Secret Sauce Is Mostly Mayo [...]

Companies spend a lot of time talking about how their proprietary analytics can help identify opportunity. In reality, the most useful analytics are not that complex.

In the most recent example a proprietary engagement metric was beat by a simple metric: how much time did the student spend reading?

Researchers also compiled an “engagement index,” based on students’ highlighting and minutes spent reading. They found that this index predicted performance more accurately than even past grades. However, when each attribute of the “engagement index” was studied, the amount of minutes spent reading was ultimately most indicative of course outcomes, even more so than the index itself. The researchers stipulate that these findings could help professors identify struggling students as the latter worked through assignments. (Source)

Duffer’s Drift

Google Flu Trends [...]

Google Flu Trends — a project to use Big Data around Google searches to predict flu trends faster than the CDC — was the poster child for the glory of Big Data right up until it “failed spectacularly” in 2013. What happened?

It began as a research experiment, followed by a paper in none other than Nature:

The paper demonstrated that search data, if properly tuned to the flu tracking information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, could produce accurate estimates of flu prevalence two weeks earlier than the CDC’s data—turning the digital refuse of people’s searches into potentially life-saving insights.

And then, GFT failed—and failed spectacularly—missing at the peak of the 2013 flu season by 140 percent. When Google quietly euthanized the program, called Google Flu Trends (GFT), it turned the poster child of big data into the poster child of the foibles of big data. (Source)

Researchers writing at Wired this year go back to postmortem the program, and find, they claim, that the problem was not Big Data per se, but “Big Data Hubris”. For example, Google did not make their algorithms transparent, which led to them missing problems around seasonal terms:

But while Google’s efforts in projecting the flu were well meaning, they were remarkably opaque in terms of method and data — making it dangerous to rely on Google Flu Trends for any decision-making at all.

For example, Google’s algorithm was quite vulnerable to overfitting to seasonal terms unrelated to the flu, like “high school basketball.” With millions of search terms being fit to the CDC’s data, there were bound to be searches that were strongly correlated by pure chance, and these terms were unlikely to be driven by actual flu cases or predictive of future trends. Google also did not take into account changes in search behavior over time. After the introduction of GFT, Google introduced its suggested search feature as well as a number of new health-based add-ons to help people more effectively find the information they need. While this is great for those using Google, it also makes some search terms more prevalent, throwing off GFT’s tracking.

These problems could have been easily spotted (and perhaps corrected) had GFT not been a black box alogrithm — flu researchers at the CDC are nothing if not experts in understanding spurious correlation and seasonal confounding. But the nature of the project was that only a few people could see into the black box, and for the most part they had facile understandings of the issues involved.

This is a big argument against Secret Sauce Analytics, even if the Secret Sauce Is Mostly Mayo.

Big Data Bra Size [...]

Big Data is seen as the End of Theory by some, and as the dawn of a humanistic personalization by others. Which is why we find this a useful example of Big Data: Alibaba, the largest online store in the world (centered in China) has correlated bra size to spending habits. After the quote we explore the weird intersection of Big Data, sexism, racism, and any other ism’s you might want to fold in.

Alibaba vice president Joseph Tsai talked to Quartz about findings that 65% of women with a B cup fell into the “low” spending category, while those with a C cup or higher were in the “middle” and “high” demographics.

“We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg,” he said of the company’s data-dive. “We really haven’t done even 5% of leveraging that data to really make our operations more efficient, consumers more satisfied.” (Source)

What do we make of this? It makes us feel (hopefully) a bit icky. Why is that? It’s probably worth exploring.

It’s also interesting that if why knew WHY this correlation applied we’d feel (I think) a bit less icky. Is age a confounding factor (older women have bigger bra sizes, teenagers have smaller bra sizes)? Is cup size a sign of affluence in China? A proxy for city dwelling? Leaving the correlation at this basic level feels unfinished, dirty, and exploitative.

Suppose we extend special deals to C-cup women. (and certainly this is happening — otherwise why collect this data?). Is this wrong? What if such things break down by race?

When we look at this we realize that a world without theory is also a world that discards intent. And intent means something. Big Data Doesn’t Care why your coupon works, but you do. There is a big difference between offering sweet deals to large-breasted women and offering sweet deals to people in their twenties or to more frequent shoppers. Somewhere along the line we are going to have to come to terms with that.

