Thursday, April 14, 2011

Space Balloon II

Friday morning, my kids will be launching our second balloon probe into the stratosphere. Follow our progress live.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Space Balloon

I just finished up the most awesome project with some students from my school... we sent a weather balloon with a video camera, probes, and tracking equipment into the stratosphere and successfully recovered it. You should check out video, photos, and information about the mission:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Yes on 8" it is.

After a night of partying in the streets of San Francisco, feeling unbelievable pride in my country, I awoke to see this picture which made me feel ashamed of the state I've adopted as home.

I want to say something to the people cheering in this picture, Bob Knoke, of Mission Viejo, Amanda Stanfield, of Monrovia, Jim Domen, of Yorba Linda, and J.D. Gaddis, of Yorba Linda:

"How can it make you so happy that I will never be able to marry someone I love? It isn't just that it looks like you are laughing at the misfortune of others, because it's beyond that; this is something you did to us. It feels like you've punched me in the stomach and are standing back to cheer about how great punching me is. How can I see the fervid enthusiasm on your face as anything other than hateful and vicious cruelty?"

I have to remind myself that these people probably aren't sadists in their everyday lives. And that makes it even more baffling that they can take such obvious pleasure in hurting others. They obviously think marriage is a really good thing, otherwise what would be the point of gloating 'You can't have it! You can't have it!'

It's like I'm a game of keep-away, where it's great fun not to let us gays have the ball. And what really scares me is that once you're playing keep-away, you might as well let it turn into a game of smear-the-queer.

Monday, April 7, 2008


My last post, for some reason, has received a number of spam messages in the comments. If you see a message on a blog that says "please click here," don't click on the 'here." It leads to a nasty site that messes up the size of your windows, pretends to be scanning your computer for viruses, and then presumably installs something evil on your Windows machine. I'm not sure if this started to appear because of the topic of my last post, or if it's just hitting the most recent entry. I guess with this message, we'll see.

Friday, March 28, 2008 Review: No, it's just creepy.

I recently came across a new search and networking site,, that's getting some buzz. Right off the bat, let me say that the way I discovered it creeped me out. I noticed that my youtube video of the bigwheel race was linked to by a stranger's myspace and was the video of the day on the Boston Fox affiliate. Curious about who else might be mentioning me, I googled myself and found a link to a whole page dedicated to me on, with a picture, info about my likes and dislikes, pictures of my friends, links to my wikipedia contributions, teaching portfolio, youtube videos etc. I had no idea this page existed. I certainly didn't create it...

The biggest difficulty in starting a social networking site is that for it to be useful, it has to reach a certain critical mass. On one hand it's easier for new sites to reach this point than it was in the days of sixdegrees and friendster, because people understand the concept and see the value. On the other hand, the market is crowded now and you need to be offering something exceptional to generate new registrations. gets around this problem by creating a critical mass of usefulness without needing anybody to sign up. By combing other social networking sites and the internet at large, has created millions of profiles of people who aren't even aware the site exists. And since their userbase is potential employers and stalkers as much as the people being profiled--they bill themselves as a "people search engine"--it's already useful to at least the first segment of their users, the people who are searching. The question is how the site deals with the second group, the people who are profiled. That's where it gets troubling.

What's powerful about this site is that it figures out that info from multiple sources is all about the same person and puts it in one profile. They are far from perfecting this though, so there are a couple less-complete profiles for me, and my main profile has a link to information about when I was picked by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1983 NHL draft. Even if you don't know me, you can figure out that that isn't the same Craig Butz. But did you know I have a Ph.D. in education and have been the director of a charter school in Las Vegas?

Because a profile isn't just a random list of links like a Google search, it becomes more likely that users will believe inaccurate information they see on Grouping the information into profiles inherently makes a claim that it's all about one person, otherwise what would be the point of the service? When most of the information is accurate, it adds to the credibility of the page as a whole. Because the whole page is credible, it's easier to assume that individual facts are--a psychological effect called "credibility by association."

The fact that all of the information they cull is "already out there," stuff that would show up in a google search anyway, is little consolation when you examine the details. While I've published all kinds information about myself, and have always realized that you can piece it together if you want to, I expect some control over its context. If I check a box saying I'm single, I know I'm putting that bit of info on my myspace page, not my teaching portfolio. If an employer or potential client does go snooping on myspace or facebook, they know from the context that they're looking into my personal life, and I expect them to have different expectations about what they find than for my professional actions. When it's all lumped together by, you lose the ability to make those distinctions for the people you interact with. You no longer get to have a professional life distinct from your personal life. Teenagers figuring out who they are, trying on identities, can no longer have a home-self distinct from their school-self, a version of themselves that they present to friends in person that's different from the one they reveal to people they've met online. Maybe someday such different selves will seem old-fashioned, but I think most people today expect to be able to present themselves differently in different contexts. A tool that undermines that ability isn't good for most people.

