Did Facebook screw up, or did I?

motherfucker.pngEarlier today I got a notification from someone on my Facebook friends list, leading to a “President Obama Approval Poll”. I voted, clicked away, and then a couple of hours later got an email to say I’d sent notifications of the same poll to all my friends list.
I am usually pretty careful about permissions for Facebook apps, and I did not notice any opt-out for the spamming of my friends. I honestly think this thing has its privacy settings wrong (deliberately?) and does not give the usual options, just goes ahead and spams your friend list.
Sorry to anyone who got a “notification” from me — either I got sloppy or, as I suspect, this thing is viral.

word cloud CVs for dummies

Pierre and Pawel both did amazing things with word clouds for their CVs, using all kinds of black magic programming skills that I don’t have. Just for fun, I thought I’d see what the version looked like that any doofus could create. I made a list of all the jobs I’ve had, then listed all the methods I used in each job — making sure to call the same method by the same name each time it came up, so as to provide a basic weighting for the elements in the word cloud.
Here’s what Wordle made of the resulting list:


It’s not horrible, though I can already see things I forgot to put in, and I do wish Wordle would keep phrases together1. I guess you could also try doing this with the texts of your published papers, or just the abstracts, or just the Materials and Methods.

1Update: thanks to Piotr, who left me a comment pointing out that Wordle can indeed keep phrases together, here’s an alternative version; now that I see it with phrases intact I’m not sure which is better:

(Wordle settings for both versions: language: remove numbers, leave as spelled, remove common English words; font: Telephoto, layout: straighter edges, horizontal; color: Wordly, a little variance.)

Where I live now: Google street view.

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That’s almost looking straight down the driveway, and at the end you can see the manager’s office; we’re two buildings back from that on the right. If the view had been shot from just a few feet to the left, you’d be able to see our parking space (the building is set back a bit too far).
Try turning left (click and drag, or use the arrows at top left) and walking (click the arrows on the street, 13-14 times) up to my local 7-11, on the left at the intersection with Stark St, source of much late night soda pop and chocolate. If you keep walking along 148th Ave, you’ll come to Burnside and the light rail, which is probably how I’ll get to work once I get a job. If you turn left on Stark you’ll pass by the site of the photos in the last few entries. The first photo in “new neighbourhood at night” is the building next to the porn shop, the next is the furniture place, the third is from a bit further down — all on the left; “bird on a wire” was shot in front of the 7-11, looking towards the street. If you go far enough (about 25 blocks) in that direction, you’ll find Fandango — best Mexican food in Portland. If you turn right on Stark instead of left, you have only 14 blocks to Dutch Brothers — best coffee in Portland.
Neat. Almost sorta creepy, but neat.

Everyone needs a hobby.

Mine, when I have time for it, is photography. I’ll still post some photos, like the mouse below, to this blog; but now I have a separate blog for those images I would (if I weren’t worried about sounding like a complete wanker) call “my art”. The link is at the top of the new column at left, where I’ll manually add thumbnails from that blog. It’s at Expressions.com, because I haven’t the time to make exactly what I want and of all the photoblogging services I tried, only Expressions gave me enough control over the format to make it (nearly) as simple as I wanted.
So. Fwiw, there it is. Hat tip, again, to Andrew and Ralf.

