Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of 2016

As promised, here's my best of 2016 list, where I go through the highlights from this year. Here we go!

Birthday Fun - One cold January evening, my friends came out to celebrate with me at Haymarket Pub & Brewery. Great food, great beer, great company!

A Trip to Florida - And Dolphins!

My husband and I took a trip to Florida in late January. Though it was a little too chilly to swim and quite windy, we had a great time hanging out on the beach collecting seashells, and went on a dolphin tour (see video)! We also visited the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.

A Successful Apollo After Hours - Starting in 2010, my choir began holding an annual benefit complete with cabaret style performances. It was a successful fundraiser and a fun evening all around. Check out videos here!

April A-Z Blogging - I participated in the April A-Z blog challenge, writing about social psychology topics. As I've blogged about before, it was an incredibly successful month for writing and got me blogging regularly from then to now! In fact, I could argue it was completing this challenge that got me excited about writing again, which helped with another item on this list.

Apollo's Broadway Concert - Inspired in part by all the showtunes sung at past After Hours, my choir decided to finally do a concert of Broadway music. It was a lot of fun and gave us the opportunity to sing music we've never gotten to do in our choir.

Performing at Pritzker Pavilion - In May, members of my choir teamed up with singers from Northwestern University to perform Mahler's Second Symphony. This was my first time performing at both venues: Pick-Staiger at Northwestern University and Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

July 4th with Both Families - My husband and I usually spend the 4th in the UP. This year, my parents, brother, and family dog came up to the UP to camp. It was the first time my brother has seen my in-laws since our wedding, so it was my first holiday that I got to spend with both families.

Bristol Renaissance Faire - I visited many times, and even spent [redacted] on a belly dance costume, which inspired a later item on this list.

Singing with Josh Groban - Members of my choir sang backup for Josh Groban when he came to Chicago on his tour. Sarah McLachlan opened for him. I was in heaven.

My First Comic Con - The first of many, hopefully. Highlights here and here.

In Fact, All the Fun Things I did between my job at VA and my new job. Highlights include visiting the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute, and the Brookfield Zoo.

New Job - After 6 years with VA, I moved on to a new position at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in September.

Everything Hamilton - After discovering Hamilton last year through a friend, and becoming obsessed with it ever since, I finally got to see Hamilton in Chicago during the month of October. Despite having memorized the soundtrack, I was still blown away and in tears for pretty much the second act.

National Novel Writing Month - I actually finished!

Discovering Belly Dance - In addition to wearing my belly dance costume whenever possible to justify the cost, I discovered a belly dance class on Tuesday nights, which I've been attending for a month now. I. Love. It.

Next year, I'm going to keep dancing, keep singing, keep writing, go to another Comic Con (and cosplay like crazy), go to Renaissance Faire as often as possible, and hopefully take a trip or two.

Happy New Year, everyone! Hope 2017 is awesome!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Other Ways to Measure the Year: Data Awards

Shortly after I published my own post of metrics for the year, I read a post on FiveThirtyEight about the best and worst uses of data for 2016. This is the second time they've had these awards and so they named many awards after the previous year's winner. Here are some highlights:

The Trudeau Prize For Governance went to the Bureau of Justice Statistics for finally offering data on the number of Americans killed by police.

The Boldest Sacking Of Experienced Humans In Favor Of Untested Algorithm went to Facebook, who fired their human journalists and replaced them with an algorithm that began promoting fake news.

The “Are We Still Doing This?” Award For Willful Misinterpretation of Government Statistics went to Donald Trump for his claims that the unemployment rate could be as high as 42%, which would be true if you counted people who weren't actually looking for a job.

The Ashley Madison Memorial User Data Leak of the Year went to Yahoo, who announced that over a billion accounts had been compromised.

And yesterday, they published a list of 11 stories they wished they'd written; two of those stories I covered (here and here) on Deeply Trivial.

How Do You Measure a Year?

I was talking to someone about Rent yesterday, which of course got "Seasons of Love" stuck in my head:

Now it's in your head - you're welcome.

The song asks a question: How do you measure a year? What did I do this year? The song goes through many potential metrics. So I started thinking about the metrics that matter to me:

States visited: 7 (1 new)
Concerts in which I performed: 10
Cups of coffee: Too many to count, but conservative estimate of 2.5 per day = 912.5
Blog posts written: 311 (counting this one but not any I write between now and the end of the year)
Words written toward my novel: 64,134
Books read: 25
Number of times I've worn clothing that jingles: 9 (again, conservative estimate)
Beer pictures posted: 175
Puppy pictures posted on PNP: 1528

Next year, I resolve to visit more states, write more, and read more. Coffee and beer consumption will likely stay the same. I also want to pet more dogs - not that I've actually counted how many I've petted, but I'm sure petting all the dogs I can will improve my quality of life.

Coming soon: "Best of 2016," a post in which I go through the highlights of this year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Reading the Ways to Remember Carrie Fisher

Obviously, many of us are experiencing the loss of Carrie Fisher. Here's a couple of my favorite links from today:

On Star Wars, Leia, and Coming of Age Stories

Not so long ago, in a city not so far away, I watched Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time. There were many viewings after that, and the Star Wars trilogy became part of my regular rotation of movies. Yesterday, after finding out the sad news that Carrie Fisher had passed away, I had many hours in our car ride home from the holidays to think about Star Wars and what it meant to me. Because though I went on to see many movies with Carrie Fisher, that was the first time I encountered her and her badass character - a character I could look up to, who was strong, intelligent, beautiful, and brave. For a little girl who at many times wished she could do "boy" things and felt stifled by many (though not all) of the "girly" things, her character meant a lot to me.

I think Star Wars meant a lot to many people I know, just as so many coming of age stories do. We were all Luke, wishing for bigger and better things, wanting to fight for something, to be brave and heroic. And we all secretly wished we could find out we were special somehow, with some power or ability that made us different from the rest - that gave us a purpose. The story of Luke developing his Force abilities appealed to us in the same way as (to name a more contemporary movie franchise) Harry Potter's magic abilities. I think that's one reason these stories are so enduring. And Luke's story is probably most meaningful to people who were themselves coming of age when they first encountered it - whether as children, teenagers, or young adults, trying to find themselves in the world.

The thing about Star Wars is, there's something in there for everyone, and on repeat viewings I see and experience new things. I have a personal "theory" that while coming of age stories appeal most to the young, the themes that become important to us in adulthood are stories about redemption. While there are many characters in Star Wars with redemptive goals, the best example is of course Darth Vader. At first, Luke wants to fight and defeat him. As he learns the truth about who Vader is, his goal changes to wanting to save him. And in some ways, Vader wants to be saved, but even then, believes it's too late for that. It's unlikely any of us have done anything as awful as what Vader did, but I think most adults have regrets - things they feel bad about and want to atone for in some way. Many of us think we've done too many bad things or gone too far to ever come back from it. But those stories of redemption resonate with us, and help show us that it's never too late to change for the better. It's those messages that appeal to me on repeat viewings of Star Wars now.

