Twitter: Am I doing it all wrong?

Despite all my concerns about oversharing, risking careers, ruining reputations, getting you arrested, and being generally annoying. I disagree with Gopnik and think Twitter is brilliant. And yes, I may overuse the technology and annoy people with it. But there is one feature that I never really understood about Twitter and that is the favorite button.

So I asked on Twitter: Why do you favorite a tweet? Is it saving? Giving a Thumbs Up? Or maybe poking someone? Or have I missed the point? Naturally the wise crowd online replied quickly.

@tombarfield @dislexas @hannagadd All wrote that it was saving.

From a private account I got “all of those, +fun, derision, amusement, support or a combo of several #favoriting”

tweetSo most (of this miniscule dataset) are using favorites to save some also use it to make positive comments and even to politely end a conversation. My use is more in line with the latter uses. I tried the saving tactic but realized that I never went back and looked at anything saved. Which somehow defeats the purpose of saving?

The other thing I am unsure about is thanking for re-tweets. Especially when its a thanks for a link to an article. I know its supposed to be polite and I am usually a polite boy but it does seem strange to thank someone for re-tweeting a link to an article that I found interesting. Or am I just being a grumpy old bastard?

Help! I’ve been stolen

There I was calmly at home with the laptop, well prepared for the impending winter storm that is going to hit us soon when I got a message from a friend via Facebook telling me that there is a fake twitter account in my name. The message included a link to this account


At first I didn’t spot it. All I saw was the number of tweets, following and followers were wrong. Then I saw that the text was wrong, before I finally saw the twitter handle was another. Here is my twitter account


Not only had the cheeky bugger stolen my image and my (older) bio but even taken my background too. Damn! He/she has also violated the Creative Commons license for my image of the bottles in the background. No attribution!

He/she has been tweeting since August and only managed 16 tweets. But the last one was just hours ago. Why? Seriously It can’t be that difficult to create a profile – so is to somehow fool my friends? I doubt that would work.

Anyway I filed a complaint with twitter and quickly received a mail with the content

To confirm your identity, fax a copy of your valid government-issued photo ID (e.g., driver’s license, passport) to Twitter

Really!! Not only do I have to prove that I am who I am, but now I have to find two pieces of archaic technology (photocopier and fax) in order to prove who I am.

What this proves is:

  1. Stealing someones likeness and bio is easy online (duh!)
  2. In order to really prove who we are we need to downgrade to pre-internet technology
  3. First world problems are really a drag


The Day We Fight Back

Today, 11th February 2014, is ‘The Day We Fight Back” – a day of campaigning against mass surveillance. The problem is that we have become so comfortable with the creeping levels of mass surveillance in our lives that we no longer stop to question what is happening and what surveillance means.

Basically this is all about lack of imagination and education about the issues. Sure we love our technological toys but it is up to all of us to know what it means when the convenience of technology lulls us into accepting large scale privacy invasions in our lives. Among the reasons for the existence of large scale surveillance is that we have come to accept it rather than protest or even question it.

Standing up for our rights is worthwhile and important. Read more on the EFF site, check out the events and info on the Today We Fight Back site and why not follow Paul Bernal’s advice in 10 Ways to Fight Back. It’s not about not using your favorite tech but it’s about being allowed to use your stuff in ways which are not harmful to us.

Structural disincentives and Innovation

This is not a blog about business administration but after reading an article about the demise of Microsoft and the Stack Rating system, I needed to vent. This is the most horrible and destructive staff system I’ve ever heard of (this side of an actual whip).

The use of stack ranking actually creates a structural disincentive to be creative and nurturing a team spirit. It might be rather good for created fear and paranoia. But these are going to help innovation.

Kurt Eichenwald at Vanity Fair explains stack ranking:

At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor. …

For that reason, executives said, a lot of Microsoft superstars did everything they could to avoid working alongside other top-notch developers, out of fear that they would be hurt in the rankings. And the reviews had real-world consequences: those at the top received bonuses and promotions; those at the bottom usually received no cash or were shown the door. …

“The behavior this engenders, people do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,” one Microsoft engineer said. “People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings.” Worse, because the reviews came every six months, employees and their supervisors—who were also ranked—focused on their short-term performance, rather than on longer efforts to innovate. …

Slate Magazine sums it up nicely: So while Google was encouraging its employees to spend 20 percent of their time to work on ideas that excited them personally, Ballmer was inadvertently encouraging his to spend a good chunk of their time playing office politics. Why try to outrun the bear when you can just tie your co-workers’ shoelaces?

When stupid people have power

In January (this year) a man on a Qantas flight was asked to remove his t-shirt because it bore the text:

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

As I understand it these words somehow disturbed the flight attendants on the plane so much that the passenger should fly without the offending text. Naturally they could not just refer to their perception of his bad taste so they stated that his text unnerved the other passengers.

