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Buzzing? . . . Oh, I’m Just Shaving my IQ January 21, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Blackberry, fiction, information management, literature, Management, Other, Science Fiction.

I just got a new Blackberry last week. Lovely, sleek little device, and I must confess that I’ve always wanted one, even before they started actually making them. I wanted something that would let you type in text and store it and send it places, etc.

But what amazes me is that I can already see what they do to people a little more clearly. If you attend meetings with others who have these things you are already familiar with how distracting they are. Any time an email comes in, these people pull theirs out and look at it to see if the email is something important. My assumption was always something like the following:

What a jerk. They actually don’t know how insulting it is to constantly monitor some hand-held electronic device while somebody is talking about something that they consider important.

And I immediately draw the following conclusion: This person is stupid.

But I have revised my analysis a little, after getting one of these myself. You see, these people didn’t start out stupid. Actually it was the reverse (no, really, bear with me for a second.) They rise up in the company hierarchy because of their brains and other abilities. Then the organization decides that they need to have access to a constant stream of data, so that they can be more efficient. They must be constantly available for consultation. They are then given a Blackberry, or Treo, or other electronic device that does this sort of thing (even phones which are used for instant messaging, I suppose, although I know very few executives who would do this).

The stupidity creeps in at that point, the receipt of this handheld device. The experience of being outfitted with one of these things has, thus far, reminded me of a great story by the late Kurt Vonnegut, “Harrison Bergeron.” In this story the United States government makes everyone equal by imposing handicaps on the most able. So if you have really good vision, they give you blurry glasses, for example. Or if you are really strong, they make your clothing really heavy (although I have doubts about this one; the clothing would just make you increasingly stronger.) Finally, if you are very smart, the government makes you wear a radio-earphone thing that emits a loud, irritating buzzing noise every once and a while to break your concentration.

Which is where the Blackberry comes in, of course. These people started out relatively intelligent. But the constant interruptions handicapped them.

The thing was sitting on the counter buzzing away this morning while I was trying to help my son with his mathematics. My wife, just back from Peru, said “aren’t you going to check it?” That’s when it all came together for me. Math’s hard enough, without a Blackberry going off.

My capable IT person showed me how to shut the stupid thing off. So now I’m all set.

NaNoWriMo 2007 – Day 1 November 1, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in literature, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Other, writing.

NaNoWriMo starts today, and I only got four hours of sleep last night (too tired to get up to turn the heater down, too warm and itchy to sleep, plus too much work crap to think about).  But this morning I find in my inbox a pep talk from Tom Robbins. 

Tom Robbins is one of those people who made me want to write, way back when.  I think I was a Junior in high school when I read Still Life With Woodpecker.  There was a time when I could quote the first chapter of the book, or the forward or whatever, verbatim.  Just having Tom urge me and the other 89,999 participants on inspired me.  Thanks, Tom–love your stuff. 

So, despite being tired and preoccupied, I’m doing this nano thing once again.

It’s going to be a little different this time, my approach. (do you like how wordy that sentence is, compared to how short it would be with active voice?)  Last year I posted the whole novel as I wrote it, finishing on the last day of November with the denouement.  So, completely linear.  If I hadn’t written it in a linear fashion like that, anyone reading it, day to day, would have been confused (more confused than necessary, I mean).  This year I’m trying to write a better novel, so I’m not going to be so linear.  I’m going to give myself the freedom to go back to chapter whatever and add some more, whenever I want, or start with chapter 15, if necessary. 

So I won’t be posting the whole thing.  Maybe some excerpts, if I think people might be interested.  Good luck to all the others bookmarked here who are participating, MoonTopples, strugglingwriter, Kaitlyn Gallagher, WritingGB, and the ones I forgot to list.  Let’s do this thing.

100 Books Meme – Tag Mirrored September 19, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, fiction, folksonomies, librarything, literature, Other, tagging.
1 comment so far

While I was putting up my own LibraryThing Tag Mirror yesterday I was also puzzling about the list of books comprising the 100 Books Meme.   Then, suddenly, and somewhat painfully, ineinsbildung!  [When backed into a corner, exclaim something in German.  Even fewer people (one of whom is this blogger) know German than know Latin.]  

