Friday, September 30, 2011

Amazon Kindle Fire - Perfect for Kids?

Amazon Kindle Fire - Perfect for Kids?

Last Christmas I was reluctant to purchase an Apple iTouch for my kids (then 5 and 7) because of the size and cost. We choose the Nintendo DS. Of course, the DS is a little a larger and with Nerf Armor a little less breakable. 10 months later we have added the cost of >$100 of software to each, + Nerf armor $20.00, plus a six pack of stylus - easily exceeding the price of the iTouch. Just FYI, the armor lasted about 8 months which was just long enough for the kids to understand that the DS is breakable. 

I've had the Apple iTouch in my Amazon Wish List for several weeks - preparing for Christmas. In fact, I have all ready purchased a couple of  iTouch protective cases that went on sale.

But the Amazon Kindle Fire at $200 adds a new factor to the decision. First, the size is more appropriate for the kids. Second, Amazon has plenty of free content (we have a Prime Subscription). Finally, the kids have shown a good deal of discipline when borrowing my Thrive. 

So here is the question: What would you buy for your kids?


Monday, September 12, 2011

Krugman Points out Economists’ Failure

Krugman Points out Economists’ Failure

The Wall Street Journal Real time Economic Blog provides the quote:
“There is a real sense in which times like these are what economists are for, just as wars are what career military officers are for. OK, maybe I can let microeconomists off the hook. But macroeconomics is, above all, about understanding and preventing or at least mitigating economic downturns. This crisis was the time for the economics profession to justify its existence, for us academic scribblers to show what all our models and analysis are good for.
We have not, to put it mildly, delivered.
What do I mean by that?
As I see it, there are three main complaints one can make about economists and their role in the current crisis. First is the complaint that economists fell down on the job by not seeing the crisis coming. Second is the complaint that economists failed even to see the possibility of this kind of crisis — and that by pointing out the possibility, they could have helped head the crisis off. Third is the complaint that they have either failed to offer useful advice on what to do after the crisis struck, or that they have offered such a cacophony of voices as to provide no useful guidance for policy.” ~Paul Krugman (Link to the full Krugman Article)


To quote from the movie Robots: dodo bird

Rodney: “Caw-caw! Caw-caw!”
Fender: ”Oh, my darling, that is the cry of the deep-doo-doo bird.”

Bottom Line

See previous post re: Dunning-Kruger Effect and our position that Krugman is correct 50% of the time (in this case 100% correct). 

A Fact is a Fact - Depending on the Definition of "is".

A Fact is a Fact - Depending on the Definition of "is".

Chris Lee of ars technica writes, Why my fellow physicists think they know everything (and why they're wrong).
"I am focusing on physicists and engineers but, in fact, anyone can fall victim to this belief in their own expertise. Research shows that the less expert we are in some field, the more certain we are that our opinions and predictions are correct. The cynical view of this is that we are all stupid and don't hesitate to exhibit our stupidity in public, but it's more likely that we all know a little something about many different things. Unfortunately, what we don't know are all the caveats, exceptions, and oddities that always accompany the general rules of any field.
This lack of truly specialist knowledge makes it difficult to accurately evaluate new facts and opinions--or even to determine if it is possible to evaluate such facts. 
That doesn't stop us all from trying. The evidence from psychological experiments indicates that people will go to great lengths to make up a coherent story based around facts. And, if they happen to be invested in the story, they will twist themselves into knots to make the result fit their preconceived notions. This sort of reasoning knows no political boundaries: communists did not blame communism for the failure of their regimes, and free market ideologues never blame the market."
The research being cited is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Which proposes that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
  • tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  • fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  • fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  • recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve
Studies in Europe showed "muted" response and in Asia a "reverse" effect. For some reason this article struck me peculiar - since I would have considered it perfect for describing Economists, Politicians, Social Media experts, and many mid-level managers. 

I wonder if experiments were run based on MTBI if there would be a strong correlation based on type?


Google Reader Tames Twitter Stream

Google Reader Tames Twitter Stream

Twitter became a key information resource during the September 2011 Central Texas Fires. The national media has been ignoring Texas, and the local media was not responding quickly enough. Several Hashtags were created to track the fire:
  • #centraltxfire
  • #satxfires
  • #txfire
  • #Steiner and #Steinerfire
  • #bastrop
  • etcetera ... 

Twitter makes it easy to create and save Searches:

  1. Click in the Search box
  2. Type your term or keywords
  3. Hit enter,
  4. Click “Save This Search” button on the results page (click for larger picture).
Twitter Search

The problem with Twitter Searches is that you still have to review each stream individually. Google Reader can track multiple Twitter Streams in a single interface. 


