Friday, August 29, 2008


Newseum has a map of places that publish newspapers, and presents you with their front pages when you mouse over the location. An excellent way to get a visual impression of the day's news!


Factbites bills itself as a search engine more interested in content analysis than link popularity. It displays meaningful, relevant sentences from sites in the search results. This, according to Factbite's "why use us" page, "means that you can often gain a great deal of factual information on a topic without ever having to leave the search page! When users do select a page, they can have much more confidence that the page deals directly and informatively with their topic. Factbites searches for matches on the basis of your whole topic area, not just your keyword. This means that it can return relevant, informative results on your topic that don't necessarily mention the word you searched for! The Factbites engine focuses on finding genuine, meaningful content. This makes it very good at filtering out spam sites. If the page doesn't have anything of substance to tell you, it won't rank well in a Factbites search."
I look forward to trying this out, and am eagerly awaiting some good reference questions; a few make-believe searches yielded some interesting results.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Health Impact Fund

On Monday this week I went to hear Yale's professor 'Thomas Pogge (philosophy), Princeton's Peter Singer (philosophy), and U.Calgary's Aidan Hollis (economics) undertake the formal inauguration of the Health Impact Fund in Oslo. The event, which was about providing affordable medicines and improving the health of millions of impoverished people around the world, was thinly attended and scantily covered by the media; I couldn't help reflecting on how much greater the attention would have been had it concerned something of no consequence whatsoever to mankind, e.g. the launch of a new Iphone. The Health Impact Fund is an ingenious yet simple way to offset detrimental effects of intellectual property rights and the market on the equitable distribution of life-saving medicines, but without denying pharmaceuticals their rightful profits or removing incentives to develop new medicines. Simply put, pharmaceutical companies agreeing to participate in the system would sell their products at cost, and be rewarded according to the health impact of the drugs. The Fund would be mainly financed by governments - ie. taxpayers -  which of course is always troubling to our market-driven way of thinking, but as philosopher Peter Singer suggested in his remarks,  most people, if they stop and think, would gladly pay so little for so much. The executive summary of the Health Impact Fund booklet lays out the principles of the system clearly and persuasively; (here is an excerpt) The Health Impact Fund (HIF) is a new proposal based on two simple insights: (1) privately funded pharmaceutical R&D responds to incentives, and (2) new drugs can have a much larger impact if their prices are low. At present, the most profitable research efforts are not the ones most needed to alleviate the global burden of disease. And high prices often put new drugs out of reach of most of the world’s population.
The HIF seeks to correct both of these failings by offering to reward any new medicine, if priced at cost, on the basis of its global health impact. Any firm receiving marketing approval for a new medicine would be offered a choice between (a) exercising its usual patent rights through high prices or (b) registering its product with the HIF. Registration would require the firm to sell its product worldwide at an administered price near the average cost of production and distribution. In exchange, the firm would receive from the HIF a stream of payments based on the assessed global health impact of its drug. The HIF is, in other words, an optional pay-for-performance scheme for new pharmaceuticals...

Read more here.

Joseph Stiglitz's yuletide greeting in the British Medical Journal two years ago (Scrooge and Intellectual Property Rights) drives home the moral imperative of the Heath Impact Fund with the question, "What would we think of a Scrooge who could cure diseases that blighted thousands of people's lives but did not do so?"

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The new look

In April, I posted about the SearchMe a search engine that returns screen shots of retrieved websites, and arranges them for browsing like pages of a book.  Another tool that employs a similar aesthetic, ie. the Mac-like 3D look that explodes and brings the selected item to foreground, is Foxtab; install it as a Firefox extension, and you can display your tabbed pages in 5 different layouts:

Stack - Tabs are 3D-stacked one behind the other.
Wall - Tabs are displayed on a wall (similar to a TV store).
Grid - Tabs are aligned on a grid.
Row - Tabs are arranged horizontally.
Circle - Tabs are placed around a 3D circle

Viewzi is a selection of search engine interface that present many different viewing options for Google, MSN, Ask, and Yahoo, and other search engines. Views are tailored to the search topic, ie. weather, shopping, news, video, etc. Makes Google look very plain indeed.


If you use Delicious, Delizzy will come in handy. It augments the Delicous's own search of tags, titles and descriptions with content searches the pages you've bookmarked with Delicious.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Excesses in Sports

This is neither here nor there, but the Norwegian women's handball team just beat the South Koreans in the Olympic semi-finals. Personally, I think far too much attention is paid to sports in society today, and the competitiveness has gone completely over board. Here,  three members of the Norwegian team try to psych out a Korean opponent just before the game gets underway.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


NewsCred, in its own words, "is a digital newspaper that will give you all the world's credible news in one place. We aggregrate news from hundreds of mainstream media sources, as well as established blogs, and let our users personalize their digital newspaper within seconds, without any fuss. Our community votes on the crediblity of articles, authors and news sources, and we apply our CredRank algorithms to ensure you only get the highest quality news from the sources you love."  NewsCred says it differs fundamentally from social ranking sites like Digg, because NewsCred selects quality, while Digg et al present popularity.  Anyone wary of the "buzz begets buzz"  mechanism that, regrettably, is so important in determining what reaches us as news, will appreciate that distinction; it is discussed in the short article Buzz and NewsCred: two different takes on social news at the Ars Technica blog. For added credibility, NewsCred sports a look that is very similar to the New York Times.


Newsflashr, to quote, is a "like an aggregator of aggregators. It aggregates headlines from popular news-oriented sites like Google News, BBC News, MSNBC and even from sites like Techmeme, Technorati and Twitter. You just need to type your query into the search box and it’ll display the related news from sources on a single page."

Election forecasts

CQ provides election forecasts for each of the 50 states.


Note that this blog now lets you listen to posts by - you guessed it? - clicking on the button above that says "Listen now." Although I much prefer the British snob Charles who does the reading for Read the Words, that service does not - as far as I can see - integrate with the way Odiogo does; not only does Odiogo automatically generate an audio file for each post, it also offers a podcast feed of the posts! Awesome!  What I need to figure out now is how I can get to automatically dial Telemegaphone (see post below) and broadcast posts (known, of course, as podiocasts) through the Dale valley. Is it unrealistic to expect some sort of award or medal from the mayor of Dale? If you do not have a blog, but would just like to give enliven your browsing experience with sound, both Read the Words and Clickspeak offer Firefox extensions that convert text selected on websites to speech. Services like these are of obvious use to the sight-impaired, or to multitasker who like to listen while doing something else. But I also find this useful for copy editing, and catching errors that have a tendency to tip-toe past on the silent screen.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Telemegaphone for libraries

I'm ashamed to say it, but it was not until a friend in another country alerted me to it that I became aware of this terrific Telemegaphone service, available right here in my very own Norway (but developed by a couple of Svedes from Malmø)!  Obviously, this service can be put to good use by libraries in any number of ways. For example, many libraries compile periodic lists of new acquisitions; a no brainer would be to call the Telemegaphone service and read the list, which would then be broadcast through the valley. The good people of  Dale, whether milking, ploughing, tooling with the tractor, or just relaxing in a field, would be pleasantly alerted to new titles available at the local library. Brilliant!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


InSuggest is a Swedish company that suggests relevant websites or images based on your sumbissions of images or websites. If you have a account, you can also submit your userid to InSuggest and it will find websites that match the pages you've bookmarked in Delicious. Very useful!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Make your own comics

For years I have carried within me hilarious ideas for comic strips that have had me quietly chuckling to myself from time to time. Unfortunately, a complete lack of drawing skills prevented me from sharing these gems with the world...but that was before came along. Now, anyone can make sidesplitting comics like the one I've made below, and make the world a happier place. 
Joking aside, this could actually be a useful tool to promote library events or for making some trenchant point...and - speaking of funology - it's lots of fun to play with!

Confusing words

For English teachers and others, a useful site to clarify easily confused words...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Further reading on reading

In connection with the NYT "future of reading" series, Motoko Rich has put together this "Further reading on reading" list. To her list I would add the Britannica blog "Your Brain Online" that follows up Nick Carr's recent article recent article the Googlization of our minds, the websites
and Bookfutures (this latter site has links to many other interesting book/reading sites)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mloovi - translate your feeds is a free service that translates rss feeds using Google translator. Using the sensibly-named Mloovi and an aggregator like Pageflakes, you can very easily create an aggregated page of newsfeeds translated to/from one (or more) of the 24 languages supported by Google translator (including major world languages like Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Hindi and Spanish). You can either use your favorite aggregator and enter the Mloovi-generated urls manually, or – if your reader of choice happens to be MyYahoo, MyAOL, Netvibes, Google or Pageflakes – Mloovi can add them for you (click on the Mloovi button inviting you to add the feed to your aggregator..)

Machine translators work fast and have a literary style all their own, but the imaginative reader will usually be able to grasp the pith of what's being communicated. If Google doesn't know how to translate a word like "arveavgift" (inheritance tax in Norwegian), it doesn't even try, which is probably just as well – and leaves the original word in the translation, as in "The Government will reduce the arveavgift for ordinary people." In this particular instance, Google's translator goes on to add a dramatic flourish that was missing from the original..."Those who inherit shares in unoterte [ie. unregistered] companies will, however, scorch."

Here is an aggregated page of rss feeds from the most important Norwegian news sources translated into English. I've generally limited the selection to domestic and foreign news, but most major newspapers these days have a whole range of rss feeds to choose from

Monday, August 4, 2008


Homophily - an important concept and a significant part of our web experience.

If you prefer a real-world look and feel for your online book browsing/shopping, might be of interest. It features some 21,000 thumbnails arranged on bookshelves according to category. Personally, I don't find it to be a very charming bookstore, but de gustibus etc.


See over on the right where it says Firefly? Slide the button to turn the service on, and you can chat directly, anywhere on the page, with hundreds of other visitors who congregate at at any given moment. Or, if nobody's around, see the demo at the Firefly website. As users enter their remarks, Firefly assembles a chat thread that can accessed from the bar at the bottom of your browser. I bet few of knowbodies readers 20 years ago could have imagined anything like this happening!

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I wonder if TV producers have a technical term for that sickening fake cheerfulness these breakfast-TV folks are indulging in? You'd think they'd have a word for a thing so instantly recognizable and ubiquitous, deliberately scripted (?) into thousands of breakfast shows broadcast around the world each morning. I'm reading Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason",  an indictment of the dumbing down of America, and one of the things it makes me wonder about is where all the idiocy comes from.  Take this breafast cheer mannerism, how did it take root? Did it just evolve, or was it the fruit of conscious effort?  The way newscasters tilt their heads as though trying to peer inside the camera, is that a way to deal with glare, or is it wisdom from a journalists handbook? And that demeaning silly banter that even the crustiest - or most dignified - old reporter must engage in when shuffling notes and transitioning to the sports reporter or weather forecaster - is that a contractual requirement, or just comme il faut in the news business?  I know, these are trifles, but along with a million other artifacts of popular culture they bring humankind down a good many notches.  Jacoby drove me back to Postman's prescient (1985) "Amusing Ourselves to Death" and a very timely reminder of the important distinction between Orwell and Huxley's dystopias; Orwell's is imposed from without, while Huxley's - and ours - is self-inflicted, a much more irresistible threat!  Resist it!!! To encourage me in these thoughts, I've also been looking at  Ed d'Angelo's Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism ThreatensDemocracy, Civil Education and the Public Good. Although I probably qualify as a postmodern consumer, I would like to see a revival of the notion of libraries as an institution to foster civic education and the public good and a little less scrambling  to keep library patrons entertained and happy with games and web2.0 attractions.  I suspect what brought on this rant was my recent encounter with a word I'd not heard before: a Norwegian library announced a new website that would be rich in "funology." Trembling with indignation, I googled, and discovered that a whole book had in fact been written on the topic as early as in 2003! (Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment) Amazon describes funology thus:

the move in Human Computer Interaction studies from standard usability concerns towards a wider set of problems to do with fun, enjoyment, aesthetics and the experience of use.

Traditionally HCI has been concerned with work and task based applications but as digital technologies proliferate in the home fun becomes an important issue. There is an established body of knowledge and a range of techniques and methods for making products and interfaces usable, but far less is known about how to make them enjoyable.

Perhaps in the future there will be a body of knowledge and a set of techniques for assessing the pleasure of interaction that will be as thorough as those that currently assess usability.

Nothing wrong with injecting fun into learning and usability I suppose, but before you know it "fun" will be a prerequisite for everything we do. Goodbye pleasure deferment, and the quaint notion that drudgery is sometimes required to get your reward.

fun Look up fun at

1685, v., "to cheat, hoax," probably a variant of M.E. fon "befool" (c.1400), later "trick, hoax, practical joke," of uncertain origin. Stigmatized by Johnson as "a low cant word." Older sense is preserved in phrase to make fun of and funny money "counterfeit bills" (1938, though this may be more for the sake of the rhyme); sense of "amusement" is 1727. See also funny.

Baker on Shea on 59 million words

While I have noted (with indignation) that many reviews of books by Nicholson Baker - particularly the last one - are bad,  any review BY Nicholson Baker is a thing to savor indeed. I still have a photocopy of his wonderful 1994  NYRB review  of J.E. Lighter's Historical Dictionary of American Slang "Leading wth the Grumper" lying around for levity in gloomy moments.  In Sunday's New York Times, Baker treats us to another review of a word-related (aren't they all?) book, Ammon Shea's Reading the OED: One Man, OneYear, 21,730 Pages. For me, every Baker review is followed by a purchase.