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Eszter

It’s Science-a-thon!

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

As I mentioned a few days ago, I am participating in Science-a-thon today, which has two goals: show the world what the day in the life of a researcher looks like and raise money for science. I will be posting twelve images as updates to this post throughout the day. (I won’t overwhelm the feed by making each image a new post.) I will also be writing about issues related to doing research. My first image is of the main University of Zurich building that I passed with the tram this morning on my way to my office. (For those who’ve been reading CT for a while, yes, this is a change, I moved institutions and countries last year.) If you’d like to support science-a-thon, you can do so here: http://bit.ly/scienceathon. I’m 23% toward my goal of raising $1,000 as of this morning.

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Next Thursday, July 13th, is Science-a-thon and I will be participating by writing several posts and sharing pictures about how science gets done. If there are questions you’d like me to address, please post in the comments as I welcome suggestions for topics to discuss.

Science-a-thon is being organized by a graduate school friend of mine, Tracey Holloway, who is an Earth scientist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The idea is to showcase in 12 pictures throughout the day the work that scientists do with the goal of raising public awareness. I decided to join even though my work is rather different since I very much support the cause of raising funds for science. Here is my fundraising page if you’d like to support the effort financially. Or if you’re a scientist and would like to join Science-a-thon yourself, you can do so here.

Getting creative in a computer science course

by Eszter Hargittai on June 24, 2017

Lane Tech College Prep CS Chicago Flag

There are lots of stats out there about how seriously computer science (CS) education is lacking in the United States (and I suspect many other places). Issues range from high schools not offering computer science classes at all to CS classes not counting toward graduation requirements. There are exceptions, however, and I wanted to highlight a very impressive project from a CS class at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School taught by Jeff Solin. Jeff had his students create a 3D representation of the Chicago flag. Check out his description and many pictures of the finished project. There is so much creativity in that project! So neat and so impressive.

Doodle some music

by Eszter Hargittai on June 22, 2017

Today’s Google Doodle in honor of Oskar Fischinger’s 117th birthday is very impressive and fun. Click on the image on the linked page and then click on the image again. Click on the little squares to create your music. You can change all sorts of aspects of your creation by clicking on Modify on the bottom and making various selections on the left, and also by changing the instrument on top. (Note that as far as I can tell, changing the instrument reverts to a clean slate so take care with the timing.) Enjoy!

Would you eat bugs? How about a dog?

by Eszter Hargittai on May 21, 2017

In my German class in Zurich this week, we read a piece about how important bugs may be to the future of feeding the planet thanks to being high in protein and having considerably lower environmental costs for production. Several of my classmates seemed visibly disturbed by this. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten bugs before – have you? – but I don’t have a problem with the concept. I’m not a vegetarian and don’t see why I should be any more put off by bugs than a cow or a chicken. If I think about the origins of a cow or a chicken, I may wince, but I still like the food. Why would that be different with bugs?

In the domain of animal consumption, Switzerland tends to garner outrage, because it is legal to eat cats and dogs. This may be disgusting to many Europeans and Americans, but it’s not at all uncommon in countries elsewhere such as in Asia. It is clearly in many ways a cultural issue. While many Europeans and Americans don’t think twice about eating cows and pigs, they are not on the menu elsewhere. (I purposefully said “cow” and “pig” in that last sentence instead of “beef” and “pork”. Why don’t we just say the animal at hand? I enjoyed the ponderings on this MetaFilter thread about that question although didn’t really get a satisfying answer.)

Growing up in Hungary, I ate cow tongue on occasion, something quite tasty, but clearly revolting to some who had never considered it (I base that on personal experiences talking to folks elsewhere about it). Unless you are a vegetarian, it seems it would be hard to make the case that one animal is okay while another is not as long as it is produced and prepared under healthy conditions. (And let’s not even get started on how much of the meat we consume anyway would not qualify as such!) Should pet Miss Piggy be an easier case for dinner than pet dog Spot?

Curiously, the author of the piece advocating for bugs as a source of nutrition and who herself eats them said that she is a vegetarian due to ethical reasons. I cannot reconcile then, how she can justify eating bugs. Anyone want to defend her position?

The mystery behind a group of electoral maps

by Eszter Hargittai on October 23, 2016

Yesterday, when I was going through my Facebook feed, I saw several people in my network post a copy of the map below. (As far as I could tell, 9-10 people in my network had shared it, I figure this from the fact that I saw two and then saw a link “8 shares” or “8 more shares” below them.) To clarify, the images I saw were posting the map without the question that I overlaid on it. I am not posting the original so as not to perpetuate what I think is likely misinformation circulating. As a point of comparison, it is very rare that that many people in my FB network post the same thing, or at least FB doesn’t seem to suggest it often. Three of the people who posted it were academics, one works in the policy realm, all work on Internet-related topics. I mention that simply to note that people of all sorts may be prone to spreading online what seems like factual information without necessarily knowing its source. (See below for more on why I don’t know who the other people were, a bit of a mystery in and of itself.)

