You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2009.
I first came across Wordle a while ago. It’s a fun, word collage-creating website. You give it a URL, or just a collection of text, and it produces a collage for you. The words in the collage are weighted, ostensibly based upon the frequency with which they’re used (much like a tag cloud, I suppose).
I am oddly and inexplicably proud of this Wordle. Go figure.
While in college, I took a stats class. The guy who taught it, a good friend, had a saying that emerges from my subconscious every now and again. The saying was “Numbers will saying anything you want, if you squeeze them hard enough.” What caused the saying to pop into my head today was this video:
I received the link to this video in an Email from my wife, who had forwarded an Email from her father, who had forwarded it from a friend (the viral nature of the internet at work. Or – if you prefer – the domino theory in action). My initial response was to get a little irked when I reached the end and found out that the whole thing was, in truth, nothing more than propaganda against downloading music. My wife’s response was “Interesting info, but I wonder how they got some of the stats.”
The answer is, of course: They made them up.
I don’t have the time or the inclination to go through the video point by point, but I will draw attention to my personal favorite. It comes up around 28 seconds or so in:
The 25% of India’s population with the highest IQs…
…is GREATER than the total population of the United States.
India has more honors kids than America HAS kids.
Try again, boneheads. Statistics at their worst. “Since A is larger than B, C must be larger than D.” It’s bad enough that C and D are only remotely connected to A and B. What’s worse is that A and B are treated as though there exists some sort of meaningful relationship between them. It never occurs to these morons that while the first half of the statement may be accurate, it would be equally accurate if the smartest person in India had an IQ of 60.
In truth, all the first part of that statement is actually saying is that 25% of the population of India is larger than the total population of the united States. It does not in any way state or even imply that Indians are, as a people, smarter than Americans.
The moral here, people, is: Don’t ever – EVER – trust stats. They LIE.
I’m always pleased when I discover that I’m not the only person out here who pays attention to the small details. As stated above, Jeff Lee produced it, and is kind enough to offer it up for free to any who want to use it. All he asks in return is an E-Mail. Not much to ask, I think. For any of you who care, here’s a sample of the map I wanted this font for:
Fun stuff, eh? When I get it done, I’ll post an image of the final version.
My boy and I watched Jon Stewart last night (possibly the night before), and Jon did a bit about the current fiasco at AIG. He showed a nice montage of video clips, showing various pundits’ sound bites on the subject. The last (and best) was some yahoo who stated that the culprits at AIG should ‘receive the Nobel Prize for Evil’.
First off, I agree with Jon – we really should stop giving out that prize. Second, I don’t think this is a case of evil at work. As much as we all might like to think otherwise, I don’t honestly believe that a group of evil, calculating men (think Cheney) sat around a boardroom and made an evil group decision to do the wrong thing with the taxpayers’ money.
I think something more insidious and frightening occurred: Business As Usual. I think the bonuses were given to those folks at AIG simply because it never occurred to anyone involved to do anything different. Because their values are so skewed that they didn’t actually perceive of it as being ‘wrong’. It’s just the way these things are done. Incompetence is rewarded. Gross incompetence is rewarded richly. And I find it hard to assign any blame to the individuals involved. I don’t think their professional lives equipped them to make ethical decisions. They live in a world where poor judgement and mismanagement are admired and rewarded. How could we expect them to do anything but aspire to these lofty ideals?
The problem lies not in a few individuals (be they evil or not), but rather in the system itself. The American way of doing business is morally and ethically bankrupt, and we behave as though this is right and proper. We talk about business as though it should be kept separate from all other aspects of life, because in the arena of business (politics, too), it’s okay (even expected) to be a scumbag.
Unfortunately, we (as a people) hide this from ourselves. When situations like the one at AIG crop up, we lie to ourselves and make believe that the problem rests at the feet of a few ‘bad’ individuals. This is how we keep our own moral integrity intact. So long as the culprits are easily identifiable, we can comfortably write the whole thing off as an aberration and forget about it. Which is, of course, why we still have these problems, despite the fact that they just keep on happening over and over.
This time, though, I’m holding onto a faint hope. So far, they don’t seem to have presented us with a villain (a la Ken Lay). Without a focal point for our displeasure, there’s a chance (however slight) that we, as a people, may finally start to examine ‘business as usual’ in this country. And if enough of us do just that, therein lie the seeds of revolution.