For a more serious case of why the why matters, consider Big Data and OxyContin

Apart from issues of why, Big Data’s correlations are often ephemeral: Google Flu Trends succeeded until it failed.

The Missing Sense of User [...]

Things like Facebook arose mostly because of gaps in the basic HTML/HTTP infrastructure.

A great example is that HTTP has no native concept of a persistent user across servers. An HTTP request can encode what machine address a request came from but it can’t tell you, at the protocol level, what person it came from. This means that the only unified view you can get of a person’s activity is at the server level. 

Were we building the Web today, we could probably do this differently. In our Bitcoin/blockchain world it is not hard to imagine a scheme where your identity exists outside any particular server, written and maintained in a million different ledgers.

In such a world, Facebook wouldn’t look on it’s own servers to see if you had access to it. It’d look to the distributed ledger to see if it had access to you. Such a scheme might have allowed more integrated services to have arisen, and would have mitigated against the rise of supersites like Facebook and Google.

When I talk like this, sometimes people get a bit frustrated — this wasn’t possible in 1991, it didn’t get done after that, and it’s not going to happen now, so what’s the point?

The point is that if you understand the gaps that made Facebook possible (instead of just assuming Facebook used evil magic to get everybody on it) you can work to address those gaps. We’re not going to get a blockchain user identity scheme in HTTP at this point, but understanding the identity issue has allowed companies like Known to propose other solutions (such as a site that uses a combination of syndication and other technologies to build a makeshift identity server that can service Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and other sites from a central location. 

Opioid Increase 1997-2002 [...]

From an abstract of a 2005 paper:

I measured the role of opioid analgesics in drug abuse–related deaths in a consistent panel of 28 metropolitan areas from the Drug Abuse Warning Network. The number of reports of opioid analgesics increased 96.6% from 1997 to 2002; methadone, oxycodone, and unspecified opioid analgesics accounted for 74.3% of the increase. Oxycodone reports increased 727.8% (from 72 to 596 reports). By 2002, opioid analgesics were noted more frequently than were heroin or cocaine. Dramatic increases in the availability of such opioids have made their abuse a major, growing problem. (Source)

The increase was related directly to the marketing push of Purdue Pharma around OxyContin:

Starting in 1996, Purdue Pharma expanded its sales department to coincide with the debut of its new drug. According to an article published in The American Journal of Public Health, “The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy,” Purdue increased its number of sales representatives from 318 in 1996 to 671 in 2000. By 2001, when OxyContin was hitting its stride, these sales reps received annual bonuses averaging over $70,000, with some bonuses nearing a quarter of a million dollars. In that year Purdue Pharma spent $200 million marketing its golden goose. Pouring money into marketing is not uncommon for Big Pharma, but proportionate to the size of the company, Purdue’s OxyContin push was substantial. (Source)

More on this trend at Opioids, Alcohol, Suicide.

Note that the Route to Heroin Abuse is often through pill addiction.

See also: A 2,000 Percent Increase

Big Data and OxyContin [...]

Purdue Pharma, authors of the current opiate and heroin epidemic in the U.S., created the problem by ignoring the “why” behind the numbers:


Boots on the ground was not the only stratagem employed by Purdue to increase sales for OxyContin. Long before the rise of big data, Purdue was compiling profiles of doctors and their prescribing habits into databases. These databases then organized the information based on location to indicate the spectrum of prescribing patterns in a given state or county. The idea was to pinpoint the doctors prescribing the most pain medication and target them for the company’s marketing onslaught.

That the databases couldn’t distinguish between doctors who were prescribing more pain meds because they were seeing more patients with chronic pain or were simply looser with their signatures didn’t matter to Purdue. The Los Angeles Times reported that by 2002 Purdue Pharma had identified hundreds of doctors who were prescribing OxyContin recklessly, yet they did little about it. The same article notes that it wasn’t until June of 2013, at a drug dependency conference in San Diego, that the database was ever even discussed in public.