Seeking source for group of electoral maps

As far as I can tell, there is no source listed on the image. My searching led to all mentions of it linking to the same image-sharing site, one that as far as I know is associated with people sharing images on Twitter. There are lots of mentions of it on Twitter. But scrolling all the way to the end doesn’t clarify (not on my list of results anyway) who may have been the person to share it on Twitter first since the first link I see actually uses a Facebook short URL. (I guess that could have been the person, but there is nothing to confirm it. There seem to be all sorts of FB links on that person’s Twitter feed that no longer exist.)

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PSA: ATM skimmers

by Eszter Hargittai on June 28, 2016

I suspect – hope – many have heard of ATM scammers, people who try to get information about your card while you are withdrawing cash from an ATM. I will usually look at a machine to see if it looks like someone has tampered with it and I always use my other hand to cover the one entering the PIN. Perhaps that’s silly, but it’s not much of an inconvenience and it’s routine for me now. But as far as I know, I have never encountered an actual ATM skimmer, thankfully.

A security expert happened upon one during his travels recently and captured it on video. In addition to reading his account of it, I highly recommend a careful look at this image from another observer who breaks down very carefully how some components of the ATM (most importantly the section next to where you insert the card) was different from the adjacent ATM that did not have a skimmer. That is likely where the camera resided. In addition to the skimmer, there is usually a camera nearby that captures your motions entering the PIN (if I am understanding this correctly, but do correct me if I am wrong), which is why I tend to cover my hand (and have noticed that now some machines supply some coverage themselves). Snopes has pictures of another version, an older model.

I found the video interesting as I find actual examples of such things helpful thus this public service announcement. Hopefully no one here has related experiences, but if you do, please share.

Exploring your surroundings through GPS-based games

by Eszter Hargittai on June 18, 2016

Would you like to learn more about your home town? How about a new angle to exploring your travel destinations? GPS-based games – or treasure hunts – are great for this! It is an increasingly popular genre with several options. I myself have experiences with geocaching, Munzee, and Ingress. They are all games that depend on technology while also requiring that you get up and move around. Each is somewhat different (I’ll explain some of the differences below), but on the whole focuses on physical movement and exploration. Even if you are not that keen on getting on board, I recommend reading the details below so that you know what the cool kids are up to these days. Or the geeks.

Wearing my researcher hat, I find these games fascinating, because they are a great example of how decisions that the creators of the games make – often technical elements that certainly have alternatives to their current state – influence game play and community interaction. I’ll leave those reflections for another time, for now I will provide an introduction to each with the hopes that you get inspired to try at least one of them.

I started geocaching seven years ago (it has been around for 16), have been playing Munzee for about four (that started five years ago), and Ingress for a bit less than two (that’s been around since 2013). Each of these games, in their various ways, has inspired me to learn more about where I live as well as places I visit. They can be played occasionally or on a daily basis. They can be a completely solitary endeavor or can inspire lots of social interaction. I have seen them each appeal to people of varying ages across the globe. They each offer a wonderful adventure. I hope you’ll consider giving at least one of them a try! (If you are ready to jump in and are wondering which one has the lowest barriers to entry, my vote goes to Munzee.)

Munzee is a treasure hunt where the goal is to find QR codes, those little squares of black-and-white code (or lighter-color and darker-color code) that have popped up in countless places. There are millions of QR codes out there that have nothing to do with Munzee, of course. To know where you can find QR codes that concern the game, use the free app (or look on the site’s map) and use the app to capture the code once you have found it. These codes were placed by fellow players. Munzee leaves it up to the community to populate an area with game pieces.

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by Eszter Hargittai on June 8, 2016

A friend I saw today is not ready to celebrate, because he doesn’t want to jinx it. I, however, am very much in a celebratory mood and wanted to mark the important occasion here.


Ezra Klein does a nice job reflecting on Hillary Clinton’s political savvy. While the following is not a new revelation, it is important to continue pointing out: the gendered nature of elections is stacked against women in so many ways, it is hard to appreciate. It is exhausting just to think about it, never mind come up against it day in and day out, year after year, and still manage to garner so much support. Bravo, Secretary Clinton!

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Required reading

by Eszter Hargittai on June 5, 2016

Everybody needs to read this. I’m in awe of the author for having written something so powerful, important and eloquent. No skimming or scanning, read every word.

It may be the age of big data, but since big data tend to come from those who are already using digital media, such data sets tend to lack information about non-users and those who don’t engage in certain activities online. I make this case in detail about data derived from social network sites in my paper called Is Bigger Always Better? published in the ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.* That paper mainly focuses on those who are already connected, but even among Internet users, I find that data derived from social media tend to bias against the less privileged and the less skilled as such folks are less likely to be on those sites. This is a problem when more and more studies about social behavior and potentially policy decisions are made based on information that automatically excludes certain populations.

