December 29, 2006

Adopt a Cat, "Berkley", MSPCA, Springfield, Massachusetts

My goodness, adopting pets has changed in the past 13 years!

It's almost time to get a new kitty (young, male, preferably in the grey / black tones). You can see what pets the Springfield MSPCA has available for adoption.

You can even see some videos of their adoptable pets, like Berkley, at Google video.

Berkley is a 3 year old male grey tabby, grey and white tabby.
Loves sitting on your lap.
Contact the MSPCA Western New England Animal Care and Adoption Center. 171 Union Street, Springfield, MA 01105

December 26, 2006

Security of Gmail

This is kind of dated, now, but I'm behind on my Technology Review reading (note to self: must subscribe!!), so I just saw this about Google & privacy:

In Google We Trust // Internet users should think carefully before relying on Gmail
Technology Review, Dec 05 / Jan 06
by Simson Garfinkel.
"Google's Gmail raises important questions about the security and privacy of our personal information -- questions that should matter not just to users of the free Web-based e-mail system but to everyone who exchanges e-mail with Gmail users.

"And since the technical underpinnings of Gmail might very well be the prototype for the next generation of desktop-computer applications, the answers to these questions potentially affect everyone."

Garfinkel talks both about the privacy implications of Google and about the security of your data. For privacy, since Google has all of your mail since you joined Gmail (up to 2 years ago?!), criminal or civil litigation could go after your Gmail archive at Google if they needed evidence. The security issues may mitigate that: Garfinkel reports that Gmail's Terms of Use don't indicate that your mail will be retained indefinitely. So they could "lose", or lose, your data at any time -- and you'd have no recourse to retrieve it.

There are some interesting implications for the future of "free" online services, too; Garfkinkel posits Google's users as products rather than customers.

Definitely worth a read.

December 23, 2006

American Heritage: __scriptive dictionary

Cute story in today's Times about the American Heritage Dictionary: is it prescriptive or descriptive?

Read bits about its history, Webster's Third, and the Oxford American Dictionary. And find out about the panel who decides what's in & what's out.

Personally, I'm in the David Foster Wallace camp: "Syntax Nudnik of Our Time, or Snoot"; Wallace says "A fellow Snoot I know likes to say that listening to most people’s English feels like watching somebody use a Stradivarius to pound nails. We are the Few, the Proud, the Appalled at Everyone Else.”

Wordsmiths: They Also Serve Who Only Vote on "Ain't"
Dec. 23, 2006
The Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary is working to make a dictionary descriptive as well as

December 22, 2006

Hollywood's Usability Bloopers

Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for December 18 is called Usability in the Movies -- Top 10 Bloopers, and it pokes fun at computer user interfaces as depicted in the movies.

Kind of funny, esp. the line from Jurassic Park in which a 12-year old says "This is UNIX, it's easy" -- and proceeds to save the day.

But does funny mean anything? Nielsen asserts that it does have a negative effect, and user interface design aficionados would appreciate his conclusion:

"Users blame themselves when they can't use technology. This phenomenon is bad enough already; it's made worse by the prevalence of scenes in which people walk up to random computers and start using them immediately. "

December 21, 2006

Libraries 4 My Friends

Coupla posts going up at my sister blog, Libraries 4 My Friends.

Today's is about using / Find in a Library. You've used it, right? If not, search for a book -- any book (cd, dvd, manuscript, anything!!) in the box to the left of this post -- you'll see who in the world owns it.

Soon I will post something about using bloglines to keep up with all your blogs.

Just a little treat for my friends who aren't librarians - but like what libraries have to offer.

December 20, 2006

The $100 laptop, from an econ. perspective

The December 2006 issue of MIT's journal Technology Review offers this article from economics writer James Surowiecki: Philanthropy's New Prototype // Will the [$100 laptop] Save the World? It's an interesting look at the economics of the $100 laptop (which is more likely to cost $150, at least initially).

