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I wrote an archive rotation script


I just released an archive rotation script on github. It’s here: I use this script to rotate a number of backup archives that are the result of nightly db dumps and directory tar | gzips.

There are a few things that motivated me to write this script:

  • It’s stateless. The script uses a naming convention to track its state, so it doesn’t generate extra junk in my directories.
  • It doesn’t use configuration files. Again, no extra junk.
  • It doesn’t rely on dates or times. It can be used as a daily job just as easily as it can be used weekly, monthly, or every minute.
  • It supports three useful algorithms for managing the disk space/history tradeoff. These algorithms are: FIFO (simple rotation), Tower of Hanoi, and a tiered algorithm that is a more configurable version of grandfather-father-son.

My design is opinionated. If you’re interested in alternatives, here’s one that has different opinions, but is also cool:

Photo credit:

New Q&A Dataset Available

Some researchers (from Singapore!) recently requested access to the data from our Facts or Friends paper.  I went ahead and bundled up a dataset that’s suitable for distribution.  If anyone out there is interested in checking out this small-ish dataset (~1100 codings across ~500 questions from 3 Q&A sites) just send me an email.  I’d be happy to share.

The Largely Ignored Topic of User Intent


I have a new paper up on First Monday. Maybe you should read it, if you’re interested in Q&A sites and the types of things people ask about.

Question types in social Q&A sites
by F. Maxwell Harper, Joseph Weinberg, John Logie, and Joseph A. Konstan

This paper is a collaboration between me and my advisor (HCI researchers) and two cool dudes from the humanities, in the field of writing studies (formerly: rhetoric). As it turns out, computer scientists and rhetoricians tend to think very differently about ways of contributing research to the world! This paper represents an early attempt to fuse some old skool Aristotelian rhetorical theory with some new school data mining.

Really, this paper reflects my personal frustration with much of the literature investigating user behavior on Q&A sites (like Yahoo Answers and Ask Metafilter). Most of the lit conveniently ignores the fact that there are a bunch of different types of questions that people are asking in online forums, and this fundamentally changes how we should view users’ intentions. It is indeed easier to assume that all questions are factual, and that “best answers” go to the best-written and most correct response. But these assumptions will lead to system designs that ignore lots of users.

This paper takes a shot at a more formal taxonomy of question types. I hope you find it useful or interesting.

Photo by matthileo

Pizza Lucé + Laptop Stand

I use a laptop as my primary development machine, with a nice external monitor to keep things ergonomically feasible. It was bugging me that the two monitors weren’t horizontally aligned, so I started shopping for a laptop stand. However, the coolest thing that I found was this post:

This inspired me to build the Pizza Luce laptop stand. I just winged it, but it only took about an hour.

pizza luce computer stand

A couple of “improvements” on the original:

  • Triple up on the structural cardboard
  • Add a V-shaped cross-brace for additional lateral stability
  • Use Pizza Luce pizza boxes to represent the ‘hood


Make Better Decisions: Thinkmeter

My friend Dan F and I have been working to start a new business these days (Blue Shift Lab). One of our shared interests – we met through working in the GroupLens research lab – is in the area of decision-making.  How can software help us to make better decisions, or to be happier with the decisions that we do make?  How can we facilitate decision-making where everyone (even the quiet people) have a voice?

We’ve started a blog to discuss the topics of decision-making and brainstorming. It’s at If you read this blog, please subscribe! We’re going to do our best to start a lively discussion that crosses academic though, business insights, and fun.

One more time: please subscribe to the thinkmeter blog!

Also, you can try the preview release of our new decision-making tool, Thinkmeter.  Let me know what you think!


Screenshot of

Screenshot of


Facts or Friends in Live QnA

I was just poking around Live QnA (Microsoft’s Q&A site) and saw that they are asking users to classify questions as conversational or informational now. This is the split that we investigate in our Facts or Friends paper. Cool! I would love to chat with the product team to get their impressions of how this is working out.

The screen for posting a question in Live QnA

The screen for posting a question in Live QnA