress looked good without me having to think), but:

  1. The wordpress extension thingy or whatever called “Snap” is antithetical to all good things in this world. Whenever you mouse over a link in a blog with Snap, it pops up a tiny preview of the webpage that is linked to. Tiny, as in too tiny to read or do anything with. Pop-up as in the good old days before pop-up blockers, when the internet blew. I’m genuinely confused that wordpress ever made this feature available. Was it some sort of payola?Another thing: a substantial fraction of all computer users randomly move the mouse or click empty spots on the screen while they are engaged in some other activity. Those people will come to loathe your website if you use snap. (This is also the reason why the NYTimes dictionary feature makes me miserable). If you have snap installed, please don’t take this personally. Just stop hurting us.
  2. Websites where the centerpiece scrolls, while the background stays fixed feel like wading through knee-deep mud. I can’t tell if anything is actually slower, but the effect is horrible. I think it only happens with non-uniform backgrounds. If you’re confused, I’m thinking of this as an instance.

Wikia Search

The Wikia search engine launched today, albeit in an alpha form. This is part of what looks like an ongoing cold-war between the Wikipedia folk and Google, Wikia Search and Knols being the two technologies that tred on each others’ turf (Wikia and wikipedia are hardly the same, and the relationship between them isn’t entirely straightforward.  But the similarity in names isn’t accidental either).

I’m a pretty big Wikipedia booster. I’ll take the moment to say that everyone, absolutely everyone who knows anything, should edit Wikipedia. Especially philosophers, since the philosophy coverage is varied with a lot of terrible mixed in. For the time being, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s the primary source of information for people in our generation, so improving it is really important.

That digression aside, I think it’s a bad sign for wikia search that I still have no idea what it is. Being interested in wikipedia didn’t lead to me knowing that, nor did following a good number of blogs that discuss the tubes. It’s a search engine, I suppose, but it seems that it has some cute web 2.0 social business that’ll make it a Google killer. Or maybe it’s not supposed to be a Google killer. You want to try looking at that front-page and figure out anything of import? I have no idea why I’d prefer it to Google, or what it is, or how I’d go about contributing to it. (Here’s a business week article that quasi-explains it, but I didn’t want to spoil my befuddlement for you).

Blogger is Worthless

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that I’m getting links from spam blogs.  The posts will just contain a short excerpt from my posts and a link.  I can only assume that I’ve been randomly chosen to provide a little bit of content that will fool blogger’s automated checks into thinking that there’s a person behind the blog.  A few days later, they inevitably fill up with links to prescription drugs and whatnot.

Without fail, they’ve been hosted at blogspot.  I dutifully flag each one as spam–I started maybe two weeks ago.  As of yet, not one of them has been removed.


Last Sunday, I started a “philosophy inbox” that sits on my desktop and which contains all the articles I download which would otherwise clog the desktop and distract me while waiting to go somewhere out of sight. I’ve yet to move anything out of the inbox, which lets me see that an impressive 18 articles have now accumulated. This isn’t bragging (I didn’t say I read those articles). It just indicates a complete inability to prioritize. Did I mention that I still have ungraded student papers and I’m moving tomorrow (Ed–today)?  Over the past week there have been 18 different things I’ve thought that I needed to read and digest. But it’s worse: none of three articles on the modularity of mind that I found last night go into the inbox, or Nisbett’s blunt dismissal of hereditary racial differences in IQ. Nor do the chapters of Anil and Bob’s books that I read for their classes, nor does the Sellars I’ve been rereading, or the collected works of Descartes that I looked at on a whim.

Someone or several someones, I forget who, said that the central problem we’re each going to have to solve in the future is dealing with abundance–filtering it and finding someone way to find the things we actually need (of course this is “we” tube using nerds). They were right.

Fun on the Tubes

So I’ll give my contribution to the best posts on the internet: John Holbo’s Comment spam, me? Ha! This must be one of your human jokes!, which is perhaps the funniest and most insightful thing about comment spam I’ve seen. The topic lends itself to repeatedly pointing out the obvious, but this post is quite good.

On another note, there’s a competition to come up with the best two word phrase that gets no results on Google when quoted. Entries should be ordinary words combined in an interesting way (so haeccitic kittens would be bad). I thought “nickelback masterpiece” was a good shot, but it instead was a googlewhack–it gets exactly one result until such time as this post is indexed (which will allow me to find out how much Google cares about me). Leave anything you find in the comment thread, if you don’t feel up to contributing in the big leagues at the original competition.

