Monthly Archives: March 2013

Lit Review: Word Usage and Community in Twitter

There are some things I really miss about academia, specifically engaging with people about new ideas.  I also realized a couple weeks ago that I was really unaware of the current literature outside of economic educational and infection disease stuff.  I’m trying to read something weekly and to share it as a way to get caught up/create discussion/get smarter.  I have to say it’s surprisingly hard.  I’ve been really struggling with some writing recently and have to come to miss my past academic-skillz.  The below was easier for me, ironically, because it was so math-not-theory-based.

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Bryden, John, Sebastian Funke, and Vincent AA Jansen.  “Word usage mirrors community structure in the online social network Twitter.” 2013.  EPJ Data Science, 2:3. 

“This indicates how the language we use bears the signature of societal structure, and is suggestive of the enormous potential in using topological analysis to identify cultural groups.”

Summary: Bryden et al. use a dataset of 250,000 Twitter users, trying to find linguistic links inside communities, e.g. those who @ed each other.  They conclude that communities use unique language patterns beyond basic subject terms, particularly word length and endings, and find a way to predict community involvement of a Twitter user based on word usage.

Analysis:  I love the idea of created spaces using language.  One of my big interests in college was kawaii culture and how specific terms and ways of talking created an individual/safe space for a sub-set of women in Japan.  Unfortunately most of their examples don’t seem to be all that unexpected.  For example, one language pattern is the use of Twilight terms in the Twilight community.  Another is the use of phrases such as n**ga, poppin, and chillin together; language that is created off-line and then brought online.

That said, there were a few examples where the online community itself (if not specifically on Twitter) was creating linguistic trends, such as the interaction between the words bieber, pleasee, and <33, which they define as “lengthened endings (repeated last letter).”  I’d love for Bryden et al. to present more unusual examples like this for greater analysis, maybe some qualitative to understand what those linguistic patterns mean to the community that uses them, particularly in in-group vs. out-group interactions, how people learn the language, etc.  There also seems to be a lot of potential in looking at community drift, both in the language a community uses over time but also how language used changes when a Twitter user enters or exits new communities, based on changed interests, life experiences, etc.

Overall: short and sweet if math-heavy; the charts are worth checking out on their own.

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Just Because a Woman (or Feminist) Does Something, It Doesn’t Make It Feminist

When we got married eighteen months ago, I kept my last name.  In some ways that’s almost the prototypical feminist action, right?

I didn’t change my name and I certainly took advantage of the battles of my feminist fore-bearers.  I get pissed off when friends and family write to me as Kathryn HisLastName and livid when it’s Mrs. HisFirstName HisLastName.

I didn’t change my last name but keeping it wasn’t a feminist act.  I never thought about changing it  because of my father who was passionate about our family history, who took me to see our family’s ancestral home months before he died.  I kept it because it I already owned the family merchandise and pay my clan dues, and because I’d already gotten used to both saying “no, that’s three Ls” and “no, it’s pretty much phonetic and thus not McLenin, McLennan, McLeod, or McLachlan,” and because HisLastName is Jewish and I’d rather have a conversation about why I kept my last name than why I kept my religion.

All of those are great reasons, but they’re not feminist reasons.  I wear my choice with pride and don’t mind that it makes some people think I’m a feminist, because I am, but just because I’m a feminist doing something doesn’t make it a feminist choice.

This is a long way of saying that the second thing I did this morning was to read The Feminist Housewife and the accompaning Jezebel commentary.  It introduces a lot of feminist concerns, that housework and childrearing fall on women even in egalitarian households, that the modern workplace isn’t overly friendly to having families, that woman tend to get screwed by a lot of the workplace anyhow, that childcare can cost one person’s wages.  In these conditions, becoming a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) is a perfectly fine pragmatic choice, even a preferred one although one that can be fraught with fiscal problems as women unfortunately lose their earning potential.

Although some do, I don’t think that decision makes one a bad feminist or not one at all.  Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do or even what you want to do.  At the same time, it’s not automatically a feminist choice either, even if a feminist is making it, such as our NYMag protagonist.  Just because a woman does something, it isn’t automatically feminist.  It just is, and I don’t hold it against her one way or the other.

