The ENGINE Blog

Three Best Things 6/21/10 - 6/27/10

THING: Sergey Brin’s Search for a Parkinson’s Cure from Wired. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who’s made a life of using the power of algorithms to “organize all the world’s information,” is using that same kind of power in an attempt to cure Parkinson’s Disease. Since discovering he carries a gene mutation that puts him at risk of contracting the disease, Brin has sought “to bypass centuries of scientific epistemology in favor of a more Googley kind of science. He wants to collect data first, then hypothesize, and then find the patterns that lead to answers. And he has the money and the algorithms to do it.”

THING: Travel itineraries from Flickr photo trails from Geeking With Greg. Greg Linden links to a paper by American and Israeli researchers on “cleverly [using] the data often embedded in Flickr photos (e.g. timestamp, tags, sometimes GPS) to produce trails of where people have been in their travels.” It makes sense that the most interesting points along a path would also be the most photographed, so this could be a great way to note can’t-miss spots, common travel routes, and typical trip durations. An inspiring quote from the paper:

By aggregating such timed paths of many users, one can construct itineraries that reflect the “wisdom” of touring crowds. Each such itinerary is composed of a sequence of POIs, with recommended visit times and approximate transit times between them.

THING: How Rap Tears Up the Boring Art Vs. Commerce Argument from The Awl. Selling out has a different connotation in hip-hop than it does in other spheres. Though punk and hip-hop grew up at the same time and place and in the same socioeconomic conditions, the two have had very different ideas on mass appeal. (Yes, this is lumping thousands of musicians and millions of fans into two groups. I’m sorry.)

We can all agree the Black Eyed Peas sold out — they completely changed everything about their sound and image, conscious of their brand and marketability the whole time, and wedding receptions will never be the same. I’m sure they weep into their pallets of Franklins every night, thinking about all the underground respect they lost in the process. But many rappers have been able to market themselves without significantly changing their sound. None of this is new information, but the Awl article certainly presents a worth-reading take on the issue.

A Video of Americans Pretending to Care About the World Cup

Even though the U.S. lost its knockout round match against its nemesis Ghana, this World Cup still produced one of the best moments in American soccer history, and certainly the most widely experienced — Landon Donovan’s last-minute, life-or-death goal against Algeria did the kind of Twitter damage unseen since Michael Jackson’s death. An amazing montage of Americans from Arkansas to France celebrating the score:

Joomla!-to-WordPress Conversion for Commonwealth Church Finance: Complete

We’re pleased to announce our successful redevelopment of the web home of Commonwealth Church Finance, a 30-year-old organization that has helped “over 600 churches and non-profit organizations obtain over half a billion dollars to finance construction.” Converting the site from Joomla! to WordPress proved to be a great move for CCF.

The site had used Joomla! 1.0 for some time, and needed an upgrade. But upgrading to Joomla! 1.5 is more of a migration than an upgrade — it’s simply not a developer-friendly process. As long as we had to migrate anyway, why not switch from Joomla! to WordPress, which is easier to use and has an open-source community that dwarfs Joomla!’s? Plus, upgrading the current site to future versions of WordPress will be a snap, especially compared to that daunting Jooma! 1.0-1.5 conversion. We’re still shuddering.

Luckily, CCF agreed to our conclusion. We retained the site’s look and feel, but custom-designed a more appealing header. Converting several static elements into dynamic elements (images into galleries, static pages into blog posts) makes the site easier to update and more flexible.

The site now uses Javascript APIs instead of its former piles of stray scripts scattered everywhere. Cleaning up code assures a faster and more web-standardized site.

We also enabled a Lightbox-esque solution for the site’s hosted video, using JW Player:

Changing this Joomla! site into a WordPress site was certainly worth it, as CCF now has greater control over its site and access to a much, much richer support community.

World Cup Fun With Language: How Many People Call It 'Soccer' Instead of 'Football?'

It may seem Americans are the world’s lone gunmen when it comes to using the word soccer instead of football, but Canda, Australia, and New Zealand are guilty of soccrilege (anybody?) as well. In fact, at least one-fifth of the English-speaking world calls it soccer, not football:

All data from Wikipedia. I broke the countries down as follows:

Football countries: England, Wales, Scotland, India, Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guyana, Madagascar, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Malta, Singapore, and Belize.

