my idea: wheresthebias.com

Here’s an idea I had about a week ago while lying in bed, severely jet-lagged. I’m pretty sure that this is at least better than the “shower idea”.

Today, everyone is going crazy about Obama’s healthcare proposal. If you haven’t heard about it, I recommend that you not go to any town hall meetings. Anyways, I noticed there are a lot of statistics being thrown out there from both sides, including anything from the length of Canadian transplant waitlists to the estimated cost of insuring everyone, from the total number of uninsured Americans to the how much of a liar Obama is. Statistics are great to use because they sound official and concrete. Unfortunately, statistics can be misleading, or even downright lies. At best, quoted statistics are used with some bias.

What I propose is a website where one could get references and context for statistics. For example, let’s say that a commercial says “40% of all Americans will fake washing their hands if they think someone is watching” (I just made that up). Questioning this, they can go to wheresthebias.com and search for it. They can find the statistic (40%) and see who said this (commercial on public health), and what the apparent source is (Kevin Leung’s butt). Additionally, there would be a meter for the left and right bias of the speaker (neutral) and the original source (very left). Also, there would be a meter for the reliability of the quote, from the truth to maybe misleading, to a downright lie (in this case, a lie). I guess, then, that the stat, quoter, and quotee would all be judged on 2 axes, being political bias and reliability. Below that, they could see other statistics for comparison (70% of people will fake washing their hands if no one is watching) and comments from various users.

Of course, like any knowledge-based service, this depends on there being good, informed people who could give their opinions on the subject. All of the data would be user-driven, and I guess we could probably use the same 2 axes for each of the users. Thus, reliable, fairly moderate people would have more weight in evaluating new statistics. This, of course, leads to a bad chicken-egg problem between users and stats, but this is just an idea.

So, my disclaimer: I know nothing of this area. I don’t know if this has been done before. I don’t know anything about statistics or politics. I don’t know how well political forums online work, or if everyone out there just becomes a troll. Just an idea. Opinions?

Buying a TV

I’ve spent the past 3 weeks easing myself into my summer life of job work, cooking, and commuting. Out of our college possessions, Leland and I produced a few nice items among a trove of trash, including cooking equipment, a few musical instruments, and some posters. Before we moved in, Lee had mentioned last quarter that he had a Wii sitting at home, and a mental image of his parents playing Super Mario confirmed that no one was using it. Just last night, I played Mario Kart for Wii with our 3rd roomamate, Andrew, on 32 inches of flat panel entertainment. It’s one of my first major investments in a new item.

Not to say a used one wasn’t available to us. At the beginning of the school year, my drawmate Ben found a 50 inch TV on craigslist for $100. With Dave’s rolling bedroom, we actuallly had enough space to drive it back to campus on our own. When we met our buyer, he mentioned the glare as his primary gripe and reason for sale. The TV sat in a garage converted into a den, with a window opposite the TV. Apparently, when the sun hit that window just right, you couldn’t even make out a purple cow on the TV. The TV was a little old as well, and the factor of 10 discount counted each year of its life.

At the end of the school year, no one wanted to–or even could–take the monstrosity home. Lee and I got the offer to take it with us across the street to our summer dorm, and we firmly (but politely) refused. It was no fun to carry up the stairs, and absurd amounts of video games had turned the screen red. An attempt to recover all $100 on craigslist failed, but an offer to take it for free (assuming that the taker did the physical work of taking it) got 15 calls of great enthusiasm. In the end, someone took it down those 3 floors and away to a women’s shelter where they will have to deal with the glare.

Our next option was to buy another TV. At the end of each school year, many students have 26 to 30 inch back projection TVs of mysterious brands to sell. While certainly an option, Leland pointed out that those not only weighed their worth in rocks but also waste precious dorm space. Instead, we agreed a new flat panel would be a better investment than buying a throwaway to use for just a year. Assuming nothing catastrophic happens, TVs can last for a long time, and a decently sized flat panel TV could become an establishment in a future living room.

We began our search online. I’m sometimes astonished by how much shopping has changed; I remember my grandpa’s shop with rows of TVs in his quiet Gravenhurst shop. There, the best bargain was on the shelf. Today, it’s listed on some website. Instead of having to cross town to compare prices, we can now go to other websites that mine those websites for the shiniest deals. A particularly good one was an eco-friendly Vizio TV from the Dell store. With a coupon code, it would cost under $400 (before tax). Had we known standard market prices, we would’ve taken the deal right away, bt we didn’t want to commit so soon. Good advice says not ot fall in love with any particular house, especially the first one. We trusted caution and for a couple more days we watched for alternatives, keeping that TV in mind. It seems that the Cupid of LCD displays was hoping we’d be foolish lovers as after a couple days, including Sunday ads, we never found a deal as good as that first one. When we went to buy, the coupon code had been used up to its limit.