Combining the physician database with its expanded marketing, it would become one of Purdue’s preeminent missions to make primary care doctors less judicious when it came to handing out OxyContin prescriptions. (Source)

The result? The largest drug epidemic in the history of the United States, one which has literally reversed declines in all-cause mortality in many demographics. See Opioids, Alcohol, Suicide

These figures actually don’t cover the much larger effects from death by liver disease and suicide attributable to opioid abuse. (source)

Part of this is a warning about the morality of Big Data. But perhaps an even larger issue is the problem of data without theory. The reasons behind these trends mattered — were these replacing other drugs due to efficacy or due to addiction? Were the super-prescribers more enlightened as to pain management or were they running cash for scripts businesses?

Marketing, in one sense, does not require answers to these issues; you use the correlations to make sales, and the why does not matter. But ethical marketing is a different matter.

There is little doubt the pharmaceutical industry is behind the current heroin epidemic. See 80% of Heroin Users Started with Painkillers, Opioid Increase 1997-2002

80% of Heroin Users Started with Painkillers [...]

From the documentary Heroin: Cape Cod, MA a potentially damning fact: 80% of heroin users started with painkillers. In the case of the 20-somethings in the documentary, most were crushing pills from their parents cabinets or (more usually) by abusing pills they received from doctors after accidents. When the pill addiction they developed became unmanageable they began use of heroin.

From another article:

Respondents who began using heroin in the 1960s were predominantly young men in their teens living in urban areas, whose first opioid use was heroin (80%). Recent users are more likely to be white, older (average age almost 23 years) men and women living in suburban or rural areas. Three out of four were first introduced to opioids through prescription painkillers. (Source)

Recent attempts to make Oxycontin more tamper-resistant have caused some addicts to move to heroin, which is cheaper.

“A few years ago when we did interviews with people in treatment, many would tell us that although they were addicts, at least they weren’t using heroin,” he said. “But now, many tell us that a prescription opioid might run $20 to $30 per tablet while heroin might only cost about $10.” (Source)

See Opioids, Alcohol, Suicide to understand the scope of the problem.

Selfie False Frame [...]

Selfie behavior isn’t always what it seems.

At a Diamondbacks game, the announcers mocked a set of women not paying attention to the game in favor of taking selfies.

(You only need to watch the first 30 seconds)

Outside the weirdness and creepiness of grown men shaming women from the announcer’s booth there’s another element when you see the uncut video: the very same announcer’s had just announced a T-Mobile contest to take a selfie:

The situation developed, the network was forced to apologize. They offered the women, who were from an ASU sorority free tickets. They declined the tickets, instead having them donated to a local charity. They later used their new-found fame to advocate for the charity. (post)

False Frame describes a misinterpretation based on race.

False Frame, Baseball Bat Edition shows a similar smartphone disparagement, that is in fact wrong.

Shaming can be a lousy way to change behavior anyway. See Why Shame Doesn’t Work

The Wages of Political Data [...]

Parties used to be based on precincts, which covered broad swaths of people, albeit often people with similar profile. That changed as data allowed politicians to focus on individual voters rather than communities. See From Precinct to Voter

What has been the result? Perhaps it is data which is to blame for the “rise of lifestyle politics”. Consider the political change that David Frum describes:

Politics was becoming more central to Americans’ identities in the 21st century than it ever was in the 20th. Would you be upset if your child married a supporter of a different party from your own? In 1960, only 5 percent of Americans said yes. In 2010, a third of Democrats and half of Republicans did. Political identity has become so central because it has come to overlap with so many other aspects of identity: race, religion, lifestyle. In 1960, I wouldn’t have learned much about your politics if you told me that you hunted. Today, that hobby strongly suggests Republican loyalty. Unmarried? In 1960, that indicated little. Today, it predicts that you’re a Democrat, especially if you’re also a woman.

This is just a thought, but how much of this is the result of data which allows us to cobble together party support based on individual demographic data, and target people within communities via phone and email and personalized web ads? The political class’s fascination with Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads and the like inspires some eye-rolling, but these are demographic communities that would not even be targetable in 1960 by traditional GOTV efforts.

There’s a link here to this idea of Imagined Communities though I haven’t hashed this out.

Part of the reason for the marriage statistic is simply that the parties were not seen as that far apart on anything, at least by some. See Dime-Store New Deal

Age of the Incunable [...]

