Monthly Archives: June 2011

Google+ early reviews: the new software smell

Disclaimer: I have just now gotten access to Google+, so this review is a reflection of other reviews, some personal experience, and a weary view of novelty.

Google+ is out in very limited test. Some small number of well connected people now have access to a new piece of social software from Google, and initial reviews have been generally positive.

How do you assess whether the initial reviews of a system designed for communications are accurate for when the system eventually gets rolled out to a wider audience? Consider that the first people into the system were hand picked, that they generally like getting access to new systems, and that they are relatively experienced and gregarious online experts. Certainly they will like something new that only they have access to – quite independent of the set of features – because it gives them a chance to reconnect to old online friends and make some new ones.

When a communications system becomes available to the general public, the system dynamics change greatly. The initial group of participants can all be presumed to be interesting to each other, so talking to any random individual is likely to be someone relatively near you in social circumstance. As the population explodes, the random person gets less and less interesting, to the limit of when the random person is likely to be a spammer.

Google+ is at the invention stage. Much like Facebook seeded its early use poll with Ivy League students, Google+ is doing its shakedown cruise with fans and friends and family in the first batch. Who wouldn't like to try out a new, expensive, mostly empty system and establish yourself in it? I'm waiting for the next round of invites, and hoping to enjoy it while it's in early growth stages and not when it's in long-in-the-tooth maintenance mode.


Walking Around: bonus points

I walked a lot more today than I normally would have walked, thanks to my new game Walking Around. Here's some of the bonus points I scored that I wouldn't have scored in my previous quest, Sitting Around Typing.

Pedestrian Path (+1). It's always good to find a way to get from here to there that's not on any map. The pedestrian path I found connects Needham Road to Amelia Place. I've added that little segment to Open Street Map so that I can find it again, and so that I can cut through one more neighborhood with confidence. My son and I took this route to his summer camp today, and he suggested one more point for Unfamiliar Route (+1).

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Unexpected Lunch Companions (+2). If you wait for the bus at a bus stop near a restaurant, and if someone you know happens to be driving to that restaurant, then not only can you have an unexpectedly pleasant lunch but you can also get a ride downtown. Thanks to the Toziers for the happy coincidence and for a beginning of a discussion of annexation and township islands.

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Urban Foraging (+1). Juneberries are in season, which means that a carefully selected path will take you past some delicious snacks, right out there in the open, where thousands of people walk each day but none notice except the birds and a few brave souls who appreciate Amalanchier. For more berrypicking ideas, I follow Linda Diane Feldt's @wildcrafting Twitter account. For lots more detail on Amalanchier, the 1946 American Species of Amalachier has ranges and keys for native species.

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Park Benches (+2). If, at the end of your trek, you stop to wait for the bus – then it's useful to note that sometimes the bus stop is close to a park which has a park bench in the shade. Douglas Park is a nice place to wait for the #4, especially if you have RideTrak running on your cell phone to tell you when to get up and walk to the stop 1/2 block south of the park. My walk the next morning circled around all the way back to this park bench.

North Star (+1). A nice night walk on a clear night gives you all of the directions you need when Polaris is visible in the north sky. The drawing is from H. A. Rey's The Stars, my all time favorite book about the night sky.

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How do I come up with this bonus point structure? If you walk around enough, something that you see or do is bound to make you happy. Give yourself points for those happy places, and know where they are so that you can revisit them.

Walking Around, a new urban walking game

I'm inventing a new urban game called Walking Around. I'm sure that someone else has invented it already, but reinvention is part of the process of creativity. Here's how it's played.

First, you play with a pedometer, which tells you how far you've walked during the day. There are a number of systems already for tracking your pedometer usage, including Walker Tracker, Steps, and a bunch of others. Use whatever system that gives you, or just a spreadsheet, to take care of the basic structure of making certain that you count steps daily.

Second – and here is what is novel, at least to me – is that there's a bonus structure in the game designed to award bonuses for when you have accomplished tasks. The first bonus award that I'm awarding myself looks at constructing a walk so that you make an orbit around the biggest possible chunk of territory; that is to say, repeated walks along the same path will get you zero bonus, but going out of your way on a detour will add to your score, and trekking through unfamiliar territory in a big loop is the best.

So far this is a pen and paper game and I haven't fully worked out the point structure. I have a notion that you capture territory every time you orbit it, so that you might win a park by going all the way around it, and you might win a political ward or precinct by capturing a loop around it. To simplify greatly, since I am trying to keep record of this in a small book, I'm just drawing a graph with destinations rather than tracking every street.

Some idea sources:

Riverwalks Ann Arbor is a book of walking loops along the Huron River, written by Brenda E. Bentley.

Lake Trek is the weblog for   who wrote A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach about her circumnavigation on foot of Lake Michigan. I don't think I'm going to beat that top score.

