Friday, December 22, 2006

Friends and Identity on Social Networking Sites

I just finished reading a fascinating paper in First Monday called Friends, Friendsters, and Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites. It's an academic piece, so not necessarily light reading. It analyzes the dynamics of friend spaces on social networking sites like MySpace and Friendster. I've wrestled with some of the issues the author raises as I've built my MySpace presence, so I was intrigued with some of her conclusions.

One of her major points is that social networking sites make your friends public, so we choose our friends in part for what those friends say about us: "When people articulate their relations on social network sites, they are not simply projecting their internal model of tie strength. The public nature of these sites requires participants to perform their relationship to others, not unlike the examples given above. Based on an internal understanding of the audience, participants override the term 'Friend' to make room for a variety of different relationships so that they may properly show face." The author later adds, "The actual collection of Friends and the display of Top Friends provides space for people to engage in identity performance." In other words, our friends lists are a part of how we define ourselves on social networking sites. Friends can be friends or acquaintances in the traditional sense of those words, or they can serve a similar purpose as posters or bumper stickers in physical space--a way to help define who we are, what we believe, what our interests are, and what our status is within a particular group.

The author continues by pointing out that our friends lists define the audience for our participation in the site. Our profile designs, bulletins, blog posts, etc., are usually targeted toward those on our friends list--or at least a subset of them. And it's this point that I find most frustrating about using sites like MySpace. I operate in different circles, and in each of those I behave a bit differently and have a slightly different identity. But MySpace doesn't allow me to do that. I can't group my friends into categories like work, church, old classmates, close friends, and family, the way most of us group our friends in real life. Instead, I have three choices:

  1. Choose the audience I wish to have, and exclude from my friends list those who don't fit in with that audience
  2. Include everyone, regardless of where they fit, and make my profile, bulletins, etc., sufficiently generic that they won't shock or offend any of my friends.
  3. Include everyone and post whatever I want, regardless of the consequences.

In reality I do a little of all three. I avoid posting information that's too personal or specific to a single context, because I have MySpace friends from lots of different parts of my life. But I include a wide variety of stuff in my profile (religion, gardening, and Def Leppard, for example), and I sometimes post bulletins that may surprise a few of my friends. Finally, I don't actively encourage my co-workers to join MySpace and send me friend requests. I wouldn't turn down their requests, but I don't actively solicit them, because I want the freedom to post things on MySpace that aren't necessarily appropriate in the workplace.

In a way, operating within a social network like MySpace is more complicated than dealing with friendships in other arenas, because you have to display the same self to everyone with whom you interact. That can make the experience more interesting, for ourselves and our friends, because we can be who we are and let all our friends see all sides of us. But sometimes there are negative consequences for doing that, to which any teenager punished by parents for his MySpace behavior can attest. What do you do when co-workers want to be your friends? Or family members? Teens in your church's youth group? How do you retain your ability to express yourself freely--one of the most fun aspects of social networking--when you have friends with very different world views and different views of you? In the physical world, we present different faces to different groups of people. Some, especially teenagers, call that hypocrisy, but it's really a social necessity. We behave differently at work than we do with our college buddies and differently at church than we do at someone's bachelor party. Even those rare few who can maintain complete personal integrity, never violating the values of one space while in another, will still behave differently in different contexts. But with MySpace and similar social networks, there's only one context--your entire friend space.

This piece presents a good example of this problem. It's mostly written in my academic voice, which I usually reserve for my long-suffering co-workers. But I'd like to include it in my MySpace blog, because it relates to my behavior there, and I'd really like to hear what other MySpace users think about this issue. But if I post it there, my friends will find out just how nerdy I really am (yeah, like they don't already know). What to do? I'm going with option 3, above: post it wherever I want!

I suppose it would be easier if social networks could let us categorize our friends and direct certain information to specific groups rather than to everyone. That would more closely model the physical world, but it would also make using these networks more complicated. And it would rob us of the chance to see different sides of our online buddies. So after all this long-winded prose, I don't have any good answers. But I do enjoy contemplating the questions, and I wonder if the dynamics of friendships in social networks will spill over into the physical world--or if they already have, and to what extent. But that's a topic for a different long-winded essay.

