August 30, 2004

Life on the Virtual Commons and the Wikipedia

Alex Halavais tried an experiment in which he slightly defaced 13 Wikipedia pages. To his surprise, all were fixed within hours. On Alex's blog, I noted that Wikipedia makes a point of looking for damage, and tries hard to fix it quickly. I proposed a mechanism (the "recent changes" list), and I'd like to expand on that a little.

In my comment, I've been recently praised for invoking the magic of RSS as the tool for Wikipedia self-correction. This comes out of a series of conversations about whether Wikipedia is trustworthy or not: see discussions at Techdirt and Many2Many.

I was actually going to blog about something else, but I've become absolutely fascinated1 with the set of tools that the Wikipedia community has developed for social control and monitoring misbehavior. The virtual worlds people may have been right in seeing strong analogies between maintaining social control in the Wikipedia and maintaining control in virtual worlds.

What they perhaps didn't realize is that Wikipedia manages this with a stunningly large number of implicit rules, mores and activities that just aren't externally visible: the Wikipedia "backstage" (to use Goffman's term) is large, complex, and requires a great deal of work.

Update, 9/4/04. Another Wikipedia experiment with subtler changes that weren't noticed. Please do not try this at home!

This article is, I think, still in progress; feel free to comment upon it.

Let's take a look at how Wikipedia does self-correct. While I'm pretty sure that participants in the Wikipedia community know this, I don't think I've seen the process written out much before. So I'll take a stab. I certainly welcome more careful Wiki participants to clarify this discussion...

Start from the beginning. A Wiki is a sort of an online editing space2. Anyone can go to any page and modify it, or create a new page. This becomes a useful tool for brainstorming, for maintaining todo lists or FAQs, and generally for keeping around stuff that other people can fix freely. It's used by classes, by software development teams, and by other groups of people who want to track their collective knowledge.

Of course, it is (by its nature) unstructured. Because they don't have the advantages, and disadvantages, of the temporal order of blogs and discussion boards, Wikis need people to wander through and clean up periodically. This ranges from refactoring portions of articles to fit them into categories, to adding correct links between them, to--yes--correcting damage.


Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that is basically working on the principle that people reading it will catch errors and fix them. Largely built from the ground up (I don't know what sort of money is behind it), a sizable army of volunteers have written and edited articles that largely seem to explain many issues thoroughly and clearly. It's a pretty good place to look for useful information.

It's also a huge project built by a mob of volunteers, and thus (like much of the open source community) is a large steaming mass of well-organized social capital. Now, I haven't figured out what makes Wikipedia tick--why this particular Wiki Works so very well (and so many fine other wikis don't). There's something to be said for having a compelling concept, and a place for people to show their specializations and interests. But that's not really what I'm into at the moment.

Take it as given, then, that people are there. Some are writing new articles, some are editing articles and refactoring sections of text, and some are correcting errors. Still, the many eyes do not make the problems go away themselves.


Wikipedia shows that there are mechanisms for collectively repairing problems and for adding new content. It has the interesting property that any article may be wrong at any moment (because someone may have just damaged it) but the encyclopedia, as a whole, is too big to really thoroughly attack. The WikiGnomes (to use the C2 vocabulary; Wikipedia calls them the RC Patrol )

Most of the time, then, most pages of the Wikipedia is at a (fairly) steady state--that is, they aren't changing at all.

Sometimes, a page comes to attention. World events bring place into focus4, or someone finds a page of particular interest and decides to edit it. It gets tagged as the collaboration of the week, or gets bumped to the front page as a featured article. Or maybe someone just happens to read it, and makes a change. Making changes triggers the recent changes list; that, in turn, drives edits and modifications, and so the page may change rapidly.

At first pass, then, this is a punctuated equilibrium model: catacylysmic changes follow long periods of silence. [Hm. This is statistically testable fairly easily with a couple good SQL queries on change history...]