It occurred to me that I should give the same treatment to the idiosyncratic list that is the 100 Books Meme.  So I created a LibraryThing account comprised just of those books read by half or more of the bloggers who did the meme.

What sort of tags do those books have?  Well, these (click to enlarge):


And here is the tag mirror for the entire list of 100: (click to enlarge):


What does this tag cloud say about the composer of the list? I’ve got to get to work, so I’ll leave the rest as an exercise for the student, posting about it later only if I can make some sense of it.

Click here to examine the 100 Books LibraryThing tags individually or perhaps here would be even better.

100 Books Meme – Summary Statistics September 13, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in blogs, Blogs and Blogging, Books, COMBS, literature, memes, Other.

The 100Books meme has made the rounds of the blogosphere for some time now, and I have examined the responses of 200 blogs, but haven’t yet decided what it all means.  Partially, this has to do with the eccentricity of the list itself.  Respondents are predominently within a demographic that I can only describe as “literate knitters.”  Hard to generalize from it, is what I mean to say.  I’ve got a plan to remedy that, which I’ll get to later.  First, here are the boring summary statistics as a pdf

The blogger in the sample who read the fewest read only four of these books.  One blogger claimed to have read 90 of them. And the average blogger claimed to have read 39 of them.  [I would have read 39 of them, too, if I had read all of the books I was supposed to read in school.  But I charted my own course, which explains my disappointing grades.]

I haven’t had much chance to look at the cross-tabulations yet, but I did notice a couple of oddities:

  1. Eleven people read Tolkien’s Return of the King without having read The Fellowship of the Ring.  What, if any, is the deal with that?
  2. Ten people read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but did not read Harry Potter and the Sourceror’s Stone (AKA HP and the Philosopher’s Stone).  Similarly, WTF?

More to come.

Which words do you own?–Tales from the Reading Room July 14, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in blogging, blogs, Blogs and Blogging, Books, COMBS, Haiku, linguistics, literature, Other, statistical analysis, vocabulary.

Note: This is part of a continuing series on the actual vocabulary in use in the blogosphere.  Other posts, whether analyzing particular blogs within the study or detailing the methodology of this thing or whatever, can be found at the Center for Occasional Meme and Blog-O-Sphere Studies [COMBS].  Go there by clicking here or the Center’s logo, which should be on the right (starboard) side-bar over there —->

About two months ago I took a sample of words from Litlove’s blog Tales from the Reading Room.  I added them to the vocabulary database, but I was reluctant to just do a normal post on them.  I wanted to do something a little special because Litlove had started this whole project, in a way, with one of her posts.  So I procrastinated, a favorite strategy of mine, until I could think of something more interesting.  I think I hit upon something, so without further ado . . .

Litlove’s word sample runs from March 31 – May 9, 2007.  Sample size was 25,741 words.  She added 905 words.   She used a wide variety of words–4,535 different words within the sample, pretty good, since her sample had 5,000 fewer words than most of the others.

Here is a word cloud comprised of the words used more than twice by Litlove but not at all by any of the other 18 blogs that went before her:


And here’s those words in a font called Love Letters:


And here’s the Venn diagram I usually make out of these words:


The left lobe consists of words that were new to the sample, that nobody else had used, sized relative to the frequency of use.  The middle part consists of words that everybody has used so far, sized according to how much more frequently Litlove used them in the sample than others did.  And the right lobe consists of words that everyone else sampled before her used, but that she did not. 

Here is another effort by my Haiku-generating algorithm, which crashed six times before yielding a Haiku made from only the most common words and the words Litlove added to the database (all of the crashes all had to do with a shortage of monosyllabic words of various types in Litlove’s pool of words.)

In boy’s forthright sneer
she adheres perilously
to the politeness.

Puzzling, like all good machine-generated poetry. 