Monday, December 11, 2006

DareToScare Blog - A Halloween Blog

Yeah, I know - Halloween is over, and we're all supposed to be dashing through the snow in our SUVs to the mall for some commercial Christmas cheer. Personally, I find the thought of a mall at Christmastime more terrifying than most Halloween horror, and not nearly as much fun. So, for some fun stuff more suitable for Halloween than Happy Holidays, check out the DareToScare blog. It hasn't been updated since October, but what's there is worth a read. It includes posts on famous horror movies, supposedly-haunted locations, famous criminals, monsters, etc. Be brave and take a look.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Future of Work

Interesting piece on how work may change in response to globalization, demographics, and technology:
The Future of Work. The author proposes that left-brain activities like data analysis will either be outsourced or automated, leaving right-brain creative types with a big advantage in the job market. He also notes that work could become more playful as a result, because playful people who love what they do are more innovative. And finally, he provides the perfect explanation for all of us who refuse to grow up: "the increased level of immaturity among adults is an evolutionary response to increased change and uncertainty. "

See? I'm not just immature. I'm responding to increasing change and uncertainty. So there!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Seed: When Two Minds Think Alike

From Seed Magazine comes a fascinating theory that autism may be related to human mating habits, specifically the tendency for people with similar traits to be attracted to one another. See Seed: When Two Minds Think Alike for details.

Neanderthal DNA Shows No Interbreeding With Humans

According to an article in the latest issue of Science, it appears that modern humans don't share any DNA with Neandertals. has the details: Neanderthal DNA Shows No Interbreeding With Humans

So now I have to find another explanation for my husband :-)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My puking pumpkin

OK, one more Halloween thing. After admiring them for years (yeah, I'm weird), I finally made a puking pumpkin. Here it is, in all its glory, a cautionary tale for any squash that decides to wash down Halloween candy with tequila ;-)

Janet's puking pumpkin

Murder and dismemberment in New Orleans

Just in time for Halloween - a grotesque story of murder and dismemberment in New Orleans. See Michael C. Hebert, MD - Journal - The Strangest

Don't worry - this isn't a tabloid piece but a funny and thoughtful commentary on a case that's truly stranger than fiction. And New Orleans is the perfect setting for it.

Happy Halloween y'all!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Extreme Pumpkin Contest Winners 2005

Wanna get creative with your Jack o' Lantern this year? For inspiration, check out the Extreme Pumpkin Contest Winners 2005
I love the pumpkin giving birth, the moldy skull, and the flash o' lantern. I have about 5 pumpkins sitting at home; I think I'll get to work on 'em.

Boy, 6, chosen as library's volunteer of the year - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

I rarely post library news here, but this one is too good to keep to myself. A 6-year-old boy has been named Volunteer of the Year by the Allegheny County Library Association in Pennsylvania. His reason for volunteering at the library? "I just like to help." More details available in an article from this article:
Boy, 6, chosen as library's volunteer of the year - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

LILEKS (James) Interior Desecrators

Did you grow up in a house with orange furniture and green shag carpet? Or green furniture and orange shag carpet? Then you too must be a child of the 70's! For a nostalgic, snarky look at America's ugliest decade, visit LILEKS (James) Interior Desecrators

Next to pictures of the worst the 70's had to offer the world of interior design, the author makes the hilariously snarky comments we wish we'd been witty enough to come up with back in '77.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Solutions from PC Magazine: Save the World with Your Screensaver

Remember the SETI@Home project, which lets users install a screensaver that searches for extraterrestrial life while you aren't using your computer? Now there are more projects that use this model, called grid computing. While it's otherwise idle, your computer can search for cancer treatments, help find a cure for Parkinson's Disease... or help SETI find extraterrestrials. PC Magazine provides a nice overview of some grid computing projects and how you can participate. See Solutions from PC Magazine: Save the World with Your Screensaver

Friday, September 29, 2006

Polyamorous cows, Paris Hilton, and the OED

Now that I have your attention... check out the latest additions to the OED:

Some of these terms have been around awhile (like polyamorous and cow-tipping) but are just now being added, while others are fairly recent (e.g. celebutante -- thanks, Paris Hilton). I'd love to know how they decide when a word is sufficiently ingrained in the language to warrant an entry.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Survival of the Harmonious: Why do we respond to music?