After the western invention of movable type not much changed for a very long time. It took many many years for people to realize the peculiar possibilities of cheap, printed texts.

Gutenberg invents the Western version of movable type in the 1440s, and it’s in use by 1450. He thinks of it in terms of cost, really. Efficiency.

You can print cheap bibles – still in Latin, mind you. Affordable chess manuals.

He dies broke, by the way.

For almost fifty years, change creeps along.

They have a name for books of this period, which I love: “Incunabula”. Or if we go singular, the incunable. So we could call this the “Age of the Incunable”.

Detail of a Gutenberg Bible
Detail of a Gutenberg Bible. Source.

This is what books look like at that time. Almost identical in form and function, style and content to medieval manuscripts.

Just to be really clear – this is a machine printed book here, later adorned by hand. In case you didn’t notice.

There were printed books, but there was no book culture. There were printed books but there was no shift in what those books did.

But then things change. First in the Italian presses. Bibles are printed in Italian, for example. Illustrations become more common.

Aldus Manutius creates the “pocket book” in an octavo format, somewhere around 1500. We get cheap mobility. In 1501, his shop ditches the Calligraphic font for early “Roman fonts” more like the unadorned fonts we know today.

Sentence structure starts to change. We start to develop written forms of argument that have no parallel in verbal rhetoric. Ways of talking that don’t exist in oral culture.

People learn to read silently, which is huge, at three to four times the speed of reading aloud.

And here’s the transition: We start to think the sort of thoughts that are impossible without books.

De Revolutionibus Orbium, by Copernicus, 2nd edition. 1566.
De Revolutionibus Orbium, by Copernicus, 2nd edition. 1566. Source.

And it’s almost 70 years after Gutenberg that you see a real print culture emerge. Copernicus, Luther, etc. What we start to see is how fast new ideas can spread. We start to see what happens when every believer has their own Bible in which to look up things, in their own language.

We see what happens when an idea can be proposed and replied to across a continent in months rather than decades. We start to see the impact of the long tail of the past, what happens when esoteric works of the past, long hidden away, can be mass produced. What happens when you get Aristotle for everyone. What happens when every scientist can get his hands on a copy of Copernicus.

And Churches fell. And Science was born. And Governments toppled.

But 70 years later.

It’s something worth remembering for those of us excited about the educational affordances of digital material and networked learning. For a long time I thought — well, change is faster now, right? Technological change is, maybe. But it may be the case that certain types of social change are as slow as they ever were. There are days when I think they might even be slower.

We’ll see. For the moment, whether fact or fiction, the belief that this is just a lull will power me through. We’ll get there yet.

Voyager Expanded Books was an early attempt to capture the possibility of digital texts.

The Social Book was an attempt to update books for the digital age as well.

Vague Dread [...]

The price of the Internet of Things will be a vague dread of a malicious world. by Marcelo Rinesi. [ post]

Volkswagen didn’t make a faulty car: they programmed it to cheat intelligently. The difference isn’t semantics, it’s game-theoretical and it borders on applied demonology.

The intrinsic challenge to our legal framework is that technical standards have to be precisely defined in order to be fair, but this makes them easy to detect and defeat. They assume a mechanical universe, not one in which objects get their software updated with new lies every time regulatory bodies come up with a new test.

And even if all software were always available, checking it for unwanted behavior would be unfeasible — more often than not, programs fail because the very organizations that made them haven’t or couldn’t make sure it behaved as they intended.

Our experience of the world will increasingly come to reflect our experience of our computers and of the internet itself: full of programs never installed doing unknown things to which we’ve never agreed to benefit companies we’ve never heard of, inefficiently at best and actively malignant at worst.

via Vague Dread.

Shame, Guilt and Social Media [...]

This is a tricky subject, and trip wires are everywhere. I’d ask that people put aside for a minute the whose-side-are-you-on lens (you can pick it up again soon) and consider why shame and guilt are different, and why public shaming might erode empathy.

Put simply, guilt is an internal feeling directed outward. We feel it when we do something that we feel is not a reflection of the person we want to be. In feeling guilt, our desire is rid ourselves of the guilt, either by taking responsibility what we have done or taking actions to make sure we don’t do it again. Because guilt is so often caused by seeing how other people are impacted by our actions, it is the partner of empathy. Guilt is empowering.