Update: If you came here by googling “nickelback masterpiece” what the hell were you doing? There’s only one interesting question about Nickelback. Bad band or the worst band? These are the sort of people who use the phrase “she’s just a woman” in a song about domestic violence.

Do Dogs Have Moral Judgment?

I can’t be 100% sure, but all the evidence suggests that while dogs can be very nice creatures, they lack the moral faculty. (The title was one of the better recent google searches to land someone here).

Delaware Free Speech Issues?

The conservative blogosphere is really excited about a possible free speech issue at the University of Delaware. The claim has appeared on Marginal Revolution (with a responsible request for firsthand accounts), and is even getting spammed places (as in this CrookedTimber thread). There are probably hundreds of blog posts around the tubes at this point, almost all in conservative rags (I mean no negative implications there, that’s just for context). I’m not sure I can do justice to their outrage, so let me just quote:

“NEWARK, Del., October 30, 2007—The University of Delaware subjects students in its residence halls to a shocking program of ideological reeducation that is referred to in the university’s own materials as a “treatment” for students’ incorrect attitudes and beliefs. The Orwellian program requires the approximately 7,000 students in Delaware’s residence halls to adopt highly specific university-approved views on issues ranging from politics to race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling for the total dismantling of the program, which is a flagrant violation of students’ rights to freedom of conscience and freedom from compelled speech.” (FIRE press release)

It seems evident that Delaware has at the least, a ham-handed sort of residential education and diversity policy. It also seems clear that a presentation occurred in which the speaker claimed that whites were racists by definition and that it was impossible for minorities to be racist. In the Marginal Revolution comments, a former RA quite plausibly claimed that this was an outside speaker, not someone presenting part of the curriculum designed by Delaware.

Nonetheless, the whole affair strikes me as fishy. First of all, there appears to be very little student participation–instead almost everything seems to be coming from FIRE, the group that was quoted before. FIRE is not necessarily partisan–their website includes a couple of free speech issues which concern suppression of liberal oriented speech (kudos!). However, they are an outside group, and the contemporary dynamics of academic politics make me extremely suspicious of outside groups intervening in campus politics, unless they are obviously there in support of a pre-existing student reaction. However, I have not been able to find any evidence of public comment or reaction at Delaware.

In particular, I see no articles on the Delaware student newspaper. Perhaps they’re being suppressed, though the newspaper calls itself independent. Or perhaps, a la Occam’s razor, there are no stories because the students do not see themselves as victims of indoctrination. Obviously organizations like FIRE should be there to support students who are being treated unfairly, but it seems a relevant condition that the students find their treatment to be worth protesting (I was told students would be on Hannity and Colmes, but it was while I was in class, and can’t find it on the Fox website, so I don’t know one way or another). Continue reading

My Generation

Amanda showed me this video which is, if nothing else, a good summation for alien anthropologists of why the past decade has been so entertaining but also so vapid.

The Internet Stars Are Viral

In a different way, xkcd makes the same point. WARNING: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT FOLLOW THAT LINK IF YOU ARE MY MOM. I do not want you to know the depths that my generation has sunk to. It is much worse than sex drugs and rock and roll.

My Principles Will Lose me Money

Isn’t that how it always is?

It looks as if Amazon has finally allowed us to buy music in a way that doesn’t suck. None of their songs are DRM’d, they’re encoded at 256 kbps, which is quite good, and they’re using the power of the tubes to give us CDs and songs at much lower prices than what they’d be in stores. On top of that, they’ll almost inevitably be a credible competitor to iTunes, so song prices should continue to drop in the long term.

This costs me money because I no longer have a principled reason not to spend more money on music. A combination of rampant extortion in the sales of physical CDs, combined with DRM through iTunes had given reasons to curtail one’s participation in ordinary channels of music distribution until now. You can call that opinion self-serving, and there’s certainly something to that charge, but it’s also true that without the piracy produced signal that the old ways were screwed up, there was not much of an incentive for the major players not to rob people blind. By the same token, to the extent that it’s there are reasonable options on the table, anyone who downloads music should participate in them.