In Survival of the Harmonious, the Boston Globe reports on recent research into the origins of music and what, if any, evolutionary advantage it provided to early humans.

According to the article, neuroscientists "have scanned musicians' brains and found that the 'chills' that they feel when they hear stirring passages of music result from activity in the same parts of the brain stimulated by food and sex." No comment :-)

Apparently researchers have four competing theories for the origin of music:
  • "Music originated as a way for males to impress and attract females" - we'll call that the rock star theory
  • "Others see its roots in the relationship between mother and child" - the lullaby theory
  • "Music was a social adhesive, helping to forge common identity in early human communities" - maybe the national anthem theory?
  • "And a few leading evolutionary psychologists argue that music has no adaptive purpose at all, but simply manages, as the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has written, to `tickle the sensitive spots' in areas of the brain that evolved for other purposes." - the not-everything-that-feels-good-has-to-have-a-purpose theory
Since I'm not an evolutionary psychologist, I don't have a theory of my own, but all of these make some sense to me, as does a fifth: Music fills a spiritual need in humans. Yeah, I know -- that opens a whole new, not-necessarily-scientific can of worms, but there you are.

I'm off to tickle my brain's sensitive spots with a little Def Leppard ;-)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

In Search of Courage

I just stumbled across an essay by John McCain called In Search of Courage. Interestingly, it was written in September, 2004, just prior to the 2004 elections, when McCain was campaigning for Bush. Here are a few nuggets:

Courage is like a muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets. I sometimes worry that our collective courage is growing weaker from disuse. We don't demand it from our leaders, and our leaders don't demand it from us.
We may have learned important lessons from the intelligence failures that preceded the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But I'm not sure we set a reassuring example to the rest of the country by declining to punish anyone involved in those failures. Not one person was fired or was moved by his or her conscience to resign.
When there's an absence of courage, greed and selfishness take over.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.
Even dyed-in-the-wool Democrats like me can find value in this piece. If, as I suspect, McCain turns out to be our next president, I hope he practices what he so wisely preaches in this essay.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How To Make Your Work Easy

And one more thing from Guideposts -- Norman Vincent Peale's advice on how to make work easy. It's a cool combination of the practical ("Plan your work") and the spiritual ("At the start of each day pray about your work").

If I Were Starting My Life Again

The Guideposts site has reprinted a wonderful essay from 1979, in which a father describes what he would do differently if he had his life to live over again. His words are wise, a wonderful reminder to harried parents like me to cherish the joy of our children instead of correcting or ignoring them. He ends with an image I hope to carry with me as a parent -- to be "God's love with skin on."

Monday, July 10, 2006

"Why Conservatives Can't Govern" by Alan Wolfe

Check out this article from Washington Monthly: "Why Conservatives Can't Govern" by Alan Wolfe. This quote summarizes the key idea: "Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well." So Bush et al. have created bigger -- yet more incompetent -- government. That explains a lot.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Librarians, Almost Live, and the Joys of YouTube

I discovered YouTube ( a couple of months ago -- kind of like the old Napster but for video. There's everything from some dude in his underwear doing bad karaoke to music videos, bootleg concert videos, old TV shows, and lots more. What's especially cool are clips of old local TV shows that will likely never be released on DVD but which bring back lots of fond memories. Which brings me to Almost Live, Seattle's sketch comedy show from the 80's and 90's. When I was a starving grad student, hubby and I would go to tapings on Saturday night because a) it was fun, and b) it was free. So I have a soft spot for the show. There are a bunch of Almost Live clips on YouTube, including one I never saw back in the day: a parody of Cops called Librarians. Check it out (no pun intended) at