The whole thing gets even sillier as the text is a quote from the 1987 adventure comedy Princess Bride. The passenger did not have anything else to wear and the whole thing was dropped. He was allowed to continue on his way.

This is just a strange and stupid situation. It’s totally unbelievable. And yet it has happened before and people have been forced off planes. Or not allowed on planes because of silly texts on clothes.

In 2003, John Gilmore was wearing a pin with the words “suspected terrorist” and was asked to remove the pin. Gilmore, a rights activist and a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, refused to remove the pin and was not allowed to continue on his flight. British Airways refused to fly him because they didn’t like his accessories. The pin was part of a campaign to protest the way in which innocent people were being profiled as terrorists.

In 2006, airport security at JFK forced Raed Jarrar to change his t-shirt because it contained the words “We will not be silent” in English and Arabic. Security said it was like “going to a bank with a T-Shirt reading ‘I am a robber.'” – Even their reasoning is faulty.

Texts on t-shirts are not the cause of concern. If fellow passengers are concerned then maybe the crew explain that their paranoia is silly and give them the option to leave. But it is much better to silence the person wearing the text. Its all very sad, and has nothing to do with security, safety or even perceptions of safety.

The problem is that stupid people have power. We cannot argue with these people because they are full of their own power and reason doesn’t work. Arguing would only aggravate the situations.

Assange and Zombie Facts

It’s not the first time and probably not the last, but last night I fell for the intoxicating allure of discussing with people online. So now I am at the office after 4 hours sleep wondering what the whole point of my Don Quixote behavior was…

I must stop doing this!

The problem is that arguing Assange is like arguing with creationists. For every answer they ask impossible questions and if you cannot answer them (immediately) it’s obvious that they are right. Most annoying. Then there is the problem that they behave like trolls. They don’t read the earlier material but just jump in and repeat the same tired (and wrong) statements. I love the term “zombie facts” i.e. statements which stagger on even when shot down.

My position is legal and can best be summarized by The blog that Peter wrote and The Statemans Legal myths about the Assange extradition.

Let me summarize some of the more important stuff:

  • “The allegation of rape would not be rape under English law” False (No brainer – rape is non consensual sex i.e. no means no. Sleeping people have not consented).
  • “This is the Personal Vendetta of one Swedish Prosecutor” False (it’s a decision by the Swedish Court of Appeals)
  • “Assange is more likely to be extradited to USA from Sweden than the United Kingdom” False (I wrote a longer post on this in March)
  • “Sweden should guarantee that there be no extradition to USA” Not legally possible (I wrote a longer post on this in March)
  • Sweden will extradite him anyway False (see Mark Klamberg for more on this)
  • “The Swedes should interview Assange in London” No: Best answer in the New Statesman article (Also: Seriously? Do you negotiate with tax authorities where to pay taxes?)

In addition I am completely in agreement with The Blog That Peter Wrote when he writes:

This issue is not like choosing sides in a soccer match.  You can be pro-Wikileaks and keen to see the rule of law operate.  This does not make you anti-Assange, an Assange Hater or anything else.  I, like you, have no idea whether he is guilty of the alleged crimes back in August 2010.  I do feel that the alleged victims deserve to be taken seriously, having taken the step of reporting the alleged offences to the Police, and that they should have some form of closure.

It is frankly irrelevant who the man is who is wanted for questioning, and what other great things he may (or may not) have done.  If you believe in judicial process and the rule of law, it is hard to argue he should not return to Sweden for questioning (after, of course, dealing with the consequences of his behaviour here in jumping bail).

This post is to remind myself to turn of my devices and go the f**k to sleep.

Breaking up with eBooks

Just love the text Librarian in Black writes about ending her relationship with eBooks I’m breaking up with eBooks (and you can too)

I want to break up with eBooks. Don’t get me wrong, eBooks is dead sexy and great arm candy at parties, as well as a magnet for attention and memorable experiences. But man…eBooks makes for a crap boyfriend. This relationship is as dysfunctional as it gets.

The flash of the ebook may be losing some of its glamor and I do miss many of the things that paper books had (ease of use and tactile sensation) but I am not sure if I am ready for a clean break just yet… I may just have to keep seeing them on the side?

Librarian in Black has written a wonderful text – read it!

Gold Open Access is Bad for Science Publishing

Recently I was listening to a podcast discussing the recent Finch Report which comes out in favor of the Gold path of Open access. What open access is attempting to resolve is the problem that much of government funded research costs too much before it is made accessible. It costs so much that even some research libraries are unable to access the results.