Shame, on the other hand, is about how other people see us, or might see us if they knew X or Y.

Some people say that shame is paralyzing, but that is not entirely true. It can be quite motivating. But what it motivates us to seek is a shame-free environment.

Drug addiction forms a typical example of this. A drug addict who is shamed about the hurt they have caused people does not seek to address the hurt. What they seek is to get away from the shame. That involves getting high, or returning to a group of friends where getting high is not shameful.

People with food addictions who are shamed seek the place where they feel no shame about how they treat their body, and that place happens to be where they abuse their body the most. By binging or starving or throwing up they find a temporary relief from the stress of caring what other people think or worrying about their body.

But the same thing holds true with smaller amounts of shame. When a person is shamed for what they have done, they do not feel guilt. What they feel is an overwhelming desire to get away from the shame, because shame is an environmental condition. Like a drug addict, we can do that by doubling down on the behavior or by finding new friends who won’t shame us.

How does this connect to online behavior? Well, it’s easier than ever to lash out, and easier than ever to find new friends who won’t shame you (although, as with drug addiction, these may not be the best people to hang around with). To carry the metaphor further, when you’re online you’re shaming the alcoholic while they have a whiskey bottle in their hand and a dozen bars round the corner.

So why would we think shame is a useful tool in that environment? Why would we think it would lead to empathy rather than polarization?

There is a long discussion online about who deserves to be shamed and who doesn’t, who gets hurt most by it and who gets the most sympathy for it. And these are good discussions. But two questions I would ask are:

  • Do we think that shaming will lead to better behavior?
  • If so, on what possible basis?

There are other ways to build empathy. See The Believing Game

Eric Meyer talks about Empathetic Design in RebeccaPurple

Two Beers and a Puppy [...]

From author of Works Well With Others: An Outsider’s Guide to Shaking Hands, Shutting Up, Handling Jerks, and Other Crucial Skills in Business That No One Ever Teaches You

If you want to really evaluate how you feel about someone, give them the “Two Beers and a Puppy” test.

Both the office and, more broadly, life entail lots of interactions with people you’re not quite sure about. Maybe they’re fun in some settings but not in others; maybe they have moments of brilliant talent mixed with astounding incompetence. When you encounter people like this, McCammon recommends a simple test in which you ask yourself two questions: “Would I have two beers with this person?” and “Would I allow this person to look after my puppy over a weekend?”

“Some people are yes and yes, and those are the best people in your life,” McCammon said. “Hopefully you were raised by people like that. Hopefully those are your friends. And then there’s the no and no people — those are the assholes.” Yes-beer, no-puppy people “are to be cautiously trusted,” he writes in the book, while no-beer, yes-puppy people “are no fun but they make the world a better place — for puppies, especially.” Whatever the results of a given iteration of the “Two beers and a puppy game,” said McCammon, “it’s always revealing” to ask these questions. (post)

Why Shame Doesn’t Work [...]

Shaming people seems like it should work — won’t people change if it helps them avoid the pain of feeling shame? But as researcher Brené Brown points out, shame does the opposite, because it pushes us inside of ourselves:

Researchers June Tangney and Ronda Dearing, authors of Shame and Guilt, explain that feelings of shame are so painful that it pulls the focus to our own survival, not the experiences of others.

Example: A man shakes a bottle of pills in his wife’s face, “Look around you! Your pill-popping is destroying our family. Our son is failing out of school and our daughter is literally starving herself for attention. What’s wrong with you?”

Does the shame of what she’s doing to her family lead her to get help, or does it lead her to slink away and get high? After-school specials tell us she gets help. Data say she gets high. In fact, new research shows that some addiction may be born of shame and that shame leads to relapse rather than relapse prevention. (Source)

An alternative to shame is guilt, which is good. Shame tells you you are seen as a bad person; guilt tells you you did something bad. We can, of course, tell people they did bad things, and we can ask people to change. But we need to — as Catholics would say — love the sinner at the same time we may hate the sin. As Brown points out, to not do so is almost certainly making things worse:

Reeves writes, “We need a sense of shame to live well together. For those with liberal instincts, this is necessarily hard. But it is also necessary.” I’m not sure what he means by “liberal instincts,” but what I do know is that using shame as a tool when we are frustrated, angry, or desperate to see behavior change in people is a much better example of the “it feels good – do it” ethos than the teen pregnancy problem [he claims to address]. We might feel justified in belittling and humiliating people, but it makes the world a more dangerous place.