A lot of what I am saying here can be seen quickly in the HistoryFlow diagram labelled "Iraq on Wikipedia - spaced out by time." The authors of the work seem to prefer "spaced out by change" displays, which are very useful -- but lose the niftiness of just how fast Wikipedia corrects. In the "spaced out by changes" display, every change is given equal distance on the X axis, so it's hard to tell when the changes occur, or how often.

In contrast, if you look at the image labelled "spaced out by time", you realize that an entry just sits there for a while -- and then someone does something to it. This often triggers a flurry of activity: revisions, fixes, edits, discussions, which converge on a newer, better page.

This can be largely explained by the existence of an army of readers following the Recent Changes list: and, indeed, Ward Cunningham has discussed how Wikis manage to be fairly resilient because of the recent edits list. Curious readers want to know what's new -- and anything that a malevolent person adds can be caught.

Now I haven't found the Recent Changes RSS Feed for the Wikipedia, but I can't imagine it's too far away. (Or do people just bookmark it and read it regularly?)

I'm being, incidently, horribly unfair here. An overview of everything that's changing might work for a smaller Wiki, but Wikipedia is big. Really big. Three-hundred-odd-thousand articles. The revisions log scrolls 25 changes in two or three minutes. You can't just expect that to all be caught, checked, double-checked3.

The RC patrol and Village Pump make it clear that there's a substantial backstage (to use the Goffman sense) to this Wikipedia thing: it's not just that a smart person wanders by and cleans up, but that a community of smart people are actively arguing and discussing what should happen.

In addition, it's not like the community only watches present events. Here's a couple of the internal tools that are used for internal cleanup on the Wiki:

  • The How to Spot Vandalism page lists a series of Google searches to help catch random defacement of wiki pages; the Vandalism in Progress page gives a pretty good sense of where the community is worried. (Alex's tromping about showed up here; search for "User:AlHalawi")
  • My officemate talk a lot about his dissertation work, watching how admins in his MUDs track down bad actors. It's worth glancing over a battle like the one archived here as anonymous figures with arbitrary editing power argue about who should, or shouldn't, be able to edit an article.
  • One issue that comes up in (for example) virtual world societies is people masquerading under various identities; several the discussions have mentioned that members who are willing to label themselves with a username are better trusted than those who aren't, in part because it makes the users accountable.
  • There is a class of people, known as "Sysops" or administrators. Administrators have some additional special rights: deletion of articles, blocking IP addresses, and killing user accounts.

So who does the correction, or watches the watchers? It's internal. The people who are correcting are other members of the community; roughly, they seem to trust each other to make decisions. Perhaps because everything is logged in the changes log, there is a strong ethic of explaining decisions; the Wikipedia--it seems--would prefer to err on the side of discussion than overaction, and on the side of retaining informaiton than losing it.

The theme I think is emerging is that the recent changes log is a form of internal accountability--but so are a number of other tools, such as user names. In the Wiki panopticon, good behavior occurs, and is seen, in part as a result of its being continuosly visible and commentable. When every page, including every personal user page, has a meta-page (labelled "Discussion"), there is room to comment on anything that happens.

I'm reminded, then, of David Brin's book, The Transparent Society, in which he defends the idea of a society in which no one has privacy: instead, he suggests, bad behavior is minimized when anyone can see anyone else. (Yes, it takes a radical restructuring of social norms).

Has anyone tried creating a panoptic virtual world. where there are no dark shadows or hidden corners? I'm curious what that would be like.


(Like everything on this blog, this article is © 2004 Danyel Fisher. Click the "Creative Commons" button to see the copyright notice.)


1 _This is turning out startlingly long. Perhaps I could consider upgrade it in a hurry to a CHI paper? It's not like I have anything to do between now and September 13th... and it's dead-on for the theme: "Technology, Safety, and Community" fits VERY WELL into the question of self-regulation for an online community. Too bad I don't have any data. ponder _

Incidently, Alex Halavais has now followed up his experiment with a brief writeup that points to his editing history and the conversation that then happens around him.

2 To blatantly self-promote, one chapter of my book contains an interesting article by Andreas Dieberger and Mark Guzdial entitled "CoWeb - Experiences with Collaborative Web Spaces." In that chapter, they discuss a Wiki in practice.