The basic model is that the researcher applies for funding. This process is time consuming and often fails. Therefore too many people are chasing too little money. Those who are fortunate to receive funding will eventually need to publish their findings in scientific journals in order to advance in their careers (and to push scientific progress forward).

Scientific journals are basically other academics acting as editors and reviewers (for the most part unpaid). So the government is paying the academics to do this work as well. Once the material is published the university libraries have to buy a subscription in order to make the work available to their researchers.

Cash Flow

How many times in this process have we paid for the the results before they are available? In most cases none of the material is available to a wider audience outside academia.

The Gold Route to open access would make research available to researchers and the general public by making the researchers pay the publishers in advance to make their material available. In other words taking the subscription fees from the library budget and adding it on to the research grants.

There are problems with this.

1. The lock in to publishers is still strong. The reason why we are discussing a scientific publishing crisis is that the cost of purchasing access to the articles is too high to bear. Gold Open Access does not address this problem in the long term. Sure, in the beginning it may be cheaper than subscriptions but we are still locked into the publishers who have raised the prices of subscriptions to a level that even wealthy universities are struggling to survive. Do we really think they will not do the same when faced by individual researchers desperate to publish in order to move forward in their careers?

2. The greed issue. Journals need to fill their pages with scientific articles. Isn’t there a danger when they are being paid per article that they will be tempted to dismantle rigorous standards in favor of cash?

And most importantly

3. Authors without funding (Read Mark Carrigan’s excellent piece on this). What about those unfortunate researchers who did not receive funding? Either they will not publish (impossible situation in academia), they will take money from other projects to pay for publishing (Fraud? Embezzlement?) or the universities will have to pay (increases costs again).

As funding is the exception and not the rule (most grant applications are denied) most of the publishing in my field is done without direct financing. For example this summer I am busy writing two articles during my holiday. They are important to me and to my research but they are not funded through projects. But once I publish I will be in a better position to obtain funding – who should pay for this?

The gold route creates a wonderful situation for the publishers and will turn the well financed researchers into direct sub-contractors to the publishers, and those without financing into the beggars.

This is not good science.

Procrastination is everything

Everything is procrastination…

Procrastination will probably never become a popular competitive sport, but if it ever did I would put most of my money on the PhD students of the world. While it is really difficult to measure procrastination the joy of working on a long-term, individually driven project creates both an extreme familiarity with the concept and the personal hell it entails.
Most people have a vague understanding of their, and others, procrastination abilities. But in a recent conversation in the coffee room I discovered a shocking lack of deeper understanding of the term. Further study is definitely required.

From my own sporadic research I have come to recognize four forms of procrastination: passive, active, positive and entropic. But first lets get some of the theory and definition straight. This is of course easily done by ripping it off Wikipedia:

…procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. In accordance with Freud, the Pleasure principle (psychology) may be responsible for procrastination; humans do not prefer negative emotions and handing off a stressful task until a further date is enjoyable. The concept that humans work best under pressure provides additional enjoyment and motivation to postponing a task.

As any good procrastinator will know there is nothing more useful than a minor diagram, preferably using a simple grid which has limited explanatory value but is a major procrastinatory tool in of itself.

Figure 1. Forms of procrastination organized by benefit and control

Figure 1 attempts to map out the four major forms of procrastination according to the benefits they bring and the amount of control the individual has over the need to conduct the activity.


Positive procrastination is doing tasks which will actually be beneficial to the main project but doing them in the wrong order. Emptying a mailbox in order to gain time and peace of mind is an excellent example. The individual has a great deal of autonomy in deciding this task and it will, in the long run, be beneficial. However, this benefit will not appear unless the actual task is completed. Therefore the actual benefit of the task is only a potential benefit and conditional to actually not procrastinating.

Active procrastination entails finding something else to do instead of doing the task in hand. This can be everything from laundry, exercising, to re-arranging books. The individual has a great deal of choice in carrying out the task – even if it is commonly defined as necessary in order to do prior to carry out real work. This has actually no benefit at all to the task at hand.

Passive procrastination is doing stuff that the individual has previously agreed to. This is when you look at your calender and realize that the day is full. Therefore the individual maintains the illusion that actual work could be done were it not for the necessity of the meetings previously booked in the calender. Examples of passive procrastination are teaching, administrative meetings or conferences. In passive procrastination the illusion of real progress is masked and, in many cases, the procrastinator is given the opportunity of not defining the tasks as procrastination. These tasks are usually important and beneficial but the level of control is low as we are forced to participate in teaching and administration with a low connection to the job we are procrastinating from.

Entropic procrastination is probably the most harmful form. The body experiences a physical barrier to commencing work and becomes an inert mass. Examples of this? Surfing pointless websites & watching most forms of daytime television.

The problem with the study of procrastination is that the different forms are very difficult to identify objectively and are defined by the lies we tell ourselves.