This bullshit on the other hand…:  “I feel like in today’s society, women who don’t work are bucking the convention we were raised with … Why can’t we just be girls? Why do we have to be boys and girls at the same time?”

Yes, a woman who calls herself a feminist, who is being called a feminist, just equated having a job with being a boy and staying home, minding the kids as being a girl.  That’s some grade-A bullshit there.  That’s 100% anti-feminist bullshit and I think we should call her on it.  Not on staying home, not on leaving her job, not even on her making a point of massaging her husband’s “work-stiffened muscles,” or that she thinks that maternal instinct is a biological fact, but that she is says such bullshit, on the record no less, and calls herself a feminist.  I know that there are people who hear that and think oh, she hates SAHMs (and men, and leg shaving, and…).

I don’t. I just hate bullshit, especially when it’s be sold as feminism.  Gender essentialism isn’t cute, even if you use boys and girls instead of men and women.   We can’t just be girls, Kelly Makino, because you’ve decided that boys are the ones who work and the rest of us girls over here?  We have fucking jobs.  We’re doctors, teachers, police officers, social workers, bloggers, and yeah, SAHMs.  Stop selling us (and yourself) fucking short.

This happens when you are sleep-deprived and deadline-enhanced

This is one of those days when I ask myself, “who thought it was a good idea for me to be an expert on the labor market returns of the Chilean educational system?  I don’t even speak Spanish? Or econometrics?”

Spoiler alert! Consistent with the literature, youth orchestras in Curanilahue improve test scores on both the PSU AND the SIMCE(!!!!); the results are both significant and robust.  Who would have ever guessed?  Well, except, you know, the literature.  Lucky for us, and by us I mean academics and I guess me, the literature is nice and never says I told you so.    We should probably send a thank you note, maybe some flowers, or a man in a horse suit who dances and sings some sort of You’re a Good Neigh-bor song.

I am still the most sane person in this coffee shop.  Who thought that that was a good idea?

The woman next to me keeps saying “I don’t trust her.”  I am hoping very much that I am not that particular her, whoever she is.  She should distrust the men on the other side of me who are discussing card counting using their two coffee cups as some sort of very abstract demonstration tool.  Maybe she doesn’t gamble.  That would probably be best.  Maybe I shouldn’t procrastinate.  That too would probably be best.

A week ago you got links and social commentary.  Today, you get a goose. Please enjoy it responsibly.

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Update: my client just gave me an extension. Thank god.  I can go back to deleting “Children’s and” in peace and not panic.

Motor City

My third visit to Detroit and I finally got to play tourist.

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DST can be a mean mistress, but I like it; or a list of lists of things

Things I like that no one else does:

Daylight savings time:  I love the idea of capturing an hour in the spring and releasing it into the fall; that that extra hour, whenever you play it, has something special to it.  I am also very light sensitive so I naturally wake up an hour earlier, which always feels productive.

Humidity:  Telling me that “it’s a dry heat” does not endear me to Arizona or 100 degree temperatures.  The main summertime activity for my coworkers at my last job seemed to be to complain about the humidity as if it was a yearly surprise that we lived near a giant lake.  I will kill for fog and am constantly tempted to move to San Francisco or Seattle, but I would miss the snow too much.

Snow:  it’s prettier than grey or mud, it’s less wet than rain, and it can’t happen when it’s super cold.  Also snowmen.

Things I assumed that people knew about until I learned they didn’t:

Milking a cow:  okay not so much your Manhattanite or Angelino, but didn’t most people go on school field trips to farms, complete with cow milking?  See also, making your own whipped cream at home.

Sewing a button back onto something:  really?

How the non-fiction section of the library works:  again, school field trips?  The existence of  (card) catalogs?  I once had someone ask me how to find something at a place where I did not work, then bitch me out as if I was Melvile Dewey himself.  Side note: BS is the Library of Congress designation for the Bible.

