Monthly Archive for July, 2006

UB Law Library survives fire and flood

Law Library flood
Click photo to see entire slideshow. Photos by Jim Milles.

In the words of the director of the Law Library, Jim Milles, he and his staff are becoming experts in adversity. Sixteen months ago they had a fire to deal and this morning it was a flood. As seen from the library mailing list:

Leaks on the fifth floor of O’Brian after last night’s heavy rain caused significant water damage to the ceiling, carpeting, furniture, equipment, and books on floors 4 through 1. Thanks to the quick and dedicated response from all the Law Library’s staff–not to mention staff from Preservation and Lockwood–we have boxed some 3500 books for vacuum freeze drying. Most of the books come from our Reference collection and some of the state statutes and cases.

We expect to reopen as usual on Monday morning, although certain parts of the library will be subject to cleanup and repair, and the books sent off for repair will be gone for some time. We probably dodged a bullet: fortunately, the bar exam finished yesterday, so graduates taking the bar are unaffected. With any luck we should be cleaned up and back to normal before classes start again.

Thanks to everyone who pitched in to get us through this latest disaster. All of the Law Library staff worked like a well-oiled machine to identify the tasks that needed to be done, and to do them.

Without a doubt, librarians are the silent protectors of information.

.Mac and iCal destroyed my personal data

iCal corruption destroys personal data

Ever since the last .Mac outage, my iCal calendar just isn’t right anymore. Everytime I launch it, I see none of my calendars, but I find a lot of empty calendars created in it’s place (as you can see above). I suspect that iSync was automatically synchronizing my personal data when the .Mac server went down, resulting in corrupted data on the server and on my Macbook Pro.

Besides the Apple’s Support Discussion Forums, a quick google reveals that I’m not alone in this iSync/iCal corruption assumption. Tim Bray from Sun Microsystems spoke my mind:

Dear Apple, here’s how you update a file containing valuable data safely:
1. First, you write out the new version without touching the old version, and carefully check that it worked.
2. Then, you move the old version aside, giving it name like Tim.ics.backup, and carefully check that the move worked.
3. Then, you move the new version in to the location of the old version and carefully check that this worked.
4. Then, you delete the backup. Even better, don’t; keep a few generations around.

The typical experience of a Mac user would be to delete iCal’s preference files, otherwise known as the plist files. Well, I deleted the iCal preferences, caches and associated files, and even made sure that iSync didn’t try to send corrupted iCal data back down, but the darn program just refuses to work. It hangs the entire system (yes, the clock stops), and I can’t do anything other than shut down or wait till it crashes. It’s driving me crazy and the same sentiments are felt by posters at the Apple Support discussion board.

Believe it or not, other than these inconsistent ideas, I couldn’t find any official solution!

UPDATE:This tip finally worked for me. Note that mine was especially bad because calendars were replicating themselves, so I had to first remove my login info from the .Mac System Preference, open iCal and delete the extra calendars, relogin using the .Mac System Preference and under the Advanced tab, Reset Sync Data from my Macbook to .Mac to erase the corrupted data there. From now onwards, I’m setting my .Mac synchronization to Manually instead of Automatically!

Reputation for Sale: Do “purchased identities” work?

under new management
Photo by Timo Wuerz

At first, it was World of Warcraft players selling their characters for boatloads of cash. Now, we have the first “Top 100 Digg user” trying to sell his account on eBay. With all of the recent news about top Digg users being offered cash by Netscape, this comes as no surprise.

As TechCrunch reports, the auction is for the Digg username GeekForLife. A quick look shows that the user has submitted 748 Digg stories, 39 of which have made it to the Digg home page. Since this morning, there has been 27 bids with the current bid going at $325.