Soccer countries: Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States, and South Africa.

I tried to avoid English-speaking countries where there’s no clear winner — for example, the Philippines. There may be some debate over including South Africa as a soccer country, as its national team calls itself the South African national football team. However, the domestic league is called the Premier Soccer League, and the 2010 World Cup flagship stadium is called Soccer City.

Any disparity introduced by including South Africa as a soccer country is more than outweighed by this: not everyone in India speaks English as a first language — many Indians don’t speak any English. The same goes for many of the African countries listed as football countries. So if we were to get particular and exclude South Africa, we’d also need to ding India’s football population by a significant percent.

An 80/20 split means everybody should be happy. Football proponents can rest easy, knowing the beautiful game’s traditional name is securely dominant. And there’s comfort for users of soccer in knowing we’re more than just a handful of stubborn Americans.

Though it’s often confusing and inefficient, there’s no real harm done by using two different names for the same sport. It’s just the way language works. Sure, the game hails from England, but Americans invented trucks, and you don’t see us getting mad when English call a truck a lorry.

The obvious, as John Cleese states, is that the game Americans call football involves at least as much hand as it does foot, and its principal object isn’t exactly shaped like a ball. (As Americans, we’d eventually retort by pointing out cricket doesn’t involve insects. But first we’d run a monster truck lorry into a wall of fried chicken, because so what?)

Some Extra Charts

For no good reason at all, let’s also look at the same two groups, using combined GDP as our metric:

And finally, an even less relevant chart:

The Migratory Patterns of the Vuvuzela [Three Best Things 6/14/10 - 6/20/10]

THING: Map: Where Americans Are Moving from Forbes. Cool clicky infowidget (filled with stats and numbertainment) that shows migration patterns for each county in the United States. Our county, Cherokee in Georgia, is pulling tons of people from Florida, Los Angeles, and New York City, while losing residents to places like east Texas, the other L.A.(Lower Alabama), and Chicago. Sadly but accurately, Detroit looks like it’s bleeding dry, with its only new residents coming from very poor areas of east Virginia. Our favorite finding? Nobody ever enters or leaves Iowa; they just shuffle around within its well-gridded counties. Click your county! Why not!

THING: If sports got reported like science… from Items of Interest. For some reason, it’s ok to nerd out when talking sports in polite company, but science discussions have to stay around a fourth-grade level. Have you noticed this?

THING:WordPress 3 is out. We’ve only started to try out its new features, including custom post types (which brings it one step closer to Drupal’s versatility). Of course, learning the old stock WordPress theme’s days are numbered is pretty exciting too:

World Cup Vuvuzela Bonus

You know, if there was a Forbes migration map for sports noisemakers, the vuvuzela would already be cutting loud, flavorful lines into the U.S. They’ve already emerged at a Florida Marlins baseball game and the College World Series in freaking Nebraska, and every Southern college football fanbase is talking big about going into total vuvuzela-arms-race mode. This might all blow over by next week, or America might be in for it. Either way:

Via SB Nation and @Jose3030

Three Best Things 6/7/10 - 6/13/10

THING: Copyright: The Elephant in the Middle of the Glee Club from Balkinization. Glee might be the most unrealistic show on TV, now that [something something Lost joke]. How is a tiny extracurricular group able to pay $150k copyright fines for releasing videos of their performances? Let us discuss copyright.

THING: Mind Over Mass Media from the New York Times. You may have heard that Twitter is making you dumb. (Yes, you also probably heard the same thing about mime in 450 BCE, and look how smart that’s made you.) Well, Harvard psychology professor and best-selling pop science author Steven Pinker says Twitter isn’t bad for you, which sounds kind of like Harvard psychology professor and best-selling pop science author Steven Pinker says Twitter is good for you to me!

In fact, there isn’t anything — except for, like, helmetless motorcycling — that can make you dumber or smarter at anything else, so to speak:

Music doesn’t make you better at math, conjugating Latin doesn’t make you more logical, brain-training games don’t make you smarter. Accomplished people don’t bulk up their brains with intellectual calisthenics; they immerse themselves in their fields. Novelists read lots of novels, scientists read lots of science.

THING: Real Gardening vs. American Lawncare from Kitchen Stewardship.

Comment-Free Double Bonus Round