Random technical mistakes that irrationally bother me:

Use of the term “second world” country outside of discussing the Soviet Bloc:  I will accept it for ex-Soviet countries or countries that are currently Communist, but Spain?  Spain is not a second world country, no matter how bad its economy.

Faulting politicians for saying a recession is over while the economy still sucks:  it’s just about GDP growth as determined by NBER though granted, not all that useful.  Can’t CNN/Fox News/the internet teach us that so we can move on from this point?  Isn’t it more important to talk about the actual (sucky) economy?

That people over-use apostrophes rather than under use them:  I, like many, wince at all the random apostrophes wandering around, although I try to not be overly snobby about it. What actually bothers me is that are too many rather than too few.  Why is that?

Things that tickle me:

Typos in books: particularly if they’re funny in their own right.  While reading The Alienist last night, I saw both “yolk” for “yoke,” which took me a second, and “pain” for “paint.”

Pens: in all types and shades, particularly fine point and multi-color.  Bic has a fine point, four-color pen that I adore.  The only place I know to get them in Chicago is the bookstore at the downtown location of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.  At one point in my life they recognized me on sight and automatically went pawing through the back looking for the damn things.

Footnotes: I once received a love poem with footnotes; if I had been the least bit interested  or attracted to him, and if he didn’t treat me like an idiot, dear reader, I would have slept with him.

Nate Thayer Kerfuffle, Showing Everyone’s Internal Biases

I love looking at the comments on a really juicy NYT article because it’s a great way to find out all the weird perceptions and feelings that a certain American population has on a topic.  You get all the weird, nonsensical, prejudiced sometimes verging into race/classism, e.g. everything that most of these people would never admit in an aisle of the Whole Foods or a fancy dinner party, at least to a stranger.*

The Nate Thayer kerfuffle is that, but exploded, where everyone has their own slightly different angle on it.  In short, the Atlantic asked a very famous journalist to cut down an originally reported piece he had written for another publication by 75% and offered to pay him…wait for it…. nothing.  Well “exposure” but for someone who has won (and refused) a Pulitzer, that’s pretty much nothing. ** He, understandably cranky and to make a point, published the entire, civil, email chain on his blog, which shows among other things, that they weren’t really too upfront about the whole no pay thing and that, at most, they would have given him $100.

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Opinions exploded all over the place, generally clumping into six groups, three on each side:***

I.e. who is Nate Thayer thinking so highly of himself and better than us?  This makes sense; we like to think ourselves better than others, not the other way around.  We also really don’t want to think about how working hard =/= success.   It scares us and once you add some jealousy, thus in short, we decide that Thayer is uppity, unrealistic, ungrateful, and possibly lazy.

For the other side we have:

You wouldn’t expect your dentist/janitor/software designer to work for free, so why your journalist?/You can’t eat exposure/Good for him

The Atlantic website wouldn’t exist if it didn’t make money/it made a shitload of profit last year/it sucks as a company if it can’t make money somehow/what’s the point of exposure or clips if even the Atlantic doesn’t pay

This is an example of corporations constantly making record profits while the relative income of average Americans has gone down.

I.e. we somehow identify with Nate Thayer or his situation and we’re angry.  Thayer is ex post example of ‘making it’ and if he still gets shit upon, what hope is there for the rest of us, the still-awesome but not quite as much ones.  I think it also hits a vein of people being mad at corporations who seem to keep just trekking along, whining about how difficult it is, while the rest of us are limping around grabbing things, Walking Dead-style.

Personally, I veer towards the second position.  I think we should call the Atlantic out for their ballsy bad behavior.  Remember not only did they not expect to pay Thayer, but they also thought they should get free stuff that someone ELSE**** already paid for.  I also want all of us to learn the distenction between I write something for free that consumers get to read for free and I write something for free that consumers get to read for free, but in the middle someone gets to make money.

And while, I do think that exposure can be a benefit or payment of some sort, if companies want to actually pay in that way, they need to really think about what value they’re offering and at least try to give a fair trade.  Imagine how this would have played out if they asked for a 200 word blurb that would function as advertisement leading to the story rather than asking him to rewrite it as an in essence stand alone article. Or even if they had been upfront about not paying him and that he would be doing them a favor, not the other way ’round.