Will “purchased identity” work?
Unlike buying game characters, there is really less benefit from buying someone’s Digg profile or any profile that has to do with reputation. Buying an experienced World of Warcraft character account for instance might give you access to more exciting levels, as well as rare items useful for raids or trades in the game. Buying a Digg account is practically useful (unless it for media attention) since it is likely for the buyer to fall off that Top 100 Digg user charts when he/she is unable to keep up with the original user’s submissions. As Kevin Rose already mentioned in his latest Diggnation videocast, the Top 100 Digg users keeps fluctuating and of the top users who might be bought over, many more would likely take their place.

Branding in Real Life
In real life, we might contrast situations like these to ones where a businesses comes under new management. I’ve always been mystified how consumers are suppose to perceive this. It doesn’t mean that a restaurant’s food would take better, or that service would be impeccable, since it’s still requires us taking risks to figure out how the suggested improvements work out. While I might assume regular customers becoming skeptical when their favorite businesses are managed by someone else, I am challenged by the notion of whether brand names are indeed that valuable. So long as the quality of product or service isn’t too drastically changed, we’ve seen people sticking with it (i.e. Coke vs. Pepsi).

In essence, I might have seen GeekForLife’s posts before and liked them, but there isn’t any pioneering advantage he has over other Digg users. While his name certainly isn’t a brand, it’s a worthy experiment to see how much traction the identity’s new owner would get before it plummets down the charts.

Muse’s Knights of Cydonia RAWKS!

Cowboys, Kungfu, Cyborgs, Unicorns… if you ever loved any of the above-mentioned, you’ll get to see it all in Muse’s latest music video: Knights of Cydonia.

Things I’ve learnt from this trip:
1. Post global warming, we will live like space cowboys.
2. Chinese martial arts becomes second nature to everyone.
3. CDs from landfills are still useful for killing people, especially bad people.

After getting hooked on Muse (don’t they sound like Weezer), make a trip to director Joseph Kahn’s web site where he has been making magic with music videos all these years. Tons of freaky “Bladerunner-ish” videos to watch over there!

TheoryCast.12 :: Pimp My Desktop

theorycast.12 :: pimp my desktop

It’s casual friday! Take a look at how you can pimp your desktop using existing stuff from around your workplace. You can download the video (.mov), see previous episodes or subscribe to theorycast via iTunes.

Singapore/Hopkins Divorce: What’s the Big Deal?

Game Over for Johns Hopkins University and Singapore partnership

This latest academic hoo-ha involving John Hopkins University and Singapore’s A*Star organization was given major coverage in the local press. For international scholars, reading this gives you an opportunity to see the kind of criticism I have with our government’s misplaced priorities on higher education in Singapore. I find that there tends to be too much emphasis on the few trendy or “brand name” academic programs, when we should really have a more diversified educational offering in Singapore. That is, we should put our eggs in more baskets.

Elia Diodati has been keeping a watchful eye on the Johns Hopkins University pullout from the Singapore-Hopkins program. He quotes an Inside Higher Ed article on the Johns Hopkins fallout, entitled A Divorce in Singapore. This was where I saw the behavioral pattern intrinsic to our government.

Here are the main points:
1. Singapore’s eight-year relationship with Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has gone sour.
2. Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) director, Dr Andre Wan, said that Singapore had invested $84 million in the eight years of program development.
3. A*Star said that the American institution did not deliver on promises (e.g. U.S. faculty).
4. A Hopkins spokesman said that the university was preparing a statement about the failed partnership, but it hadn’t released anything yet.
5. Less than diplomatic words were exchanged between both parties in the Asian press.

It’s common for people to make bad investments, so we shouldn’t cry over spilled milk.
But why is this such a big deal for the Singapore government?

From the Inside Higher Ed article, Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said he doesn’t know why the Singapore-Hopkins relationship soured, but thinks that other universities should pay attention. “Singapore clearly wanted both a brand name — brand names are very important in the Asian context — and it wanted the substance behind the name. If they don’t get both, there’s a problem,” Altbach said.

Brand name.
Argh, even though I’ve never met Mr. Altbach before, even he knows what Asian people like. Likewise, Singapore’s effort to become an international education hub has so far been downright superficial *shakes head*.