3 It's probably worth contrasting Cliff Lampe's worth with Paul Resnick on Slash(dot) and Burn which shows, among many other things, that it takes a lot of eyes to keep Slashdot running. An article is read by thousands, moderated by dozens -- and then each of those moderations is metamoderated by five or six. More people are watching the watchers than are doing the watching themselves

On the other hand, on Slashdot, there is only a small number of featured stories at once: the collective attention of Slashdot examines a story for a day or two (the slashdot effect before it wanders away).

4 I would love to see hit counters for different pages of Wikipedia over time. What's the Wikipedia Zeitgeist? (Some of this is in the Wikipedia stats page).

Posted by danyelf at 11:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Borges and the Wikipedia

In the process1 of writing a post on the shortcomings of temporality, I got distracted by wriiting a post on how Wikipedia does its thing. I'll post that shortly, but until then, I'd like to simply present you with a slightly Borgesian found poem:

This page has a lot of red links

  1. List2 of Baronies
  2. List of garden plants
  3. List of aircraft
  4. List of candidates in the 2004 Canadian election
  5. List of Amiga games
  6. List of television stations in USA by Call Sign
  7. List of firearms
  8. List of lunar craters
  9. List of Australian musicians
  10. Olympic medalists in athletics (men)
  11. List of military aircraft
  12. List of Ohio townships
  13. TLAs from YAA to ZZZ
  14. List of volcanoes
  15. List of LSTs
  16. List of United States Navy aircraft squadrons
  17. List of craters on Mars
  18. List of asteroids (3001-4000)
  19. List of gay erotic actors

1 Yes, I've been blogging up a storm. The major feeling from finishing a dissertation is that of getting a weight off your shoulders, and after that little while of staying hunched--"but I need to, it's HEAVY"!--the first thing you do is to stand up, and discover that you CAN. And so my brain is now back to firing on all--well, make that most--cylinders, and the world is a substantially better place, and a lot of stuff that's been building up is now coming out.

Enjoy it while it lasts--I don't my blogging to steadily decrease over the next two months as I go from FOOCamp to Washington DC to Copenhagen to Madrid to Tanzania.

2 Oddly, virtually every one of these violate #13 on the list of What Wikipedia is Not.

Posted by danyelf at 11:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Not Just Any Email

The list of Most Wanted Gmail Features is a list that is, I think, meant to help gmail "catch up" to other mailers. The features listed on the site are all good and valuable things:

IMAP access
Import mail from other sources
Ability to save a draft
Ability to send HTML mail
POP3 access
Force different subjects into single conversation
Manually break up conversations

However, these all strike me as minor. They will help gmail catch up with other mailers, but they don't represent a departure.

And Gmail, to me, more than the 1 GB of space or the subtle advertising, really manages to be something kind of new. In particular, it's the first time I've had decent text search with a little bit of ranking. It's the first time I've had labels done correctly. And it's the first time that search hits come up with those labels correctly.

Maybe I'm the only person who really cares about that. But because it's those search aspects I care about, the feature list that I'd like to see for GMail (or for any other mailer) is very different.

  • Person-oriented searches. I mentioned this in a previous message, but it didn't really come through, I think. The nice folks at Google think of email as a bucket of words. But an email from is an email from "Janet & Samuel Smith", at least in my contact book. And that means that when I search for "Janet", that email should come up. Unfortuantely, the word "Janet" doesn't actually appear in the email itself.
  • Similarly, person-oriented lists. This is an extension of the search. Why can't I pull all my interactions with Janet & Samuel? I'm sitting right here, looking at their contact book entry. And so I need to close the contact book, open the search box, and type in their email address... this should be a one-click.
  • Which means, intelligent aliases. Because is the same guy as and even, and I'm willing to spend the five seconds it takes to tell Gmail that, if GMail promises to remember that useful fact and keep it around.