At first, we denied it by redoubling our efforts to find something just as good. We even tried the old ways and went to the local Best Buy to look at TVs. Side by side, the difference was noticeable, but I double I would ever notice with just 1 sitting in a dorm room. The limited selection and generally higher prices swept away my doubts for why store shopping has been swept away, we went back to the internet.

A few days later, we settled on a different Vizio from Dell. Despite it not being quite as good as the first, we realized we could wait forever on a deal, agonizing as each gem passed. With only an 8 week summer, it seemed more worthwhile to have the TV for longer. After overcoming a most bizarre method of screening orders where our TV was only shipped after canceling the order, we got notice that it would come in the following Monday. And seeing a new TV in your living room helps a lot when coming back from work on a Monday.

Since then, it’s been what we wanted from it. I now have Sportscenter with my Fruit Loops, Super Smash Brothers to fire up with company, and a legitimate display for movies. And every time I look at it, it seems just as good as any one I saw on the shelf at Best Buy

A Day in Google Reader

There’s a lot of great content on the internet. Unfortunately, it might take a long time to seek out and trudge through, except for the invention of feed readers. I started on Bloglines a couple years ago, but when they started having severe problems, I switched over to Google Reader. It seems important enough that I thought I take a look at what I have in here:

Personal Blogs – I have 19 blogs of personal friends, most of which are inactive. I’m sad that Facebook has supplanted Xanga, as it means that there’s not as much written content from others, but there are still a few people who are writing. The shoutouts for people who I’m hoping are reciprocating readers and who still update from time to time are Albert, Chelsea, Charlton, Dan, David, Devin, Jeff, my Uncle David, and my cousin Eric. If you have a blog, drop a line, and I’d be happy to read your blog as well.

Big Blogs – My next folder is a slew of more popular blogs of real people, most of whom I’ve never met. Some are good, some are bad, but most are interesting. Some of the better ones include Scott Adams’ Dilbert Blog about his crazy ideas, Lawrence Lessig’s Blog where he (a Stanford law professor) writes about “the issues”, and Freakonomics, which is random.

Gaming – It’s a hobby, and I enjoy reading about what’s going on with various game development studios. The Team Fortress 2 and Bioware blogs are particularly fun. I, however, get most of my daily game news from

Kotaku – This is my first high output blog (having more than 2-3 posts a day). Over just today, there are 75 posts. Most of it isn’t particularly interesting to me, but occasionally, there will be a good trailer or bizarre news story.

Magic – I have a couple feeds to Magic blogs. It’s important

Psychology – My academic interests lie somewhere between Computer Science and Psychology, but if you’ve ever looked at my delicious, you’ll notice that I’m heavily skewed towards tagging psychology articles and pages. There are a couple forces at work here, but I think it’s mostly two factors. One, technology tends to just “happen” more, while psychology will often get interesting articles published about it. Two, psychology is consistenly more surprising and noteworthy to me. I will often remember some study I read about while talking to people, and have to dredge through old bookmarks to find it. With new products, they often become items in themselves that I can easily find. Anyways, I have about 20 different psychology blogs. Probably my two favorite ones are Neuromarketing, which just finds amazing applications for all these studies, and Mind Hacks, which does a great job being a filter in itself to find all the articles on NewSci and NYT that I wouldn’t find myself.

The Daily WTF – They post maybe twice a day, one with a story about incompetence in corporate programming, and another with pictures of mistakes in technology. It’s very entertaining, and a good reminder about how poor design decisions and style can result in awful code. I was talking about it to a programmer once, and he mentioned that reading it felt like “laughing at a toddler” since a lot of these people are legitimately trying. It’s probably okay, though, because this isn’t the worst thing on my feeds.

Hacker News – This is my last 100+ post feed left. I used to subscribe to digg, but I realized that most of it wasn’t making me a more informed or amused person. Hacker News is just a place where people post links to blog entries, questions, and articles related to programming. There’s a lot of trash, but it gives me a chance to find new blogs and interesting takes on issues

Lifehacker – The #6 most popular blog, according to Technorati. It’s very good. Posts range from cooking tips to new mac apps, but of the 30-40 posts a day, a lot of it ends up being very interesting.

Apple News – I have MacRumors and The Unofficial Apple Weblog as my 2 sources of mac news. THere are a lot of good ones out there, but Apple news tends to be relatively thin, and they all cover each other anyways, so I can usually keep up on updates and rumors with just hese two.

