The Reliability of Blogging Platforms

[Royal Pingdom has the results]( of their monitoring of five popular blogging platforms: Blogger,, TypePad, Posterous, Tumblr (spoler alert: listed in order of reliability). Ordinarily I would let this pass, but I am considering using a publicly available blogging platform for my digital humanities seminar. Why a public service? I want students to have something that can continue beyond their years at university: using our Moodle installation can’t do this. I am currently leaning towards []( because

1. I use it and am familiar with it
2. It’s open source
3. A number of digital humanities projects, e.g. CUNY’s [Academic Commons](, are built on it — or the other open source CMS, [Drupal]( (CUNY’s effort should not be confused with the other [Academic Commons](, which is equally interesting, but I don’t know if it’s built on WordPress CMS.)

Why Net Neutrality Matters

From a recent pitch made to the telecomms, with my apologies to all my conservative friends who may have been taken in by Rush Limbaugh’s misdirection on this — on this, I think Limbaugh reveals that his pockets are deep and they are lined with other people’s interests.


I have uploaded the complete presentation, which was released over the internet, to my Scribd account, but it may not last long there. If not, search for “final_slide_deck” for “openet” and “allot” — one company’s name is revealing and the other misdirects. (The file appears as “Final Slide Deck” in [my Scribd library](

Site Update

Regular readers and/or subscribers may want to ignore and/or turn off their feed from until the new year in a few days. With the new site design emerging, I am also taking advantage of some wet weather to stay home and port both a number of pages into the post database as well as a collection of notes and stray documents.

I am converting the pages into posts because I have decided, for the sake of simplicity, to keep as much as possible a post and to use a limited number of pages to index, or point to, lists of posts. As some of you will know, WordPress treats posts and pages differently. Pages are not categorized nor are they taggable. They were, and might still be, not searched using the default search scripts.

In user space, me, I just wasn’t using the pages very much. If I want to find anything, I typically either search for it or I click on a tag.

For those who had links to pages, I apologize. Most of the incoming links point to posts, and I hope to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Archie Green Fellowships Announced

Good news!

> The 2011 Archie Green Fellowship has been announced! Pending Funding, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress will award one or more fellowships for original research into the culture and traditions of American workers. The application deadline is March 11, 2011.

I for one will be [applying again](

Variant of “You Might Be a Redneck”

A friend of mine sent this on — it is a bit of *e-mail lore* — that is, heavily forwarded. It was also accompanied by some Normal Rockwell like landscapes and tableaus that struck me as superfluous to the text itself:

> This is very good! Not the type of redneck jokes we normally hear.
> We have enjoyed the redneck jokes for years. It’s time to
> take a reflective look at the core beliefs of a culture that
> values home, family, country and God. If I had to stand
> before a dozen terrorists who threaten my life, I’d
> choose a half dozen or so rednecks to back me up.
> Tire irons, squirrel guns and grit — that’s what rednecks are
> made of. I hope I am one of those. If you feel the
> same, pass this on to your redneck friends.
> Y’all know who ya are.
> You might be a redneck if: It never occurred to you to
> be offended by the phrase, ‘One nation, under God..’
> You might be a redneck if: You’ve never protested about seeing
> the 10 Commandments posted in public places.
> You might be a redneck if: You still say ‘ Christmas’
> instead of ‘Winter Festival.’
> You might be a redneck if: You bow your head when
> someone prays.
> You might be a redneck if: You stand and place your
> hand over your heart when they play the National Anthem
> You might be a redneck if: You treat our armed forces
> veterans with great respect, and always have.
> You might be a redneck if: You’ve never burned an
> American flag, nor intend to.
> You might be a redneck if: You know what you believe
> and you aren’t afraid to say so, no matter who is listening.
> You might be a redneck if: You respect your elders and
> raised your kids to do the same.
> You might be a redneck if: You’d give your last dollar to
> a friend.
> If you got this email from me, it is because I believe that
> you, like me, have just enough Red Neck in you to have the
> same beliefs as those talked about in this email.
> God Bless the USA !
> Keep the fire burning, redneck friend.

What I find interesting is the merging of “patriot” with “redneck.” I have seen much the same kind of messages over the last nine years, but the subject was never rednecks.

Movement of North Pole Accelerates

Just in time for Christmas, [*Scientific American* reported][sa] on some recent research that speculates about why the movement of the North Pole has recently accelerated from its its usual speed of 15 kilometers per year to 55 kilometers per year: some scientists are speculating it could be a function of magnetic plumes emanating from the core — one imagines something like solar flares but instead of it happening in space it is occurring within the dense field of liquid rock.

For those who are curious, the north magnetic pole (NMP) was first located in 1831 on Canada’s Boothia Peninsular. It drifted for a while before bolting north-northwest for Siberia.


Machine Learning for Human Memorization

A machine learning researcher, Danny Tarlow, has come up with a way to describe his problem in competitive scrabble in programming terms. [Here’s a link to the post][post], and here’s his rough description of the problem:

> As some of you know, I used to play Scrabble somewhat seriously. Most Tuesdays in middle school, I would go to the local scrabble club meetings and play 4 games against the best Scrabble players in the area (actually, it was usually 3 games, because the 4th game started past my bedtime). It’s not your family game of Scrabble: to begin to be competitive, you need to know all of the two letter words, most of the threes, and you need to have some familiarity with a few of the other high-priority lists (e.g., vowel dumps; short q, z, j, and x words; at least a few of the bingo stems). See here for a good starting point.

> Anyway, I recently went to the Toronto Scrabble Club meeting and had a great time. I think I’ll start going with more regularity. As a busy machine learning researcher, though, I don’t have the time or the mental capacity to memorize long lists of words anymore: for example, there are 972 legal three letter words and 3902 legal four letter words.

> So I’m looking for an alternative to memorization. Typically during play, there will be a board position that could yield a high-scoring word, but it requires that XXX or XXXX be a word. It would be very helpful if I could spend a minute or so of pen and paper computation time, then arrive at an answer like, “this is a word with 90% probability”. So what I really need is just a binary classifier that maps a word to probability of label “legal”.

> Problem description: In machine learning terms, it’s a somewhat unique problem (from what I can tell). We’re not trying to build a classifier that generalizes well, because the set of 3 (or 4) letter words is fixed: we have all inputs, and they’re all labeled. At first glance, you might think this is an easy problem, because we can just choose a model with high model capacity, overfit the training data, and be done. There’s no need for regularization if we don’t care about overfitting, right? Well, not exactly. By this logic, we should just use a nearest neighbors classifier; but in order for me to run a nearest neighbors algorithm in my head, I’d need to memorize the entire training set!


The Other Paris Metro

[This post]( at _Sleepy City_ has a wonderful collection of photographs of the Paris Metro as glimpsed by a pair of daredevils willing to risk electrocution, pursuit by dogs and police, and the occasional surprise train to discover unused stations and trains. I am not so interested in the daring part than I am in the tableaus from another time. Stations lined with tiles. Trains made of metal and wood.