Dr DunnettAs Dr. Stephen C. Dunnett (Hey, I know him!) of UB’s Office of International Education (OIE) suggested, it would be wrong to read too much into the Hopkins situation. SUNY-Buffalo has been offering programs in Singapore for close to a decade, generally in business and education, starting with one program and growing gradually. He states that programs succeed and fail all the time in the United States, Singapore, or anywhere, said Stephen Dunnett, vice provost for international education at Buffalo. He predicted that the Hopkins experience would not alter the growth of American programs in Asia or elsewhere.

“There are going to be others that will take its place,” Dr. Dunnett said.

The University at Buffalo currently enrolls about 400 students in Singapore and expects that to increase. Dunnett believes that since the September 11th incident, more students from outside the United States want an American-style education but either can’t or won’t get to the United States.

Perhaps the Singapore government should try learning from other successful, yet lesser known ventures in the academic domain. By building relationships gradually with more American universities to offer a more diverse array of disciplines, goodwill will be forged for a better relationship in building more ambitious programs in future.

ASIDE: Being here, I counted around 25 Singaporeans currently studying in the University at Buffalo (SUNY), so it’s indeed fascinating that UB has 400 or so students in their Singapore program (taught in the Singapore Institute of Management of course). Our Office of International Education (OIE), which Dr. Dunnett governs, has always been doing a great job marketing programs in Singapore and in keeping their ties with Singaporean institutions. Finally, I must add that UB is really Singaporean-friendly… in general, I think they perceive us Singaporeans as professional and hardworking. Singaporeans rarely get turned down from their intended assistantship!

ASIDE 2: If you want to do graduate study in the U.S. but can’t find a scholarship, try some considering some of my alternatives to scholarships.

ASIDE 3:: First UB’s School of Informatics gets killed. Now this Hopkins in Singapore partnership. I should really start something like where players came up with a dotcom deadpool. If I start one for schools, wouldn’t it be called

Today’s Links: Cultspace lets you run your own cult!

Excuse me, I just got a wedgie there…

Consumer Intelligence: How to find BestBuy’s 30% off booklets

How to find BestBuy's 30% off booklets
Click photo to see identifying features of BestBuy’s 30% off booklets

One thing I love about life in America is the power of the consumer. I’d typically walk into an electronics store, get my intended item at ridiculous prices and walk out, sometimes leaving other customers in disbelief. They’d ask the sales person what I just did, and try to do the same. If you’ve been in the same situation before, you’d might have felt the kind of euphoria that makes you want to blog about it (eh?). In essence, knowledge is power, and what better source of consumer intelligence than the plethora of deal web sites out there (see my previous “Deal sites every geek should know about“). For instance, here’s what happened today…

As discovered via Fatwallet, BestBuy has interesting “Back to School” coupon booklets at their stores; interesting because they appear to give you random sets of discounts. Fortunately, someone found a way to identify the one that give you the 30% off coupon and so I’ve confirmed two methods for quickly spotting the ones that have the bigger discounts:

1. As you’ll see in the photos, the 30% off ones have slightly different copyright text than the lower (10% 5% 15%) booklets. If you get one with a 29528_1 to the left of the copyright symbol on the back cover, you have a lower one. If there’s no text to the left of the the copyright symbol, you’ve got the 30% off!

2. I found the “Back-to-School” booklets next to the customer service counters. Since there were sales people there, I couldn’t afford to stand around and sort through stacks of booklets. A quick way to find the ones with the bigger discounts is to look from the top side of the stack (i.e. spine of the booklet fold). The 30% off ones will be less yellowish in print, probably because of a difference in printing or folding batch.