Company News – Blogs for various tech companies, like Google and Facebook. Most posts are about new features in their products that I don’t care about, but sometimes, there’s something good.

Technology/Programming Blogs – There are some famous programmers. There aren’t a lot, but there are some, so I have about 10 different blogs for those guys, like Paul Buchheit (creator of GMail) and Coding Horror.

Sports – And by sports, I mostly mean baseball. I actually found most of them in bizarre links from unrelated places, but I have a few sports feeds. Curt Schilling does a lot of techy sort of stuff, and the Hardball Times keeps me on top of MLB news.

TechCrunch and All Things Digital – Two blogs all about what’s going on in Silicon Valley and internet news. These are why I was so excited when I came to the Bay Area and discovered that the people making news were all around here. I find it somewhat funny how powerful TechCrunch has become, to boost the popularity of a new startup or ridicule one into oblivion. I usually flip through these very quickly, but sometimes, something catches my eye.

TechDirt – My first catch-all. It’s just general tech news, so I’ll usually quickly scroll through it. Most of it, I will have already seen on another feed, but sometimes, I’ll have to take a second look at something that I only glanced at the first time, and now realize is actually semi-important.

Anandtech and ExtremeTech – My senior year, I got really interested in computer hardware and was all over the benchmarks and specs for new video cards and processors. Nowadays, not so much, with these being my last opportunity to at least know what these things are called. Sometimes I’ll take a look at a new video card, but I’m thinking all of my future computers will be laptops, and the hardware doesn’t vary that much.

MIT Research News and SciAm – Just because I said I would never take a bio, chem, or physics class in college (other than neurobiology) doesn’t mean I don’t care; I just don’t care enough to understand. It’s always interesting to hear about new things in research, whether about why teenage girls are “socially aggressive” or why the LHC is broken

HowStuffWorks – I love this website. Often, google searches about random topics of interest return obscure, jargony pages incomprehensible to those who aren’t domain experts. But HowStuffWorks can make me feel really smart about things I don’t understand with pretty easy explanations. They also have a great podcast.

Slashdot – My final catch-all. It’s all geek news, whether programming, science, or Star Trek. Definitely one of the best feeds I get, even if I see most of the news by the time I get here

Webcomics – I like to think I’m fairly selective, but I realize I have a whole 10 comics that i follow. Dilbert and Sheldon probably don’t really count as webcomics because they follow the typical 3-panel scheme from the newspapers, but the others are definitely dorky. My two favorites are actually both related to pen-and-paper RPGs. Order of the Stick is a great, great one about an adventuring group inside a Dungeons & Dragons world. Darth & Droids takes frames from the Star Wars movies and imagines how they would’ve gone if the characters were controlled by roleplayers. I think you have to have played D&D or some other RPG to get it, but they’re absolutely spot-on

Failblog – I mentioned above that the Daily WTF wasn’t the worst. This is the worst. Because of it, I think my perspective of the world has changed drastically. I’m definitely not a better person for it. But it’s so funny sometimes…

Columnists – I’m not really familiar with a lot of journalism, but I do enjoy the work of a couple writers. Right now, I’ve got Leon Hale, Dave Barry, and Gail Collins, but I’m definitely on the look-out for more. I mentioned I got stranded at Borders the other day; that motivated me to seek out good writing, so I added this section. If you have any favorites, let me know

The Best Article Every Day – This is also a recent addition. I like to try out new blogs, and this one is looking like  it’ll take a permanent spot. The content isn’t always amazing, but it’s one post a day, and I can afford that.

So that’s the run-down. Over the course of today, I have 659 unread items. That sounds like a lot, but honestly, I probably don’t actually read more than 30 posts a day. If you have any tips to any particularly good blogs or feeds, I’m always looking for quality content.

Migrated to blog.kevinleung.com

I’m not sure if anyone who links directly will have noticed, but warstrekkid.blogspot.com now redirects to my new domain at blog.kevinleung.com . I’ll likely be futzing around with the templating some so that it’ll be more consisent with the rest of the site. That does require that a “rest of the site” exist as well, though, so the re-organizing might take awhile.

Also, if anyone is subscribed to this via a feed, would you mind giving me a tip about whether that still works or not? I don’t see why not, but it’d be good for confirmation.

The Media cares about your 25 Things?

So I’ll admit, I turned to some sensationalism for this post. 1) It’s not really the media, per se, just the blogosphere and 2) they care about the phenomenon, not those 25 random facts about you. Given that, though, it’s true. I came across a response article about it on techdirt.