Shame is not guilt strongly felt. People with empathy disorders, for example, can feel shame but not guilt. (Link)

See also Shame, Guilt and Social Media

Given this, a Data Wall of Shame seems like bad pedagogy.

Some political activists see Vulgarity as Ethos

Delta Bans Trophies [...]

A possible example of good coming out of a public shaming. Delta bans Big Game trophies in the Cecil the Lion aftermath.

The airline announced on Monday that it would ban the shipment of all lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies worldwide as freight.
The move comes weeks after Cecil, a popular male lion beloved by tourists and locals in Zimbabwe, was lured from a national park and killed by Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist and hunter.
Delta said it may extend the ban to cover other animals. news

Noting this because the question of whether good comes out of shaming comes up. It sometimes does, perhaps, though things like this seem small bore change.

In general, shame is dangerous. See Why Shame Doesn’t Work

Answer Garden [...]

AnswerGarden is a neat service that allows you to quickly create and distribute open-ended poll questions. It’s a great tool for group brainstorming and for quickly gathering responses to short questions that you pose to your students. In the video embedded below I demonstrate how to create a poll and gather feedback through AnswerGarden. (Source)

Friction in Tax Claims [...]

Many people eligible for tax benefits don’t claim those tax benefits, and that’s a problem. The IRS decided to experiment with direct mailings letting people know they had not claimed their money, and seeing if it resulted in them claiming it. But interestingly, they used an experimental method that reveals a lot about the concept of “friction” when it comes to action, as well as motivation. A new paper in the American Economic Review details the results. (Link)

Here’s a list of what they tried:

  • Complexity (design). Simplified design vs. more complex. Complex design features denser text, repeated information.

  • Complexity (length). Lengthy version of application added questions.

  • Benefit display (low and high). Benefit display notes upper bound of credit, some mentioning low numbers ($457) and some mentioning high ($5,000+)

  • Transaction cost (low and high). Adding a note about the time it would take to complete the form, both estimated low (10 minutes) and high (60 minutes).

  • Penalty/audit information. Letting people know they cannot be held accountable for unintentional mistakes.

  • Envelope message. Message in envelope lets people know it is “Good news!”

  • Informational flyer. Flyer details nature of the benefits, why they exist, how they work.

  • Personal stigma reduction. People told they get this benefit because they worked hard.

  • Social influence. People told many similarly situated peers are claiming this benefit.

So first, what did harm?

  • Complex flyers
  • Informational brochures
  • Trying to minimize social stigma (either through personal reduction or social influence)

And what helped? Two things: a shorter, less complex form and a benefit estimate.

And when we say shorter, we’re not talking that much shorter. We’re talking cutting a couple of questions and adding more whitespace, here’s an example of the difference:


Rising Support for Open Materials [...]

Support is rising for open materials on college campuses. A 2014-2015 survey shows significant movement on this issue. And four-fifths (81 percent) of the survey participants agree that “Open Source textbooks/Open Education Resource (OER) content “will be an important source for instructional resources in five years.”(post)

Encouragement of Open Resources Chart

Significant hurdles with implementation still exist. Only 6 percent of courses actually use educational materials, and IT leaders continue to focus more on the integration of technology into the classroom than the use of OER.

The results were part of the Campus Computing Survey, one of the largest surveys of Campus IT.

Openness is not enough, when other barriers prevail. See Gated Openness.

Crisis of Purpose [...]

Christopher Lucas, writing in 1996, identified the crisis at the heart of higher education in America as a “crisis of purpose”, a result of a chain of historical events that resulted in the multiversity we have today, which must be all things to all people.

From Crisis in the Academy: Rethinking Higher Education in America by Christopher J. Lucas:

Second, if there is a true crisis in American higher education today, it is chiefly a crisis of purpose within the university. The hegemony of the multiversity as a regulative idea is well-nigh complete, but its preeminence does not seem to have come about as the outcome of principled decisions or any discernible process of rational choice.