Surowiecki writes "Negroponte [cofounder of MIT's Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte] has said that the $100 laptop will not go into production until he has firm commitments from governments to buy at least five million units." Yipes! The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) group, hopes to get 5 countries to commit to one million each; so far only Libya has signed a contract for one million units.

One unexpected component to the article is that it opens with a one-page history of the Carnegie libraries. Surowiecki talks about the cost to launch a public library and compares the OLPC project to Carnegie's project over 100 years ago.

(see also part 2 and part 3 of the article)

Is Simplicity Overrated?

Fascinating column by Donald Norman about simplicity, design, and marketing. In Simplicity Is Highly Overrated, Norman argues that while people may say they want "simplicity" in their products (cars, washing machines, etc.), how they feel about products and what they're willing to pay for is a different story. He describes a Korean toaster: "It had complex controls, a motor to lower the untoasted bread and to lift it when finished, and an LCD panel with many cryptic icons, graphs, and numbers" for $250! Why? "Make it simple and people won’t buy. Given a choice, they will take the item that does more. Features win over simplicity, even when people realize that it is accompanied by more complexity."

Found this article via the Dec. 2006 issue of Current Cites, where reviewer Leo Robert Klein argues that "it's hard to say what impact this approach should have on design decisions, particularly on the Web. We're not buying products for ourselves after all but making them for others. If features in this context were so attractive, then 'Advanced Search' would be the first stop of even our most neophyte users."


December 19, 2006

Boomer Brown, rest in peace

Here's a site for animal lovers of all domestic stripes: They say that the site provides "reliable, up-to-date animal health information", and "they" are "veterinarians and experts of the Veterinary Information Network."

My vet recommended Vet Partners -- it has well-written and clear information about many aspects of animal health. Nice links to external sites. You can search by disease or browse by species (cats, dogs, reptiles, and small mammals).

this post in memory of Boomer, 4-7-1993 to 12-19-2006. Rest in peace.

December 15, 2006

One of My Favorite Reference Books

Ah, the Statistical Abstract of the United States. 2007 edition is out, and the Times has a story about it:
Who Americans Are and What They Do, in Census Data
Published: December 15, 2006
"Americans drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water per person in 2004 — about 10 times as much as in 1980. We consumed more than twice as much high fructose corn syrup per person as in 1980 and remained the fattest inhabitants of the planet, although Mexicans, Australians, Greeks, New Zealanders and Britons are not too far behind."

Amazingly, this story interests lots o' people; right now, it sits atop of the Times' "Most Popular" stories list.

See what the GPO has to say about The Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007 or check out the data itself, at

December 13, 2006

Science in the News Seminar @ Harvard Med School

I am listening to a great series of public lectures on various aspects of science in the news, sponsored by Harvard Medical School this past fall. Each session is approximately 90 minutes, broken into three segments (conveniently, each segment is its own podcast) and is presented by a different graduate student at HMS. The sessions are complete for the year, but there are so many of them it’ll take a while to listen to them all.

Topics included “Diet and Cancer Prevention”, “Obesity & Diabetes”, and “Mental Health.” Both pdf and mp3 files are available on their web site, or you can subscribe via iTunes or other podcasting options.

A Moral Grammar?

Interesting podcast from Australia’s All in the Mind about the evolution of morality. See their description below:

“Moral Minds: The Evolution of Human Morality
“Incest, infanticide, honour killings - different cultures have different rules of justice. But are we all born with a moral instinct - an innate ability to judge what is right and wrong? Could morality be like language - a universal, unconscious grammar common to all human cultures? Eminent evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser and philosopher Richard Joyce take on these controversial questions in impressive new tomes, and to critical acclaim. But could their evolutionary arguments undermine the social authority of morality? Is biology the new 'religion'? “

I’ve seen Marc Hauser speak (thanks, Hampshire!) and he’s very interesting. He’s got an online Moral Sense Test where he and his team at Harvard’s Cognitive Evolution Lab “study … the nature of human moral judgment.” I won’t tell you about the moral dilemmas presented in the test, but they are challenging! See for yourself.

You can download the podcast or read the transcript from All in the Mind.