But first, if you’re not familiar with it, 25 Things is note going around on Facebook right now. Notes (basically FB’s version of a blog) allows a user to put whatever video/text/pictures into a post and have their friends see it. As a method of writing for your friends (assuming you’re college age), it’s far better than a blog because, at least, most of my peers check FB far more than any other site. It’s why I import my blog into FB (where I would assume most of you read it from). And you can tag friends on a note so that they get a notification that you’ve written something. So, 25 Things is essentially a chain post going around where one writes 25 random things about his or her own life, then tags 25 friends to do the same.

While there was a decent chance that I would never have made it to seeing this because I neither use FB much nor am cool enough to get tagged, I did receive a couple. I had seen on my newfeed that a couple of my friends had written these before then, and at first, the thread seemed to similar enough to the surveys that come in and out of fashion on FB. Oddly enough, this particular thread has persisted, though mostly from my high school friends in Texas, not with my college friends here (though maybe I’m just far cooler back in Texas than here).

I usually dismiss these chain notes, but this one, I actually somewhat like. I will guiltily admit that I’m somewhat of a leech in this sense: I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading other people’s posts, yet I haven’t filled one out myself. I likely wouldn’t have thought of it, except that many of my friends who have done it have reluctant sounding titles, like “I wasn’t going to do this…” or “Only Because I’ve Been tagged 400 times”. And it keeps perpetuating. Naturally, no one should be surprised about the power of peer pressure here. And when there’s a good opportunity to procrasinate for 5 minutes on FB to fill this out, that can sound a lot better than doing that history homework. But it keeps perpetuating.

What I think makes this thread different from any other is that it has actual content. Previous survey chain threads often had some bizarre, theme, like, “x all the movies you’ve seen” or “put your itunes on shuffle and answer questions based on title.” Maybe it’s a good time waster, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care about first crushes (exponentially with respect to how long ago that was), and I certainly don’t care if the answer to “What were you doing today?” is “American Pie.” But when there aren’t contrived restrictions, people actually write. Granted, one has the choice to write anything, yet most of my friends have provided relatively insightful comments about their lives. Even if it’s just complaining about something that happened in school that day, it’s far more than I would’ve heard otherwise.

It somewhat harkens back to the days when Xanga was really popular among my friends. Just before FB got big (my freshmen year of high school, I want to say), Xanga was the hot new thing to use, and it was basically a blog-networking site. While most posts would at first seem somewhat content/insightless, I found it fantastic to read about what had happened on a day-to-day basis, especially for those who I didn’t see regularly.

And maybe that’s something that FB has supplanted: writing. When one turns away from a full textbox input to just a line for status updates, an increased necessity for summary doesn’t come close to compensating for reduced space. So with 25 Things, people actually have a chance to say something real about their lives. And I’m all for that.

I guess the last point I have on this is the final reason why I think it’s been so prolific is because it’s of a decent length and content. Status updates are too little. Blog posts are too much. I mean, I myself am often a little wary to read a long note by someone, because I go to FB for a diversion, not a deduction. But when you’re guaranteed to have 25 quick facts, that’s not much of a commitment at all. So I’ve been cheating out of doing 25 Things myself by saying that I write enough with my blog. But maybe this long weekend will convince me to sink a few into writing that up.

Domus ex Machina

With computer in hand, it’s like I never left home.
Leaving from Austin yesterday morning, my family’s been driving up to Toronto to visit family and see how things are going. In the past, I always remember the road trips being a serious drag. Little space, little to do, long hours staring out the window, bored out of my gourd. Not so this time.
Perhaps with what little I’ve matured, I’m also more patient and able to keep myself entertained. But I think a large part of it is having my computer with me. I can do my work when I want to, watch DVDs, and connect to the internet at night thanks to the popularity of having wireless networks at hotels.
It’s definitely nice. Today, we’re wired enough that even when we go on vacations, we never really have to leave our life behind. Instead of giving a neighbor hotel phone numbers, we have our cell phones, which allowed for a quizzical call earlier if I wanted to hang out back in Houston, hundreds of miles away.
Email keeps me in touch with my personal life, and the internet can flood me with information, whether at home or on the road.
It’s made me wonder how much of a vacation this is. With my computer in tow, I’m not really leaving at all. But I guess everyone has their own sense of vacation. I’ve recently read a couple articles on the so-called “information overload”, as we take in all of the information of the internet daily. I’ve watched as that’s crept up for me over the past year. When I began, my feed aggregator had maybe 10 feeds. Now I’m looking at 80+, which is bound to grow as I find more and more information I must keep up with.
So this one goes out to you guys: do I need a break from the internet and life, or do I keep chugging away, situation normal?

And sorry I never did the Bourne review. I got caught up in some stuff, and by the time I sat down to write it, I forgot too much.