What hasn't totally changed over the years is my opinion of Leia. I loved her feistiness, her strength, her willingness to sacrifice for the greater good, and of course, that she had no problem grabbing the gun and basically rescuing herself when needed. I aspired to be like her, and it was wonderful to have a character who "looked like me" that I could look up to. I went on to adore many movies, shows, books, and so on featuring strong female characters. And Leia is also probably why my approach to flirting frequently involves teasing someone; I haven't called anyone a scruffy-looking nerf herder or a scoundrel though (not yet anyway), but you get the idea.

I probably sound like kind of a nerd for saying that when I heard about Carrie Fisher's heart attack, I said a little prayer that she would be okay. No, I don't know her. Yes, I know Leia isn't her only character. And yes in response to a blog post I saw circulating on Facebook (that I won't link to here but really hope the three ghosts of Christmas pay that blogger a visit soon), I realize that she was pretty hard on her body over her 60 years. But I really wanted her to be okay. One of her characters meant a lot to me - as a child and still today - and so she meant a lot to me. Over the years, as I learned more about her, I saw she really was someone I could look up to. Yes, she made her mistakes, if you want to call mental illness and addiction a "mistake," and like so many of us, she was working toward redemption, toward self-improvement. She was a writer who used her words as a way to heal and grow, and also to share her story and connect to others. To show all of us that we could come back from wherever we found ourselves, that our past is not who we are now. And she encouraged us to be proud of how far we had come.

And damn, did she have a way with words:

Monday, December 26, 2016

Much Needed Break

2016 is almost over - and am I glad about it. Overall, it's been a difficult year, both historically and personally. So I've decided to take a break from blogging and work on finishing up some projects before the end of the year (and also make some time to relax). Back to regular posts next week at the latest.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

We Didn't Start the Fire

I've started reading a new book, in the hopes of reaching my Goodreads goal of 25 books this year. The book, called Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations, features different locations around the world that are cursed: places that result in misfortune for whoever lives/visits there, because of natural, manmade, or even supernatural reasons. Last night, I read a profile on Jharia, in northeastern India, where a fire has been burning underground for a century:
Hundreds of disused coal mines throughout the world experience the same phenomenon. When the hygrometry and temperature are just right, the dust in a poorly sealed pit can burst into flames in even the slightest flow of oxygen. The problem at the Jharia coalfield is that no one knows how to control this steadily expanding underground inferno. Five hundred thousand people live either above or in the immediate vicinity of this enormous furnace that comprises seventy separate blazes and extends over hundreds of acres.

The ground has reached a temperature of 120°F, toxic fumes seep through the slightest crack, and their homes have become uninhabitable. And that's not all: Buildings collapse as the ground gives way, children disappear down cracks that open up without warning, and the land has become uncultivable.

Sixty-six million tons of coal have already gone up in smoke with no tangible gain other than to make the air of Jharia the most polluted on the subcontinent. The decision to transform some of the underground coal seams into open-cast mines has allowed some of the fuel to be recovered, but at the same time it is helping the fires to spread by introducing large quantities of oxygen into the ground.
I'll admit, I had never heard of this phenomenon, but it apparently happens in many locations around the world (in fact, there's one burning in Pennsylvania since 1962), and these fires are difficult and costly to fight.

In case you're curious, here's a picture of a coal fire in China:

By Own work - Sino German Coal Fire Research initiativ, Public Domain, Link

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Video Post

In honor of the recent release of Rogue One, here are two Star Wars related videos people have shared with me. The first is from a year ago, when the Fencing World Championships hosted a lightsaber battle - the fight is choreographed but still fun to watch:

The second video is more recent, and was shared with me shortly after it came out. I love this girl's deadpan delivery:

And as a bonus, here's a GIF:

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Using Technology and Tradition to Help People with Dementia

Japan is most to approximately 5 million people with dementia, and in 2015 over 12,000 people with dementia went missing. People with dementia can become disoriented and wander off, and though most of them are found, some of them never make it home. Now Iruma, a city in Japan, has launched a free service that will help people with dementia make it back home:
A local company developed one-inch waterproof QR code stickers that can be affixed to a person’s fingernails or toenails. The stickers last about two weeks before deteriorating. The idea is that if a person is disoriented and lost, police can easily obtain their personal information, such as an address and telephone number, by scanning the sticker’s code.

This might sound a little creepy or even dystopian, but it’s a practice that’s fairly common among this subset of the population. Related products, such as shoes equipped with a GPS device that send a family member a message if the wearer leaves a set area, are used in Japan and elsewhere. In North America and Europe, companies have marketed wristbands with GPS tracking for people with dementia.
In fact, there are many devices that family members can use to make sure their loved ones are safe. For instance, one device is a teapot sensor that sends an alert if the teapot hasn't been used for a certain amount of time - since people in Japan drink tea regularly, this is one way technology has been combined with tradition to do some good.

It's All Millennials' Fault

Millennials get a pretty bad rap. And now they're being blamed for more - this time, a slump in fabric softener sales. Procter and Gamble thinks it's because they just don't know how to use it or don't recognize its benefits.

In fact, they've suspected this for a little while and have been posting videos on their YouTube page showing those poor helpless millennials how to use fabric softener (as in the video above). How kind of them...

I'm guilty of cracking many jokes about millennials, though many of my friends strongly identify as such. (I'm on the cusp, and really think of myself more as an X-er, but whatever.) Still, the whole "oh you don't do this? maybe you don't know how" bit has been true in many different contexts. Everything from pushing for better hand hygiene to giving a better job interview has been responded to with education. And it's possible that lack of knowledge is part of the reason millennials are turning their nose up at fabric softener, just like a lack of knowledge may explain why people don't wash their hands as well or as often as they should. But dissemination theory provides many reasons innovations aren't taken up. In fact, one of my favorite theories about diffusion of innovations comes from the work of Everett Rogers, who offers a set of variables that determine whether an innovation is taken up into practice:

So millennials may not use fabric softener because they don't see the benefit (which could be responded to with education), but the issue may also lie in the softener itself - they may not like using additional chemicals with their clothes, and therefore see it as incompatible with their values. Or maybe they have used it and didn't notice a difference, making results unobservable.

For me personally - I have really sensitive skin and I find fabric softener very irritating. (I also have to be careful what kind of detergent I use, as well as what fabrics I wear.) And the smell of fabric softener is way too strong for me. I can smell it on my clothes all day and it makes me gag. Considering the increase in allergies, which has been attributed to increased use of antibiotics - allergic reactions are an immune response, and paradigmatic changes in immune function could definitely explain why we're seeing more food and environmental allergies - it could be that many millennials have more sensitivities as well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How Men and Women Use Cities and Services

This is probably a click-bait article, but I still found it fascinating - an examination of how men and women use cities, as well as some of the things cities around the world have done based on those results:
In 1999, officials in Vienna handed out a questionnaire about how people in the city used transportation. The men filled it out in five minutes: go to work in the morning, come home at night. The women couldn't stop writing.

