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Posts Tagged ‘my favs’

Be an informed voter

October 29th, 2008

As I believe most readers of this blog know, I am a trustee of e-thepeople.org. Our big project this year is a national voter guide that we’ve put together with over 100 newspaper and TV partners.

But enough about me. What do you know about the local candidates that you are going to vote for? Get your own personalized voter guide by entering your address into this widget:


1. technology, 2. politics , ,

Debunking myths of global poverty

February 18th, 2008

This twenty minute lecture is a tour-de-force. It is a flashy example of data visualization, but more importantly, it provides important insights about global poverty. Worth your time (after the over-the-top intro), in my opinion.


1. technology, 2. politics , ,

So true!

December 5th, 2007

This video simply captures silicon valley life for the past ten years perfectly. Hat tip to Madhu, Nat, and the others who bombarded me with it…now it’s my turn to be on the sending end of it.

[I had to change the embedded video because YouTube took down the original version. It’s so annoying that they don’t know how to apply fair use correctly, but at least the video is still available.]

1. technology , ,

Super Poke on facebook

October 31st, 2007

What is the most common form of communication? A greeting! Think of how many times you ask someone “How are you?” even though you know that the only socially acceptable response is, “Good. How are you?” On facebook, the poke has become the virtual equivalent of a greeting. And like a greeting, it can take on many meanings in many different contexts (see the zen of poke for more.) For better or worse, poking–and now super poking–has revolutionized how millions of people greet each other. Watch this 3 min 1 sec video to find out my take on this revolution:

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Celibacy and “The Selfish Gene”

September 12th, 2007

I have just finished Richard Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene.” It was necessary reading, since I have argued the unpopular position that the limits to the theory of evolution are more significant than many care to acknowledge. (See how I got sucked into this debate here.) In a nutshell, I often find that evolution arguments seem circular: Who survives? The fittest. Who are the fittest? Those who survive. So I read the book to find out: does Dawkins’ version of evolution avoid tautology?

Dawkins makes two impressive theoretical contributions. First, he argues that genes, not living organisms that host them, are the proper unit of analysis. In other words, he has a definition of the “who” in “who survives.” Second, he argues that that genes replicate themselves. Hence, he also offers an independent definition of “survives.”

Let’s just pause to consider how revolutionary these contributions are. As he himself says, “much of Darwinism is wrong” and Darwin “would scarcely recognize his original theory in this book.” (p.195) Darwin’s theory is about survival of the species! In Dawkins’ formulation, concepts like sexual selection and species are now explainable in more primitive, genetic terms. Indeed, the majority of the book is devoted to genetic explanations of a wide range of behaviors.

But limits do arise on both the “who” and the “survive” side. Are genes really the fundamental unit or do we have to consider intra-gene competition among alleles? (Alleles are smaller, sometimes overlapping, subsets of DNA sequences within a gene.) Is exact genetic copying really the only metric of survival, or are there other ways to consider similarity (e.g., some parts of the gene are more important than others)? I wonder if a future book called “The Selfish Allele” would say a gene is just an “allele survival machine” in an analogous way as Dawkins says plants and animals are just “gene survival machines.”

Another limit is in scope. Dawkins has a lengthy discussion of the “god meme” (p.192-200). Can genetics explain why celibacy persists in widespread, long lasting religions? Religious organizations benefit from the priests who devote all their attention without the distraction of family, but the genes of those priests clearly suffer. After much hand-wringing by Dawkins, I conclude that genetics play little or no role in explaining why any gene machine would choose to be celibate.

Dawkins’s genetic version of evolution is not tautological; it’s inability to explain the “god meme” is the exception that proves the rule. The “selfish allele” is an attractive but unproven challenger to the genetic version of evolution. But as the book demonstrates, genetics is a formidable champion that explains a lot more than it misses. By placing a skeptical eye on evolution, I think I’ve come to a better understanding of the broad reach (and limits) of the genetic theory of evolution.

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Spy vs spy: Seven sites on your side

September 6th, 2007

I found this link of 40 sites to bookmark that you don’t know about on del.icio.us. (I was invited to see the preview site, so I had to go check it out.) But the theme I discovered was spy vs spy: sites designed to fix intentional flaws in other services.

Here are seven sites that provide ways to foil sites that may be requiring things you don’t like:

  1. BugMeNot.com: allows users to find out working registration creditials for sites that (unnecessarily) require logins, like newspaper web sites. I’ve found it to be useful.
  2. RetailMeNot.com: lets you get discount codes and coupons from online retailers that are searchable. In fact, they have a plug in that will alert you as you shop to available coupons. I haven’t used this service yet, but it reminds me of a service that I use to find deals on computer equipment called SlickDeals.net or TravelZoo for travel and DailyCandy for new restaurants in NYC and other cities. Rather than letting retail companies decide what and when you buy things, this helps consumers stay in charge.
  3. NoPhoneTrees.com: they navigate the phone tree, and then call you back when there is phone operator. You don’t have to waste your time dealing with the crummy automatic system.
  4. PhoneZoo: let you convert your own mp3’s to ringtones. I have no interest in this, but it never ceases to amaze me that other people spend $1 or more on ringtones.
  5. PriceProtectr – tracks items you bought online drops and notifies in case of price-drops so you can request a refund.
  6. mShopper – instantly check up on the bargain deals for any product (or even order) right from your mobile phone. Video demo.
  7. Yapta.com: get automatic credit for a lower price on airline tickets if the price goes down.

Phew, I hope I’ve made my point. I’d say the second most common category of service are community/self-organizing sites, and you can see a couple of those kinds of services in the list above (e.g., bugmenot.com).

Cautiously, remember the lessons of spy vs spy: your defenses can backfire (recall the old collusion trick of the “lowest price guaranteed“) and the other side is thinking of even more nefarious ways to get you. More hopefully, can these services convince businesses to make sites that are not broken on purpose in the first place?

Update: iTunes is a service that is broken in two key ways: (1) you can’t load music off your iPod to your computer and (2) you can only store it on as many devices as Apple thinks you should. Here are two bonus sites that allow you work around these intentionally crippling of your music: how to get your music off your ipod and how to free your iTunes purchases

1. technology, 3. et cetera ,

Morph madness

September 5th, 2007

Morphing has been around for awhile, but I guess processing power is so cheap that this site, MorphThing.com, can offer as a free online service. Jeremy Bailenson, a professor in my department at Stanford, has made a nice little research program out of using morphing technology as an experimental manipulation. For example, see how Kerry could have won the 2004 election with morphiong technology. So, I had to check it out for myself.

First, I uploaded my son’s picture. Silly mistake – you want to upload pictures of parents not kids! So, I uploaded pictures of myself, my wife and all 4 grandparents of our kids. Then, it takes about 10-15 minutes per picture to place markers to enable the morphing. Once that it is done, however, you can then morph any picture against any other one or against any one of hundreds of celebrities. You can even morph transformed pictures with each other without any other manual effort.

So, I merged my wife and me together. Do you think it looks like my real daughter?

And here’s what it looks like when you merge my son with Angelina Jolie:

After wasting a few hours on this, I have only one definitive conclusion: this morphing stuff is spooky!

1. technology, 3. et cetera , ,

Amazing Americans

August 28th, 2007

As I wrote as a comment to this article on e-thepeople.org, we are lucky to have country full of such men and women ready to defend us, and a few such souls who can express the reasons why so well. Enjoy this video:

2. politics ,

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