aw, NUTs

I’m still spending pretty much every waking moment in the lab — it’s OK Mum, I’m having fun and taking care of myself! — because I have some really neat results and want to send them out into the world asap. (I will do my best to persuade the boss to submit to an OA journal and to put a preprint in Nature Precedings, but no guarantees there.)
So, this entry is just to round up a couple of NUTs — Nagging Unfinished Tasks.
thing2.JPG NUT the first: 2008 Science Blogging Conference — I never did get around to posting about it, but I have left comments on other people’s entries saying most of what I had to say. Mostly, it was a blast and I wish I could have that kind of experience more often, as it really recharges my enthusiasm.
The one thing I meant to do, and didn’t get around to, was pointing to the sponsors. I hate advertising, and was even a little put off by the “swag bags” given out at the conference (very much a minority opinion there) — but sponsorship seems different to me. Provided the recipients do their bit, the sponsors can make a real contribution and raise their profile in a “target market” without having to spam anyone. So, I wanted to do my bit to promote those individuals, businesses and organizations who helped Anton, Bora & Co. to make the conference such a success: if you have a moment, click through to that link and check a few of ’em out.
hotelroom.JPG I also want to highlight the contribution made by the Radisson Research Triangle Park, who weren’t exactly sponsors but made a big difference to my stay. It’s a very nice hotel, much swankier than my usual budget-driven choices, and they provided a special attendee rate for the conference weekend which made them the cheapest alternative within any reasonable distance of the conference. This was great, because they are in fact walking distance from the Sigma Xi Center where the conference was held, and quite a lot of the attendees took them up on their offer. This made transport easy to figure out, and the after-conference bar sessions lively and fun. I really like not worrying about transport to and from conference venues, and I really like being able to walk from the bar to my room after staying up way too late talking to interesting people, so thanks to the Radisson RTP for making my stay so enjoyable. If you’re going to stay in NC, keep them in mind. On the right is a picture of my room there — yup, two double beds all to myself, same cheap rate. (On the left is a DNA-inspired sculpture that hangs in the central stairwell of the Sigma Xi Center.)
NUT the second: Whatever happened to those letters I was thinking about sending? Well, in the end, I decided not to send them. The bottom line is that, as Peter Suber pointed out to me in email, it’s a given that almost none of the recipients of such a letter would respond. I finally decided that such a predictably low response rate would reduce the exercise to little more than muck-raking, since no useful data would come of it. It would take a lot of work to find the appropriate contact person at each company and tailor the letters to their public position on OA, and in the end nobody would gain from it. I hope this is not a great disappointment to the few people who came forward to say they’d sign such letters — if it is, let me know, and we can discuss possible ways to resurrect the idea or alternative ways to find out the same target information. It’s not so much dead as buried under the weight of other, more pressing (and, I hope, more productive) commitments.


I’m off to the 2008 North Carolina Science Blogging Conference! I have to travel all day Friday and Sunday for a one-day conference on Saturday — and it’s well worth every dull airport-infested minute!
Last year’s was tremendous fun; I’m looking forward to an unbroken attendance record down the years. You can still add ideas to the conference wiki, join in virtually via chat room, and watch at least one of the sessions online.
Update: Bora has further details on how you can participate even if you’re not there in meatspace.

satori, rinse, repeat

I’ve noticed that whenever I come all over jackass, it’s because there’s something wrong with my position — when I’m secure about something I seldom resort to snark. Outright venom, sure; snide formality and similar oily tricks, no.
Case in point: I took an uncalled-for swipe at Maxine (again because I hadn’t thought my own position through properly), and though I’ve apologized, I ought not be surprised or feel put-upon if people point to that incident as an example of bad online manners. But I feel bad about it, so mention of it gets me all defensive.
This is doubly daft, since not only is such a response self-evidently counterproductive, I have no particular fear of being wrong. I’m a scientist: it’s in my nature and my training to attach no value judgement to being right or wrong: what matters is to see as clearly as possible and make the best models we can. So being wrong in public holds no terrors for me; it’s being a jackass that is embarrassing, and — catch 22, or something! — I do that when I suspect I’m wrong.
Don’t most people figure this stuff out when they’re about 12? Oy.
On the silver lining side, catching myself tending to snottery would be a good early warning that I’m wrong or uncertain about something, if I did it before being a jackass. I remember reading somewhere that all satori have to be repeated before they take hold, so maybe writing them down will also help…

Gone fishin’

OK, not really. I don’t fish (why would I? I don’t eat ’em). But I will be away for the next three days, including away from email and the internets. I’ll be here if you desperately need me, but it had better be an emergency.
Be good to each other, ‘k?

storm in local teacup

Via BigFatBlog, I learned that the local rag recently printed the following “event blurb” by one Karla Starr:

Are you a fatty? Want to be in a book? Waddle over to a computer, grab your typing stick (those sausage fingers hit too many keys at once, don’t they?), go to stacybias.net, and fill out the contact form for your chance to contribute to Bias’ FatGirl Speaks, a short-fiction anthology inspired by her event of the same name.