Today’s Links

  1. Wikipedia is almost to 2 million articles. John Quiggin suggests that it is now about as profitable to complain about Wikipedia as it is to complain about the Internet as a whole.
  2. Anatomy as art! A few really cool pictures, from Neurophilosopher.
  3. Another reminder of just who it is that owns stock.
  4. Useless transformers.
  5. Most importantly, we have a graph of troop deaths in Iraq. The situation is pretty bad.
  6. More people work in services than farming for the first time in 10,000 years.

Your Communication Device Rates Me ‘Mostly Honest’

After writing my previous post on how the internet won’t change standards of journalistic objectivity, I thought of one small way it might. I was standing in front of a pile of books for sale, on which John Lott’s Freedomnomics had a prominent place, causing part of my brain to scream “EVIL SOCKPUPPETER!” I don’t think my decision to ignore John Lott is partisan–almost no one would take him seriously given what he did. There is something partisan about the fact that I’m aware of his actions, however. The people I read at crookedtimber really enjoy bringing up his actions whenever it’s relevant. If John Lott had been similarly deceptive but liberal, my favorite authors would have stopped listening to him, but they probably wouldn’t have written headlines about it. And the average person has nothing like the part of my brain that lights up to scream about sockpuppeting, whether they’re liberal or conservative.

I think that in the near future when we’ll all be carrying around super wireless communication devices, those devices might just be able to replace that part of my brain. I’m imagining a web service that takes the name or author of a book, and tells you “that author is an Evil Sockpuppeter.” You can already find that out with Google + Wikipedia, but the evidence is that most readers are unwilling to spend the five or ten minutes that takes. The improvement would be the automatic nature of the service (imagine a barcode scanner that interfaces with your communication device).

The key point is that the information about John Lott isn’t particularly opinionated–he lied about his identity on the web, going so far as to fake reviews of his own teaching. It’s also easily verified and of interest to anyone thinking about buying his book, regardless of their ideological stance.

The services that collect and deliver that type of information could be either run by individuals contributing bits of information or by relevant experts. In the former case, there would be a possibility for the system being gamed, but given that the information is readily verifiable, there’s every reason to believe it would be manageable.

Objectivity and Competition

Matthew Yglesias considers the idea that everyone complains about the conventions of journalistic objectivity, but no one does anything. His suggestion is that when competition and the tubes join forces, something will get done. I’m sceptical. At least I’m skeptical that anything good will get done.

Let’s note that the problem of journalistic objectivity has already been solved by one major news organization: Fox News has clearly gotten away from the ‘he said, she said’ style of political reporting, in favor of the ‘he said, she said, but we know that the democrats are liars’ brand. Fox News is very popular, and its imitators on the internet will continue to avoid journalistic objectivity. Eventually we’ll get liberal versions of Fox News, but it’s only for contingent reasons that a liberal Fox News would be a great place to get your news right now.

Nor is competition going to change anything–Fox News clones have an important place in the market. Most people won’t go there, because the partisanship will turn them off, but the mainstream news sources they gravitate to will have every incentive to be bland and inoffensive. The internet creates a space for thoughtful news sources, but it doesn’t produce the people who are interested in them. Matt says “managers and reporters who manage to consistently cover the news in a way that people find useful will prosper, while those who fail to do so will suffer.” This is true, but it only matters if people find traditional ‘objective’ journalism less useful than the alternatives. Frankly, I think that people only find traditional journalism frustrating when they take the time to educate themselves and start to see its limitations. This process takes time, some intelligence, and an interest in politics, so it’s likely to lead to a niche market, with or without the internet.

In short, the internet has done and will do great things to make quality political coverage available to people who want it and can recognize it for what it is. But unless the internet changes the people who consume the news, it won’t change the news that they consume.

Can You Use The Google?

Tyler Cowen has a secret blog, the address of which he gave to only people who pre-ordered his recent book. Kieran Healy muses about why exactly he should refrain from revealing the location of the blog, and in so doing, strikes a few points for sociology against economics. However, while he describes using Google to find it as “trivially easy,” I think it might be a pretty good test of one’s Google-fu.


We are in some danger of becoming petty in our study of pettiness; there is a terrible Circean law in the background that if the soul stoops too ostentatiously to examine anything it never gets up again. –G.K. Chesterton (from a non-spoilerific Harry Potter comment)

This is a good aphorism for bloggers, especially if the still largely oppositional culture of blogging becomes a primary source of information for large numbers of people. At some point, people like Brad DeLong are better off ignoring the fact that the MSM is covering Hilary’s cleavage than commenting on how stupid that coverage is.