Do note that the BestBuy “Back to School” coupons expire on 9th September 2006 and the 30% off coupon only works with Computer Accessories, Notebook Accessories, Office Furniture, and Paper (as shown here)

TIP: Using your sought-after 30% off coupon, the hottest item to get this week is the Western Digital My Book 500GB External USB 2.0 Hard Drive on sale for $199 ($100 instant rebate). You’ll effectively get it for only $149 after tax! If it’s out of stock, simple ask for a raincheck.

TIP 2: If you want to be in the know, join my new photo sharing group called FlickrDeals

All your video is belong to us…

This is not a paid commercial. For gawd sakes, I’m actually reviewing a toothbrush…

Ever since DVguru compared ten video sharing services, more services have cropped up.

According to Reuters, YouTube serves up 100 million videos a day. In June, 2.5 billion videos were watched on YouTube; contrast that with the company’s size which is just over 30 employees. More than 65,000 videos are now uploaded daily to YouTube, up from around 50,000 in May. YouTube also boasts nearly 20 million unique users per month, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, another Internet audience measurement firm. I’ve been using YouTube for a while now, putting out heavy-hitters once in a while (see my profile).

However, after hearing about YouTube’s major boo-boo with their new “all your video is belong to us” terms and agreement, I’ve been looking at other options. I know it costs YouTube about $1 million per month in bandwidth charges, but that doesn’t justify a popular company to push anyone around. No free lunchie.

While YouTube’s marketing manager clarified by saying that they don’t intend to sell your content, the realization of someone taking ownership of my free content makes me one unhappy camper. Perhaps this was the tipping point, since I’ve always been peeved by YouTube’s upload limitation of 15 minutes or 100MB.

What else have I considered then?
I’m trying Veoh now which lets me upload videos with no bloody file size limit, and lets users download the original video file I uploaded. I would also consider Revver and Google Video since they provide users in revenue-sharing / syndication opportunities.

Aside: The Oral-B Pulsar uses a pager-motor as seen here…

PhD or Die Trying: Dissertation Ideas Pack #1

Jet Powered Volkswagon
No, that’s not my idea. That’s a Jet Beetle made in Stanford University. Photo by Wending Tang

As mentioned in the intro, the core of this PhD or Die Trying series is to come up with interesting dissertation ideas. With my advisor backing me up, here’s my first belated cluster of brainstorms this week. Please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors. If you wish to use any of these ideas, let me know and perhaps we can work out something together.

1. How RSS spells Death to Online Serendipity
Last year, Dan Li mentioned how she had stopped surfing web pages and instead saw the web through the lens of RSS feeds. This brought about the question of whether she was truly discovering new things for herself online, or if she had confined her agenda to those of the popularist (e.g., Digg). Perhaps she was concerned about how whether she was turning into a follower (early adopter) more so than an original source / first discoverer (innovator). She explained how our early use of the web might be likened to exploring a dark cave where you might find things you intended to find, but make accidental yet wonderful discoveries along the way (serendipity). With RSS feeds and popularity web services feeding us information, we seem to be entering a pre-explored cave, complete with a guided tour. In fact, blogger GeekSpin asks: “Are we being lobotimized by memetrackers?” Since the release of memetrackers, we use memeorandum and tailrank to find the cream of the crop. “Are we missing the plot with the memetrackers, are we to focused on the opinion of other people? Are we losing our individuality? RSS subscriptions will differ from me to you, unique, but if we follow memetrackers are we not just like the zombies from “Shawn of the dead”? Have we been digitally lobotomized?” In essence, are we learning less than we realize?
Keywords: popularity, blogging, collective intelligence, education, mass media

2. Building Social Capital through Blogs
Taking our knowledge of social capital and the participatory nature of blogs, there seems to be an initial fit between both spaces. Both are democratic in nature and recognize various types of network connections, including bonding, bridging and linking. Could blogs facilitate social capital building for particular communities (e.g. academic, NGOs)? Some questions to explore might include how well principles of social capital apply to blogs as a form of social glue? Elements to look at might include types of network relationships, defining measures for such connections, mapping network connections to intended outcomes.
Keywords: social capital, blogging, collective intelligence, virtual community, collaborative