Today (3/31/16) the US Federal Communications Commission votes on broadband subsidies for low-income households. Yes, making home broadband more affordable is likely a necessary condition for getting more Americans online. However, it is not sufficient. My colleague Ashley Walker and I analyzed data from an FCC study administered in 2009 on both users and non-users, finding that people who are more concerned about their personal data being stolen are more likely to be non-users, results that hold true when controlling for other potentially related factors such as age and education. The issue here is not about price, it’s about privacy concerns. Other research I and others have conducted (some of it reviewed here*) shows that lack of Internet skills is often an impediment to using digital media and using it in ways from which people may benefit. Again, it’s not simply core infrastructural access that’s a problem.

Why are Ashley and I using data from 2009? Because shockingly no federal agency has collected nationally-representative data about Americans’ Internet uses since then. The Census used to be in the business of gathering such data, but at this point it only does so about very basic connectivity questions. The approach seems penny-wise and pound-foolish. Sure, gathering such data is expensive, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to spending over $2 billion dollars on broadband subsidies without having sound evidence on how that will actually improve a more diverse group of Americans using the Internet in helpful ways.

I also have a piece on Huffington Post about all this.

[*] If you can’t access it, feel free to send me a note for a preprint copy.

Did that really happen?

by Eszter Hargittai on March 24, 2016

From a scientific perspective, wow. From a where-could-this-go perspective, whoa.



The making of a popular photo app

by Eszter Hargittai on March 4, 2016

On Wednesday, I had the great fortune to attend the closing keynote at the annual CSCW conference given by Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, a photo-sharing site now owned by Facebook, but still operating largely independently, at least from the user’s perspective. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Instagram now has 400 million active users (75% outside the US) sharing 80 million photos and videos daily. Those are some serious numbers folks. And while they require considerable technical chops, I am glad Mike spent his time at CSCW talking about the design elements and human-computer interaction aspects. I share some nuggets below. (I failed to take notes so I’m skipping all sorts of info, sadly, and welcome corrections/additions in the comments.)

As old-timers here may recall, I am a big photo enthusiast and was a huge Flickr fan for quite some time. More recently, however, I have started getting into Instagram and now use it daily. Having thought about how these services differ and how I ultimately ended up using Instagram so much more these days than Flickr, it was a real treat to hear the brains behind the service share many of the conversations and decisions that went into making it what it is today. It was genuinely interesting to learn about the many aspects that he and his collaborators discussed and continue to ponder as they enhance the app.

In the first few minutes Mike shared some of his background, including his failure to get a paper into CSCW during his early days. I mention that as a reminder that people should not take the occasional setback too seriously.

Mike and his co-founder Kevin Systrom had worked on an earlier app called Burbn. The Atlantic has a few notes on this. This was the era of check-in apps so they focused on check-ins, but the app barely took off (we’re talking no more than about a thousand users). The aspect of the app that seemed to appeal to folks most was its photo-sharing capability. So they set out to focus on that primarily.
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Today’s WTF moment brought to you by the legal department

by Eszter Hargittai on February 8, 2016

There are plenty of absurd trademark cases out there, but I feel like this one is hitting new levels of crazy.

It [Delaware North] even trademarked the phrase ‘Yosemite National Park’ for use on T-shirts, pens and mugs, making one wonder why a private company should have exclusive rights over the name of a national treasure.

This LATimes story has the context.

Democrats need to choose a real candidate not a symbolic one

by Eszter Hargittai on January 26, 2016

Paul Starr has an excellent piece on why Democrats need to vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming primaries. I have no doubt that some of you who have other views will want to chime in, feel free. I just ask that you read the whole piece first and address points made in it rather than engaging in general hand-waving so as to improve the chances of a meaningful exchange.

A few quotes, but I recommend reading the full piece.

I have a strange idea about presidential primaries and elections: The purpose is to elect a president.

And I have a strange thought about primary voters: They have a choice between sending the country a message and sending it a president. That is a choice Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire ought especially to be weighing with the first caucuses and primary only days away.

..

Republicans and conservative media have been outdoing each other in their denunciations of Hillary Clinton. They will hardly believe their good fortune if Sanders turns out to be the Democratic candidate. A campaign against a 74-year-old socialist senator from Vermont writes itself. For a change, the right-wing media would not have to make anything up.

..

Sanders tells us that the political system is rotten and corrupt. But anyone who believes that government is rotten and corrupt has to be worried about making it more powerful, especially in a way that has such personal effects as health care does. This is the contradiction at the root of Sanders’ rhetoric.

Read the full piece.