Nine to Noon: 30 Oct 2008

October 30, 2008 – 12:19 am

Today I was on the National Radio show Nine To Noon. It was nerve-wracking beforehand, but fun once it started. The podcast of my appearance needs some context: she’d been teasing future segments, which featured a gentleman who took casts of people’s bottoms so they could see it; Kathryn said “I’m sure many people prefer to think they have no bottom” and then introduced me. So that’s a long-winded way of saying that when the first words out of my mouth are “I have a bum”, it’s not a total non sequitur. Links follow.

Current affairs: The National Library is “harvesting” the New Zealand web. That is, they’re visiting every .nz web site and many other sites hosted in New Zealand (e.g., They’re archiving the contents for posterity. See and There’s been some grumbling from the web site owners, some just general grumbling (how dare they!), but some specifically about how they went about it–they’re using machines in the USA to do the harvesting, and many hosting companies/ISPs charge more for data that goes over the international link than they do for domestic traffic. End result: bigger bill.

NatLib is also ignoring a convention called robots.txt–it’s how web site owners communicate with people who are harvesting their site (Google harvests, for example, because to give good results to web searches it must know what’s on every page). The robots.txt file says “don’t harvest these bits of my site”, but some web site owners have been using it to mean “these bits of my site are private, don’t put them into Google results”. NatLib must save all pages, they’re required to by law, so they’re ignoring robots.txt. Grumpiness on mailing lists, Twitter, and beyond ensues.

I’m a geek and sympathise with the web site providers, but I’m also part of the Library Information Advisory Commission (LIAC), which advises the Minister for National Library … so I see it from the library’s side too.

Web site: Moral Sense Test. Researchers are increasingly turning to the world to study real people, and here’s one example: experimental philosophy. Instead of “what is the meaning of life?” and “can we start with `I think I am’ and work up to an integrated theory of right and wrong”, they’re doing tests on real people to figure out what they see as right and wrong.

This web site is a series of hypothetical situations, each with a course of action that you have to express your opinion on from very wrong to very right. The challenge for the researchers is to find a rhyme or reason to our rather arbitrary distinctions in right and wrong.

I’ll be curious to see the results, which aren’t yet available (I think they feel people would be influenced in their choices if they knew what other people had thought).

There’s a long history of people using the web for research. Luis von Ahn is a CMU researcher whose “ESP Game” was turned into a data gathering exercise for Google’s image recognition algorithm. See a Smithsonian article on von Ahn.

Local Content: New Zealand On Screen. The start of a big database of New Zealand video. From old educational reels to the first episode of Gloss, there are clips from lots of Kiwi programs and more coming each week. Also: cast details, interviews, and more. Links to where you can buy the shows if they’re for sale. Fully funded by the Gubmint via NZ On Air.

My favourite so far is the bit of a 1975 documentary on Hone Tuwhare . He came to my high school in the 80s and read his poetry to us in the library. He was incredibly powerful then, and the clips of him reading his poems in 1975 are even more vivid. This documentary is not for sale or full viewing, alas. I’d love to have an hour of Tuwhare readings.

Also enjoyed a great documentary on potter Barry Brickell … if you turn off the jazz. The opening notes are ghastly! But, having recently gone up the Driving Creek Railway, it’s great to see it as it was back then.

If you’re a Kiwi, don’t miss the chance to catch up with your favourite kids shows.

Culture: What is a “friend” online?

Writer found himself with 700 friends on Facebook and invited them to a party. One showed, despite fifteen having confirmed and 60 more said “maybe”. What does it mean to friend someone online? Blame firmly in the court of having to make a binary choice about friendship when it covers casual acquaintances to “interested in what you’re doing” through to “know Biblically”.

Digital OE: See the Internet through Chinese eyes. A plugin for Firefox that shows you the Internet as a citizen of China would, censorship and all.

Politics: How To Get My Nerd Vote. 10 things from the guy who created Metafilter, one of the early web communities. He wants the American government to do things that’d make it better for working nerds. It’s unashamedly selfish, but I agree with him that these policies are good sense as well as vote-winning among nerds. Not all apply in NZ (we have universal healthcare already), but I like his ideas about incenting people to move closer to their work and renewing the commitment to education and science.

  1. One Response to “Nine to Noon: 30 Oct 2008”

  2. I saw an interesting talk given by a student in the local department of computer science who is also an employee of the National Library here (Australia). They are doing the same thing, and his task was to come up with a way of finding out which sites in the world were Australian. (It’s not really enough just to look for the .au suffix.) I’ve forgotten his name, but he was supervised by Paul Thomas, now at CSIRO and a VUW alumni. The approach was a machine-learning kind of thing looking at word frequencies.

    By michaeln on Nov 27, 2008

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