By the way . . .
The Onion's Presidential Radio Address: This Is Not Happening

Food for Thought, Served in Several Courses

This is Year's Best season for us, and so I've been reading lots of short fiction, which ought to give me a lot to say in this space, but instead leaves me sort of stunned. If you have a favorite science fiction or fantasy short story published in 2006, now is the time to tell me about it.

Mathlove800_1 One thing I found out about this weekend is Rudy Rucker's podcast of his fine story, "Chu and the Nants" published in  Asimov's. I told David about it and he was pleased I liked it because it is part of Rudy's next novel, Postsingular, which David is publishing at Tor in a year. Meanwhile, Rudy's new novel, Mathematicians in Love, just came out. Put it on your Christmas list.

On a not entirely unrelated topic, I have been surveying the Nerdosphere for worthy math and computation-related blogs, and have noticed the interesting phenomenon that there is a new generation of math and physics grad students who blog. Most of these are very low traffic sites  that would raise hardly a blip on the Technorati rankings, but seem to me indicative of an interesting technological shift.

Historically, physicists were among the first to have web sites (my father had the second in the State of Washington), however scientists have been a bit slower to embrace blogs than they were the web as such. When I've had more time to survey them, I may provide more targeted links.

Here are some blogs that caught my attention while I was surfing for math and math-related blogs:

  • Cellular Automata in Bio-Medicine by Prof. Gershom Zajicek M.D.who is "exploring ways to boost healing processes in a diseases, and particularly in cancer."
  • Anima ex Machina: (has an interesting pic of my friend Kovas presenting a paper last week)
  • Gooseania: My friends invited me over for dinner on Tuesday, just after my theorem was pronounced dead and so I immediately rejected their offer, worried that I'd better get working on something new.
  • NeverEndingBooks: A very pretty blog. The author has two categories for his posts: On Topic and Off Topic, and . . .
  • Backreaction, the blog of Canadian theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder and Stefan Scherer, a physicist who now works in scientific publishing in Germany.

Further to the subject of data, I've had a look at David Sifry's much discussed State of the Blogosphere post. The part I found most interesting  is the discussion of splogs and how Technorati deals with them.

. . . some of the new blogs in our index are Spam blogs or 'splogs'. The good news is Technorati has gotten much better at preventing these kinds of blogs from getting into our indexes in the first place, which may be a factor in the slight slowing in the average of new blogs created each day.

The spikes in red on the chart above shows the increased activity that occurs when spammers create massive numbers of fake blogs and try to get them into our indexes. As the chart shows, we’ve done a much better job over the last quarter at nearly eliminating those red spikes. While last quarter I reported about 8% of new blogs that get past our filters and make it into the index are splogs, I’m happy to report that that number is now more like 4%. As always, we’ll continue to be hyper-focused on making sure that new attacks are spotted and eliminated as quickly as possible.

This relates to something I have been worrying a bit about lately, which is astroturf blogs in quantity founded for an unpleasant and possibly illegal, though not commercial, purpose. I won't link to the example of the phenomenon I have in mind, because that would give them traffic.

If, for example, sometime in the near future, a cult were to order its members to all found blogs to attack a particular individual or institution, how would search engines like Technorati or Google react? Would this be seen as covered by freedom of expression, or would it be seen as analogous to to the founding of many erection-enhancement pill blogs? How will this be dealt with? Could offending an organization with fanatical members ruin your reputation on the web permanently? Or is this something that people like Dave Sifry will have to start monitoring? 

And, if it were happening now, and you were to know about it, what would you be able to do about it? 

And what if you were a target?  What would you do?

Write to Dave Sifry? Call the FBI? Hire an attorney? Hire a publicist? How relevant and enforceable are, for example, the cyberstalking laws?

Food for thought.