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2 September 2008

Faits Divers

As I'm now all out of books to read, chez moi, I turned to Google Reader and the BBC News site and the NYT as a means of switching off. It's been ages since I've taken the time to prowl around online, looking for articles of interest. These were my favourites:

1. Stiletto sprinters' record dash. 265 women in three-inch heels, running 80m... It's a shame this contest was held Down Under as I do a great line in heel-based sprinting (my inefficiency warning device means that I can run bloody fast in heels if it means I will be sitting alone at a station for an extra half-hour if I miss a train). Besides, gold heels and lycra are such a great look - if it's 1986, anyway.

2. The '80s: Were They Really That Bad? NPRs All Songs Considered playlist looks at the best of the '80s (and they even punctuate '80s in the right way in the title; for what more could a girl ask?). The whole list is pretty good, although I'm particularly pleased with the presence of Fight for Your Right, You Make My Dreams [oh, yeah], Brilliant Disguise, We Built This City [trashtastic], and Head Over Heels [synthalicious]. Also, Take Five has a nice, jazzy Songs for September playlist.

3. Marginal Revolution details a gym membership incentives programme that would really float my boat. The offer in a Danish chain of gyms is along the same lines - or, actually, the opposite lines - of the American steak restaurants where they offer a 32oz steak and if you finish it, it's free. These gyms are offering free membership (worth $85 per month) if you turn up at least once per month. That's incredible! Danish people must have very little motivation or these gyms would go out of business in no time. I remain convinced that I developed and maintained my thrice or four-times weekly exercise regime purely because of the high price I paid for membership at posh gym in Nowheresville. OK, yes, so I paid for a year in advance so it was a sunk cost but I readily admit to often falling victim to that fallacy (no one likes paying for something twice or paying for something they don't use, OK, economists?). Now, of course, I have enough motivation to run even without the posh gym but this still sounds like my kind of membership scheme. It sure beats Tim Harford's weight loss plan, anyway.

4. Amazon's music wiki (AKA SoundUnwound). Wow, this sounds cool. I look up a lot of music-related information online, either for blog posts or for my seemingly endless quest to have the perfect level of metadata for my entire iTunes library. Wikipedia is OK for some things - an album title or working out which album a song is on, as well as basic bio information for the artist. For more detailed info, song reviews and song samples, I prefer AllMusic, which I've used for years now. It's very slow and not that easy to navigate, though, and my login seems to be saved for long enough that I never remember what my username and password are, which means I usually have to reset it. SoundUnwound looks great, though! It has all of the artist bio information, as well as clickable links to the albums and singles in Amazon, high-quality 30 second samples of most of the songs on the albums they sell, and embedded YouTube videos of the artist. Of course, because this is Amazon, there is also an "If you like this artist, please buy more stuff from us by this similar artist" but given that AllMusic and probably most sites like this do something similar, that isn't too seditious.

5. On the Amazon wishlist (or would be, if I had one). Hoorah for the fact that Bad Science is out in paperback and not awful, space-hogging hardback. I'm impressed by Amazon's "customers who bought this also bought..." listings for this book. I own and like the majority of the suggestions: Irrationality, Counterknowledge, The Black Swan, The Canon, Quirkology, How We Know What Isn't So, and The Economist Naturalist, for example. I haven't counted so it's entirely possible that I am cognitive biasing again and picking out the ones I have read, ignoring the others.

6. Mathtastic. BoingBoing makes my head hurt sometimes.

7. Help a Reporter (and Yourself) Out. Lifehack flagged up the HARO website, which works on the principle that a journalist's article will be better if they can actually do some journalism and contact some experts on the subject of a paper, while there are many people out there who are - or know people who are - experts in some field or other, and aims to connect these people. If you sign up, you get about three emails per day with a list of about 30 journo requests for help. Nice idea, in principle (let's crowdsource journalistic research!) but in practice...presumably the people who have the time to sign up for these email alerts and to respond to the requests and are going to have too much time on their hands, which prompts me to judgmentally posit that these people are perhaps not going to be the best experts. You could imagine bored people who have grown tired of submitting crank papers to journals and posting on Something Awful could sign up for these alerts and then offer their "expert" advice on whatever topic is needed. It would, at least, be a good way of seeing how much fact-checking these journalists are doing - it wouldn't be ideal for them if they published an article full of bogus "expert commentary." Then again, I can't imagine that the NYT or the BBC News are going to be registering on the journalist half of this site.

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