Full Disclosure:  All of these links are things you get to read for free on the internet!  Some corporations may make a profit if you click.  I do not get paid for rambling.  Photo is from Inggmartinez under a creative commons licence.  I would probably have written for the Atlantic for free if they asked me, just so my mom would have bragging rights; now they would have to pay me at least five shiny silver dollars or a nice printout for my mom.  There are now accusations that Nate Thayer plagiarized.

*Notably some people do not have this filter.  I once had someone tell me on an informational interview that if more people who “looked like us” had worked at a place, he might have not quit.  He said it in a whisper, couched as “just between us,” and I still don’t know what the fuck he meant by looking like us, but assume that it had something to do with perceived shared race or class backgrounds.

**Although it’s never said outright, it seems safe to assume that they weren’t planning on paying the original publisher, NK News, anything either.

***Isn’t that tidy?  Just like when I was taught there were only nine schools of social science (in all of history) in a ten-week-long class.

****Poor NK News.  It’s still not clear if they paid Thayer but since he says that he doesn’t work for free, presumably they paid.   I think they should come out and say how much so we can discuss how much real journalism actually costs (in comparison to regurgitated blog posts, mine included).

Walk (talk) Softly and Carry (even though you have) a Big Stick

I hate being treated like I’m stupid.  This is very unfortunate for me since it happens a lot.

While I am nowhere near the smartest person in the world, I am also not the dumbest either.  I’ve been lucky enough to experience twenty-two years of fine, formal education provided by my parents and the government.*  I have a basic understanding of most things with the exception of Calculus and Physics.  I particularly understand basic social science concepts.  You do not have to explain double-blind studies,  the Flynn effect, (operant) conditioning,  long-tail, MacDonald/serial killer triad, or Milgram’s various experiments.  I have the skills to understand most current events, English grammatical rules, and historical and scientific concepts. I went to college,** for goodness sakes and pay basic attention to the world.   Assuming that you know these things and I don’t just shows that you have no respect for me, not that you’re a smarty-pants.  In fact, it makes me start to judge you, your supposed knowledge, your history, experience, and basic social skills.

Notably, the smartest, most important, talented, interesting people I’ve worked with don’t do this.  They know that they don’t have to prove anything to anyone.  Even though my famous economist boss often told me I was stupid to my face,*** he never talked to me like I was stupid.  He trusted that I knew things or could ask or figure them out. I once spent an afternoon geeking out with the DDB’s Head of Strategy, North America and he treated me like a peer.  He didn’t need to show off his title – I knew he was smart and talented and he knew that there was a reason why he wanted to spend an afternoon talking to me and that was it.  We were just two human behavior geeks drawing on white boards all afternoon.****

And before you ask, yes there were precipitating incidents for this post, but it’s important to say, with or without annoying people.  The most important thing I learned from being a Women and Gender studies major is simply to value other people’s experience and, well, treat others like your equals.  When it comes down to it, we’re all people and we’re all important, and I wish more people would act like it.

*Thanks mom, dad, and Uncle Sam!  Also Macalester College; Dartmouth College; the University of Chicago; the United Nations; the Lebanon, NH school system, particularly Mr. Swainbank; the NSF; NORC; the Federal Bank and University of Chile; the Ford Foundation; other grant agencies; the amazing Chicago Public Library; my super smart friends; Coursera; longform.org; the internet in general; and whoever pays for the political science convention that I sneak into every year.

** Not to say that everyone graduating from college would know all of those things, but really?  If you know I have a BA focusing on Social Science and a MA IN Social Science, explaining conditioning means you think I’m either an idiot or the laziest student ever.  Also seriously, half of that stuff comes up in Yahoo news stories or procedural TV shows.

*** Notably difficult to work with, aka huge bitch.

**** E.g. awesome!  Anyone who wants to geek out like this is not only worth my time, but is completely my friend.  I will even bake cookies or provide coffee for geek sessions, anytime, anywhere.