The things they wrote were about dropping the kids off at school on the way to work, or taking them to the doctor some mornings, or helping their own aging parents buy groceries, or picking the kids up from activities.

It was an extremely more varied pattern of use—with far more walking and public transport—and one that resulted in several changes to the city's infrastructure: easier access to public transport, wider pavements, ramps for pushchairs and buggies. This thinking is part of a movement called gender mainstreaming—assessing how planning and policy decisions will specifically affect both women and men.
Some of the changes cities have made include a stop request system, that allows bus passengers to be dropped off closer to their homes, grouping public services frequently used by women together, and redesigning neighborhoods and apartment complexes.

More On Polling and Probability

Shortly after the election, I wrote a post with my thoughts on what happened with the polls, and why they failed to predict that Trump would win. One thing I mentioned is the tenuous connection between behavioral intention (what you plan to do) and behavior (what you actually do). That is, people who said they were planning to vote for Clinton changed their minds and voted for Trump instead. And some new work by Dan Hopkins and Diana Mutz suggests this may have been the case:
Our October 2016 wave was conducted with nationally sampled adults over age 26 between Oct. 14 and Oct. 24, meaning that it ended soon after the third Clinton-Trump debate. At the time, Clinton was riding high in the polls — and 43 percent of our panelists in that wave expressed support for Clinton, as opposed to 36 percent for Trump. By way of benchmarking, this same group of panelists had gone for President Obama over Mitt Romney 46 percent to 39 percent in October 2012.

And while most people’s support remained the same, the changes we did observe were consequential. Consider the table below, showing panelists’ support in the October 2016 poll versus their support in the post-election poll, which took place from Nov. 28 to Dec. 7. Eighty-nine percent of the 1,075 American adults reported the same preference in both waves, whether it was for Clinton (38.0 percent), Trump (35.2 percent) or neither (15.8 percent). But among those who did move, Trump had the advantage. While no one moved from Trump to Clinton, 0.9 percent of our respondents moved from Clinton to Trump. Although that 0.9 percent isn’t a lot, those changes are especially influential, since they simultaneously reduce Clinton’s tally and add to Trump’s. If there were a comparable swing in the national electorate, 1.2 million votes would move to Trump.

In all, Trump picked up 4.0 percentage points among people who hadn’t been with him in mid-October, and shed just 1.7 percentage points for a net gain of 2.3 points. Clinton picked up a smaller fraction — 2.3 points — and shed 4.0 points for a net loss of 1.7 points. That’s certainly consistent with Trump gaining steam in the race’s final weeks. Seeing as the 2016 election was held on the latest possible day given the mandate to hold it on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, we might just add the 2016 leap year to the ever-growing list of reasons why Trump prevailed.

So what could have changed voters' minds at the last minute, causing them to shift their support? Hmm, I might have some ideas.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Americans Are Dissatisfied, But No More Than Usual

A recent Gallup poll measuring American's overall satisfaction with how things are going in the US found only 27% are satisfied. This is below the overall average (37%) since Gallup began doing this poll but not to worry - it's no worse than the averages from 2012 to now:
In the past decade, the U.S. has faced a range of domestic and international challenges including the Iraq War, the global financial crisis, several high-profile mass shootings, increased racial tensions and partisan gridlock in the federal government -- all of which could have negatively affected Americans' perceptions of the way things were going in the country.

This year's average satisfaction is similar to the combined average of 25% from 2012-2015 and is slightly higher than the 22% combined average from 2007-2011. The latter period included record-low yearly averages of 15% in 2008 and 17% in 2011.
Additionally, this figure is similar to what Gallup saw right after the election. And it shouldn't be too surprising that satisfaction levels are related to political affiliation, but not exactly in the way you would think:
Twenty-four percent of Republicans in December are satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S., up from 17% last month. While still low overall, it is Republicans' highest satisfaction level since right before the 2008 presidential election, which ended eight years of Republican leadership in the White House. Republicans' anticipation of President-elect Donald Trump's transition has likely boosted their satisfaction with the nation's direction.

While Republicans' satisfaction has increased, Democrats' satisfaction continues to head in the opposite direction. Thirty percent of Democrats are satisfied in December, slightly below the 34% satisfied just after the election. Both figures are down dramatically from a poll conducted shortly before Election Day when 62% of Democrats were satisfied with the way things were going in the country. The popular belief that Hillary Clinton would win the election may have influenced Democrats' higher satisfaction at that time. Democrats' satisfaction surged similarly just before Barack Obama's victory in the 2012 election.

Although Democrats' satisfaction levels have dipped recently, their 2016 average (43%) is still higher than that of Republicans (12%).

Same as it ever was...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

On Star Wars, Fantasy, and Reading

I went to see Rogue One with a friend last night. I'd heard good things and wasn't disappointed. The movie ties in nicely with A New Hope, and even answers some lingering questions about the original trilogy. I won't say much more, because I don't want to spoil it, but if you're a Star Wars fan (and if you are, you probably already plan to go, but just in case you're on the fence) definitely check it out! As my friend and I were discussing the movie afterward, and he brought up some of his thoughts on the technology in Star Wars, I once again went back to a topic I bring up almost anytime I discuss Star Wars with scientifically-minded friends: Star Wars isn't sci-fi, it's fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy, I've been reading a lot more fantasy lately, in preparation for a book idea I have, which I'm thinking will be a trilogy - and of course, if I don't learn my lesson from this year's NaNoWriMo and do some outlining, it's liable to grow into a longer series with no solid ending in sight (cough, George R. R. Martin, cough). While I certainly don't want to copy elements from other fantasy novels, I was taught many years ago by some of the writers I've gotten to know through my mom that the best way to improve your writing is to read - lots.

In fact, on the agenda today is a trip to a book store: Open Books, which was kind enough to host many NaNoWriMo events (after our main venue and back-up venue both closed), is having their half-off sale today:

I still have some gift buying left to do, and I'm sure I'll walk out of their with some reading material for myself. Hoping to squeeze in some writing, then meeting another friend for drinks by the bookstore.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Want to Give Better Gifts?: Lessons from Psychological Science

In my email today was a link to this article, which explains why some people give really awful gifts without even realizing it:
In this review, we propose that many giver-recipient discrepancies can be at least partially explained by the notion that when evaluating the quality of a gift, givers primarily focus on the moment of the exchange, whereas recipients instead mostly focus on how valuable a gift will be throughout their ownership of it. Givers and receivers have different perspectives on what makes a gift “valuable”: Givers interpret that to mean that the gift will make the recipient feel delighted, impressed, surprised, and/or touched when he or she receives and opens it, whereas recipients find value in factors that allow them to better utilize and enjoy a gift during their subsequent ownership of it.
So part of the trick to buying good gifts for people is to put yourself in their shoes. Think about what it would be like if someone gave you that gift. Would you actually use it? Or would it gather dust, be regifted, or worse yet, end up in the trash? I'm sure I'm guilty of giving some really awful gifts to people because I didn't stop and consider this issue. What has probably worked best for me, especially when buying gifts for people I don't know as well, is to think of something they said recently - a hint about something they would really enjoy.