And here is the new thing.  It’s an additional wordcloud that is a little more complicated than the others I have generated thus far.  This is the first time I have tried to explain it, so bear with me.  I calculated the average number of times each word in the database is used (per subject).  Then I subtracted the number of times each words was used in Litlove’s sample.  The postive numbers represent words that Litlove used more frequently than average.  Then I scaled these words by frequency of use in her sample.  But then I deleted the 65 most frequently used words in the database (see here for a partial list of these).  This yields a list of at least 100 words showing something new about the speech patterns/word choices of the blogger, Litlove, in this case.  I’m not at all sure what it shows, though.  So here’s Litlove’s cloud:


And for purposes of comparison, here’s one from last week’s subject, silverneurotic:


I find these a little more interesting than the other visuals, at this point.  And since their appearance is not so firmly tied to the size of the samples, I can generate them with a much smaller sample from someone’s blog.  So I may just keep doing this, if I keep getting volunteers.

As always, the vocabulary clouds and Haiku are the property of the volunteers, except that said volunteer may not have them taken off of my site but may otherwise do with them what they wish.  Thanks for participating, Litlove, and sorry about the long wait.

DIY Sticky-Note Pen-Loop Bookmark May 8, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Books, DIY, how to, lifehack, literature, Origami, Other, writing.

I conceived this design to enter it in the contest over at Kimbooktoo, which closes on June 1, 2007.  I’m sending Kim a note this morning with all of this stuff attached, but I couldn’t tell from her instructions whether cross-posting our inventions was O.K.  I hope so.

Anyway, I am always looking around for pens and pencils when I need them, and it is usually when I have my journal or a book open and don’t want to put it down to get something with which to write in the margins, etc.  I have often thought that books should come with pen-loops, but many people hate to see books defaced.  That’s O.K., because you can also use the sticky note pen loop as a piece of note paper.  It unfolds quite easily to accomodate note-taking, then closes up again for later. 

Kim’s contest requires people to think of a name for their inventions, so I’m calling this the Bookloopenote.  It looks like this:


Or, when you use a purple sticky, looks like this:


Easy step-by-step instructions:

Step 1:  Start with a large sticky note (this one is 4″ X 6″)  Stick it to a flat surface.


Step 2: Fold it in half, bringing the long sides together, but only crease the fold about 1/3 of the way, starting on the non-sticky side.


Step 3: Fold the two non-sticky corners down so that they meet the crease, like you are going to make a paper airplane.


Step 4: Cut the corners off and discard.


Step5: Fold the pointy part up about 2 centimeters past the sticky side, fold and crease.


Step 6: Flip it over and fold the pointy part so that it sticks to the sticky side.


Step 7: Insert pen or pencil.


Step 8: Holding the thing by the pencil part, stick to the page you wish to mark, either on the top or the side of the book.


And this is a slightly better picture of the yellow-sticky version:


So, there you go.

Writing Contest at The Moon Topples April 30, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in fiction, literature, Other, writing.
1 comment so far

I plan to enter the writing contest Maht is running at The Moon Topples.  I had also planned to enter the one held recently at the Clarity of Night, and actually wrote two completely different stories for it (both crap), but after torturing them to death I decided not to subject myself to everyone else’s ridicul.  My own was enough. 

I have been pretty distracted lately.  New responsibilities at work and the start of allergy season here in New England (mating season for plants in California, where I grew up, is intense, but mercifully short) have meant that not only has my writing suffered, but that I haven’t visited your blog and commented, which I try to do at least once a week.  I’m sorry about that. 

I will try to do better, as soon as the itching stops and I can once again concentrate.

At any rate, enter the contest Maht’s running.  It will be fun.  There will be some great stories, if last time was any indication.  It will also be a global event.  The winner of the last one lived in Islington, London, England.  Contestents came from as far away as New Jersey, New Zealand, and New England.  But they came from old places, too.  And all of the genres were represented, so long as they were small enough and fiction.  So don’t be left out of the fun. 

Born on Armistice Day, Kurt Vonnegut April 12, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, literature, Other, writing.