3. Can Collective Intelligence be bought out?
The collective intelligence which powers Wikipedia explains Collective Intelligence (CI) as a working form of intelligence which overcomes “groupthink” and individual cognitive bias in order to allow a collective to cooperate on one process—while maintaining reliable intellectual performance. George Pór, author of The Quest for Collective Intelligence (1995), defined this phenomenon as “the capacity of a human community to evolve toward higher order complexity thought, problem-solving and integration through collaboration and innovation.” Deconstructing CI, I see three things, namely cognition, cooperation and coordination. We see CI in real life more so then ever before. Popular news sites such as Digg and Slashdot depend on the collective intelligence of users to attach value to news submissions. Yet, if users of highest influence (e.g. Top Digg Users, Most Friends, ++ Karma Points, etc) were to behave differently, would the collective system be resistant enough to heal or replace itself naturally? On that note, what conditions are required to allow for a less exploitable democratic architecture?

4. Visualizing Emergent Opinions in the Blogosphere
The current technology for aggregating the blogosphere is limited to tracking conversations based on links, trackbacks and tags between blogs. Perhaps it would be more fruitful if we could focus on content of blogs in specific domains (e.g. by geography, by nationality, by interest) and to visualize the emergent clusters of opinion based on topics. For instance, we could use our content analysis package to compare cross-border sentiments through the blogs from countries in conflict (e.g. middle-east). This could be technically achieved by collecting the RSS feeds of a few hundred blogs in each country and processing these xml files to compare the different use of similar terms on each side. Such would include frequency and semantics of the names of countries in conflict, their concepts of war/peace, ethics: right/wrong, hate, use of profanity, just to name a few. Since our content analysis package is able to process non-roman characters as well, we could study countries where English isn’t used. For example, we could compare India & Parkistan (Sanskrit), China & Taiwan (Hanzi). Once this study is done, we would be able to decern the hotspot issues between neighboring countries which may possibly help in improving bilateral relations. More importantly, we would have a established a “mechanism” or methodology for assessing the relationship between countries. Future research may allow us to adapt this for more localized studies once we can accurately determine the geographical position of bloggers (based on Halavais’ prior research). It is hoped that instead of an instance where the Indian Govt. blocks bloggers entirely (perhaps the govt. doesn’t know where to start?), they can respond more accurately and directly to particular bloggers given such a Zeitgeist tool.

5. Mapping Your Blogosphere’s Influencers
The blogosphere is made up of conversations by bloggers where their individual participation combines into larger social movements. As seen in various studies including the recent PEW Internet Report on “Who are the Bloggers“, there has been difficulty determining the particular kind of individuals who blog (e.g. 14yr old girl who has a cat). This problem could stem from the confusing identification of a blog (no comments still = blog?) and the sheer array of blog platforms (which is most popular?). Perhaps the most prominent reason is because we’ve come to realize how there was no centrality in the blogosphere to begin with, but instead many centers or blogospheres (as Halavais first mentioned). This makes tracking influencial blogger difficult since readership (measured by FeedCount, web traffic stats, inbound links) might not be available, especially for non-tech related groups. Alternative methods of measuring influence and reputation other than hyperlinks may be required, which may include a communication study of a particular social network (via survey). By comparing a blog community’s hyperlink connections with real-world connections (e.g. phone calls, emails, face to face), we can discover more characteristics of the particular social network. As such, it may be useful to know the key influencers in particular blogospheres (e.g. knitting, cat owners, Phd students who procrastinate) for various purposes (e.g. marketing).

Okay, there are my five thoughts… I should put out more since it’s a brainstorm, but I feel this need to make everything relevant before I publish it. If you are doing anything related, do share your thoughts in the comments. Maybe we can trade anecdotes and data in that order.

UPDATE: For more ideas, I just remembered some academic trendwatching I did a while ago…