Or, if all else fails, I give them something I would want for myself and just hope for the best.

Friday, December 16, 2016

How Not to Put Together a Panel on Diversity in Animation

Recently, The Hollywood Reporter held a roundtable on "avoiding ethnic stereotypes and how to 'break the mold' of princesses." Here's who was involved:
"What are you doing here?" veteran animator John Musker jokingly asked Seth Rogen as the masterminds behind some of this year's eclectic lineup of animated features began to assemble at the Line 204 stages in Hollywood to talk shop. Not that anyone resented Rogen's presence, since Sony's saucy Sausage Party, on which he served as a writer, producer and voice actor, added some unusual R-rated spice to the mix. "That taco was amazing," laughed Mike Mitchell, 46, director of DreamWorks Animation's Trolls, as the group welcomed Rogen, 34, to their unique fraternity: filmmakers who can spend five years or more, sweating thousands of tiny details, to bring their visually inventive movies to the screen. Nor was Rogen the only newbie on the scene. Having attracted attention with his indie, live-action 2007 movie Son of Rambow, Garth Jennings, 44, made the transition to directing an animated feature with Illumination Entertainment's Sing. And though he's no newcomer to stop-motion animation — he's president and CEO of Portland, Ore.-based Laika and has served as an animator on several of its films — Travis Knight, 43, took the director's reins for the first time on Kubo and the Two Strings. They, in turn, were joined by experienced hands Musker, 63, whose credits range from The Little Mermaid and Aladdin to Disney Animation's just-released Moana; Bolt and Tangled helmer Byron Howard, 48, who was one of the directors guiding the anthropomorphic critters through Disney's Zootopia; and Mark Osborne, 46 (Kung Fu Panda), who helmed the screen adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, appearing on Netflix.
Notice a pattern? That's right - they were all white men.

We're not saying that men can't understand diversity; just that a discussion on not only portraying women and minorities in animation, but how difficult it has been for women in particular to break into animation could perhaps benefit from having someone other than white men involved. Honestly, the lack of diversity in this roundtable is probably one of the best analogies for the lack of diversity in animation in general I've ever seen. Isha Aran at had more to say on the issue:
I would just like to take this time to remind everyone that it’s not like women aren’t trying. They just keep running into insane sexists. For instance, earlier this year, Adult Swim executive vice president and creative director Mike Lazzo explained the dearth of women in animation by claiming that “women don’t tend to like conflict, comedy often comes from conflict, so that’s probably why we (or others) have so few female projects.” (In unrelated news, comedian Brett Gelman recently cut ties with Adult Swim over its sexist practices.)

Why are we even asking these white dudes about this? I get that these men are at the top of the game, but the inclusion of Seth Rogen, who is not an animator, over someone like Sanjay Patel, a Pixar animator whose short Sanjay’s Super Team was nominated for an Academy Award, says a lot about any commitment to diversity. There was a big clamor about Zootopia’s roster of female animators—why weren’t any of them included?

An even more interesting discussion would have been with people like Rebecca Sugar and Lesean Thomas, who constantly deal with race and gender in their animation. What could have been an interesting discussion about how to address different identity issues in animation ended up looking like brand relevancy maintenance gone wrong.
And honestly, not everyone involved could even be described as "at the top of their game" - the description acknowledges newcomers Seth Rogen and Garth Jennings. Either of these two could have been replaced by one of the people Aran discusses.

Not to mention, the ways in which these filmmakers learned about the culture they were portraying in the movies Aladdin and Kung Fu Panda included visits to a Saudi Arabian expo at the LA Convention Center and Google, respectively. No, I'm not kidding.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Open Tabs

I'm in for a busy afternoon at work, which includes reviewing a technical report and attending a workshop on some of the data we use for quality control. I currently have two tabs open that I hope to get to read at some point today:
And I'm currently listening to Leslie Odom Jr.'s Simply Christmas

Goodreads Poetry Contest

Goodreads, a social networking site for book lovers, has a poetry contest each month. This month's winning poem is by Jan Steckel, and it really captures how many people are feeling at the moment:
Waking in Trump's America

The Statue of Liberty's arm is tired.
She may have torn her rotator cuff.
She still has dual citizenship,
wonders if her passport is in order.

She imagines lowering her arm,
dousing the torch in the harbor,
boiling the sea and seething Ellis Island.

Friends, look at the person next to you.
Put your arm around their shoulder.
Help them keep that torch in the air.
Tell them you'd never turn them in.
We're the resistance now.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

American's Opinion on Russia and How It Might Change in the Near Future

Gallup has been tracking American's opinions of various foreign countries for decades now, and they've been measuring opinions on Russia (or Soviet Union, when it was known as such) pretty consistently since 1989. Interestingly, American's opinions about Russia have varied a great deal over that time, more so than other countries. Here's how Russia' favorability rating has looked from 1989 to now:

The peaks and valleys do correspond with major events with regard to Russia. For instance, the peak in 2001 corresponded to President Bush's meeting with Putin, while the most recent dip occurred after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These major events are shown more clearly below in a chart from FiveThirtyEight.

But as Enten and Asher point out in their article, we haven't seen the same oscillating pattern with other countries, even countries with whom we have tense relations. And up to now, political party affiliation hasn't shown any impact on favorability toward Russia, but that may change:
For decades, opinions about Russia haven’t varied much by party, even during the Cold War. According to the General Social Survey, which tracked opinions on the Soviet Union (and, later, Russia) from 1974 to 1994, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who gave the country a positive score was quite similar.

The difference between Democrats’ and Republicans’ opinion on the country was never greater than 7 percentage points, despite long Republican campaigns of anti-Communism. The same has generally been true in recent years.

But the bipartisan consensus of years past may have become less stable. The CIA has accused Russia of trying to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor, and Trump has been dismissive of the agency’s findings. Several Democratic officials are calling for an investigation into whether Russia interfered with the election. The result, according to one survey, is one of the largest partisan gaps in opinions on Russia in the past 40 years: In a YouGov survey conducted over the weekend, 31 percent of Republicans categorized Russia as an “ally” or as “friendly” to the United States, but only 16 percent of Democrats said the same.

Introducing Type Safety to Statistical Analysis: My Thoughts on the Issue

A friend shared the following article about type safety in statistical computing. Basically, the post by John Myles White introduces programming terminology of type safety, and argues that it should be applied to statistical analysis programs. For those who aren't familiar with this terminology, White explains:
Because every kind of data is ultimately represented as just a sequence of bits, it is always possible in theory to apply functions that only make sense for one interpretation of those bits (say an operation that computes the FFT of an audio file) to a set of bits that was intended to be interpreted in a different way (say a text file representing the Gettysburg Address). The fact that there seems to be no reasonable interpretation of the FFT of a text file that you decide to pretend is an audio file does not preclude the possibility of its computation.

