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Six degrees

No, this entry is not about the average January temperature (F) in Madison, WI. :-) Even though I lived there for a number of years, I have no idea of the average January temperature.

I had time for 1/2 hour of entertainment television last night, and it turned out to be the second half of “Connected: The Power of Six Degrees” on the Science Channel. (What? You don’t think of science as “entertainment?” :-) ) Wikipedia has an article on “Six degrees of separation” with a note that the article is in need of attention from an expert on the subject.

The Science Channel program (which I will probaby never get to revisit) referred to work by Duncan Watts and others on human networks, the Kevin Bacon game and Kevin Bacon’s, some work in the medical field, and armed forces anti-terrorism training to target the “hubs” of terrorist social networks. The program also mentioned that Saddam Hussein was not captured by cell-phone-triangulation or gps (Saddam was probably too smart to carry a cell phone), but by monitoring his social network. This fact only reinforces my opinion that the greatest benefit of social networking Web sites is NOT to those in the network, just as the greatest benefit of facial recognition software (in programs like the latest version of iPhoto), and the distributed identification of all of the folks recognized by the “user” is NOT to the users organizing their photos of friends and family. :-) If people will contribute their work for free, why not enlist their aid? Programs like SETI showed the advantages of distributed computing long ago.

(Note added February 21, 2009: After re-reading the above paragrah several times, I realized that it is unnecessarily vague. Without paranoia, I believe the greatest benefit of social network information and the distributed identification of individuals by facial recognition software is to governments and law enforcement.)

The Science Channel program (even the half that I saw) is enough to get me started. I am not one of those folks who think that they are experts on a subject after having watched a 15-second news byte on TV. I am  one of those folks who say, “Show me the data, and I will analyze it and draw my own conclusions.” (On the 6 Degrees issue, I should have all of the science and most of the math needed to “get close.”) I favor the approach of those who start with experimentation and work toward theories, rather than that of folks who start with theories and work “backward.” Abraham Maslow once said that, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” (Yes, it was Maslow.) (This has also been called a “golden hammer.”)

To me, starting with theory just evokes the old bumper sticker, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.”

I have been invited to use (but have not found time for) the Facebook platform application named “Six Degrees” that was developed by Karl Bunyan. As of April 7, 2008, it had 4.5 million users with an average separation of 5.73 degrees.

Anyway you slice it, networks are with us now and have “always” been. As with all knowledge, let’s hope that the knowledge of networks is used more for good than evil.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

You can view higher-resolution photos (*generally* 7-30 megabytes, compressed) at the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Pro Gallery on Shutterfly™, where you can also order prints and gifts decorated with the photos of your choice from the gallery. Apparel and other gifts decorated with some of our most popular photos can be ordered from the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Store on CafePress®. Both Shutterfly™ and CafePress® ship to most international locations worldwide! If you don’t see what you want or would like to receive an email when new photos are up on the site, send us an email at

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