One of the fascinating things about Craigslist is its informal post-sale sanctioning system. That is, if you don’t take down your post after you sold the item, you get an increasingly annoying stream of emails from people asking questions about the item. This continues, of course, until you actually remove the post offering the item you sold. It is a great example of virtual community gardening.
Because of this sanctioning system, we can make a reasonable inference that items that have been taken off of Craigslist have been sold. The items that have short lifespans on Craigslist are desirable – they are a good value, priced properly – and those with long lifespans are either unwanted or improperly priced. I’ve recently been in the market for a used car (cough, a minivan), so I’ve been collecting information about the cars offered on Craigslist and their lifespans on the service. By looking at prices and lifespans (and a few other variables), can we automatically identify cars that offer the greatest value?
What follows are some charts from a simple survival analysis of the last 30 days of Honda Odyssey sales on Craigslist in Raleigh/Durham. The de-duped dataset includes 55 cars (out of about 130 posts). Before you read much into the data, many of the variables I explored (mileage, model year, etc.) weren’t significant predictors of “hazard” (that is, sale). If you were able to get this data on a larger scale, it does seem likely you’d be able to identify patterns of value. That said, there is a lot of randomness is a car’s quality once it has been driven, so the value of such a model-based approach would only be in prioritizing potentially under-priced cars.
n.b.: You could also do this sort analysis on want-ads. Want-ads have a great sanctioning system, as it is pointess to pay for an ad after you’ve sold your car.
p.s.: Perhaps what is charming about Craigslist is that there isn’t any meaningful historical data. This likely generates more variability in price, leading to the perception that you can find great deals (which you can!).
I’m happy to announce my newest productivity software: Anti-Social. Anti-Social is a neat little productivity application for Macs that turns off the social parts of the internet. When Anti-Social is running, you’re locked away from hundreds of distracting social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and other sites you specify.
I developed Anti-Social because of a problem I ran into consistently with Freedom – I loved being offline, but found myself frustrated when I needed to look up a citation or a new article when Freedom was running. Anti-Social allows you to tune out the social parts of the web – Twitter, Facebook, etc. – while allowing you access to research materials, Google, and other invaluable resources. I’ve been using it for the past few weeks while working on an R&R – Anti-Social allowed me to remain in focused writing mode, while allowing me to research as I revised the manuscript.
Together, Freedom and Anti-Social represent an emergent computing phenomena I’ve been calling “80% computing.” By taking problems that are socially or computationally hard (e.g. changing habits, reducing compulsive surfing), and providing imperfect solutions, I’ve found there’s an interesting spot in the market. I wonder what other highly complex problems (e.g. productivity) we could solve with 80% solutions? If we move away from perfection as a computational standard, and allow individuals to adapt their practice to imperfect technologies, we may be able to develop some very simple solutions to very challenging problems.
Along those lines, the Economist recently profiled my software in a wonderful article. I’ll quote at length:
“CLEAR your screen and clear your mind.” That is the philosophy behind a new wave of dedicated software utilities, and special modes in word-processing packages and other applications, that do away with distractions to enable you to get on with your work. The problem with working on a computer, after all, is that computers provide so many appealing alternatives to doing anything useful: you can procrastinate for hours, checking e-mail, browsing social-networking sites or keeping up with Twitter.
But in its severity and simplicity, Freedom (for Macintosh and Windows) may be the ultimate tool to ward off distractions: the virtual equivalent of retiring to a remote getaway, or going on a writers’ retreat, to get things done.
But fans of Freedom are not concerned by such philosophical niceties; they use it because it makes them more productive. Peter Sagal, the host of the American public radio show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”, is one such fan. He has no trouble writing to a strict deadline at work. But outside work, “I simply can’t resist the call of a website or an RSS feeder or now my Twitter feed. I simply can’t do it,” he says. Before he started using Freedom he managed to write a book, but only by unplugging his cable modem to cut off his internet access. “But that was too easy to plug back in,” he says. The internet, he grumbles, has “murdered” his ability to do extracurricular creative work, such as writing books, plays and screenplays.
Hardware and software are usually sold on the basis that they can do more, do things faster or have whizzy new features. There is clearly a place for products that are simple to use and hide complexity—a hallmark of Apple’s products. It is perhaps more surprising that there also seems to be demand for products that disable features. But for people trying to get things done, a hobbled computer may in fact be more useful than a fully functional one, for an hour or two at least. Temporarily worse can, in some ways, be better.
Of note, the New York Post also ran an article that prominently featured Freedom and Anti-Social. The title of the article was a classic Post headline: Fatal Distraction.
I should close with the following. First, I am aware that spending time writing anti-procrastination software is actually meta-procrastination. Second, Anti-Social really is great. Check it out. It is a revelation to be on the un-social Internet. Finally, I’m waiting for Peter Sagal to come and ask me for a percentage of my sales. He is simply too kind with his advocacy of Freedom!
For some reason, it is difficult to create an iPhoto smart group for movies. You can’t specify a group based on file type, and there isn’t a simple “is movie” or “is photo” type toggle. To make a group that contains only movies, create a title match that contains .avi or .mov, whatever format comes off your camera.
I’m on iPhoto 6, so it is possible this has been fixed in later releases.
Google Booksearch is becoming one of my go-to scholarly resources. All of the evilness aside, it is extremely useful to be able to look up a chapter or section from a book (even if that book is on the shelf in the other room). Since I manage my reading lists with Amazon, I wanted to make it very easy to look up books in Google Booksearch from Amazon. So I created the following bookmarklet:
When you’re on an Amazon product page, click this bookmarklet and you’ll be taken to the Google Booksearch results for the book. If previewing is allowed for the book, you’ll be able to leaf through it before you purchase/borrow/walk to your shelf. To install the bookmarklet, drag the booksearch lookup link to your bookmarks folder.
Some quick notes on Booksearch:
BackTweets, search for links on Twitter (unlike Twitter Search, this dereferences links from URL shorteners like TinyURL)
Something I asked for a long time ago. Don’t know why Twitter search still doesn’t do this, perhaps now they will. Great execution, smart defaults, instantly indispensable for anyone monitoring Twitter. Excellent.