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Commencement Speech by Stephen Colbert

I haven't spent as much time online lately, so it's been awhile since I found something worth posting here. But I finally found something blog-worthy (the 21st century version of sponge-worthy??) -- Stephen Colbert's commencement address at Knox College last weekend. You can find the text of the speech at

How can you not love a graduation speech that includes a Lincoln-Douglas drinking game, an umm... creative solution to illegal immigration, and padded mortar boards? I'm jealous. At my college graduation, the speaker was a minor member of Reagan's cabinet, and the sound system was so bad you couldn't hear him. And did I mention it was about 95 degrees outside? During allergy season? Whine, whine, whine...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

12 Things a Klingon Programmer Would Say

I just received the following bit from a friend, and it's too good to keep to myself.  Enjoy!

12 Things A Klingon Programmer Would Say

1. Specifications are for the weak and timid!

2. This machine is a piece of GAGH! I need dual Pentium processors if I am to do battle with this code!

3. You cannot really appreciate Dilbert unless you've read it in the original Klingon.

4. Indentation?! -- I will show you how to indent when I indent your skull!

5. What is this talk of 'release'? Klingons do not make software' releases'. Our software 'escapes' leaving a bloody trail of designers

and quality assurance people in its wake.

6. Klingon function calls do not have 'parameters' -- they have 'arguments' -- and they ALWAYS WIN THEM.

7. Debugging? Klingons do not debug. Our software does not coddle the weak.

8. I have challenged the entire quality assurance team to a bat'leth contest. They will not concern us again.

9. A TRUE Klingon Warrior does not comment his code!

10. By filing this SPR you have challenged the honor of my family. Prepare to die!

11. You question the worthiness of my code? I should kill you where you stand!

12. Our users will know fear, and cower before our software.

13. Ship it! Ship it, and let them flee like the dogs they are!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A good death

CNN just posted a great article about Art Buchwald's final days: - Laughing through his final days - Apr 5, 2006 Having decided to forego dialysis for kidney failure, Buchwald is enjoying time with family and friends, eating whatever he wants, and writing columns from his hospice room. Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people could leave this world in such fine style?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Rands In Repose: N.A.D.D.

OK, I've just learned I have a new disorder: NADD (Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder. Details about this tragic-but-highly-entertaining condition can be found at Rands In Repose: N.A.D.D.
Compared to the poster, though, I have a relatively mild case. For example, at the moment I'm only:
1. Backing up my computer
2. Typing this blog post
3. Monitoring my work email
4. Monitoring whatever new stuff comes up on my Google Sidebar
5. Monitoring my personal email
6. Listening to Morning Edition on NPR

Wait... OK... maybe I do have a severe case. Oh, well... Let's hear it for drinking from the information firehose!

Friday, March 24, 2006

thingoid » Stumble your way around the web

I've found a new online time-waster (as if I needed another one): StumbleUpon. Rather than spend lots of time describing, I'll just point to an excellent description at thingoid:
thingoid » Stumble your way around the web

Thanks to StumbleUpon, I have created my own South Park character, found new ways to insult people in Latin... and found some useful reference sites. Let's hear it for serendipity!

Unseen. Unforgotten.

From the Birmingham (AL) News site, Unseen. Unforgotten:
In November 2004, [Alexander] Cohn went through an equipment closet at the newspaper in search of a lens and saw a cardboard box full of negatives marked, "Keep. Do Not Sell."
What had Cohn found?  5000 images documenting the Civil Rights Movement from 1950-1965, many of which had never been published.  The Birmingham News has put together a wonderful web site to showcase the photos:  If you ever needed evidence of a picture being worth a thousand words, you'll find that evidence here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"The Framers and the Faithful" by Steven Waldman

"The Framers and the Faithful" is a lengthy essay by Steven Waldman, editor in chief of Beliefnet, published in the Washington Monthly. In it, Waldman argues that evangelical Christian leaders at the time of our nation's founding argued adamently in favor of separating church and state, in contrast to their spiritual descendents in the modern evangelical movement. Those early evangelicals were members of a minority movement persecuted by the established churches of their day. As such, they viewed a state-established church, along with any other government-supported religious activity, as a threat to their survival. They also saw state-sponsored religion as leading to the moral decay of both clergy and laity.