The classic solution to this problem in computer science is to introduce more information about each piece of data in the system. In particular, the bits that represent the Gettysburg Address should be coupled to a type which indicates that those bits represent a string of characters and should therefore be viewed as text rather than as, say, audio or video. In general, programming languages with types can use type information to ensure that users cannot apply methods designed to process one kind of data to another incompatible kind of data that cannot be correctly processed in the same way.
What does this mean when applied to statistical analysis? White argues that types could be used to indicate the type of data being dealt with, how it was collected, and so on, to ensure that we are not applying a statistic for which we are violating key assumptions.

Every statistical analysis is based on assumptions about the data, usually about the data's distribution. For instance, when using a simple independent t-test, which compares two means to determine if they are reliably different from each other, one of the assumptions is that the variable being examined is normally distributed. The standard normal distribution looks like this:

Now, the distribution above is for population values. If we're working with a sample from this population, our distribution will look a little different, depending on how many people are in our sample - so we use the t-distribution, which is actually a set of curves drawn based on different sample sizes. (Fun side note: The t-distribution was developed by an employee of Guinness, who published it under the pseudonym "Student" because he didn't think people would respect statistical theory developed for studying beer. Frankly, that just makes me like it more.) You pick the curve based on your total sample size minus 2 (your degrees of freedom). Sample data are messy, and you're never going to have a distribution that perfectly conforms but as long as its close, you're okay. If it's not even close, then the results you get from your t-test won't be valid. That test is based on the assumption that your data looks more like what you see above than, say, this distribution:

Assumptions are important. The thing is, many statistical tests have a lot of them, and these assumptions are routinely violated. Fortunately, researchers often come along with data simulated to have certain issues (e.g., violate certain assumptions) and find that for many tests, results are pretty robust, even if you've violated assumptions. For instance, when you conduct an analysis of variance (ANOVA, which is used to compare more than 2 groups), your dependent variable (what you're comparing across your groups) is supposed to be continuous. However, many times I have seen people use ANOVA to analyze dichotomous data. Some purists will scream bloody murder when you do this. Others will say, "Meh, ANOVA is pretty robust." If these assumptions were laid out in type variables, computers would have no choice but to follow them. There would be no wiggle room.

Sure, statistics are misused constantly, and it's comforting to think there might be a way to protect people from Dunning-Kruger statisticians (people who know just enough to be dangerous but not enough to actually know what they're doing). But to make my point further, how about a more current debate I'm definitely part of?

As I've mentioned before, I'm a psychometrician by training, which is basically a measurement scientist. I prefer a particular approach to measurement called Rasch, which, to put it very simply, takes regular scale data and transforms it so that it is continuous. You see, Raschies like myself believe that a simple scale, such as this one:

is ordinal, not continuous. Ordinal means that there is an order to the choices (3 is more than 2) but that the distance between points varies. That is, the difference between neutral and agree might not be equal to the difference between agree and strongly agree. Only through transformation with the Rasch model (or whatever measurement model you prefer) can these values become continuous (equal interval). What this means is, if I were a purist Raschie, I would refuse to conduct a t-test, run a structural equation model, or even compute an average on the values above. I'd need to run my Rasch analyses first. You see, all those tests I just listed assume your data are continuous, not ordinal.

I know many of my statistically-inclined friends would think that logic is nuts, and would say, "What do mean 'this is ordinal data'? It's clearly continuous!" It's an issue under debate, and each side has good arguments. How, then, would this information be used in the type safety system White discusses? Whose side of the debate would the programmer choose? Honestly, we're better off with what we have, and we just need to 1) make sure people receive adequate training to know what they're doing statistically, 2) call people out when they clearly don't know what they're doing, and 3) let the scientific method do its job, by encouraging people to share as much information as possible so consumers of the research can evaluate the validity of the claims. You're going to have disagreement. Some will say, "You violated x assumption, your results are meaningless." Others will say, "Meh, that assumption is routinely violated and the test is robust." And that's okay! Disagreements and debates have inspired some really exceptional research.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

New Book on Kahneman and Tversky from the Author of "Moneyball"

A few days ago, I posted the Riddler's Puzzle and discussed some related concepts, including Tversky and Kahneman's concept of loss aversion, where we place more value on (and work harder to avoid) a loss of a certain magnitude than a gain of the same magnitude. Today I learned that Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball has written a book about these two men and their unlikely friendship, called The Undoing Project. Their work is considered the foundation of the field of behavioral economics, and in fact, Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002. Lewis offers some background on these two men:
During their joint waking hours, they could usually be found together. Danny was a morning person, and so anyone who wanted him alone could find him before lunch. Anyone who wanted time with Amos could secure it late at night. In the intervening time, they might be glimpsed disappearing behind the closed door of a seminar room they had commandeered. From the other side of the door you could sometimes hear them hollering at each other, but the most frequent sound to emerge was laughter. Whatever they were talking about, people deduced, must be extremely funny. And yet whatever they were talking about also felt intensely private: Other people were distinctly not invited into their conversation. If you put your ear to the door, you could just make out that the conversation was occurring in both Hebrew and English. They went back and forth—Amos, especially, always switched back to Hebrew when he became emotional.

Danny was always sure he was wrong. Amos was always sure he was right. Amos was the life of every party; Danny didn’t go to the parties. Amos was loose and informal; even when Danny made a stab at informality, it felt as if he had descended from some formal place. With Amos you always just picked up where you left off, no matter how long it had been since you last saw him. With Danny there was always a sense you were starting over, even if you had been with him just yesterday. Amos was tone-deaf but would nevertheless sing Hebrew folk songs with great gusto. Danny was the sort of person who might be in possession of a lovely singing voice that he would never discover. Amos was a one-man wrecking ball for illogical arguments; when Danny heard an illogical argument, he asked, What might that be true of? Danny was a pessimist. Amos was not merely an optimist; Amos willed himself to be optimistic, because he had decided pessimism was stupid. When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice, Amos liked to say. Once when you worry about it, and the second time when it happens.
The article chronicles many of the milestones in the friendship of these two men: from rivalry early in their careers, to collaborators, to the time they served together in the Israeli army, and beyond. I'm definitely adding this book to my reading list!

Commentary on the American Divide from David Myers

If you took Introductory Psychology or Social Psychology, it's quite possible your textbook was by David Myers, who in addition to writing textbooks and researching psychological topics, maintains a blog called "Talk Psych." Yesterday, Dr. Myers discussed recent Gallup poll results showing that 77% of Americans perceive our nation to be divided:

All major subgroups of Americans share the view that the nation is divided, though Republicans (68%) are less likely to believe this than independents (78%) and Democrats (83%). That is consistent with the findings in the past two polls, conducted after the 2004 and 2012 presidential elections, in which the winning party's supporters were less likely to perceive the nation as divided.

