Monthly Archives: June 2003

drugs and math

A friend of mine forwarded me an interesting quote from Paul Hoffman’s biography on Paul Erdos: “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth”

Like all of Erdos’s friends, Graham was concerned about his drug-taking. In 1979, Graham bet Erdos $500 that he couldn’t stop taking amphetamines for a month. Erdos accepted the challenge, and went cold turkey for thirty days. After Graham paid up–and wrote the $500 off as a business expense–Erdos said, “You’ve showed me I’m not an addict. But I didn’t get any work done. I’d get up in the morning and stare at a blank piece of paper. I’d have no ideas, just like an ordinary person. You’ve set mathematics back a month.” He promptly resumed taking pills, and mathematics was the better for it.

For those who are not familiar with Erds, he produced a wide variety of theories on mathematics (number theory, combinatorics, etc.). Of course, he’s also a pop culture reference for those interested in social networks. Erdos numbers are effectively the degree in which one is removed from collaborating with Erdos on papers. [Think Kevin Bacon game for mathematicians.]

Online Dating Sheds Its Stigma as

Online Dating Sheds Its Stigma as This article shares a variety of people’s perspectives on online dating. One paragraph particularly caught my eye:

Two or three decades ago, most American couples met in high school or college, Professor Glenn said. But as more people choose to marry later in life, few social institutions have arisen to replace the role that local communities, families and schools once played.

This confirms my hunch that one of the primary roles of urban tribes are to provide people with the connections to mate. Of course, in areas where you don’t have that type of intimate network, you need to find bridges to groups through alternate means. Digital dating does this, but it’s hard to figure out what you have in common at the more fundamental levels through this mechanism. One of the nice things about schools and shared friends is that you can validate certain similarities in interesting ways.

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heard at home

One of my roommates finally joined Friendster. Her immediate response was that it was a fun collection of baseball cards of your friends. Of course, she doesn’t like collecting baseball cards…

vagina shock

Living in San Francisco, i don’t meet people these days who are easily shocked. Much to my surprising enjoyment, i had a long meeting with a SF Republican (yes, they do exist). At the end of discussing business, he turned to me with a curious eye, pointed to my necklace and said “What’s the V stand for?” “Vagina.” “Oh.” (as blood rapidly rushed to his face and i remained stoic as though i said nothing surprising).

Such interactions continue to give me great joy.

Friendster in San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on Friendster today. It’s a well-done overview piece and references users, researchers, funders, Jonathan and privacy folks.

It’s really amusing to hear that Jonathan thinks he can get rid of fake users over time. The only way i can imagine him doing it will cause him to also lose a lot of real people, rendering parts of the network useless. [Of course, that’s the fun in watching this meme play out. I make my bets as to what people’s next step will be and what the reprocussions will be and see if i’m right. So far, i’m not doing so badly.]

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fake characters in personal ads

I’ve always known that many of the women who post personals ads aren’t real, but i never realized how many of them were adverts for porn sites. Basically, it seems as though porn sites create personals ads for average women and then when men respond, they respond with something like “check out pictures of me on my personal site” which is a link to a porn site.

When talking with a friend who used to work at a personals site, i learned that when they removed all of these “fake” people, their numbers dropped dramatically. It seems as though the loss of fake characters meant the loss of large numbers of decent looking attractive women, which made the site less appealing because there were seemed to be fewer options, even though the same number of real options existed.

Another point for deception being useful psychologically.

why social statistics reporting is not always desireable

A lot of people think that reporting social statistics is a good idea. I mean, c’mon – we all want to know how many friends we have, how many people we know, who we talk to the most often, etc. This is fascinating, right? Yet, twist the conversation in a different direction… do we want those around us to know who we talk to the most? Probably not.

Cobot in LambdaMOO: A Social Statistics Agent is a great paper (by folks at AT&T) that addressed this issue head on. It’s an old paper, but one that’s really important for anyone thinking about the social implications of providing statistical data publicly. Basically, Cobot spent a bunch of time in the MOO, collecting information about people’s social behavior and then spewing it back out at them. Problem was that it also told you how important you were to others, which while utterly fascinating to most people caused significant divisions in a way that did not build community, but divided it.