So, what has changed in the evangelical movement to cause such an about-face today? Waldman doesn't directly address that question. IMHO, the difference is simple: today's evangelicals have much more political power and social influence than their brethren of yesteryear, so any state-sponsored religious activity would likely be in line with their beliefs. What too many of us Christians forget, however, is that political winds change. Once government becomes excessively entangled with religion, it will be difficult to disentangle it when different political views predominate. In the long run, the separation of church and state is most important for protecting churches from excessive government influence rather than the other way around.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Need to update lots of blogs? Try Qumana

This is my first blog post written with Qumana, a free blog editor. According to the Qumana site (, Qumana provides more sophisticated blog authoring tools than most blog sites. It also allows you to post the same content to multiple blogs. The software is available for Windows and Mac. I'll experiment with it over the next few weeks and (if I remember) post an update on how it works.
Powered By Qumana

Friday, March 10, 2006

Out of Context Quote of the Day

"It's good to see cannibalistic maniacs are taking culinary advice from Ozzy Osbourne."

To read the source of this wonderful sentence, check out the Chicago Tribune's review of The Hills Have Eyes: Metromix. Fast-Paised review: ‘The Hills Have Eyes'

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bottled Water Isn't Healthier Than Tap, Report Reveals

From National Geographic News comes a short article on the environmental impact of bottled water:
Bottled Water Isn't Healthier Than Tap, Report Reveals

I never did understand why people want to pay soft drink prices for water, but this article points out that the demand for bottled water wastes more than money.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - Your Edge in Real Estate

Wanna know what your home is worth? How about your neighbor's home? Or anyone else's? Check out Zillow. You don't have to enter any personal information, either.

Zillow also offers tools to calculate the value of home improvements, so you can see how much return on investment you'll get from adding an extra room or remodeling.

Friday, February 17, 2006

4things Meme

meme (n) - an idea or concept that gets replicated through a culture, especially via the internet. For more than you ever wanted to know about memes, see the Wikipedia entry:

Here's my take on the 4things meme making its way through the blogosphere:

Four jobs I've had in my life
Disc jockey at Chuck E. Cheese (really!), archives assistant (worked with the John Muir Papers and a bunch of other collections in two different archives), high school English teacher, librarian

Four movies I could watch over and over
Any of the original Star Wars trilogy, most James Bond movies (especially Goldeneye), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Princess Bride

Four places I've lived
Tracy, CA; Seattle, WA; Dalton, GA; Portland, OR

Four TV shows I love to watch
The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, documentaries about history or interesting animals, Behind the Music

Four web sites I visit daily
Google, Yahoo News, Bloglines (gotta have my RSS feeds), OHSU Library web site

Four places I have been on vacation
Yellowstone National Park; Vancouver, BC; Santa Cruz, CA; Caribbean cruise

Four of my favorite foods
Mongolian grill, pizza, cheese enchiladas, panang curry with chicken

Four places I'd rather be
Just about any tropical island with sandy beaches, Australia, Arizona (hey, it's winter in Oregon - I need sun!), curled up under a blanket in front of a roaring fire with a good book

Four albums I can't live without
Def Leppard's greatest hits is probably the only album. Otherwise I'll take my satellite radio. That should supply the rest of my musical needs.