When I emailed my concerns,'s answer was for me to register with the site. There are two problems with this solution. First, most of the people profiled don't know their profile exists. Second, even if you register (giving tacit approval to the contents of your profile) you aren't actually allowed to delete inaccurate information, or stuff you just don't want included. You can only "vote down any incorrect information." What's reported about you is determined democratically! How can democracy be bad?

Even if we were to accept that what's public in one context should be public in all, the model assumes that the information about you is still coming from you or from credible and well-intentioned sources. Unfortunately, anything written about you on the Internet by anyone is fair game for inclusion. In fact, if the bots are doing what they're meant to, it's inevitable. There are already horror stories. Wired reports on a blogger covering the Mark Foley scandel being automatically tagged a pedophile. In the comments to another article about the site, a high school teacher complains that an angry student created a spoof myspace profile about him. While he was able to get myspace to remove it, the bogus information had already made it into his spock profile. Imagine the potential for a kid to be bullied relentlessly through this site. Since it's an information popularity contest, they would have little power to stop the terrible things that kids say from being included on their own profile page. isn't the only site that has to deal with vandalism. But it's one thing for wikipedia to grapple with it when their notability rule disallows articles about most of us. The potential consequences aren't much more severe than some kid including the wrong dates for the Civil War in a report. When the entire content of the site is real living people, the company is risking people's reputations in a way that could seriously damage their lives.

If you have an internet presence, they're compiling a profile on you whether you like it or not. In response to my request to have my profile removed, the Spock Team said, "If I were to remove your Spock search result you will eventually be reindexed." The only way to influence your profile is to register. What an incredibly coercive business model! The draw for registered users is to gain some influence over a profile that will exist whether they want it to or not. Unfortunately, this aspect is unlikely to change. For the service to be useful, they need to rope people into registering. While they're doing a better job than most of attaching information to the right person, it's unlikely they will ever be able to automate the process perfectly. Ultimately, I'm the only machine that can tell whether a page is about me or not.

If I don't want there to be a page about me at all, there is an alternative. They told another peeved profilee that she could be permanently deleted by completely removing herself from all social networking sites. They've decided that you don't get to choose whether or not to be a part of The only way not to be profiled is not to allow any mention of yourself on the internet.

It is true that other sites, like zoominfo are doing similar things, but none in such an intrusive way. Spock Networks apparently thinks of this as being more successful.

Many people certainly do want tools to check up on those around them, and Jay Bhatti and Jaideep Singh hope to profit off that craving, whether it's wise to feed it or not. The question, I guess, is whether they'll put their energy into building safeguards against the blatant potential for their site to be abused, something which will be technically difficult and likely to decrease the site's usefulness as a search tool, or whether they'll stay on track to develop it into the best privacy-invading search tool in existence.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Big Wheel Race

My view of an annual Easter event that pretty well captures the quintessence of contemporary San Francisco.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Fun

If you didn't come see and taste for yourself, you missed out. Brunch was a fantastic success, with a spread of at least 20 dishes, including white bean garlic polenta with porcini and parmigianno, tomato and fennel pizza, figs stuffed with gorgonzola and walnuts or wrapped in prosciutto, leek and arugala quiche, and coconut cranberry cookies. Yes, you should have been here. Even more important were this years Peeps decorations: a Peep wonderland (me) and a giant Peep rosary (Eileen.) Since our peep wreath a couple years back survived long enough to become our Christmas wreath, I suspect you have a little bit of time to come and appreciate the marshmallowy magic.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


For those of you in the cold, I thought I'd share a picture of how much produce you can get for $25 in San Francisco in March, if you know where to look. For those of you who live in SF, I can't give this great find away unless you interrogate me in person, which will be easy if you come eat some of this bounty at Easter brunch.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How the St. Patrick's Day fire didn't start

For those of you who've seen a christmas tree burn, you know that there is almost nothing more flammable than a christmas tree that's still around in March. So I was pretty astonished to see this one, completely uncharred, lying amid the sad mess of burned and smoky stuff that had been thrown from the burning apartments on Valencia Street. Bizarre.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fire down the hill

The way we find out about breaking news on the side of Bernal Hill is
by listening for the sound of hovering helicopters. This evening they
are out in force because of a four-alarm fire on Valencia by the Dovre
Club. Our roof provides a good view of the smoke, but the fire is just
behind the hospital.