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{ Monthly Archives } October 2006


A note came across the anthrodesign list earlier this week about, a website on which people who disagree about a certain issue are paired up, given some guidelines for productive conversation, and then have a facilitated discussion in reaction to a provided scenario.

One of my concerns about virtual community and online discourse has been the ease with which people can choose to associate primarily with people who agree with them. This is particularly true in the blogosphere and is why I stopped political blogging after the 2004 election. Lately I’ve been looking more towards online interactions that are not overtly about politics as a possible source for building mutual respect and understanding as a foundation for constructive civic engagement. I suppose that this is a more subtle approach.

RedBlue, in contrast, is anything but subtle. I’m very interested in seeing where this goes. They’re currently recruiting testers, and if anyone happens to give it a try, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Research and professional track students

The i-Conference was two weeks ago (time seems to be going very quickly now). It was a really good experience, and I feel that I left with a much better understanding of the history of information schools and some of the challenges they (we?) face. Much of the conference was navel gazing through the lenses of other schools’ navels and in some ways this sort of brought me closer to some of the important reflection on education that I loved so much at Olin. There’s one thing, though, that’s bothering me a bit.

If you just happened to randomly walk into the conference and listen to a reasonable sampling of the discussion, you would have no idea that any of these schools have masters or undergraduate students apart from wonderful conference volunteers. One of the few times that these students were mentioned was as a way to accomplish more tedious or technical aspects of research (eg: hire students to program something) that are not of interest to PhD students or faculty. I made this remark in mixed company and got at least one “Amen,” so I’m emboldened to continue the conversation here for a bit.

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It’s time for a new computer.

My current personal laptop, a C640, is on something of its last legs. It has been for several months, but I kept convincing myself to hold out for the Core 2 MacBook Pros. Those launched today and I find myself being strangely indecisive.

I’m currently deciding between a 15.4″ MacBook Pro and the Dell D820. For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll consider them equal-enough in price. Relative advantages of each, to me, are as follows.

Dell D820: 4-year warranty, includes accidental damage (compare to the Apple’s 3 yr warranty, no accidental damage); 1920×1200 resolution; faster hard drive (7200 rpm vs 5400 rpm); two mouse buttons; two batteries that give six to nine hours of battery life total (compare to ~5 hrs).

MacBook Pro: Runs OS X; 20% bigger drive (120 GB vs 100 GB); iSight; lighter and 33% thinner; better video card (Radeon x1600 vs Quadro NVS 120).

I was pretty much set on buying a Mac this time around, but the biggest thing holding me back is the lack of accidental damage protection- if Apple offered this at a reasonable proce, I’d probably have ordered a Mac this morning. A few years ago, my backback’s zipper broke and sent my C640 crashing to onto a tiled floor. (Incidentally, it still ran, but I can’t say the screen looked that good.) One day later, Dell had sent me a refurbished laptop to replace it, no questions asked, that happened to have a higher resolution screen and faster processor. They won some serious loyalty that day.

I realize that I can get accidental damage protection from a third party, but that adds to the cost (on a yearly basis) in a way that I can’t say I like. I aso realize that both of these computers are built considerably tougher than the all-plastic C640. But I do like the peace of mind that comes with a warranty that protects my computer from me.


The SI501 effect?

The 501 effect?

All of the entering MSIs had to buy Rapid Contextual Design and The Team Handbook. I’m thinking this influenced Amazon’s recommendations.

the crane wife

The Crane WifeI’m not doing very well at the thinking posts (I blame school and research for taking most of my intelligent thought, especially since one of my classes has a blog). Instead, I will express my joy about The Crane Wife, the Decemberists’ new album (iTunes).

Contrary to what I thought when I first heard it, this album really, really good. I’ve liked the Decemberists for a while, and I like them quite a bit (I once changed a flight to stick around for their set at a music festival), so it should be no surprise that I eagerly bought their new album. When I first played The Crane Wife, though, my first reaction was “what happened?” The album sure sounds like the Decemberists, but it’s not quite the same. I’d liken it a little bit to the Uncanny Valley: close to their other albums but different enough that it’s disconcerting. The first listen left me so confused at the shift in their sound that I had to go back and listen to Picaresque to try to figure out what was going on.

After a second listen, the album began to pull me in, and I also started listening to the lyrics a bit more. The themes are pure Decemberists: love ends tragically, war comes, and happiness goes. They yet again prove that evil can be sung just as beautifully as good, and, even more disconcertingly, heartbreak can be sung with catchy energy. The back-to-back listen of Picaresque and The Crane Wife also helped the sound of the new album feel more like a natural extension of their earlier work.

After a couple of weeks with the album, I’ve listened to it a good number of times. The last album that I put through such overplay after first getting it was The Swimming Hour by Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire. I’ve picked up many very good albums since then but none that have compelled quite the same level of serial listening.

I’ll be going to see the Decemberists in Pontiac on November 7. Guster plays at UMich the same day, so it is a tough choice.