How to win your Oscar pool

Oscars posterI do this every year, and I feel really guilty about it. Also, I don’t have a party to go to tonight, so I’m a little bitter I won’t be making $50. There are other sites that claim to help you win, but this surefire technique works every time (until your opponents find out about it).

Four steps to taking money from people at Oscars parties

  1. Suggest a pool. In fact, print out some pool ballots before you leave for your party. Make enough to cover all of the hapless fools whose money you will take. Make sure to give extra points for the major categories (Best Picture, Best Actor, et al.), which will come in hand later.
  2. Take HSX’s choices verbatim. The Hollywood Stock Exchange has an options market for the Oscars, and every year gets almost every one right. It covers all of the major categories, but not the minor ones, but you remembered to give them extra weight, right?
  3. Make obvious choices for lesser awards. Many sources offer predictions, so just take the average of these and you’ll do pretty well.
  4. Win money. You have the wisdom of crowds on your side. You will, believe me. I do it every year. If you don’t believe me, check the statistics.

There you go. Yes, it’s unethical, and yes, it takes the fun out of the game, but it works. And if you don’t do it, someone else will. Good luck, and Godspeed.

Curating RSS feeds with NetVibes and Pageflakes

There are a number of personalized portals out there that help aggregate your personal world in one place: My Yahoo!, Windows Live, Google Ig, Netvibes, Pageflakes, and others. I use none of them; instead I prefer the venerable about:blank. But lots and lots of people do, and if not for the first generation of personalized portals, I might not have a job.

I have played around with Netvibes and Pageflakes thanks to the amazing amount of coverage they have both been getting across the internets. Both applications support the quick and dirty construction of personal pages from content components. They feature nice WYSIWYG editors for laying out these pages and finding different content providers. For the person with time and energy, you can construct a highly personalized start page in a matter of minutes. The only problem is that people don’t take the time to customize their applications1.

However, this doesn’t prohibit other people from customizing things for you. This is the case with these new start page startups: both have recently created functionality for users to share their customized pages. I think this is very powerful, and I think an example will communicate this best. Suppose you have an idea for a portal; something that doesn’t exist. You have domain knowledge that means you know the best blogs, news sources, and delicious tags that define this space. Instead of going through the work to make an entire portal and/or create a blog around the topic, you can simply curate the same experience using Netvibes.

For instance, I want to create a page based on the idea of social weather. I collect the RSS feeds of all of the different social zeitgeists from across the web, and put them on one page. I use Netvibes to lay this content out in a meaningful way, and shizam, I have a social weather station. By clicking the following image, you can add my social weather page to your Netvibes:

Social Weather page

Taking this a step further, imagine that you could brand these pages and that you can embed them anywhere on the web. The local IT guy for any small company could create an intranet portal for employees; a neighborhood organization could create their own view of the world; moderators of groups can make customized pages for their members; in short, anyone who takes the time can create a portal that other people can use.

Right now these pages are trapped within their respective sites, but I would guess they will break out sometime soon. Only then will you see how big my social weather station really is! No seriously, it’s going to be huge.

1.   It’s rare to never that I agree with Jakob Nielsen, so rare, in fact, that it deserves a footnote. In this single, isolated point, I think he’s right. People don’t take the time to customize web sites, on average.

Flea Market Montgomery: a treatise on the comedic disposition of bloggers

A few weeks back, someone sent me a link to the Mini Mall Rap. I sat on it for a few days, and after I realized I couldn’t get it out of my head, and it was permeating even the most intimate moments of my life, I posted it to this here blog. Living rooms. Bedrooms. Dinettes. Oh yeah! The video reached a wide audience, and Sammy Stephens had his 10 seconds of internet fame. What a lovely story.

Or so I thought! A recent post on BoingBoing revitalizes Sammy, linking to a different version of the same video. Today’s widely-read b3ta newsletter, as well as numerous other sources reference the very same copy. This isn’t surprising, as many videos find multiple homes on the web, each attracting a different audience. What is surprising is the way that the video is being framed.

In my post, as well as the others around the same time, we referred to the video as “AWESOMEST COMMERCIAL EVER,” or “SAMMY STEPHENS RULES MY LIFE.” Mostly positive things because, well, the commercial made us happy, even though it was obviously horrible. The second time around the video has taken a surprisingly negative tone. The video itself is called “Worst commercial ever,” with Xeni describing it as “Supremely bad TV ad.” And in its first day of running, more people have identified with the negative version than the positive/neutral one. All things being equal1, Sammy haters have gotten more attention than Sammy lovers. Why? I think this question is based on the audience that has come to rule web attention (bloggers). Here are two hypotheses2:

  1. Bloggers are haters. They love to criticize, point fingers and look down their noses at real internet celebrities who work for a living. Any joke that does not reference the misfortune of another person is, well, not funny.
  2. Bloggers have no sense of irony. Their myopic attention span only allows for limited levels of sarcasm, irony, satire, hyperbole, parody, or otherwise sophisticated humor.

Of course it’s bad. Of course Sammy Stephens is ridiculous. Even Ellen understood that. So why all the hating? Can’t we love Sammy, laugh with irony about the “goodness” of his commercial? This way, we all get along, and no one’s feelings get hurt. And you look more sophisticated. QED.

But seriously folks, I find it fascinating that the same commercial has reached two entirely different audiences simply because of the way it was framed.

1.   There’s no way to know exactly how these two videos came to reach their audiences, etc., etc., but I have a blog and that gives me the right to speculate and make wildly unprovable claims that I will defend in the comments where few people will dare to go.
2.   I recognize the reflexive contradiction inherent in my being a blogger and also an ironic non-hater. This is just a case of mistaken identity; what you’re reading is actually a “personal journal.”

Transforming Citroën: first flight

My friend Dan Paluska is working on an art project in the suburbs of Paris with Chico MacMurtrie called totemobile. I’m sure they have some fancy art words to describe it, but this is how I see things. First, there was the dancing Citroën:

People laughed. People cried. People feared that Transformers are coming to earth, and that most of them are coming here to destroy us. Then, a fan film emerged that taught us two things: 1) The Citroën dancing transformer also comes in an antique edition and 2) making commercials about dancing cars can’t be that hard, and the original one is most certainly not real:

People were stunned. The original dancing car wasn’t real! You heard it! Not! Real! In an effort to quell the masses, Citroën autos has commissioned Chico to build a real, transforming, breakdancing robot:

Ok, maybe I made most of that up, and maybe the art doesn’t breakdance, but Dan took a picture of him in the totemobile and turned it into a bitchin’ animated gif, complete with muppet arm:

dan in the flying car

The internet is a series of pipes…

Congratulations to the Pipes team for releasing what I think will be one of the most innovative and powerful web applications to be released this year. If they keep pushing on this front, I’m sure they will be for web publishing what Ableton Live has been for electronic music production (i.e. create an entire new class of musicians).

For those of you who haven’t read about Pipes yet, it is a visually rich application that allows you to plug streams of information together in semantically interesting ways. Tim O’Reilly has done a much better job of describing it than I can.

And seriously, the name pipes was chosen before Ted Stevens said anything about internet plumbing…

Latitude/Longitude lookup

I’ve been needing to lookup the geo-coordinates of a number of places lately, and couldn’t really find the perfect solution for what I needed; MapQuest is from 1995 and none seem to provide a bounding box. I have to say that the Yahoo Maps AJAX API is dead simple, and making my own only took a few minutes. Click the following picture to open the finder in a new window, then resize/drag/zoom to find your location:

Or, if you’re afraid that I’m making you change your popup preferences so that I’m IN UR BROWSER KILLIN UR D00DZ, you can also find the project here: http://overstated.net/projects/lat_lon. And the source.

San Francisco guide to New York neighborhoods

So you’re moving from San Francisco to New York. You liked your cute neighborhood and tasty burritos and you hope to replicate this existence somewhere in the Big Apple. Well kiddo, that’s impossible. Everyone knows there is no such thing as a good burrito in NYC.

This was the fate of a friend of mine a few weeks back. When she described her desires to a broker, this broker responded with, “you’ll probably like Williamsburg.” So this friend gets in the broker’s car and heads over a bridge to another part of town. Her reaction, later over email: “I expected it to be cute. Williamsburg is not cute.” Yes, Williamsburg is definitely not cute. It’s sort of like the Mission, and I’m sure almost anyone from SF would agree that the Mission is also not cute.

In response to this unfortunate misconception, I have constructed the San Franciscan’s guide to New York neighborhoods1. What follows is a socio-cultural mapping between cities, from my perspective. The fact that Murray Hill and the Marina are connected is entirely related to the number of white, greek-lettered hats you would find there.

San Francisco vs. New York
San Francisco vs. Manhattan

San Francisco New York
Financial District Midtown
North Beach Little Italy
Chinatown Chinatown
Union Square Soho
Soma Tribeca
Potrero Brooklyn Heights
Dogpatch Red Hook
Civic Center Civic Center
Hayes Valley Chelsea
Western Addition Carroll Gardens
Pacific Heights Upper East Side
Noe Valley Upper West Side
Marina Murray Hill
Haight Ashbury East Village
Castro West Village
Mission Williamsburg
Lower Haight Lower East Side
Russian Hill Park Slope
Fisherman’s Wharf South St. Seaport
Treasure Island Roosevelt Island
Sunset Brooklyn
The Richmond Queens
Berkeley Morningside Heights
Golden Gate Park Central Park
Tenderloin Wherever Giuliani put it
Stanford Princeton
Marin Westchester

1.   Of course there’s a lot of need for improvement. I would personally love to see similar guides made for every pair of cities (“I’m an Atlantan in Chicago. Where’s Little Five Points?”), but that’s a big task for one person with limited knowledge.