Something Near Enough

by Kieran Healy on August 29, 2005

My friend Karen Bennett blurbs Jaegwon Kim’s new book, Physicalism, or something near enough. The back cover, though, is careful to introduce Karen’s endorsement by saying only, “Advance praise for _Physicalism_.” Presumably some sharp-eyed editor realised it wouldn’t do for people to read “Advance praise for Physicalism, or something near enough.” Round our way, the title is proving to have all kinds of useful applications: “I was on time, or something near enough”, “Childcare, or something near enough”, “A viable constitution for Iraq, or something near enough.” I think it should catch on.

Barriers to entry

by Eszter Hargittai on August 29, 2005

Anecdotally, I still often hear people say (like I did this weekend, or like I’ve read in CT comments) that it wouldn’t take that much for a new company to enter the search-engine market. But we are not in the late 1990s and it would take tremendous resources to enter this market.

The major players at this point are AOL, Ask Jeeves, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!. (Note that in contrast to much anecdotal evidence in the press and among other commentators, Google does not have nearly the market share that many people suggest. I’ve discussed this on CT before.)

Among the above search engines, AOL, Google, MSN, and Yahoo! represent much more than just search engines. They are vast empires of Internet-related products that continue to innovate and introduce new services.

This does not mean that there is no room for innovation. In fact, we seem to be undergoing a second boom these days (somewhat reminiscent of the late 90s, but in a much more realistic manner). Numerous interesting and innovative services have sprung up in the last few years. However, you will notice that many of these are eventually acquired by one of the companies above. Examples: Google’s acquisition of Blogger and Yahoo!’s acquisition of Flickr.

And to be sure, we have even seen new entrants in niche markets of search, for example, the searching of recently added content. Here, Technorati and Feedster come to mind. While offering valuable services – an almost immediate inclusion of blog content in search results – these engines focus on a very small segment of Web content.

It would take tremendous amount of resources in this day and age to even come close to the computation and labor resources that drive the above-mentioned companies and allow them to index Web content at a more general level. It is unlikely that we will see independent new entrants in the near future. If we do, they will likely be acquired by one of the companies above.

Scientific intimidation

by Henry on August 29, 2005

John McCain and Peter Likins (president of the University of Arizona) write an “op-ed”:http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=nkuneybcibwmoytv16bn8jdr1xybgsx2 for the _Chronicle_ on efforts by Republicans in Congress to intimidate scientists doing research on global warming.

bq. the government cannot craft sound policy unless it can count on scientists to provide accurate data on which to base its actions. (The consequences of spinning or withholding facts can be seen in the lives lost to disease because tobacco companies withheld evidence from Congress and the Food and Drug Administration.) When members of Congress recently began pressuring scientists who have offered evidence of global warming, they broke that crucial covenant. The chairman and another member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, in an apparent effort to discredit the findings reported by three distinguished scientists from respected universities, demanded that the scientists send Congress all of the scientific data they have gathered in their entire careers, even data on studies unrelated to their publications on global warming. … The message sent by the Congressional committee to the three scientists was not subtle: Publish politically unpalatable scientific results and brace yourself for political retribution, which might include denial of the opportunity to compete for federal funds. Statements that such requests are routine ring hollow: Asking for scientific information may be routine, but asking for all of the data produced in a scientist’s career is highly irregular. It represents a kind of intimidation, which threatens the relationship between science and public policy. That behavior must not be tolerated.

I know that McCain has disappointed on a variety of fronts, but I’m still very happy to see him issuing a vigorous and unambiguous denunciation of his colleagues in the House. I’ll have more to say about these issues in my review of Chris Mooney’s book.

APSA Advice

by Henry on August 29, 2005

The annual American Political Science Association meeting is taking place this week in Washington DC. Some spots that CT-reading attendees may want to know about …

Food:

There are several decent restaurants in the Woodley Park neighbourhood, where the conference hotels are located. Of these, the best that I know of is the “Lebanese Taverna”:http://www.lebanesetaverna.com/restaurants/dc/. If you want a real treat, and you’re prepared to walk for 10-15 mins, or hop on the Metro, “Indique”:http://www.indique.com/Indiquemainpage.html (north up Connecticut, or take the Metro one stop to Cleveland Park) is a great nouvelle Indian restaurant – one of the few places inside DC’s city limits to make it into Tyler Cowen’s excellent “guide to ethnic food in the Washington area”:http://www.gmu.edu/jbc/Tyler/cowenethnic17th.htm. Alternatively, you can go south to Dupont Circle – but the restaurants here aren’t as good as they used to be and can be a little pricey. I like “Mourayo”:http://www.washingtonian.com/dining/Profiles/mourayo.html, a Greek place, especially for their “Sappho” dessert (Greek yoghurt, strawberries and honey in a phyllo pastry – yum!). Also good, but expensive, is “Pesce”:http://www.washingtonian.com/dining/Profiles/Pesce.html, which is a little bit off the Circle, on P street, and which specializes in fish. Just across the street is “Pizza Paradiso”:http://www.washingtonian.com/dining/Profiles/PizzeriP.html, which is a lot cheaper and does great wood-burning oven pizza. Expect long lines at lunch time, unless you make it early – the dining area is tiny. Those who are prepared to be adventurous and travel into the suburbs should trust to Tyler’s extraordinary knowledge of the great food to be found in Virginia and Maryland stripmalls.

Alcohol:

I’m not as well up on this as I used to be, but I can heartily recommend the “Brickskeller”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?node=entertainment/profile&id=792636&typeId=5 which is just off Dupont circle, and is listed in the Guinness book of records as “the bar with the largest selection of commercially available beers.” Over 1,000, mostly in bottles. They serve them a little warmer than is usual in the US, but nonetheless tasty for that. The “Childe Harold”:http://www.childeharold.com/, which is close by, is very good downstairs; for a fictional description (thinly disguised), see Elizabeth Hand’s short story, “Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol”:http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/originals/originals_archive/hand/hand1.html.

Bookshops:

Always one of my first priorities when I go to a new city. DC doesn’t have any big bookshop to rival Powells or the Strand, but it does have a superb specialized bookshop that should be of interest to APSA types, “Politics and Prose”:http://www.politics-prose.com/. Excellent on politics and history, as you might expect, but also has a quite superb collection of childrens’ books downstairs (a legacy from the Cheshire Cat, a famous childrens’ bookshop that it took over a few years ago). “Olssons”:http://www.olssons.com/ is also pretty good, if not quite what it used to be – the Dupont Circle branch is probably the best. Secondhand places are a bit hit-and-miss – the Rockville branch of “Second Story Books”:http://www.secondstorybooks.com/ is pretty good, but it’s a long drive from the city.

Additions, corrections etc welcome in comments.

Got any lifehacks?

by Eszter Hargittai on August 29, 2005

I am guest-blogging over at Lifehacker this week while regular editor Gina Trapani takes a breather. Lifehacker is part of Nick Denton‘s Gawker Media empire that has managed to make money out of blogging. (We’re not all in it for the $s as you can tell by the lack of ads on CT, but it’s nice to know that some people who don’t necessarily have other main sources of income are able to pull it off.) CT readers are probably most familiar with Gawker’s Wonkette, but there are about a dozen Gawker sites at this point addressing all sorts of topics.

Lifehacker focuses on ways to make your life more productive. Many of the posts feature downloads (e.g. Firefox, Flickr), shortcuts and pointers to helpful Web sites. There is a whole category of advice pieces as well ranging from how to deal with various situations at work to ideas for getting things done more effectively.

If you have any lifehacking tips, please send them along to me this week by writing to tips@lifehacker.com.