Americans are split about evenly on whether Trump will do more to unite the country (45%) or do more to divide it (49%). These views largely follow party lines, with 88% of Republicans believing Trump will do more to unite the country and 81% of Democrats saying he will do more to divide it. Independents predict Trump will do more to divide (51%) than to unite the country (43%).
In fact, the most recent time that Americans believed America was more united than divided was following the 9/11 attacks, which psychological theorists argued prompted unity through a concept known as terror management theory: we respond to existential threat (reminders that we are mortal and will die, known as mortality salience) by strengthening our ties to others and reaffirming our identities. This was how many explained, for instance, the upswing in flag display and other symbols of our country (in fact, see a previous post on these concepts).

David Myers offers a social psychological explanation for this "record-high" in perceptions of division:
A powerful principle helps explain today’s deep divisions: The beliefs and attitudes we bring to a group grow stronger as we discuss them with like-minded others. This process, known to social psychologists as group polarization, can work for good. Peacemakers, cancer patients, and disability advocates gain strength from kindred spirits. In one of my own studies, low-prejudice students became even more accepting while discussing racial issues. But group polarization can also be toxic, as we observed when high-prejudice students became more prejudiced after discussion with one another. The repeated finding from experiments on group interaction: Opinion-diversity moderates views; like minds polarize further.

Group polarization feeds extremism. Analyses of terrorist organizations reveal that the terrorist mentality usually emerges slowly, among people who share a grievance. As they interact in isolation (sometimes with other “brothers” and “sisters” in camps or in prisons), their views grow more extreme. Increasingly, they categorize the world as “us” against “them.” Separation + conversation = polarization.

The Internet offers us a connected global world without walls, yet also provides a fertile medium for group polarization. Progressives friend progressives and share links to sites that affirm their shared views and that disparage those they despise. Conservatives connect with conservatives and likewise share conservative perspectives.
The very forces and media intended to bring us together can actually drive us apart.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Great Concert Weekend

My choir, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, performed Handel's Messiah twice this weekend. We perform the complete work every year in December. Our soloists this year were incredible (in fact, we've worked with two of before on Messiah during my time in the choir), but our mezzo-soprano, Meg Bragle, was particularly amazing. For me, the biggest indicator of a truly great mezzo-soprano is her performance of my least favorite aria, "He Was Despised."

Take "least favorite" with a grain of salt, because it really is a wonderful piece. It's just quite long (what is called a da capo aria, which has an A section, a B section that goes in a different direction, and a return to the A section), and falls right in the middle of Messiah. To me, it's like the Wednesday of the work; Wednesday isn't a bad day but it's the hump you need to get through before you can glide into the weekend. So it's generally the point that I realize there's still a lot of music left before we can get to the finale, bow, and exit. If a mezzo can make me enjoy "He Was Despised," then she's incredible.

Our mezzo really acted the role, making you feel everything the Messiah is feeling at this point in the work - the people who loved him and sought him out have turned on him, as he goes to his punishment. In fact I noticed in yesterday's concert that, though she had her musical score with her, she had it closed and held at her side as she told the story.

I hope we get to work with her again!

New Survey of Americans Who Are Transgender

The National Center for Transgender Equality recently released the results of a survey of 27,715 Americans who are transgender, which accounts for about 2 percent of transgender Americans. The survey paints a clear, and heartbreaking, picture of what life is like for many people who are transgender
It found that 12 percent of transgender people were verbally harassed in public restrooms within the previous year, 1 percent were physically attacked and 1 percent were sexually assaulted. Nine percent said someone denied them access to a bathroom.

Besides the restroom data, the survey turned up new findings, including that 29 percent of transgender people were living in poverty compared to 14 percent for the U.S. population at large, and that 39 percent experienced serious psychological distress within the previous month, nearly eight times the rate for the general population.

Other results reinforced previous findings, for example, showing that 40 percent have attempted suicide in their lifetimes compared with 5 percent for the U.S. population, and 7 seven percent attempted suicide in the previous year, nearly 12 times the rate for the U.S. population.
This is only the second large survey of transgender persons; the first, the "National Transgender Discrimination Survey" was conducted in 2008 and 2009, and published in 2011. Until now, researchers have depended on that data to answer their questions, but there were some problems with how the survey was conducted. Most importantly, it was not conducted in a way to allow researchers to generalize findings to the population of transgender persons. This means that they were unable to determine whether certain issues and experiences were more or less common among transgender persons than they were among the general population. The new survey does allow those comparisons, hence the text above highlights the difference between transgender persons and the general population in terms of poverty, psychological distress, and suicide attempts.

The survey was conducted before the North Carolina House Bill 2 was passed - a bill that requires transgender persons to use the restroom corresponding to the gender assigned at birth. This bill caused much controversy, with many boycotts and protests, and it likely cost Governor Pat McCrory the election (he finally conceded, BTW).

So the tl;dr: transgender persons are the victims, not the perpetrators, in public restrooms. It's time we stop arguing bathroom bills are about anything more than hatred and discrimination.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

SNL and Trump's Cabinet Picks

Saturday Night Live is continuing its Trump-themed sketches. Last night, Bryan Cranston (one of my favorite actors) reprised his Breaking Bad role of Walter White as Trump's pick to lead the DEA:

Given the major conflicts of interest for some of his real appointees, this idea is sadly not that far-fetched.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

On Reading Lists and Busy Weekends

I'm still working on finishing up my novel - only a couple chapters left! So now that I'm past NaNoWriMo and making great progress, I've allowed myself to do some reading as well. I'm finishing up You Are Now Less Dumb, and also checking out some epic fantasy series, since one of my future book ideas can probably be best described as epic fantasy. I've never written fantasy before, so it should be interesting. I may try writing another idea I have first. We'll see where inspiration takes me!

And now that it's December, and actually looking (and feeling) like winter here, we are seeing the "Best of 2016" lists coming out. A friend shared NPR's Book Concierge just now, which is an exhaustive source listing NPR staff favorites. It's easy to be overwhelmed by this list, but don't worry - you can apply filters to narrow down to the perfect book for you!

Even without all these "Best of" lists, my to-read list is so long, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to get through all of them in my lifetime. So there's no danger of me experiencing this:

I probably won't get as much reading (or writing) done today. My choir, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, is performing Handel's Messiah once tonight and again tomorrow afternoon. But I'll be able to do a little reading on the train into the city.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Today's Riddler Puzzle and the Prisoner's Dilemma

I've been following FiveThirtyEight's Riddler Puzzles for a little while now. Each puzzle deals with probability. Today's puzzle has a little game theory mixed in:
Consider the following war game: Two countries are eyeing each other’s gold. At the beginning of the game, the “strength” of each country’s army is drawn from a continuous uniform distribution and lies somewhere between 0 (very weak) and 1 (very strong). Each country knows its own strength but not that of its opponent. The countries observe their own strength and then simultaneously announce “peace” or “war.”