Add a Twitter Stream to Google Reader:

In Google Reader, Click on “Browse for Stuff” which takes you to the Discover and Search for Feeds page.
  1. Click “Search”
  2. In the Track Keywords and Seraches dialog box, add the hashtag.
  3. Select Twitter Search from the drop-down
  4. Click Subscribe

In addition to Twitter Hashtags several Facebook pages provided critical information. The challenge is to collect all of the data streams into a simple interface so that important items can be tracked and less important can be ignored.

Add Facebook Page to Google Reader:

  1. Go to a Facebook page you want to track
  2. Scroll down in the left hand navigation of the page 
  3. Click “Get Updates via RSS”
  4. When the XML page is displayed, copy the URL
Reader RSS URL
  1. In Google Reader, Click on “Browse for Stuff” which takes you to the Discover and Search for Feeds page.
  2. Click “Search”
  3. Paste the URL from Step 2 (above) into the input box “Search for Feeds”
  4. Click “Search for Feeds”
  5. Click the +Subscribe button on the results page
In this example we used the Target Department Store Facebook page as an example.

Reader Subscribe Page

All Together Now

You can repeat as needed to add Twitter hashtags, Facebook pages, and any blogs that might be covering the same topic. Create a Folder and assign all feeds for simplified viewing. Google Reader allows posts to be managed: read, unread, starred, etc. And, when the event is over, you can deleted the items on the Manage Subscriptions view.  

These steps allow you to consolidate multiple Twitter, Facebook and Blog streams into Google Reader (and into Feedly if you use that tool). 

Here is a sample of a Twitter Stream and the Manage Subscriptions pages in Google Reader:

Following on Twitter and the Card Catalog

Following on Twitter and the Card Catalog

This is a post that most of the younger set will not understand. I have a degree in History. Back in the old days it was often necessary to get up and go to the library to do research. The card catalog was our Google.

Card Cat Call NumberI can already sense eyes rolling at the thought of such antiquity. 

The Ironclad rule of Library Resources

It does not matter if you go to the San Francisco Public library, or to the Gleeson Library at the University of San Francisco: The item you want will not be at its’ Call Number location

After you learned this rule, it was much easier to locate materials for a paper. Strunk and White provides guidance:
  1. Go to the card catalog
  2. Create an index card for each book or periodical
  3. Find the materials in the stacks
  4. Create separate note cards to capture specific notes and make appropriate citations
Most of the information that is collected in the bibliography tool in Microsoft Word is the same as displayed on the reference card (click for larger image).

Card Cat Biblio

The key to the exercise is to build your bibliography (collect enough resources) at the card catalog so that you might get lucky to find one of them in the stacks. Since the book you really want will never (never, ever, ever) be on the shelf, the next thing to do was to surf through adjoining books to see if they might apply. You might even check the book return cart at the end of the row if you feel lucky.

How does this apply to Twitter?

One difficult Twitter chore is to decide whom to follow. Yes, you can simply follow everybody. Imagine sitting is a stadium with 80,000 people posting to Twitter. The Signal to Noise ration will fall well below 1:1 –- that is you will have plenty of noise, and not enough signal. The better choice is to filter some of the noise by selecting good sources to follow:
  1. What are you interested in following?
  2. Who are the thought leaders, important contributors in these niches?
  3. Who can you (should you) ignore?

A Personal Example

I was searching for information during the Central Texas Wildfires of September, 2011.  The main stream media (Washington and New York) can’t locate Texas on a map, so they were of no use. The local media was also well behind on coverage.

Several people on Twitter started gaining traction, started to form gravity. As I followed these people, they led me to others that might not be as outspoken, but that were feeding critical information. The second group was providing raw data that were being re-tweeted (curated) by the thought leaders. 

Cull Your List

One of the early fire commentators was an anchor at a local broadcast news outlet. It made sense to follow this person, since information would typically flow through the established media. But post after post was about perfect 4-light lighting, her skydiving adventure and other personal musings. Clearly, Twitter was not where news was going to be published. (Unfollow)


Bottom Line

Twitter is much like a large library. The card catalog is a great resource to start the journey; “what are you looking for?”. Resources will not be where you expect them - the book is not on the shelf and the mainstream media is not covering the story. So you have to look a little deeper and maybe get lucky. Finally, some resources are just bad, and should be rejected.

Understanding this 3-Step process -- Search, Get Lucky, Cull Your List, is a good strategy for building a useful Twitter Stream.