There's a start. All these are direct, heuristic, user-interface-oriented tweaks that Google could apply to Gmail that would rapidly make it substantially more powerful. Some other time we can talk about how Google (or another mail company) could apply social network analysis and collaborative filtering...

Oh, yeah. None of these are specific to gmail. I want to see them in Thunderbird, or in Outlook, or in Apple Mail....

Update Joshua points out that these aren't "minor" tweaks any more than, say, whether a car window closes is a "minor" tweak--and, indeed, I'll grant that this is true. But they are, in some crucial way, "obvious" tweaks. They are the ones that a competent mailer should have -- and that most mailers do have. What I want is mailers that start looking outside the box, and rethinking what the email task is. The much-maligned (and justifiably so) Coordinator (as discussed by Winograd and Flores in their computers and cognition work) was a novel rethinking of the email task, and for that alone is certainly notable.

Posted by danyelf at 02:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 29, 2004

Blogs, Personality, and Community: A Technical Response

I seem to have generated a little bit of discussion off of my comments on personality.

Netwoman responds to my post on personality, and brings up the idea of the "community" around a post, or around a blog.

One of the major problems with blogs (in general) and aggregators (in particular) is that they tend to be fairly static about which conversations I'm involved in. In particular, I choose a list of blogs, and my aggregator presents it to me. If I join a conversation on a post -- by responding to the post, say -- the conversation still drifts away into the past. I need to manually go out, remember that I've been part of a post, and check it for comments every once in a while.

Some people have gone ahead and attached a little RSS feed for each post, so I can (manually) subscribe to the conversation attached to the post. This is certainly a good start; it lets me track the comments on a single note, and turns the comment into a social, online place. (Sorry, LiveJournal readers: I can't imagine that under their dominant metaphor--that of "friends"--you'd particularly want to make "friends" with one of my posts, and the comments under it. But I could be wrong.)

Still, I can't help but feel that this isn't all. What if I was auto-subscribed to every page that I left a comment on? The metaphor is that I've got a stake in the conversation, now--so it adds me to the conversation. It's entirely possible, of course, that the conversation will go nowhere--but that's ok, the RSS feed will just fade off into the distance.

I'm not the first person to mention this-- see here for example.

Can we go a step further? What if my browser tried to subscribe me to an RSS feed for every page I looked at, if it's offered? Most of the pages are pretty static (so I wouldn't care) or are revisited frequently (so it would be mimicking my current behavior anyway)--but for conversations where I had clicked through the feed to the article, I'd get a little background on the page.

Now we'll need a few constriants: there are certainly some pages I would want to not remind me constantly that I'd touched them--but I wonder whether adding this sort of reminder would be a valuable tool? Sounds like I should push it onto my list of extensions-to-do-someday. (Can someone else? Please?)

Posted by danyelf at 07:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Minorities, networks, and jobs

For some reason, Many2Many's article on Social Capital and Income isn't letting me post a comment. So it'll go here, and they can trackback it to read ...

To bolster the post, I saw a cite recently (I will dig it up upon request) that suggested that jobs with formal application processes are better for minorities and discriminated-against groups than jobs with informal applications.

That is, government jobs (for example), where your resume goes into a computer are more likely to hire a minority than research jobs, where a committee of people decide.

This is partially linked, I think, to racism--but more linked to networks. A student at a traditionally minority school may not have the same access to powerful networks, great connnections, and thus the initial "in" for the informally-collected jobs.

Posted by danyelf at 07:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 27, 2004

Microsoft wants me!

Consumate recruiting skill! (See below the fold)

Everyone knows that potential employees go for the toys. Any now they have given me (in addition to a snacks basket) a keychain!

That unfolds into a laptop!

microsoft_wants_me1.jpg microsoft_wants_me2.jpg

Unfortunately, this laptop seems to be on the black screen of death, and the keys don't work too good. But I thought you'd enjoy knowing about it.