On the contrary, it appears to have been the inevitable result of an academic system seeking to garner popular support by attempting in most times and places to be all things to all people. In the process, a single model of the university as a multipurpose institution dedicated simultaneously to teaching, research, and service has gained the ascendancy. Its predicament at this historic juncture, it must be observed, is not unlike the juggler balancing too many objects in midair. The spectacle is awe-inspiring, vastly entertaining even. But whether and for how long it can be sustained seem open to serious question. (Source)

The Stalkers of Jimmy Wales [...]

Those that endure harassment on Wikipedia have often found Jimmy Wales to be a sympathetic advocate. Perhaps this is not surprising, since Wales himself deals with stalkers himself at a level unimaginable to most people. In a Quora question about voting, he revealed that fear of stalkers even keeps him from voting:

In Florida, in order to register to vote, you have to give your real home address. Not a post office box, not a proxy address of any kind. To do otherwise is a felony. There was some kind of scandal with Ann Coulter about this a few years back. And this address becomes a public record, accessible by anyone.

I have serious scary stalkers, including one who obsesses about my personal life, my children, and my home address. He’s posted a photo of himself with a gun along with a fantasy about a shootout with me.

Unlike people of a similar public profile, I don’t have billions of dollars and a security staff. I just live in my ordinary Florida home.

Therefore, I am unwilling to register to vote.

This is a shame, because I’ve always taken great pride in voting. (Source)

Not a Boxing Fan [...]

In October 1899 the New South Wales parliament debated the institution of “bank holidays” — holidays that when falling on a weekend would be celebrated on the following Monday. Member E.M. Clark was not a fan of the plan in general, but in what seems an attempt to mock the proposal, he argues that Boxing Day should be a bank holiday, postponed until the following Monday, because, among other things, what the heck is Boxing Day about? (Source)

Here is the submitted proposal which he aims to amend:

 1 Clause I. When any of the following days, 
   that is to say, the twenty-sixth day of Jan-
   uary, the anniversary of the birthday of her 
   Majesty or her successor, the first day of 
 5 August, or the anniversary of the birthday 
   of the Prince of Wales, falls on any day of 
   the week other than Monday, that day shall not 
   be a bank holiday, but the following Monday 
   shall be a bank holiday in lieu thereof ; and 
10 the schedule to the Bank Holidays Act, 1875, 
   is hereby amended accordingly. 

Clark proposes that Boxing Day should be added to the list:

He submitted that this was a legitimate proposal. He did not see why we should have a holiday following Christmas Day called Boxing Day. He admitted that he was not a very intelligent man, and was a little bit mixed on many subjects, but he would like to know what Boxing Day really meant. He did not even know why it was called Boxing Day, unless it was because following upon the jubilations of Christmas Day people fell into antagonism and fought with each other, and this was fixed as a special fighting day following Christmas Day.

He thought we might just as well include Boxing Day as any of the other holidays mentioned. In regard to the remarks of the Hon. member for Glebe, he admitted that Christmas Day was a sacred day, and he did not press that proposition. But that argument did not apply to Boxing Day. Christmas Day might fall on Monday and Boxing Day on Tuesday, and according to the argument of the Hon. member for Waratah Boxing Day should be postponed till the following Monday.

Look at the inconvenience to banking business in the case of promissory notes falling due on Saturday, when Christmas Day fell on Monday and Boxing Day on Tuesday. If there was an argument in favour of any of the holidays in the bill being postponed until Monday, it applied equally to Boxing Day. (Source)

Clark’s amendment to the Bank Holidays Bill was answered in the negative.

Before Posting to NetNews [...]

“Before Posting to NetNews” is the title of Intel guidelines for posting to Usenet newsgroups from their 1995 Netiquette document. Note this advice: you should read a mailing list or Usenet group for one to two months before posting anything. (Link)

3.1.1 General Guidelines for mailing lists and NetNews

 * Read both mailing lists and newsgroups for one to two months before you post anything. This helps you to get an understanding of the culture of the group.

 * Do not blame the system administrator for the behavior of the system users...

