Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Skeptic Mix Tape 2009

Normally, I wouldn't think it was worthwhile to just point toward something that another person had put up on the 'net but this is an exception. The critical thinkers over at skeptic magazine have created a skeptic mix tape. After checking out the tracks, a few of them grabbed my attention.

Dr. H. Paul Shuch, also known as Dr. SETI, contributed a track called Cosmic Carl. Now I am not usually a big fan of acoustic guitar folk music, but a song about Carl Sagan merits an exception. If you don't know why they keep singing, "Billions and Billions," watch Cosmos already. . . uncultured savage.

A group called the Bad Detectives, belittle patent medicines with the tune, Rattlesnake Oil. Nothing like some upbeat rockabilly to remind us all that some claims have not been substantiated by the FDA.

The Canadian bluegrass group, Dirty Dishes, remakes an old school parody tune about patent medicines called Lily The Pink. It's an amusing enough tune, but it does make one wonder how much things have changed in the century plus that the Pure Food and Drug Act has been in effect.

Okay, one more and I'll stop carrying on about the artists on the mix tape. Coco Love Alcorn (you've got to appreciate a name like that) contributed a track called thinking cap. That song was cool but if you wander over to her website, you can check out some youtube videos she has up including a video for a song of hers called Intellectual Boys:

Guys, before you go running off to the great white north to throw yourself at her feet yelling, "Take me, take me now nerd lover, I'm so freakin' yours!" Check out the size of the ring on her left hand in the video. Seems another intellectual boy got to her first. Anyway, in the future I'll try and have more original content for this blog and not just link to the cool work that other people are doing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Social media, the good and the unexceptional

When I heard that the website mashable was sponsoring the summer of social good and were going to do it though social media, I was intrigued. However, after finding out what their plan was, I was less than impressed. They are using twitter, facebook, blogs and the like to raise money for the humane society of the United States, Oxfam America, the world wildlife fund and the Lance Armstrong foundation. Now, as far as I know, all four groups are worthy organizations doing good work. My real issue is that they couldn't find anything more original to do with all this great 21st century technology than to beg for money online? Come on guys, is there any way to make social engaged people feel unvalued and disregarded faster than saying, "give us some money and leave doing good deeds to the professionals?"

I am much more impressed with the application being developed by The Extraordinaries that allows people to engage in on-demand volunteerism by mobile phone. Now that is using technology in a new and unique way. How often do you get to throw around fun terms like crowdsourcing and actually have it be relevant? If somebody is motivated to donate money by the summer of social good, that's fine, but I think it's more engaging and ultimately more useful to have applications like the one offered by The Extraordinaries. Then again, maybe I've just been solicited for charitable donations a few million times too many.

Monday, June 8, 2009

To wiki or not wiki

That is the question, or at least a question. Running in the circle of graduate students and university professors, I hear a lot about how bad wikepedia is and how little value it has as a resource. However, I recently got to hear some rather die hard music fans discuss wikipedia and they had a much different opinion of the site. In general, they were impressed with the depth of information available on the site, how fast errors get corrected and how potentially inaccurate information get the, "citation needed," tag to raise a red flag for viewers of the page.

So, why the discrepancy between the two points of view? I suppose you cold write it off as the difference between some ivory tower intellectual snobs on one hand and a bunch of uncritical fanboys on the other. I do not think it is that simple. The academics are looking for by lines and some form of accountability for the content they view online. The music fans are interested in finding out more about their favorite bands and getting a more complete picture of the people in those bands. The different goals lead to much different views of the value of wikipedia.

When all else fails, look to motive. The academics are looking to pad their CV and to secure positions in academia. Contributing to or using wikipedia is not going to help them in their quest. On the other side, looking to fanboys for motive is missing the point. Look to the bands they are following, they have a motive to get their image and music out there as much as possible. A wealth of online content could help them in that endeavor.

The mixed motive behind commercially oriented wikis like wookieepedia and other large wikis hosted by wikia.com may indeed be inadequate. There is a serious component that is just that there are people out there who love to discuss their hobbies. Be it marvel comics, recipes, genealogy or that massive time waster world of warcraft, some people just love to carry on about the things that occupy their spare time.

The idea behind wikis has been put to some good use to create collaborative history projects and school related wikis for various purposes. Also, some wikis have been set up for groups that are not great in number or media access, such as a neopagan wiki or a traditional witchcraft one. So with all this wiki rambling, is there any kind of conclusion I can draw from this? I would say that wikis can be used as a learning tool, a way for virtual communities to come together and for commercial properties to promote themselves. For a more serious version of wikipedia, check out citizendium. Personally, I think that wikis are good sources for information that you are curious about, but it really doesn't matter if the answer is right.