Saturday, June 25, 2005

Tiger Crane Fly

Tiger Crane Fly (Diptera Tipulidae Nephrotoma)

A relatively innocuous lawn pest, but nice up close. I think this is a Nephrotoma quadrifaria, based on other pictures on the web, but I'm not sure, and that may be a European species. Anyone know?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Delicious Sort Fixed

The sort
script I wrote in January recently broke due to some
substantial changes in the format at I fixed it, so it
works again and fixed the annoying bug about items with only a single
bookmarker. Simply reinstall the script to replace the old (now
broken) one.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Harry and the Potters

On Tour Now

I first heard about (and heard) href="">"Harry and the Potters" last
year, and was pleased to see that they'd be performing in Boston
today. Conveniently enough, it was at the Boston Public Library,
which is across the street from my office. The band is a couple of
brothers who bear a bit of a resemblance to Harry Potter and they
perform a bunch of original Harry Potter themed songs. Prototypical
lyrics include "Blood may be pure but your heart is spoiled, you
wouldn't be tough without Crabbe and Goyle" and "We've got to save
Ginny Weasly from the Basilisk/We've got to save the school from that
unseen horror."

Their singing could be substantially improved. Their lyrics often try
to rhyme but don't quite make it, and their meter is frequently
flawed. Their lyrics are clever but often quite repetetive.
Yet, they're extremely entertaining and oddly captivating. I'm
tempted to call their amateurish sound somehow "refreshing" but that
would be stretching it.

Seeing them live helped me figure out part of it. They're simply
charming. The crowd was a mix of about half adolescents and half
adults ranging from college students to some couples in their sixties.
The performance was imperfect but good, sincere and engaging. I
bought a CD which notes inside, "Recorded at home during April and
May, 2003". Like I said, charming.

If you do take a
, try "Saving Ginny Weasly". It's their best one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Board Game Geek Recommendations

(Executive summary: I wrote some new features for BoardGameGeek that
aids in getting board game recommendations, not unlike the now defunct BGRS
that used to be on this site. See the last paragraphs for links.
Read on for my ramblings.)

I've been an admin
at boardgamegeek
for a few years now, and have been very happy to
help contribute to a site that has been immensely valuable to the
board gaming community. I wrote some features in the past like the
notification of new content, but that's been largely obsoleted by the
availability of per game RSS feeds. Scott and Derk have built a truly
impressive system.

Unrelated to the 'geek, I wrote the Board Game Recommendation Service,
a now defunct system using so-called collaborative filtering to
recommend board games based on other people who have similar
preferences to you. The dirty secret of the BGRS (and many many other
"collaborative filtering" systems) is that its performance is only
marginally better than giving people a list of the top rated items
with the ones they've already rated removed. The average of other
people's rating is a very good predictor of how much you will like
something. More or less, quality is quality. People want systems
like this to work (and they imagine their preferences are particular
and unique) so they seem to, even though the "collaborative" effect is
small. The collaborative system I used for BGRS (and similar systems
in the industry I have seen) did outperform a simple average, but only

Now, on the 'geek, the rank list is very good, but recently it has
started being less useful to me personally as a recommendation system
because of two things: I own most of the games in the top few hundred
and there are an increasing number of wargames which I know not to be
my thing. One way people have been starting to get more refined
ratings has been to use the href="">GeekBuddies
system. This means if I choose a bunch of "GeekBuddies" who have
similar tastes to me, I can sort out the genres of games that don't
interest me. Unfortunately, this is a small set of people. So,
expanding on the href="">GeekBuddies
Game Ratings page, I added the ability to do several things (each
optionally) that make it especially useful for finding game
  • Calculate ratings from your buddies and
    their buddies. This casts a wider net of ratings while limiting to a
    circle of at most a few hundred people, rather than the few thousand
    users on BGG.
  • Only show games you don't own. After all, you've
    already bought those.
  • Only show games you haven't rated. If
    you've rated them already, you probably don't need other people's
    opinions as much.
  • Only show games on your wishlist. Helps decide
    what to get first.

I may add additional filters in the future like "Exclude Expansions",
"Exclude Category" "Supports N players", and "Length between X and Y",
but it's pretty useful as is. So, check out the href="">improved
Game Ratings page. Additionally, I wrote some code for user RSS
feeds (eg, href=>my rss
feed) and the href="">GeekBuddies'
recent posts page. Thanks very much to Scott for letting me add
these features. I welcome any additional comments, feeback or
(btw, these are some of the features I mentioned earlier for those of you keeping track)