If both announce “peace,” then they each stay quietly in their own territory, with their own gold, which is worth $1 trillion (so each “wins” $1 trillion).

If at least one announces “war,” then they go to war, and the country with the stronger army wins the other’s gold. (That is, the stronger country wins $2 trillion, and the other wins $0.)

What is the optimal strategy of each country (declaring “peace” or “war”) given its strength?
So we have a continuous uniform distribution to determine country's strength. This means that any value of strength between 0 and 1 is equally likely. The problem discusses only one distribution, and doesn't give any information on what would happen if two country's tied in terms of strength, suggesting that the situation is set up so that each country will have a different strength rating - that is, once one value is selected from the distribution for one country, it cannot be selected again for the other country (random sampling without replacement). The only information a country has, then, is its own strength rating, which it can then use to determine the probability that the other country is stronger or weaker.

If we use the self-interested approach: If a country has a high strength rating (more likely that the other country is weaker instead of stronger), it should select "war." If a country has a lower strength rating (more likely that the other country is stronger instead of weaker), it should select "peace." Of course, it is still possible to win with a low strength rating or lose with a high strength rating; such is the nature of probability - unlikely is not the same thing as impossible.

This particular situation involves a zero-sum game. At least, that's how I conceptualize it, even though the problem talks about the possibility that each country could "win" $1 trillion. Each country already has $1 trillion of gold. If both countries choose peace, they get to keep their money (0 gain for either). If a country chooses war, the winner gets the other's gold ($1 trillion gain), leaving the other country with nothing ($1 trillion loss). So a player in a zero-sum game can only benefit due to the loss of the other. So the situation above is not a true prisoner's dilemma, which is a non-zero-sum game:

Frankly, in a zero-sum game, the best approach would be select "peace" every time; everyone gets to keep their money and no one gets hurt. But I'm a pacifist, so what do I know? :) And in fact, the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman on loss aversion suggests that people will work harder to avoid a loss than obtain a gain of the same magnitude, suggesting that each country would be more hesitant to lose $1 trillion than to gain $1 trillion. In that case, they would probably only select "war" if they perceive it to be a sure thing - that is, they have a very high strength rating and the probability that the other country has a higher rating is very low. But this problem is purely probabilistic, and I'm sure they don't want social psychology mixing in.

The way to solve it, then, is to figure out the combinations that maximize a country's winnings - which in some cases would be to do nothing and accept a gain of 0. (I'm not actually going to solve the problem here; mostly just using it as an excuse to discuss some of my favorite topics. Yep, I'm using it as a teachable moment - I'm evil.)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

That Settles It - I'm Possessed By a Ghost

Last night, some lower back issues I've had on and off for the past few years resurfaced. Today, sitting and walking are particularly painful. I'm at work, but probably heading out soon and working from home for the rest of the day.

The pain started right after I finished some Christmas shopping, carrying bags that were way too heavy for me while rushing to my car to get out of the frigid wind (which was so strong where I was, it was almost blowing me backward). Why Chicagoland loves outdoor malls so much is beyond me. But today, a friend shared an article on Facebook that suggests my back ache may have nothing to do with carrying heavy things. I could be possessed by a ghost. According to the article, symptoms of ghost possession can include headache/migraine, severe back ache/inability to move, and difficulty sleeping. Oh, and the article also says that 85% of gay people are possessed by ghosts.

Yeah, you read that right:
The main reason behind the gay orientation of some men is that they are possessed by female ghosts. It is the female ghost in them that is attracted to other men. Conversely the attraction to females experienced by some lesbians is due to the presence of male ghosts in them. The ghost’s consciousness overpowers the person’s normal behaviour to produce the homosexual attraction. Spiritual research has shown that the cause for homosexual preferences lie predominantly in the spiritual realm.
  • Physical causes (5%): Due to hormonal changes.
  • Psychological causes (10%): Having an experience with a person of the same sex as a teenager or young adult that was pleasurable and therefore wanting to experience it again.
  • Spiritual causes (85%): Mainly ghosts.
In fact, there's apparently an epidemic of ghost possession, because 30% of the world's population is possessed by ghosts.

Thanks for the laugh, internet. That's some of the most creative nonsense I've read in a while.

A Snapshot of Rural America

When I worked at VA, rural health was a large focus. Individuals who lived in rural settings tended to have less access to health care, specialists in particular (basically, anything that isn't primary care) - not because of economic limitations, but rather because small towns tended to have small medical practices and were unlikely to have the larger clinics or hospitals that would have specialists. In fact, in much of our research, we used urban v. rural location as one of the variables in our analyses, whether the cases in the analyses were individuals (Veterans in this case), clinics, or whole hospitals. Between that and growing up in Kansas (the part I'm from is very urban, but I was familiar with the more rural locations), I know a little about the differences between rural and urban residents. Not only does location influence what type of care someone has access to, urban/rural location also correlates with some important political and social differences.

Our recent presidential election is one example of the interplay and differences between rural and urban America. While Clinton garnered votes in large urban locations, Trump won votes from rural voters and some from smaller cities - despite being one of the city dwellers he attacked during his campaign. This has prompted many discussions on the differences between these voters, though many of the "differences" people discuss are based more on stereotypes (e.g., they're all farmers) than reality. Today, CityLab shared recent Census results to demonstrate just who these rural voters are:
Around 78 percent of residents in these areas identify as white. The remaining segment contains a mix of races and ethnicities—Native Americans, African Americans in the South, and Mexicans near the US.-Mexico border, along with seasonal workers from other parts of Latin America. Some rural counties in Texas, North Carolina, Idaho, and Kansas have large concentration of immigrants.

Only nine percent of rural workers are in agriculture, while 12 percent work in manufacturing. A larger share work at schools, hospitals, or in someone’s home as a caregiver—not on the farm. Some 22 percent are employed in the education and health services industry.

Sixty percent of the rural population lives east of the Mississippi, and almost half lives in the South. The most rural states aren’t lonely and lightly populated Alaska or Wyoming but two New England states: Vermont and Maine.

Overall, rural families are earning as much as urban ones. Median household income in the country is $52,386, compared to $54,296 for city families. But rural poverty levels are lower—only 13.3 percent compared to 16 percent in cities.

In America, owning a home has long been the primary way to build wealth. And in that regard, rural America is set, with a homeownership rate of 81 percent. Urban areas only have a 60 percent homeownership rate.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Oversharing in the Age of Social Media

Self-disclosure is how we build strong relationships with others. By telling someone else about your inner world, you are showing that you trust them and can build a deeper connection with them, especially when they, in turn, show you their inner world back (which people are generally inclined to do, through a concept known as reciprocity). In fact, there are many explanations for why self-disclosure improve bonds - not just the trust it displays, it also often provides information that may show you have something else in common with someone (putting them more strongly in your in-group, which you are biased to evaluate positively). Sharing also increases the perception that a person is trustworthy. In fact, research has shown that people who self-disclose are evaluated more positively than people who withhold information, even when the information disclosed is really terrible (like failing-to-tell-someone-you-have-an-STD terrible).

