If this, then that

September 4th, 2012

I’ve been experimenting a bit with IFTTT (If this, then that) to archive certain kinds of tweets (like recipes tweeted by my friends), certain kinds of Ask Metafilter questions (like threads about cooking and recipes), and to post Tweets when I update this blog. So far, I like it, but I feel like I’m not exploiting the tool very well. Today I read this O’Reilly weblog post about IFTTT’s integration of Google Drive suggesting a way to use IFTTT to make database of your own data. Whoa. Mind blown. I’m not a programmer — I have a vague sense of what an API is, but couldn’t use one on a bet. But with IFTTT? I’m a database-creatin’ fool.

Sign first, tell the truth

August 30th, 2012

One of the things I love about my job as a social science researcher is the way tiny points of methodology make a huge difference in how respondents experience and respond to a survey. The placement of a button, the order questions, the smallest turn of phrase — it’s amazing how these things create clarity or obfuscate.

A recent study found that signing the top of a form — before filling it out — leads to more honest responses on the form. It’s such a small thing, but it seems to have a big impact. One could despair over results like these. Maybe they mean that true communication is impossible. I prefer to think it’s a puzzle we can solve. Of course, that does assume that truth is the goal.

Found Art

August 29th, 2012

These images on BLDBLOG from Nick Foster’s Hidden Signals project are amazing. Such ordinary splotches of paint, taking on movement and personality. Beautiful.

How to make money

August 28th, 2012

I’m completely enamored by the Evernote Moleskine Notebook. What a great way to create a useful tool, and potentially grow the number of users of both products.

I probably won’t buy one, because I have a very particular note-taking style that is super-useful to me and absurdly wasteful of paper. However, if these notebooks had existed before I perfected that style, I would be sorely tempted.

Twitter could learn a thing or two from the way Evernote is working collaboratively and openly with developers of all sorts to make money. I’m in no way expert about this (for all I know, Evernote is a bunch of selfish jerks — although I hope not) but to this uninformed outsider, Evernote’s approach to creating revenue streams seems more likely to be productive and adaptable in the long run.

Words in The Scar

August 27th, 2012

I recently finished reading The Scar by China MiĆ©ville. I like his writing, but can only tolerate it in small doses, so I don’t read his books often. One thing I enjoying about his style is the thick layering of words — sometimes the words are archaic, but more often he relies on older or lessor known definitions to make a point. Here’s a list of words I looked up while reading the book: thronged, cosseted, brachiating, murrains, acetabulum, ilium, coracles, biltong, eructation, integument, cuirasses, greaves, vambraces, marl, binnacle, juddering, puissance, sponson, chitin, etiolated, bathetic, moiled, milliards, benthic, effluvium.

I recommend the book — it was a nice addition to MiĆ©ville’s world.


August 26th, 2012

Neil Armstrong died yesterday. There’s nothing I can say about his life or death that others have not said better (see here, here and especially here). I just want to note that his passing is sad — both because of what he and his colleagues accomplished, and because it highlights how much the world has changed.

Million Short

August 22nd, 2012

Million Short is a search engine that displays the most popular results for your search term — starting with number 1,000,001. The first million results are ignored (or the first 10K, the first 100K, etc. as you choose).

With all the marketing cruft that clutters up Google these days, this is a fun tool.


August 18th, 2012

One of the best things I ever read on the internet was this post on Soul Sides about the evolution of the song Apache, with mp3s of all the versions of the song.


August 16th, 2012

I am very hard on shoes. For years, my shoes have lasted for only 3 months at a time. It doesn’t matter if I spend a lot or a little on them, if they are good or bad quality, what store they come from, or what they’ve been made of. 3 months is as long as they would last.

But 6 months ago I invested in cedar shoe trees. They keep my shoes clean, dry, straight and wrinkle free. They inspire me to treat the leather and clean it, and to use a shoe horn (which protects the heels of the shoe). And suddenly, my shoes last and last and last. My trees are from One Cedar Lane — this style — recommended. They make a huge difference.

Bonsai class

August 13th, 2012

I took a bonsai class at the National Arboretum yesterday. It was interesting, and I now have my very own bonsai to take care of. This is a “before” photo of my plant, a Ficus Retusa:

I almost didn’t sign up for the class when I saw pictures of the plants in the class description — I have killed every ficus I have ever owned. We’ll see how I do with this one. The class was held in the demonstration/lecture room of the arboretum’s bonsai collection, we we got a small behind-the-scenes tour before the collection opened. There are some amazing works of art housed there.

We selected our plants (my first one was infested with scale, so I had to choose a second one), radically pruned them, then learned about wiring and shaping. I am going to try and shape mine into an “informal upright” banyan tree. We’ll see how I’ve done in a few years. Here’s my “after” photo: