Stuff Smart People Like

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Romney Huntsman 2012

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While Dean is away in the field the rest of the gang discuss the Chicago’s Ambitious plan to eliminate traffic fatalities, Ed’s terrifying yet adorable baby cousin, whether academics are too uptight about grammar, and their ambivalence toward a movie that stars both Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. Featuring the songs “Pull Yourself Together and Fall in Love with Me" by Cold Mailman and “Chocolate and Cocaine" by Lorenzo’s Music.

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Ed makes a triumphant return. The guys do a PBS-style rapid fire roundtable discussion of the week’s events including rampant speculation about the causes of Junior Seau’s untimely death, the impact (or lack thereof) of Facebook’s new organ donation feature, and Newt Gingrich’s campaign “suspension.” And, as always, the panel provides you with their weekly “smart suggestions.”

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TED Tuesday: Beware Online “Filter Bubbles”

It’s an old one but a good one. And it’s probably more true today than it was in Feb. 2011. Each person’s experience with the web and, by proxy, with information is becoming increasingly personalized. One potential implication of this is that we are becoming less and less aware of opinions that diverge from our own. Depending on your personal beliefs that could be a good or bad thing. The problem is, I don’t think there is much we can do about it anymore…

While Jordan’s away, the rest of crew pick up the slack. On this very social episode we discover a smart rock band, cover a controversial news story, and Ed talks about why he left Goldman Sachs. Then we delve into the reasoning and risks behind unfriending and managing awkward social interactions online.

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In this era of “Jersey Shore” antics and “Girls Gone Wild,” where bikini tops vanish like unattended wallets, it would seem natural to assume that this generation of college student has outdone the spring break hordes of decades past on the carousal meter.

But today’s spring breakers — at least some of them — say they have been tamed, in part, not by parents or colleges or the fed-up cities they invade, but by the hand-held gizmos they hold dearest and the fear of being betrayed by an unsavory, unsanctioned photo or video popping up on Facebook or YouTube.

Sort of related to the next podcast. Sort of.

Raise your hand if you use Wikipedia on a daily basis. Okay, now raise your hand if you know what Boing Boing is. If your hand is not up, chances are you unaware that some web sites have chosen to blackout their content today in a protest to the internet censorship bills SOPA and PIPA.

The idea behind the protest is to give people a taste of what the internet would be like if these bills were to pass.

The protest probably is effective if you use these sites on a regular basis. However, Wikipedia and Boing Boing are far from the most popular sites on the internet. Arguably the most popular and useful site on the internet — Google — a staunch opponent of the legislation, could only muster this lame protest:

Oh the horror! What happened to the logo? Oh wait, the search bar still works…

At least Google tried. My Twitter and Facebook pages work fine. Nowhere on either page can you find any mention of the protest or of the twin harbingers of the internet apocalypse (that is, if you don’t count the tweets and updates from actual members).

Can you imagine how effective the protest would have been if these companies had taken more action?

What if gmail made you wait five minutes to login? What if Twitter and Facebook randomly blacked out tweets and status updates? People would probably amass on the steps of congress and firebomb the place.

Instead I have to wait an extra day to look up the career of Roy Orbison. That’s really going to set me back.

Mashable reports that “Facebook” was the top search term of 2011. They must really have a lot of “mindshare,” right? Well, sort of. This study really shows what kind of people use Google (primarily) to get to their favorite website, and not necessarily that they are looking for other information about that site. Other top searches this year included “facebook login” and “www.facebook.com”.

Facebook has 800 million registered users, this is a year when practically anyone with a computer and an internet connection has an account. Many of those users know very little about bookmarking, or the advanced capabilities of most web browsers. We’ve all seen a relative trying to “surf the web”. They pull up Internet Explorer and go to Google (or maybe google is their homepage) and type the full address of the site they want, then click the first result that appears. That’s not exactly any indication that the user is any more invested in that site or that brand. And, while I’m a big fan of shortcuts and timesavers to reduce repetitive tasks like entering the same search term every time I use my computer, but that might not really be a priority for many users.

This kind of report is more of a reflection on the users of search engines and how people are using technology, not what they searched for. The study by Hitwise is pretty comprehensive, and defines the majority of top searches as “navigational search,” which seems to hit on what Mashable’s article misses.  Its also unfortunate that the study didn’t include mobile searches, which is rapidly growing and becoming the primary means of search and experiencing online content.


Its one thing to get hyped up on a new site or service (Schemer, anyone?). Its another to hit on new (at least to you) tools you find online that you actually incorporate into your regular life. Be it for work or play, here’s a breakdown of sites and apps I’ve come across this year that I actually use. Some of these are not necessarily new this year, but are all new to me and deserve more users and supporters.





  1. Astrid - Far and away one of the most straightforward good ideas done well. Astrid is basically a to-do list. Now to-do lists are incredibly common and the market is highly competitive, but this is the one that works best for me. The interface is really good and creating little entries for lists and categorizing them. The site is pretty fast, my lists sync seamlessly and there’s even a plugin for Locale (another Android app) that lets your lists become location aware.
  2. Tinfoil for Facebook - Available in the Android Market, Tinfoil for Facebook puts facebook’s site in its own virtual jail. Facebook’s mobile app is a bit of a resource hog and can be pretty intrusive. It can’t pester you for location or other information, you sign in and use the site. On the downside you lose the ability to share directly to facebook, but I use apps like picplz and tweetdeck Hoot Suite to update my status, share photos and view friend’s activities outside of the Tinfoil solution.Astrid - Far and away one of the most straightforward good ideas done well. Astrid is basically a to-do list. Now to-do lists are incredibly common and the market is highly competitive, but this is the one that works best for me. The interface is really good and creating little entries for lists and categorizing them. The site is pretty fast, my lists sync seamlessly and there’s even a plugin for Locale (another Android app) that lets your lists become location aware.
  3.  Alien Blue HD and Reddit News - I’m putting this double shot in as one because they’re two great ways to view Reddit on the go. Alien Blue HD is the iPad app and Reddit News is for Android. Both are better smooth to work with and allow all the functionality of the site with very ‘finger friendly’ designs.  There is a free version of Reddit News, but I decided to buy it to get rid of the ads. Makes for an even better experience on the small screen. 
  4. Calibre - I really like having a Kindle. For most of my day, I stare at a computer. But my Kindle is special. Its pretty plain; grey screen, silver bezel. But its limitations are also its strengths. It just displays clean, readable text and it collects all my pleasure reading into one place. I’ve got Instapaper, and all the books I’ve bought from Amazon. Whats nice is that Calibre puts those same books (as well as other text files) into a usable database that I can control. In the worst case scenario that Amazon revokes a title from its library, I can still have my books that I paid for. Calibre also does a good job of converting various ebook file formats (though not perfectly). If you consider yourself at all tech savvy take a few minutes to play with Calibre. Its completely free and open source. You can also use Calibre with just about any other e-reader.
  5. Yubikey - One of those common sins of leading an online life is that, odds are, you aren’t using strong passwords. A yubikey is a great lazy solution. It sits in your USB port and can instantly generate a one time password that is authenticated with Yubico’s cloud network of authentication servers. Even if someone got your password, it would be useless since you’ll never use that password again. You didn’t even have to type it, just press the Yubikey button and it spits it out. You can tie Yubikey into other services (like the excellent LastPass service, if you pay them a dollar a month.) Yubikey service is free, but buying the actual key is $25(or more if you want more features, like Symantec VIP or RFID). You can also buy it with a year of LastPass for $30.
      Yes, that is my real hand and my real Yubikey.
  6. IFTTT - IFTTT(short for, “If this, then that”) is probably the cleverest web service I’ve seen. With IFTTT, you can set up triggers and actions across various websites. For example, you can set up a notification that texts you if its going to snow tomorrow. Or you can have your tumblr photos automatically upload to a Facebook album. Or you can have your starred Google Reader items automagically saved to Evernote. If you already have a number of these services set up, IFTTT is the glue you need to get them working together and saving you tedious time with repetitious tasks. Some of the features offered on the site are available from the individual websites, but IFTTT is the one-stop “make these two things work together” site.

Think I overlooked something? Post a comment, a tweet, or compose a symphony to share your best online discoveries from this year.

I love data. I don’t know if I make that clear enough here on the blog, but I always am thinking about how to quantify things, from the macro (“how much money the average american spends on Christmas gifts”) to the micro (“how much money to I spend on snacks a year”). I track everything and regularly do minor analyses on the (admittedly) stupidest things. That’s why I loved this slideshow from the week on the stats of our lives. Here are my favorite stats from the article:

  • #4 - 19, the number of times a day men have sexual thoughts (remember folks, this is an AVERAGE)
  • #5 - 4.7, the estimated degrees of separation by which everyone in the world is actually separated based on 721 million facebook users.
  • #7 - 2.4/3.4, the average number of lbs that college freshmen men and women gain in their first year, respectively.