The advent of Facebook and other social media sites provide many opportunities to share information about oneself, but as many have observed, it also provides an avenue to overshare. Now any thought you had, any activity you did, can be broadcast to all of your friends, or an even larger audience if a post is "public." And people use social media to share things with the world that they would never dare shout in a crowded room, even though it's basically the same thing (and arguably worse unless someone in that crowded room is recording the whole thing). But why? Researchers offer some answers, and they're pretty much what you would expect (if you know about social psychology):
Social scientist and author Sherry Turkle thinks we’re losing a healthy sense of compartmentalization. Last year, researchers at Harvard found that the act of sharing our personal thoughts and feelings activates the brain’s neurochemical reward system in a bigger way than when we merely report the attitudes and opinions of others. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal asked around and concluded that our newfound urge to disclose is partially due to not only the erosion of private life through the proliferation of reality TV and social media, but also due to our subconscious attempts at controlling anxiety.

“This effort is known as ‘self regulation’ and here is how it works,” she writes. “When having a conversation, we can use up a lot of mental energy trying to manage the other person’s impression of us. We try to look smart, witty, and interesting, but the effort required to do this leaves less brain power to filter what we say and to whom.”

Another crucial ingredient encouraging online exhibitionism is, as stated by [Russell W.] Belk, [chair in marketing at York University in Toronto], the “tension between privacy and potential celebrity.” For some people, the longing to be popular far outweighs the longing to be respected, and their social media accounts can verify this.
I would also add that many people don't think through the gravity of what they share online. They're in a situation where they can impulsively share whatever they want, but don't think through the potential consequences. For instance, I would assume most people know not to let all their friends take a picture of their credit card, while adding, "BTW, the code on back is...", and yet, there are countless people who have posted a picture of their credit card on their social media (along with, "The code on back is... Why is everyone asking me that?").

A few years ago, my mom posted an unedited picture of her passport online, because she was happy to finally have one. Since I get notifications when she posts something, and I know her username/password (guess who set it up for her), I was able to login and delete it only a few minutes after it was posted. My mom is one of the smartest, most logical people I know, who would absolutely know better than to let a stranger take a picture of her passport. I don't think she made the connection that posting it on social media is basically the same thing. (A public post, no less! We had a convo about privacy settings after that.)

And I think the reason for that is because we perceive social media as a toy, something for entertainment value. We know better than to do some of these things in the real world, because that's our life, but Facebook is just something we do for fun. So while Sherry Turkle above may say we're losing a sense of compartmentalization, I would argue we're too compartmentalized in how we perceive social media. We're creating a division between real life with real consequences and online life for play, failing to realize that our social media activity also can have real consequences: having your credit card info "stolen" (or rather, giving it away without realizing it), losing a job, being put on a no fly list, all things that have happened.

Several years ago, I did a study on the potential negative effects of Facebook on mental health. When people asked me if the point of my study was to tell people not to use Facebook, my response was this: Facebook is a tool. A tool isn't inherently good or bad. It's a matter of how it's used. A hammer can help you build a house (good) or smash your finger (bad). The problem isn't the hammer, it's how you used it.

But when you're using a tool, it's important to know how to use it properly and safely. We might get that lesson from someone the first time we pick up a hammer. But no one gives us that lesson the first time we log on to Facebook. And maybe they should.

It's Not About Being Loved or Hated, It's About Being Noticed

In a fitting end to the craziest year I've witnessed, Donald Trump has been selected as Time Magazine's Person of the Year:
Time magazine, unsurprisingly, has named President-elect Donald J. Trump its person of the year for 2016, calling him the “president of the divided states of America.”

Mr. Trump was not happy about that title, but called his selection a “tremendous honor.”

A friend on Facebook pointed out that Time has often selected highly controversial, even dangerous, figures for this title, and so it's not really an honor. But we shouldn't be too surprised, given that many people have painted Trump as a narcissist. In fact, see this great post for more discussion on that. And for a narcissist, there is no such thing as good or bad publicity. Attention, positive or negative, feeds their egos.

Trump is many things but I don't think he's stupid. He must know that when he unleashes a Twitter war on something, it's only going to fuel that thing.

For instance, when he goes to Twitter to complain about Alec Baldwin's portrayal of Trump on SNL sketches, he has to know that his tweets won't make SNL stop doing these sketches - if anything, they'll do more of them. And that's what he wants. The opposite of being loved isn't being hated; it's being ignored completely. The worst thing that could happen to Trump, in his opinion, is if all of a sudden, no one is talking about him, no one is noticing him, no one is lauding or complaining about him.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stack Overflow in the City

When I taught research methods, I required my students to write a research proposal. Though nearly all of them chose methods that involved collecting primary data (that is, collecting the data to answer your question yourself), usually directly from the participants in the form of surveys or measures, I encouraged them to consider alternative ways to answer their questions, including by more indirect measures (such as observation) and even by drawing upon secondary data (data collected by someone else). Science is about, first and foremost, answering questions and testing hypotheses. There's nothing that says you have to be directly involved with every aspect of the study, as long as you design the study rigorously and in such a way to allow you to answer your question/test your hypothesis. In fact, there are times when it is far more justified to use data and tools that have already been developed.

One of my favorite blogs, Variance Explained, does a lot of interesting work using secondary data, such as this examination of Trump's tweets. A few days ago, he posted yet another secondary data analysis, that examines whether software developers in different cities use different technologies and programming languages. Sure, he could have sent out surveys to programmers in different locations. But instead, he used Stack Overflow traffic data to answer his question. (I should note that he works at Stack Overflow, and so has access to data that we do not, but he does share the code he used to generate the data).

He examines data from the four metropolitan areas accounting for the most Stack Overflow traffic: San Francisco, Bangalore, London, and New York (where he is based). First, he compares the two US cities.

One clear difference: New York has a larger share of Microsoft developers. Many tags important in the Microsoft technology stack, such as C#, .NET, SQL Server, and VB.NET, had about twice as much traffic in New York as in San Francisco. This may be because many banks and financial firms, which are much more common in NY than in SF, use these technologies.

There are also patterns in the technologies that are more common in the San Francisco area, especially languages developed by Apple (Cocoa, Objective-C, OSX) and Google (Go, Android). We can also see several influential open source projects, especially ones associated with Apache (Hive, Hadoop, Spark).
When he expands his analysis to include all four cities, he finds that London has the highest proportion of developers using the Microsoft stack, New York has a higher proportion using data science tools (like pandas for Python and R - which I also use), and Bangalore leads in Android development. Even after bringing in the other two cities, San Francisco still leads in the same technologies listed above, except Android.