I sent Ms Starr the following:

Ms Starr:
I write in response to your recent column in the Willamette Week, in which you indulged in one of the crudest and most revolting expressions of prejudice I have seen in a long time (“Are you a fatty?”). I won’t write out your column with the relevant targets altered to blacks, gays, or some other minority group: unless you are as stupid as you are unthinkingly bigoted, you know what you did and why it was wrong.
I hope you are ashamed of yourself, and I hope you will be fired over this. I will write to your editor to promise that as long as I can find your byline, I will simply drop any copy of WW I come across into the nearest trash bin, where it belongs. Before I do so, though, I will scan it to find a couple of advertisers with whom I might otherwise do business, and write to tell them that so long as they advertise in WW, and WW employs you, they will not see a penny from me.

Then I wrote the WW editor (and owner?) Mark Zusman to say the same thing. I got a response from Ms Starr within minutes; I am still angry, so I’m not going to respond right away. (see below)
Despite being angry, though, I am already inclined to view her apology as genuine. On first reading, she does not whine or excuse herself, and gives evidence that she actually read and responded to my letter rather than sending an untailored form response.
I’ll get back to you on that, but I can say this now: I have screwed up in much the same way myself, though the “target” of my idiocy was a different group. (I’ll spare you the details; suffice it to say, I cringe when I think of it — and I think of it often.) I remember with cold and stomach-churning clarity the feeling that came over me when I realized, fully realized, what I’d done. Am I a scumbag for what I did, or a decent person for being ashamed of it now? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that if Ms Starr is feeling now what I felt then, I’m willing to give her a second chance. My only other choice is rank hypocrisy.
Update: OK, I’ve had time to cool off, and I’ve re-read the mail I got, as well as a few replies from Ms Starr that other people have posted. There’s a lot of “oh, she’s just saying what she’s told to say because her editors are worried about bad PR”, but I don’t agree. Her tone has changed from “I was just joking” to “I’m really sorry”, and (pace a number of commenters) she’s not posting form letters: all the replies I’ve seen have some cut-and-paste, but that’s only sensible when answering so many letters. I’ve yet to see any actual repeats; I believe Ms Starr is reading and answering each letter, and I think she’s genuinely sorry.
Editor Kelly Clarke is another story, and I don’t know what to expect from WW itself. I expect they will take a line somewhere between “get over it” and “but, but, we invited Stacy Bias to come and talk to us, what more does the woman want?”. Oy. Anyway, this is what Ms Starr plans to print:

I initially wanted to use this space to tell people to laugh it off, but then I started reading my e-mails–all of them. And responding. To each one. There were only so many heartfelt stories about weight discrimination I could read before realizing just how many people I’d hurt–and how many others I hurt who never wrote. It’s forced me to seriously reconsider my definition of humor and body image and appreciate the influence of my words. After experiencing firsthand the power of reading so many stories, my appreciation and respect for Stacy Bias’s work and upcoming book has grown tremendously. I’d like to thank everyone for writing and helping to open my eyes; it’s always appreciated, at kstarr@wweek.com. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Bias and everyone I hurt with my words, which perpetuated the notion that weight discrimination is the last acceptable form of prejudice–regardless of your past or present size, it’s never okay.

There’s still a tinge of defensiveness in the references to her earlier responses (“it was meant to be funny”, “I used to be fat myself”). Ms Starr’s email to me was much more “I fucked up, I’m sorry, no excuses”, and I wish she’d stick to that in her printed response — it would do more to assuage hurt feelings — but she has had to respond fairly quickly, and I know it always takes me a good long while to get past the defensive stage whenever someone points out that I’ve fucked up.
I’ll wait for the next issue of WW to make up my mind completely, but as of now I’m inclined to take Ms Starr at her word and accept her apology.
Final update: I wrote the principals but forgot to say anything here; like Stacy Bias, I’m happy to accept Ms Starr’s apology and pleased to see mistakes being treated as opportunities for positive change.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything:

That’s where the light gets in.