I think I’ve got too many projects going at once. I have six computers running in my office. While this is always the case, and while all of them are usually working for me on some project or another, on most days only one or two of them actually require my focused attention for any real length of time. Lately, though, they all seem to be clamoring for my attention at the same time. I think I need to force myself into a more disciplined approach and finish a project or two.
Of course, that’s easy to say – but then, which project to finish first? Oh, the humanity.
Came across something a bit odd the other day. I was Googling something (I forget what), and I Googled Jeopardy-style (i.e., in the form of a question). I often do this (oddly, I find most people I talk to don’t realize that you can) and I invariably get good results.
Anyway, this particular time the question I was typing started simply with the word ‘does’. For some reason, after typing ‘does’ and hitting the spacebar, I looked up at the screen. I saw that the Google search bar (in an attempt to be helpful) had dropped down a list of search terms starting with ‘does’. I assume that the list becomes populated in a similar fashion to any Google page – i.e., the result of indexed internet traffic. In the case of the search bar, though, it stands to reason that it would be populated by an index of the terms searched for, rather than an index of what’s available on the web.
So – if you stop to think about it – that drop-down list is a little window into the current popular psyche. In many ways, it’s telling us what’s on the mind of the internet. So – of course – I just had to play around with this a bit.
In true Freudian fashion, I have decided to divide my findings into three basic categories (Id, Ego and Super-Ego), each of which is represented by a single search term (‘does’, ‘why’ and ‘should’, respectively), and here are the results:
So there you have it. Today’s quick peek into the seedy underside of the popular psyche. I assume that the lists I got today are different than the ones I would have gotten last month, as well as the ones I would get next month. It stands to reason that the lists would be as fluid and changeable as the psyche that produces them. Because of this, I think I’m going to have to keep an eye on this. It could be interesting.
Maybe I’ll do this as a regular, weekly post. If so, I’ll be sure to do it on Monday, when the popular psyche is still reeling from all the hopes and regrets of the weekend.
Came across a WordPress plugin called GeoPress today. With it, I could attach cool little maps to my posts. You know – kind of put the Where in Wherewithal (all appropriate puns intended).
Looking around, it appears that WordPress.com doesn’t offer any upgrades that would allow me to pack in non-WP-approved plugins (they do, however, give user a place to suggest plugins they’d like to see made available – I’m on my way as soon as I finish this post). This would include Roy Tanck’s WP-Cumulus mentioned previously. So it looks like my only option here would be to pay for hosting elsewhere.
I’ve been trying to get Ratman running on my Vista machine. Not for any particular reason – just to see if I can do it. So far I’ve been unsuccessful, but progress seems to have been made. At least, I haven’t yet gotten to the point of just reformatting a HD and installing Linux to do the job. Yet. I’ll keep you posted.
First thing on my list of crap I want to be able to do here – edit CSS. I know I can do it (for cheap) already, but I think I need to keep a running list so I can add it all up in the final analysis. It’s also not because I’m the kind of guy who chews code for breakfast. It’s just that I’m not happy with the default width of this theme (it doesn’t even fill the width of the laptop, which is enslaved to 1024 x 768).
Why yes – now that you mention it, I could just change the theme. And you’re right – I could. But that’s beside the point. I like this theme (far better than any of the others I’ve seen) except for a couple of minor tweaks I’d like to make. I mean, really – changing the code just to increase the width of the document body is a ridiculously minor tweak. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
Now, the other reason I want access to the guts of this thing is because I’d really like to add Roy Tanck’s WP-Cumulus – easily the coolest tag cloud I’ve seen.
So this makes the tally so far: $15/year (I’m pretty sure everything in this category will be a yearly cost).
This is one-half of my latest Grand Experiment. I’ve decided to check out this WordPress thing and, as usual, I’m going a little overboard with it. As I said – this is only one-half of it. The other half is a virtually identical blog, using the full WordPress engine (available here), on my home server.
Of course, my ‘home server’ was only marginally so up ’til now. Before this experiment, it was just an old computer, connected to our network and with the printers and scanner plugged into it. Now, though, it’s a real server, complete with the full Apache, MySQL and PHP package. I’m already leaning toward this latter setup, as the power and flexibility of it far outshine this one (I’m already loving the additional HTML and CSS capabilities, and I’m looking forward to packing my own personal Wiki into the deal). However, the low overhead of this space is hard to argue with. Especially since this place offers much of what I like about my other installation, at very reasonable prices.
So we’ll just kick back and see where this goes. Along the way, I’ll try to find the time for posts about the technical aspects of my home installation. So far, it’s been just plain fun.