Exquisite Corpse needs encouragement

The last several years, I’ve made three starts at creating a web-based version of Exquisite Corpse. I generally get bogged down because you can’t really make a web game without also creating a whole registration & authentication system, which is just too close to my real job to not fill me with exquisite loathing. But I think such an online game would be fun, so I keep starting it and then trickling off as it becomes tedious. My most recent stab started about a month and a half ago, and derailed about three weeks ago. So I’m hoping that letting people know that I have this in the works might encourage you to encourate me. So if you think this would be fun, please encourage me to do this, either in an email or in the comments or the next time you see me in person.

ps: My original idea was actually to make an online version of “I’m not the only dust my mother raised,” which is a game that my friend Greg and I invented in high school, which is like Exquisite Corpse, only competitive. (How can a surrealist game be competitive, you ask. Trust me, there was little that Greg and I did not make competitive.)

The Enron Corpus

Here’s a good one from the department of unintended consequences.

In 2003, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a million and a half Enron email messages to the public. FERC was very rightly taken to task by many for releasing the entire set of emails, because a large number were personal emails of innocent employees, some of which contained information like social security numbers, and only a small fraction of which contained anything incriminating. FERC did backtrack a bit and took down the messages containing social security numbers and employee performance evaluations. But the rest remain publicly accessible.

Putting the ethics of how the messages were obtained and released aside, the entry of this corpus into the public record has really been a boon to various branches of computer science, particularly information retrieval and knowledge discovery. There has been lots of interesting academic work with the Enron corpus; everything from spam filters to social netork analysis to information retrieval to linguistic analysis. I’ve also seen demos of various commercial enterprise search products using it, and have read about some other commercial products which have used it in R&D. Really, researchers have never had anything like this, a full corporate email database captured in the wild.

And it should also be a cautionary tale to not put anything in your work email that you wouldn’t want anyone in the world to read. (My previous barometer for to put in work email was to ask myself if I would mind one of the IT guys reading it).

Obscure Economic Indicators

Slate has a great but infrequent series which features obscure economic indicators, like the number of shipping containers in L.A., or regional parking rates. (I posted another favorite last year, about how the number of Harvard B-School grads on Wall Street indicates that the stock market will do poorly).

A quick search turns up a similar story in Inc Magazine a few years ago; their examples are not as good, but they do quote the famous Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci.

A friend who went to a data mining conference last week mentioned that someone there had done some work indicating that the frequency of blog postings can be correlated to the unemployment rate. The last number he came up with was within .3% of the Fed’s number, and he had it 6 weeks before the Fed released theirs.

Travel notes: pink, New Castle, return

abby!Reserved for R.D.On Sunday, Mom, Dad, Estee, Grandma, and I trekked up to New Wilmington, PA, to visit Abby at Westminster College (if by ‘visit’ you mean ‘paint her room’). She’s a Residential Director in this, her senior year, so she’s sort of the head R.A. for her building, and she gets a reserved parking spot and an apartment to herself. An apartment which she swears she’s allowed to paint. So we painted the upper border of her bedroom and the kitchen/dining room/R.A. office hot pink.

Rachel's RoadhouseI hadn’t been to Westminster while Abby’s been there, so it was interesting to see her in context. We went to a very tasty local restaurant, Rachel’s Roadhouse, which had these homemade potato chips with a dipping sauce that I still keep thinking about.

industryAbby had to get back to go to some sort of orientation meeting she was in charge of (if by ‘meeting’ you mean ‘scavenger hunt’), so after that, we went back to her room and cleaned up the painting stuff and headed out.

On the way back, we drove through New Castle, the Toth family ancestral homeland, where my grandmother’s mother’s parents settled after coming over from Hungary. Grandma pointed out the street she lived on until she was 7, the street my great-great-grandparents lived, the WPA-built stone retaining wall my great-grandfather worked on, etc.

Farm equipmentMonday morning, I went with my Mom to a farm supply store to get protein blocks for the sheep. Despite the storm Saturday, with all the lightning and the inch and a half of rain, the water situation was as dire as ever. So a fair bit of the afternoon was spent trying to locate a pump to use to pump water from the spring down the hill up to the cistern near the house. Most pumps for sale seemed to be either for pumping out basements or for various commercial applications and way too powerful for the job. After dad got home from work, we trekked with my uncle, aunt, and cousin to a pretty authentic Mexican restaurant in Mount Pleasant, PA, which is conveniently across the highway from a tractor supply store which sold pumps (not quite what we needed again, though).

countryside near Mount PleasantTuesday, I set off for State College at about 8am, and the music in rotation was very much what I was listening to in 1996-7: Liz Phair (I really like Whip Smart and not much before or after), Rashaan Roland Kirk, Rasputina (OK, I didn’t discover her/them until later, but the album was from 1996 and has the spirit of 1996), with some oddities thrown in (the Incredible String Band, the Carter Family). Terri and I had our happy reunion when I got to S.C.; we grabbed some lunch, picked up 2 cases of Yuengling (one for us, one for Ed & Juliet for watching the cats) at the beer distributor (no, we did not drive through, though we could have), bought a card for her parents’ anniversary, and set off. I drove, and Terri read the latest Harry Potter aloud from where we left off last week. We made record time, clocking in at just over 7 hours. If we’d have taken another 5 minutes, we would have pulled into the driveway just as we finished the book.


In the kitchen, my uncle was telling a story he saw on TV about two skydivers who jumped out of a plane in some sort of winged bat suits. They intended to glide past a bridge, one above and one below. The one who was supposed to glide above miscalculated, hit the bridge, and died in a rather instant and grotesque fashion.

Grandma: “The bible says something about that.”


Mom: “About bat suits?”
Grandma: “Don’t expect God to protect you if you’re going to do something stupid!”

Bullshit Protector

Bill Moyer, 73, wears a “Bullshit Protector” flap over his ear while President George W. Bush, on screen at rear, addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars at their 106th convention Monday, Aug. 22, 2005, in Salt Lake City. Moyer served in Korea and Vietnam, and in the post- WWII occupation of Germany.

See full(er) story and links here. Or make your own.

Travel notes: music, drought, and graduation

As my parents’ internet connection is a bit of a challenge (neither cable nor DSL is an option here), I’ve not had it in me to post while I’ve been here. But tonight I thought I’d brave it, and catch up a little so you all have a little something to read while I make the drive back tomorrow.

Last Thursday night, while procrastinating packing, I caught my friend Doug’s acoustic show at the Kirkland Cafe. “Banging Amanda” and “Dabney Coleman Loves Me” were as good as advertised. He also played a couple of Hyphens songs with his bandmate Dave. Also notable were the act that followed them, whose name I forget, but it’s Double-something. They smelled like Harvard kids to me (but Doug probably more accurately guessed Berklee), and they really had a ton of energy, and no qualms about just going over the top. They were probably more fun than any of the medium-name bands I’ve seen open for Interpol in the past year. Doug talked to them briefly, and indeed, they are going on hiatus because two of them are going back to school.

Friday morning I dragged myself out of bed as early as I could, which turned out to be just in time to hit rush hour at the Mass Pike and 495 junction. But all in all, I made it to my folks place in about 11 real hours, and about 10 driving hours, so I made up a little time in the middle. Luckily, there wasn’t as much Pennsylvania construction as usual. There was pizza (etc.) from Central Pizza waiting for me when I got there.

Dismantling Hager's farm supply storeThe one notable thing about this visit was the inconvenient lack of water. In past years, when there’s been a summer dry enough to make the spring that’s their primary water source dry up, the most convenient secondary source has been to put the large plastic water tank that my grandfather bought many years ago onto a truck, and buy it at a nearby agricultural supply store. That store finally went out of business, so this year, they’ve just had to be ultra-strict about conserving the water that is trickling in, and by getting water for the sheep and cows by filling up big containers of water at my aunt and uncle’s place a few miles away.

margaret and bridge on bike trailSaturday morning, my cousin Margaret came over for a ride on the nearby bike trail. Being a fellow coffee lover and being swell as ever, she brought me a bunch of coffee from her favorite coffee place in Pittsburgh. It was pretty hot on the trail. We went about 10 miles each way. The trail actually passes by the agricultural store I mentioned above. The bike trail opened about 10 years ago; before that, it was a railroad, and the store was outfitted with grain bins that could load rail cars. The railroad had closed long before it was made into a bike trail, and really, there aren’t as many farms around here as there once were, so it’s actually amazing that the store had hung on as long as it did. As we rode by, we saw a bunch of guys dismantling the big grain bins and loading them onto trucks. My dad stopped and talked to them a bit, asking if the bins were going to good use, and if they knew of any place we might be able to buy water (turns out, none that are really practical).

Impending stormLater that afternoon, we went over to my aunt and uncle’s place for Shannon’s high school graduation party. I hadn’t seen a lot of the relatives who are related to me through my uncle in easily 10 years. It was good to see them all. A thunderstorm came up slowly while we were there. Though it was pretty violent, with lightning flashing every few seconds, with the severe lack of water back on the farm and all the brown lawns we saw on the way to the party, it was definitely welcome.

Welcome to Earth

Holy shit, is Google Earth cool. Oh my. A wee bit frightening in many respects. But, oh my. I just mapped out the drive I’m going to do this Friday, from Somerville to my parents’ farm in Pennsylvania. You can see their swimming pool. And you can get driving directions, hit ‘play’, and get a beautifully rendered scenic view of each step of the whole the 9:49 hour drive. I’ve only made it as far as I-84 before losing patience. I mean, I already have to do the whole drive in reality.

latte art and espresso porn

The other day I discovered these terrific Flickr sets of espresso drinks through the new interestingness features. Coffee being my daily drug of choice now and for the foreseeable future, all my caffeine anticipators and receptors are all aroused. Yipes.

Speaking of coffee… While I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about a recent read, My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk, it was full of coffee-worship, to which I was very sympathetic. For example,

Forty years ago, the Persian Shah Tahmasp, …began to grow senile and lost his enthusiasm for wine, music, poetry, and painting; furthermore, he quit drinking coffee, and naturally, his brain stopped working. …One day, when he had grown even older, he was possessed by a jinn, had a nervous fit, and begging God’s forgiveness, completely swore off wine, handsome young boys and painting, which is proof enough that after this great shah lost his taste for coffee, he also lost his mind.

(PS, Ed, if you’re still off coffee, I’m sorry about posting this).