Posted by danyelf at 12:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

CFP: Social Networks for Design and Analysis (CSCW 2004)

Social Networks for Design and Analysis:
Using Network Information in CSCW

A CSCW 2004 workshop:

Workshop Date: Saturday November 6, 2004 – Chicago, IL
Submission Deadline: Wednesday, September 22
Notification of Acceptance: Friday, October 1

[ Note that CSCW early registration ends on October 13. ]

Workshop web site:


  • Shelly Farhnam, Microsoft Research
  • Danyel Fisher, Microsoft Research
  • David W. McDonald, The Information School, University of Washington

The CSCW community has a tradition of adopting social and analytical theories to understand groups and group processes as well as when designing new systems to support and augment cooperative work. Social networks have a long tradition in sociology and cultural anthropology, but are only beginning to break into the CSCW mainstream. The key notion from network analysis, that the interconnections between people can be used to understand and improve their interactions, is one that has direct implications for CSCW research. Network models have clear implications for research into communication systems, teamwork, and knowledge management.

Social networks are being used in several different ways:

  • “Social Network Analysis” – Which is the more traditional, formal, techniques of mathematical sociology and anthropology are used to analyze a population.
  • “Social networks” – The general connections that people have with each other. Examples include explicitly articulated social networks in Friendster, Orkut, or LinkedIn, which use the language and concepts of social networks.
  • Social network techniques in CSCW design – These techniques can vary from contact management, to recommendation techniques, to ways of understanding how an organization is adopting and using a new technology.

While we are particularly interested in this third stream of research, we are generally interested in understanding the broad range of social network research within CSCW. We are interested in exploring tools that both use social networks as a source of information, and that support end-user interactions with social networks.

This full-day workshop seeks participation from social scientists and system designers to address the ways in which social networks can be adapted for use in analyzing cooperation and as a framework for considering new system designs. The workshop will consider four specific topics:

  • Measurement - How are social networks being collected and measured (automatically, manually, quantitatively, qualitatively)? What do these networks actually represent? How are the networks validated? Are the measurements implicit or explicit?
  • Tools - What is the state-of-the-art for analyzing, visualizing and representing social networks? In what context are these tools useful and how can the tools be adapted to specific CSCW situations?
  • Application - Systems are embedding social networks into the fabric of system design. How can system designers distill the complexities of networks into user-oriented displays? How are social networks supported by the system, software, or architecture?
  • Evaluation - How does the use of a social network change, facilitate, or hinder users and their collaborations?

Joining the workshop

Individuals interested in participating in the workshop should submit a position paper describing work in one or more of the topic areas above and a completed workshop survey. The workshop organizers will review position papers. Authors will be notified of acceptance to the workshop on October 1st. One goal of the workshop is to nurture interdisciplinary applications of social networks that specifically consider a CSCW perspective. Attention will be paid to representing a diverse spectrum of positions. The workshop will be limited to 15 participants.
All workshop attendees should register for the CSCW conference.

Proposals should consist of

  1. A four-page position paper describing work in one or more of the workshop areas above.
  2. A completed workshop survey, which is intended to get some ideas of the broad range of skills in the community. (The survey can be found at the workshop web site, .)

Please submit your workshop proposal to David McDonald, dwmc@<, in PDF or Microsoft Word.

Posted by danyelf at 12:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Digital Cameras and Safaris

Just thinking out loud about future travel...

so i've been thinking about cameras, and looking at my trip itinerary.

1) I will be camping and staying in "local" (read: primitive) housing for three weeks straight in Tanzania. I don't expect to run into camera recharge stations very often.

2) My camera runs something like 100 shots ( = 1 days' shooting ) on a battery, and something like 250 shots on a memory card, give or take.

3) Few digital cameras run on AA batteries, which means that if the batteries run out, I'm just plain SOL.

But going to a 35 point'n'click means losing a lot of the stuff tha I've grown to like: (some) exposure control and focus control. Going to any 35 mm means that I lose that little preview window.

So I'm contemplating the merits of ...

A) Buying a pile of batteries as long as my arm, and keeping track of which are and aren't charged. (I'll probably do something like that anyway; I just found a bunch for $10 each).