This is not bad advice, but it is part of the problem with communities. Because the community knowledge and culture is buried in discourse, entry is time-consuming. God forbid you come into the community and post something someone already posted or use the wrong acronyms.

Compare Twitter, where people feel free to jump into conversations of which they have very little knowledge. See Sea-Lioning

Instead of Big Data Try Basic Data [...]

While vendors talk about big data, the data districts and colleges actually need is often ridiculously simple:

For example, the state collects student attendance data, but right now that data only shows how many kids are going to school every day on average. “You might have 99 percent of students attending,” Miller said, “but in fact there are six kids who are chronically absent.” The new data will be able to point out to teachers the specific students who are consistently missing school, so the teachers could investigate the root causes behind absences and try to address them.

The state also collects high school graduation rates, but many students drop out in middle school. CORE is now collecting this information, as well as highlighting the names of individual students who are not on track to graduate on time. (Source)

Some of these examples may be seen as moving from From Precinct to Voter.

From Precinct to Voter [...]

Early political processes focused on precincts and wards as the unit of allocating campaign effort. You would get out the vote in the areas where you had broad support, and sometimes, less honorably, suppress the vote in those places where you didn’t.

As canvassing became supplemented with phone calls, direct mail, and other pieces, the unit increasingly became the individual voter. Campaigns were less concerned about getting out the vote of Ward 8 and more concerned about flushing out demographics such as “College educated under-25s”

As early as the 1960s Democrats began systematically assessing which precincts should be allocated campaign resources using statistics aggregated over fairly wide geographic areas. By the 1990s, the precinct was being supplanted by the individual voter as the unit of analysis, just as wall maps and clipboards were giving way to web applications and Palm Pilots. (Source)

As campaigns became more focused on these units of analysis, many traditional GOTV efforts became less privileged. And even where traditional methods were used, they were used under the guidance of the new approach — a ward captain in 1960 would get out the vote for his or her ward; by the 2000s they would be armed with data on what specific doors they needed to knock on, based on likely percentages of support and number of previous touches tracked.

Fear-Selling Methodology [...]

Computer consultants want to help you do better and they may be sincere in what they promise but they might be fooling you and themselves when fear seals the deal.


Ward Cunningham describes where he has seen this in the industry:

I’m reminded of the time as a child when my father came home and told of an ex-convict dropping by his business selling check embosser. The man had been sent up for check fraud. Now he applied his skill before my father’s own eyes with my father’s own check. Wow, did you buy a check embosser? I asked. No, my father explained, he would never buy a product that addressed a fear that the salesman had just created.

I know software methodology. I created programming methods myself, out of self-defense. I had been successful programming. I just explained what I did so that I could keep doing it. But soon I was charging money for the explanations and business was good.

My consulting business made sense to me. I knew a better way to make software. People wanted a better way. The market brought us together. I made a living.

I even spoke about fear and building safety nets in our projects to catch us when things go wrong. But my clients remained fearful. I rarely made them happy.

Hate-Selling our Students reminds me of fear-selling my methods. A/B tests show that people part with money faster if you make things worse and then promise to make them better for a fee. Think discount airline.

I eventually gave up the consulting business and took more normal jobs. I’ve had a few. Only recently have I had a position where the hire was made in confidence and not as a solution to some imagined problem I helped create. It feels good.

Hate-Selling You Domain Names [...]

We’ve previously discussed the phenomenon of “hate-selling”, whereby instead of offering you an attractive process at a good price, companies (driven by the logic of the marketing conversion funnel) create processes that generate the appropriate clicks, profits, and retention rates but destroy the experience. Jim Groom finds another instance that looks like hate-selling: the process of buying a domain name. (Link)

We care so much about you as a customer that we're going to stop overcharging you. How does that sound?
We care so much about you as a customer that we’re going to stop overcharging you. How does that sound?

The term hate-selling is of recent vintage, first used in August 2015 to describe the travel industry. See Hate-Selling

The sequence Groom describes looks familiar. Sudden upgrades and special offers appear as you try to quit the service. Now it turns out you can get the service cheaper, as long as you say you are quitting.

We care so much about you as a customer that we’re going to stop overcharging you. How does that sound?
Then comes the fear. