Swearing off Stack Exchange

Stack Exchanges are becoming a lot like the phpbb cesspools of combative flamewars they were intended to replace. The model works great for topics where there are questions with technical answers because it tends to drain the swamp, remove the heat and leave the light. I’ve participated in stackoverflow, serverfault, superuser, the English and WebApps from the beta. I’ve had questions closed, answers voted down– sometimes fairly sometimes not– but generally, the mechanisms in place keep things from escalating into a phpbb style flame war.

A few weeks ago, I sign up to participate in the Stack Exchange. I’ve had questions that I proposed and were on the site prospectus closed. I’ve had active users question my sexuality because they didn’t like a question I asked. Normally, it’s just phpbb sites where people have to resort to calling people faggots to get them to shut up and go away. I’m watching people ask questions getting closed because the question doesn’t have solid answer like questions in programming do. What does anyone expect? This is speculative fiction! The questions are about some speculation, the answers are going to be heaping speculation on top of speculation.

In anycase, I can’t afford to use websites with too much hostility. May the Science Fiction stack exchage die. The SO culture isn’t flexible enough to expand to cover topics that are too dissimilar from programming questions.

Another annoyance is how uncommitted the moderators are. I’m referring to the joke about the pig and chicken that said, “Let’s open a restaurant called ham and eggs” The pig said, “Nah, I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved” The moderators aren’t the people asking questions. They got the guts to close questions, but they don’t have the guts to post questions of their own. If moderators are leaders, then there is no way I’m going to follow cowards.

Yahoo Answers has every question that has ever been asked on scifi.stackexchange.com (more or less), I don’t see a fraction of the nastiness going on at SE. Before the stackexchange came up, I didn’t have a need (as in need to breath, need to eat) for a place to ask sci-fi questions, I probably still don’t, but if I did, I’d go to Yahoo Answers, anything but Stack Exchange.

Does last.fm care about malicious tagging?

According to the Russian Wikipedia, Лондон, published by uplifto is a Russian Pop Band.  According to Ozon.ru, this is light heared (or light headed depending on your taste) pop music.

According to last.fm, they’re the most popular Nazi band.


This is malicious mistagging.  Most listeners can’t read Russian and won’t be able to find out if they’re listening to the next t.A.T.u. or nazis.  Already some listeners have posted that they have stopped listending to Лондон because of this tagging.

I think last.fm’s policy of doing nothing about malicious tagging is deplorable.

Interesting websites

BookGlutton.com — A social website where instead of commenting on articles (like digg.com), you comment on books.  You can even do IM with people who are reading the same book as you at the same time.

Pipl.com– Wh0 needs an address and phone book anymore? This is a free service and does better than just about anything at finding evidence of anyone on the internet.  Good enough for most applications.  On my name, it returns about 80% false matches (same name, different person).  But the remaining 20% is probably 70% of all the online accounts and profile pages that exist for me.

A Science Fiction reader discovers the internet

The last time I tried to get hooked into Sci-fi websites, I subscribed to mailing lists that spammed my mailbox with untargeted garbage, mailing lists full of strangers I will never meet, I subscribed to podcasts of irregular quality and RSS feeds that hit tripple digit un-read numbers overnight.  So now I try again.  Has web 2.0 and the social web saved the sci-fi cyberuniverse?

GoodReads. It has membership and is growing as fast as facebook.  The book club section is innovative, but not feature complete, i.e. could have better search aimed at in person book groups.

Shelfari. Beautiful site, Shelfari’s group section is useless for organizing in person book groups.

Library Thing. Groups and events are aimed at big organizations and big spectator events, like book stores, libraries holding book signings or author readings.  The other group features don’t seem to have any in-person features.

Just about all publishers sites offer catalogs, calendars (usually not iCal or otherwise subscribable), and newsletters.

Tor. Very impressive site with some social features, some free stories.

Baen. Free books, some free online content.

Random House. RH’s approach is to create a site as a bookstore. No obvious social features.

Del Rey. Part of RH. No obvious social features.

Amazon. Weak on science fiction specific features, but still the best place to buy books that aren’t available used.  The best social feature is the shared wishlists.

Pyr. Small publisher, uses FaceBook.  Better than nothing, suffers all the same problems that facebook does.

Working on an ad campaign is hard work.

My google ad word campaing, which orignially was supposed to be an inexpensive way to advertised and draw traffic to my various websites for a while turned into a real drain, with $100 of dollars of expenses and nothing interesting to show for it.

I got rid of most of the content network advertising which appears to be subject to click fraud and generally low quality clicks.

Then I started experimenting with lots of techniques for advertising my meetup and invariably I ran into the page quality sandpit, where google keeps raising your minimum bid until all your campaigns are too expensive or deactivated.  I suspecte this is where most reasonable people would quit.

But not me!  I wanted to own the key words “learn icelandic”, at least for all searches made in a 10 mile radius of Clarendon, Virginia.  So I bought the domain name, learnicelandic.net.  That site is up and has a wiki for icelandic language learning resources, which I still need to finish filling it out with content.

I created a membership drive website just for google ads because I suspected using meetup.com was killing my page quality scores–meetup has google ads and a lot of junk unrelated to icelandic language learning on my group’s page.  In fact, google thought my page might be about hotels in DC!  Here is my Icelandic Language Meetup membership drive page.  It has content and lots of calls to action.  Landing pages are now better tuned to the search words as are the text ads.

So far, I’ve burned maybe a dozen hours on this project.  I’m thinking google is creating a market here for small advertisers that can’t deal with google’s new stringent quality guidelines.

XM Radio wants you to eat spam.

“Please do not reply to this email. This is a service email from XM Satellite Radio. Please note that you may receive service email in accordance with your XM Satellite Radio Customer Agreement, whether or not you elect to receive promotional email.”

This comes from the company that double charged me for my subscription and has required a phone call on each renewal.

XM radio, you can send me spam and hide behind a legal fig leaf, but I can tell google you are sending spam.  If enough people tell gmail you are sending spam, you will fall into a black hole.

And if XM Radio still gets past my spam blocker, I still won’t read it.  But it doesn’t stop there!  I can also blog about it.

If you are thinking about signing up with XM Radio, don’t trust them with your mail email address, use a hotmail account that you don’t check very often.

Match.com’s Flaws

They haven’t updated their formula since forever.

You can’t do complex searches, like “All women who don’t mind men with kids”

You can’t get mutual matches by “diet”.  You can’t search for people who checked “vegetarian” but didn’t check “meat and potatoes”

You can’t do queries for “don’t mind” vs “want”.  I don’t mind dating a woman who is trying to stop smoking.  I don’t want to date a woman who has ever smoked.  Conceptually they are different.  The data sort of exists in the ‘important/not important’ field, but it isn’t searchable.

In match.com world, there are only 15 languages.  It was important enough to distinguish between Hindi and Urdu (two language that differ mostly by the alphabet the use), to include Dutch- a rare European language, but exclude Swedish and Icelandic.  And of course it doesn’t make it clear if the person actually speaks it or merely has studied it.

In match.com world, there is a new religious movement called “Spiritual but not religious” which means both hostile to religion and its ideas and friendly to religion and its ideas.

In match.com world, the people looking for you are all the indiscriminate ones, who were too lazy to check off any boxes in the “what my date should be like” section.

In match.com you have four different ways to say you don’t want kids, but only one way to say you do want kids.  I think this shows the anti-children bias of the original software developers.

In match.com world, there is are four ways to say “ugly” and almost no one checks them off: “Big and beautiful”, “Stock”, “Heavyset”, “Full-figured”.  There are three ways to say “I have no confidence about my looks”: “A few extra pounds”, “About average”, “Other”.  The remaining options mean “I have some self confidence”  A 1 to 10 rating would be more useful– websites like “Am I hot or not” have demonstrated that people seem to rate a person within one or two of what 100′s of other people would rate them.

In match.com world, it is relevant to know before the first date that someone enjoys yachting and camping, even though there is no chance you’re going to ask some one out to go yachting or camping on a first date.  On the other hand, it would be useful if people would list what 5 sort of first dates they’d like to go on.  For all the attention that people give to strangers, we have about 5 seconds to make an offer that can’t be refused.  So inviting someone to a movie when they’d rather go to a rock climbing gym just wastes everyones time.  The activities checklist is too vague, yet another field match.com should have left as freetext.

Speaking of freetext, everytime in match.com that they let users say “other”, they should have some free text to explain what they meant.  “Other” politics, does that mean you are a nazi and it wasn’t on the list?  “Other” body type, does that mean they are cyborgs?  And what good is this information? Who would search for someone with a body type of “other”.  You know, you just aren’t my type. I prefer “other”

Website Reviews: 4 Online Dating Services

VeggieDate: $20 for the right to email 30 women. 

Match.com: $$$ for the right to email 100s of women, of which many are inactive an unable to reply.  People write huge profiles.

Plenty of Fish in the Sea: Free for the right to email dozens of women.  People write very, very short profiles.

Its Just Coffee. Free for the right to email many women.  No clue on how many of these are active.

Both PoFitS and IJC are advertising driven–advertisments for other online dating services.  The business model implies most customers are not expected to succeed here alone and will click an ad to try out the competition of paid dating services.

Craiglist. Free for the right to email a dozen or so every day. People write very short profiles. Because ads get old and disappear, it is assumed that there is someone behind the post.  On the other hand, the ad is free. short and photo-less, so it is easy for people to post ads for other nefarious purposes, e.g. advertising commercial interests, etc.


Initial contact is online.  Spam is not romantic.  Any system based on spam is suboptimal at best, an abomination at worst.

Interview script.  The script is to meet at a safe public location and do an interview.  This is neither romantic or reflective of how real relationships form

Technological and pecuniary barriers.  When filtering for a prospective mate, I care more about health than other factors.  So a system that rewards people with the spare cash to subscribe and the technological wizardry to use a computer effectively will not serve me.

Review: Voting on Digg

Digg is like the wikipedia of newspaper commentary. Some people find content, everyone creates commentary and then editors have to sweep in and clean up the mess.

Articles to Bury. I bury anti-Semitism. I bury pro-multilevel marketing. Surprisingly, even with issues that stark, sometimes figuring out what the users message is can be tricky. An article that says, “Don’t buy from Amway” might be saying “Do buy from my MLM scheme”

Comments to Bury. I bury comments from people that don’t know that Digg isn’t threaded and post replies to comments that are 25 comments away or already buried out of sight. I bury comments that are poorly thought out misinformation.

My #1. It looks like a ‘super digg’ Not exactly useful since it only holds one slot and on a given day I’m interested in a few themes.

The invisible individual editor. The depressing part about being the editor on digg is that you make such a small impact. On Wikipedia, if somone posted an article about how the moon landing never happened, editors would quickly move it to “lunatic fringe interpretations of history” or remove it altogether. Wikipedia has a standard of truth: published references, better yet, published references from peer reviewed journals. Digg doesn’t have that. It takes hundreds of comments on a front page article before the Digg’s standard of truth– consensus–has a chance to form.

Consensus as truth. Consensus is biased towards finding the average belief. Using average belief as a standard of truth is as reliable as conducting a survey about who hotter, Brittany Spears or Monica Lewinsky and using that for anything but amusement. Still, while consensus is a weaker standard of truth, people would be less likely to pick the lunatic fringe argument if they had a good feel for how few people agree with them. If one finds oneself the sole believer of a fact, you have to think, does this fact have extraordinary evidence, or is it probably wrong? I personally suspect, albeit without evidence, that believers of crackpot theories highly overestimate the support for their belief among the rest of the world. Digg may be a remedy for that.


My latest favorite web sites are lala.com, last.fm and XM radio. Without a radio station, it isn’t practical to learn about new music. Without physical CD’s, you can’t be efficient in the legal purchase of music.

Nothing Has Killed the Radio Star

As much as we like to think of our tastes in music as being personal and unpredictable, DJ’s can figure out what songs you are likely to listen to. Listening to random samples of songs on Amazon.com or anywhere else is a waste of time.

XM Radio has human DJ’s with human picked song lists, that generally do a good job of finding music with is going to be broadly popular.

Last FM has machine generated song lists and human-machine tag driven algorithm, that doing a remarkable job of forming playlists that have similar songs. The advantage of Last.FM over XM radio is that you can find obscure artists that might never get on to a human DJ’s play lists.