B) Buying a 35 mm SLR & a decent zoom lense, and then going completely nuts in the next week (huntington gardens, anyone?) with print photography practice to see if I can get enough skills going to feel fairly confident.

(The same goes for film: do I buy a bunch more CF cards, or a digital

Your thoughts?

(It should be noted that higher-end cameras often take AA batteries as an in-a-pinch substitute, and that this tool actually solar-charges batteries!)

Posted by danyelf at 09:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Design and Accomodation

I like to think of myself as a little bit (just a little bit, mind you, but still) of a user interface designer, who gives some thought to the way that interfaces work. And that means that I feel like I can complain in interesting ways about stuff that's kind of broken.

I was humbled at ASA 2004 when I realized I was seeing the world from the wrong perspective.

(Continued, with visual aid ...)

So I'm in the elevator, and the people I'm with notice these odd buttons. One set goes up, the other down.

user_interface_1.jpg user_interface_2.jpg

This, I can tell you, is no good at all. I have to remember which side of the elevator I'm on in order to know how to read the display. I can't just glance over at the panel and tell whether my stop is coming up soon, or which buttons are pressed. A top side button on the left means "low numbered floors," while a top side button on the right means "high numbered floors."

Very confusing. Obviously done by a designer who had never met a user.

So we asked the bellhop, who matter-of-factly said, "Well, we have many guests who come here in wheelchairs. This way, they can reach all the buttons."


Posted by danyelf at 01:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Clear iconography

greatsign.jpg As a bicyclist, some days I need this sort of humbling reminder ... in clear, simple iconography.

Posted by danyelf at 01:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cyclical Temporality, in practice

We all know that time is cyclical. And that means that July 4th next will someday be July 4th past. And that means that "noon" happens, yesterday and today and tomorrow. But it wasn't until I saw these two signs, right next to each other, that I realized just how interlinked they can be in practice ...

(From a store in Portland, Oregon, in mid-August, 2004.)

temporality_1.JPG temporality_2.JPG

Posted by danyelf at 01:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2004

Blogs and Personality

I'll have to think about this issue for a little while. Last Wednesday evening, I met Howard Rheingold for the first time. He's an old friend of my future boss and with Barry and so he had some members of the Netlab and I over to dinner. Howard and I spend some time deep-thinking about blogs, wikis, group and individual editing -- it's all out there in a post that I will try to write shortly.

That evening, I sent out the post that said that Microsoft had officially hired me, and shortly thereafter I got an email from Howard:

Didn't realize yesterday that your blog has been on my aggregator for a

How odd ... Howard Rheingold has been reading my blog for a while. I met him, we talked, and he had no idea who I was. His explanation was that

RSS does tend to remove the personality from blogs and strip it down to
the content of the entries.

which isn't false, but something is missing. The great marvel of blogs over (for example) Usenet is that while Usenet is topic-oriented, blogs are author-oriented. I read a blog because I believe the author (or authors) has something distinctive to say to me. Some of them I choose due to point of view, such as political blogs; others I choose by topic area (Many2Many); others by friendship.

In all of them, though, I thought that I was looking for Authorial Voice. If I want random discussion of a topic, after all, there's Slashdot and Metafilter and--yes--Usenet. But if I want to follow the quirks of a particular person, I hit their blog.

But in that case, something is going horribly wrong if authorial voice is lost in the RSS feed. Am I just one part of a greater link filter, or a slightly more-profound idea-filter? Is, in other words, Howard producing his very own Slashdot (or New York Times) in which lots of anonymous articles bubble up, to be read and contemplated and, once in a while, the writer pokes through? This suggests that the "distinctive" hypothesis is wrong.

Instead, perhaps, consider the "seal of quality" hypothesis. My name on my blog isn't so much my voice, but instead my promise that all my entries are up to my own standards. They trivially are, of course: I wrote them. (Not universally true: Lawrence Lessig brings on a slew of guest bloggers.) So rather than trusting a single paper ("The New York Times") to do the editing, Howard (or my hypothetical reader) is trusting me to do my editing, and is giving up the shared editorial voice that something like the Times gives you.