Tom Graham wrote about Walking The World, and his quest to walk every street in San Francisco, in 2005 for SF Gate; his web site is SF Walking Man.

The AADL Summer Reading Game has points for reading books and badges for doing various other tasks, and the gamers there know how to make a game that will make you read. There should therefore be points in my Walking Around game every time you complete part of a circuit that connects to a library.

All City New York is the work of Moses Gates, whose game board includes the challenge of visiting all of the census tracts of New York City. Thanks to Ruth Kraut for the link. 

In Tacoma, Brian Kerr is getting bonus points in his version of the game for elevation.

Now pardon me while I connect some dots in my game map.


Paraphrase, regurgitate, cut, and paste

Failure of the fourth estate. Newspapers and websites all over the country have reported on the flooding and fire at Fort Calhoun, but most articles simply paraphrase and regurgitate information from the NRC and OPPD press releases, which aggregators and bloggers then, in turn, simply cut and paste. Even the Omaha World-Herald didn't send local reporters to cover the story; instead, the newspaper published an article on the recent fire written by Associated Press reporters — based in Atlanta and Washington.

Dawn Stover's piece Rising Water, Falling Journalism for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists pokes a sharp stick in the eye of bloggers and journalists alike in failing to do original work when reporting on the risks to the public from flooding at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant. 

See also: World Net Daily punking USA Today on a story about Delta Airlines and travel to Saudi Arabia, described neatly by Adam Hochberg for Poynter.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps, asks Brad DeLong and Cosma Shalizi. The answer may be too painfully clear, if you stop to think too hard about it – in the face of content mills like Examiner and Patch, who on earth could afford to write something that took a long time to write for only a few page views?

Top of mind vs. top of page vs Top Of The Park

At what point did "top of mind" get replaced by "top of page" ? For people like me who spend a lot of time online, it's easy for social network systems like Twitter and Facebook to be a steady stream of distractions, especially when the usual clues for what is important get replaced simply by cues for what is new.

Some background for context.

The earliest use of the phrase "top of mind" that I can find in a modern context is Alin Gruber's Top of Mind Awareness and Share of Families (1969), a discussion in the Journal of Marketing Research on how closely the snap judgments that consumers make about brand recogition map to market share.

"Top of page" shows up in the news and design business as "above the fold"; see this Boxes and Arrows design article, Blasting the Myth of the Fold (2007).

Facebook's Top News page comes from their Edgerank algorithm, the details of which change as quickly as and are kept as proprietary as Google's Pagerank algorithm. EdgeRank: The Secret Sauce That Makes Facebook’s News Feed Tick (Techcrunch, 2010) gives a simplified explanation of it.

"Top of the park" is the music and movies part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, held on Ingalls Mall. It used to be hosted at the top of the parking structure next to the Power Center, hence the name.

Thanks to Rod Johnson ("Top of Park").

Michigan summer festivals for 2011

Absolute Michigan is running a promotional campaign for summer festivals in Michigan, offering a chance to win a free admissions to selected events. See the Absolute Michigan Festival Summer page, and if you are organizing a festival and are looking to promote it, give Andrew McFarlane a holler and tell him I sent you.

Here's some of these summer festivals for 2011:

I'm sure there are more – have a great time (and help me fill in the page, if I'm missing any that you are organizing).

For more Michigan festival information, see the Popular Events and Festivals in Michigan page that Madman Mike maintains. For fireworks, see the Michigan Fireworks site (412 displays!) maintained by Meg Geddes.

Unpolished writing in the open notebook

Steve Crocker, Internet Request for Comments 3, from 1969: "There is a natural hesitancy to publish something unpolished, and we hope to ease this inhibition."

From time to time, someone reads Vacuum and comments that the writing looks unpolished and incomplete. Why would you publish this kind of work, which obviously isn't up to the standards that would let you sell it to someone for use in print? Why wouldn't you hide it in your notebooks?

I'm using this weblog as a notebook, and publishing my notes for myself instead of always as a tightly edited, polished, finished work. By exposing this part of a process I hope to be prepared to find some way to make myself understood, even if I don't completely understand myself immediately as I write through an issue or question. Thoughts go in, get refined as far as they need to be to make them coherent, and then go onto the net and into the world so that there's room for the next piece to emerge.

The open notebook is going to be messy, but it also means that I have some hope of finding my own half-finished work and revisiting it years later; when I don't do that, there's always something lost. Writing this way lets me tune into ideas, spin them around for a bit until I have a clearer focus, and move on. In most cases, I'm not ready to make things shiny and neat, and I'm content to explore facets of an unpolished gem over a series of years.

Previously, because I put it out there in first draft format so that I could find it again: make the first version coherent (from 2011);  creativity vs productivity (from 2008); on shitty first drafts (from 2007); wishing that my weblog looked more like my quadrille notebooks (from 2004).