He is gone, my favorite anti-war humanist humorist author.  I reviewed his most recent book last year on his birthday (here).  In that book he recounts his remarks to some fellow humanists about Isaac Asimov, another favorite humanist, after Asimov’s death.  “Isaac is up in Heaven now.”  Cracked everybody up, of course.  So let me be one of the first to say it:  “Kurt is up in Heaven now.”

A short digression March 17, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, linguistics, literature, Other, vocabulary.
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I always put posts up without doing significant research into what other people are doing on whatever subjects I happen to be writing about.  Luckily, this makes me look careless and ignorant, instead of lazy and self-absorbed, which is probably closer to the truth. 

Anyway, this morning I got a comment somewhere in this vocabulary thread from kuipercliff, who pointed me to two very interesting sites that perform and display research along similar lines.

WordCount™ is an artistic experiment in the way we use language. It presents the 86,800 most frequently used English words, ranked in order of commonness. Each word is scaled to reflect its frequency relative to the words that precede and follow it, giving a visual barometer of relevance. The larger the word, the more we use it. The smaller the word, the more uncommon it is.

The British National Corpus (BNC) is a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of sources, designed to represent a wide cross-section of current British English, both spoken and written.

The BNC database is proprietary, and English, too, so I’ll keep using my own, for now.  But both of these sites are pretty interesting, as is Kuipercliff’s blog.

Which words do you own?–Neil Gaiman March 16, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, bookmooch, Books, Cartooning, fiction, literature, Neil Gaiman, Other, vocabulary, web 2.0, writing.

Note: This is part of a continuing series on the actual vocabulary in use in the blogosphere.  Posts on this subject started here.] 

I began to read the work of Neil Gaiman last year when somebody suggested I read Good Omens, a collaboration between Mr. Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Then I read American Gods and Neverwhere and everything else I could get my hands on.  The only thing I haven’t been able to get ahold of is his latest, Fragile Things, which nobody has posted on Bookmooch or Paperbackswap (have to be a little frugal this year, I’m afraid.)  Anyway, Mr. Gaiman is a tremendously talented writer of creepy and interesting tales.  And he writes a darn good blog, too, which I subscribe to and read whenever I can.

I sampled 22,000 words from Mr. Gaiman’s site, spanning the period January 6 – March 14, yesterday morning.  I had to run the spell-check a little differently from the way I normally do, because Mr. Gaiman uses the English spellings of words like color, organize, check (cheque, a draft on one’s checking account), favorite, and orangutan.  So I just changed these to the Americanized versions in his list so that I could merge it in with the others.

I have started to add some words to my spell-checker, and with Mr. Gaiman’s blog I added googled, blog, blogger, blogging, edamame, and perhaps a couple of others that I forgot to write down at the time but which I was absolutely certain were correctly spelled words.

The Blogger’s Vocabulary List is getting larger with each blog I incorporate.  The latest, which includes samples from Three Quarks Daily, Daily Kos, this blog (Pretty Good on Paper) and Neil Gaiman’s Journal, contains 9,383 different words.  In a couple of months I should be able to make a pretty good estimate of the size of the vocabulary in actual use out there (here?) in the blogosphere.  Check this space for updates.

Mr. Gaiman added 1,112 words to the list, an impressive feat at this point for an individual blogger.  Here is a vocabulary cloud composed of the words Mr. Gaiman added to the list, with font sizes at twice the point size as the number of times they appeared in his 20,000-word sample (click for a larger image).


I’ve decided to stop estimating the size of the vocabularies of individual blogs in this study because such estimates are too artificial.  Even bloggers and writers use most of their words in conversation.  And since your vocabulary is altered by each conversational partner, (your conversational partner asks a question about broccoli or oysters and you find yourself using these words yourself, if only to ask for clarification) estimates of this sort don’t seem all that relevant.

What does Mr. Gaiman’s vocabulary cloud say about him as a blogger?  What does it say about the bloggers to which his words were compared?  What will Raincoaster‘s vocabulary cloud say about her or us or anything, when it is added to this growing pool tomorrow?