The analogy runs slightly false, here: for one, the Times doesn't quite offer my blog, in all it's bloggy goodness. This is it. Your only source for "Made Out Of People." For another, and this is the worrisome question, the question that could keep me up at night, were I to let it--why does Howard trust me to edit a blog, but doesn't know me well enough to know if I write it?

Or am I just reading too much into the story of a guy with a few hundred RSS feeds?

What I'm wrestling with here is the question of what it means to author a (non-journal, not-necessarily-personal) blog.

Posted by danyelf at 03:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Turned in.

I turned in my signed dissertation to the library today. They took it.

I am told there used to be a ritual in the early days of the Southern
California Beach Universities. When a PhD turned in his dissertation,
the members of his lab would gather on a SoCal beach on a warm
evening. Breezes blowing in their hair, they would solemly toast the
sunset, light a bonfire, and proceed to get themselves truly,
stunningly drunk.

Late that night, as they danced around the fire, they would stack
dissertation parapenalia on a small wooden raft. Old paper drafts,
rejected library prints, schedules and printouts and calendars and
critiques and door comics would all be stacked on a the flimsy bark.
At midnight, a virgin (or, according to some sources, a live chicken)
would be attached to the raft. All those around would ceremonially
pour their drinks onto the pile, a torch from the bonfire would be
touched to the alcohol-soaked documents, and six first-year grad
students would bring the raft over the waves and into a riptide which
would carry it deep into the ocean.

As the burning knowledge drifted over the horizon and gradually sank,
the assembled group would drink once more to the assembled flaming
wisdom, and to the memory of first-year grad students who couldn't

Unfortunately, those days are long since over. Beaches close at 10 pm.
Cruelty to animals laws prevent us from burning a chicken. And some
dissertations never see a printer.


So let's discard antiquated--and, indeed--fictional ritual. It's time for the


If you want to join us (this Saturday night, Orange County), email me for information.

Posted by danyelf at 01:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 24, 2004

Design is hard ... but not that hard.

Just when I think I truly hate electronic ballots, I discover something like this

Palm Beach County has introduced an absentee ballot that requires voters to indicate their choices by connecting broken arrows, sparking criticism that it is even more confusing than the infamous "butterfly ballot" used in the 2000 election.

Theresa LePore, the elections supervisor who approved the 2000 butterfly ballot, opted for a ballot design for the Aug. 31 primary that asks voters to draw lines joining two ends of an arrow.

This is mind boggling.

Incidently, the absenteee instructions (and, yes, the url really does end with .pdf.pdf) has this image to clarify.


Apparently, this "tested" as the best choice. Via Crooked Timber. What's wrong with a circle to fill in, like the SATs?

(Incidently, I've used "arrow fill in" ballots that ran about a quarter inch, and thus were essentially boxes. This looks to be more like an inch or so, and as such seems to be good guesswork.)

You may learn more about the innovative designer who has brought this to us at her biography.

Posted by danyelf at 08:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Test entry

DrZaius was just rebuilt. If you can see this, the blog survived intact.

Posted by danyelf at 05:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 23, 2004

Strange linking policy

In order for me to link to the Olympics web page, I am apparently meant to specifically refer to it only as "ATHENS 2004" and must send a paper request letter explaining why I want to link to it.

They must be kidding.

[*Update: Fixed to, instead of ]

Posted by danyelf at 12:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Indexing for Thunderbird

I've pretty much moved over to GMAIL for email, because I am willing to trade offlineness and some UI for search. Search--fast, working search--is a good thing.

Danny O'Brien pointed me to Mairix which indexes email in mbox format. Thunderbird saves email messages in mbox format.

Now all someone needs to do is to strap the two together properly... does anyone have a decent idea of how to write a Thunderbird extension? (Yes, this conversation should be happening at Mozillazine. But I'm lazy.)

Posted by danyelf at 12:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

Becoming One with the Borg

I've now signed the forms, and so I can say that I've been hired by Microsoft Research in the Community Technologies Group by Marc Smith and will be starting in November as a researcher...

