Archive for December, 2009

times square scammer

In the news today,

NYC police: Officer kills Times Square scammer

NEW YORK — A plainclothes cop chased a Times Square scam artist through sidewalks crowded with holiday shoppers and tourists Thursday, exchanging gunfire that shattered Broadway theater and gift shop windows, before killing the suspect near a landmark hotel, police said.

The slain man was not immediately identified. Officers suspected him and his partner were working a scam in which they would approach tourists, ask them their names, then write their names on the CDs and demand payment of $10.

I’m so glad I didn’t take any of those CD’s hawked to me every morning in times square last summer.

carps and the Chicago River

This article is talking about control measures to stop the Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes via the Chicago River. The interesting part is this however:

They have called for the drastic and massively expensive action of separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi water basin. The two systems were connected in an epic feat of engineering a century ago when the Chicago River was reversed so that the city’s waste would flow away from Lake Michigan — which provides the city’s drinking water — rather than into it.

Never having been to Chicago, I didn’t know of this geographic feature.

What’s more, why is the fish so terrible? I mean all kinds of carps are eaten in China all the time. Apparently, “the fish tend to be boney and have an unpleasant taste to the American palate.” Oh well.

Now that I think about it, fish that Americans like are all meaty and have thick bones.

How fish is often eaten in China:

How fish is often eaten here:

google wave lacks structure

Got an invitation to Google Wave today. The problem I find immediately is the lack of structure. Say what you will about the restrictions of email or IM, but the same restrictions of those ways of communication, namely time-flow or thread-flow, are also well enforced structures to keep things sane. Wave takes away these and substitutes “playback.” Unfortunately, playback is not natural. (The other way is to fall back on social convention to keep order, but that rarely works with more than 2 peers.)

I think there are two options here. Either structure needs to be explicitly enforced or presentation needs to be refined.

In the former, perhaps it is better to only allow replies in certain places. Perhaps it is better to only allow edits in certain places. Perhaps it is better to separate the two and keep the distinction between edit mode, thread mode, and conversation mode, and only allow mixing in very restricted settings (or require some extra steps to discourage its use). After all, in preparing a shared endeavor, the purpose should be defined and known ahead of time.

In the latter, perhaps a lot of hiding and collapsing should be used. Perhaps hyperlinks should be used for in-place edits that often hijack a topic. And now that subthreads can sprout like a tree, it makes little sense to retain the linear structure of conversations. Perhaps a topic based graph, or a conversation stack would be the more appropriate presentation metaphor.

Wave is a good idea, but not well thought out. In its attempt to differentiate, it has forsaken useability for chaotic flexibility, which would have had redeeming value, were it matched by equally ambitious presentation/visualization.

fuzzy research

Every once in a while newspapers publish these “popular science” articles that promulgate the latest fads in psychology, anthropology, or some such “fuzzy” social science. Here is one: Did evolution make our eyes stand out? Researchers test ‘cooperative eye’ hypothesis in humans and apes.

The cooperative eye hypothesis is that human eyes have a lot of white for ease of cooperation just by looking at eye movement.

In a new study that is one of the first direct tests of this theory, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany looked at what effect head and eye movements had on redirecting the gaze of great apes versus human infants.

In the study, a human experimenter did one of the following:

- Closed his eyes, but tilted his head up toward the ceiling
- Kept head stationary while looking at the ceiling
- Looked at the ceiling with both head and eyes
- Kept head stationary while looking straight ahead

Results showed that the great apes … were more likely to follow the experimenter’s gaze when he moved only his head. In contrast, the 40 human infants looked up more often when the experimenter moved only his eyes.

Now, look… something must have gotten lost or this is a piece of pointless research that says nothing. I don’t see how this is a test of the hypothesis at all. Human eyeballs are more visible than ape eyeballs, so humans are more used to following eyeballs and apes are more used to following heads out of necessity. But this has nothing to do with evolution, has it? How does it show that cooperation necessitates more visible eyeballs? And what about cats and owls, who also have highly contrasting eyeballs?