Four vehicles I've owned
'75 Ford Maverick; '85 Dodge Daytona; '92 Geo Metro; '99 Toyota Tacoma

Holocaust Survivor, 76, Is Bar Mitzvah

I don't know how long this story will be posted, so read it while you can at The coolest part IMHO is how the man and his wife met - as children in a concentration camp - and then met again years later on a blind date. God sometimes makes miracles out of tragedy. The rabbi's comment after the bar mitzvah sums things up nicely:
"We live in a time where we need hope and a positive outlook in life, and Herman's story reminds us that goodness will always overcome badness, and light will overcome darkness."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An Interview With God

I just stumbled across something that has apparently been going around the web for awhile now. It's called An Interview With God. The most common version is a Flash presentation; see Very beautifully done.

After a bit of hunting, I was able to find a text version. Since it's all over the web already, I suppose it's OK to repost it here:

I dreamed I had an INTERVIEW WITH GOD.

"So, you would like to interview me?" GOD asked.

"If you have time," I said.

GOD smile. "My time is eternity... what questions do you have in mind for me?"

"What surprises you the most about humankind?"

GOD answered...

"That they get bored with childhood, that they rush to grow up, and then long to be children again."

"That they lose their health to make money... and then lose their money to restore their health."

"That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, such that they live in neither the present nor the future."

"That they live as if they would never die, and die as though they had never lived."

GOD's hand took mine... and we were silent for a while.

And then I asked, "As a parent, what are some of life's lessons you want your children to learn?"

GOD replied, "To learn they cannot make anyone love them. All they can do is let themselves be loved."

"To learn that it is not good to compare themselves to others."

"To learn to forgive by practicing forgiveness."

"To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds in those they love, and it can take many years to heal them."

"To learn that a rich person is not one who has the most, but is one who needs the least."

"To learn that there are people who love them dearly, but simply do not yet know how to express or show their feelings."

"To learn that two people can look at the same thing, and see it differently."

"To learn that it is not enough that they forgive one another, but they must also forgive themselves."

"Thank you for your time," I said humbly.

"Is there anything else you would like your children to know?"

GOD smiled, and said... "Just know that I am here." "Always."

The ECUS (Edinburgh Chat-Up Scale) questionnaire

OK, so I really should have posted this one on Valentine's Day. But better late than never, right? The journal Personality and Individual Differences just published an article called Chat-up Lines as Male Sexual Displays, which analyzes the results of a questionnaire in which respondents were asked to rank pick-up lines. The article requires a subscription, but you can view the list of pickup lines at Some are classic, cheesy lines ("Well hey there, I may not be Fred Flintstone, but I bet I can make your Bed Rock!"), but others are mini-scenarios. Here's the bottom line, from the article abstract:

Openings involving jokes, empty compliments and sexual references received poor ratings. Those revealing, e.g., helpfulness, generosity, athleticism, ‘culture’ and wealth, were highly rated.
So forget those cheesy lines, guys. As if your lack of success with them wasn't evidence enough.

Friday, January 20, 2006

"Interest Groups Are The New Geography"

In a piece from Fast Company called Ambidextrous Exec, Steve Murphy, CEO of Rodale, Inc., makes an interesting statement:

Interest groups are the new geography. Because of the Internet, old paradigms of demographic analysis and segmentation -- by sex, age, household income, and especially zip code -- are meaningless. People are gathering around their interests. The more we can identify those interest groups the better we can serve them.
My experiences on the internet support this claim. I'm part of several online communities based not on geography, gender, or socioeconomic status but on personal interests. Old barriers are breaking down, but I wonder if new ones -- just as seemingly impenetrable -- are being erected. Instead of hanging out with people of the same race, gender, religion, and/or income level, will we hang out only with people who are into the same music or have the same hobby? If so, we'll still miss the great diversity of this world and still become balkanized.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Straight Dope on Public Libraries

The Straight Dope just posted a great history of public libraries -- Straight Dope Staff Report: How did public libraries get started?. I've been a librarian for nearly 14 years, and I learned a few things. What most surprises me, though, is the question that prompted the report -- from a 25-year-old who doesn't understand even in general terms how public libraries are funded. Clearly we in the library profession need to do a better job of educating our users if this question is any indication of the public mindset.