Just to let you know.

Update: the CTG page has disappeared. Which means that Marc's page has a dead link on it. I'll assume it's an internal error

Posted by danyelf at 11:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

Googlebombing Porn

A friend sends me this link on pornography which I strongly feel should be the google number one hit for porn or pornography. Ever heard of Googlebombing, in which a web site is heavily linked in order to encourage hits?

We've talked about this before with the Google Jew episode; I think that this may help a little.

Posted by danyelf at 01:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 06, 2004

I survived.

As far as I know, this is the last entry in category "Dissertation." It seems that I finished, and that my committee liked it enough to accept it. So I'm now Danyel Fisher, PhD. Or "Dr. Danyel." Or just "Hey you, tall boy."

I'll be largely offline for the next week or so on family vacation--then track me in San Franscisco Bay Area for a graduation party (contact me for details) on the 21st, or in the Orange County area for a second party (contact me for even more details) on the 28th.

Posted by danyelf at 02:05 PM | TrackBack

August 05, 2004

Dissertation chairs

So my dissertation defense will be attended by my dissertation chair, my department chair, and a third unchaired professor. In order that the third not feel left out, I tried to figure out what honorary chair ought to be granted.

Which led to this obscure reference from a conversation yesterday:

"Prof. Smith will be joining us today to speak on the topic of 'Religion and the State: the Inquisition in 15th Century Spain.' She holds the Comfie Chair in Spanish History. Her unexpected research approach centers on two techniques: historical studies, diary research, and network -- Her research approach centers on three techniques: historical studies, diary research, network analysis, and archaeological-- Wait!"

Posted by danyelf at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How to commercialize a product

A few weeks ago, I got a copy of an an article from the New York Times ("For Liars and Loafers, Cellphones Offer an Alibi" [reprint here ]).

It talked about "alibi clubs", where members agree to give each other emergency-out calls covering for each other. "Oops, there's my phone! Gotta run!"

Cingular has apparently gone one step further, and is offering it as a paid service.

"Escape-A-Date" is the perfect service to use when you are afraid that your blind date may not be just right for you. This new service allows you to schedule a "rescue" phone call at a pre-set time. That way, you'll be called at the time you specify. The service tells you exactly what to say to set the tone for a speedy escape. There are eight randomly generated humorous scripts. (Yahoo)


Posted by danyelf at 12:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 03, 2004

Document Formatting can Cost Lives!

Have you ever had the problem of fighting with a word processor's text boxes? You aren't the only one. Intelligence agents may be able to kill a man with their bare hands in a crowded room, but when it comes down to it, computer interfaces are hard.

I'm glancing over the Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq and ran into this bizarre quote:

While formatting the final version of the NIE, the NIC staff decided to separate the entire aluminum tubes discussion into a separate annex that laid out each agency's position. When this formatting change was made, a text box INR had previously submitted for the body of the NIE was split into a text box on reconstitution and a text box on the aluminum tubes. ... INR's dissent on the uranium reporting was inadvertently separated from the reconstitution section and included in the aluminum tubes box in the annex of the NIE. (pg. 54; 64th PDF page) ...

The language on Iraq's efforts to acquire uranium from Africa appeared as it did in the draft version and INR's position that "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are highly dubious " was included in a text box, separated by about 60 pages from the discussion of the uranium issue. (pg. 55; 65th PDF page)

Posted by danyelf at 08:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 01, 2004

Temporality and Virtue

Ok, so I don't have to be tracking references manically anymore. But I will, 'cause that's what I do as a grad student.

Crooked Timber discusses virtue, vice, Netflix, and the temporality of decision making:

Participants made the choices either in a sequence, meaning that the viewings would be in the immediate future, or made them all simultaneously, meaning that some of the viewings would be delayed. Participants who made the choices in a sequence tended to pick mostly vice films, while participants who made the choices simultaneously picked many more virtue films.

The decision horizon affects the decision. Even for rental movies.

Posted by danyelf at 10:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack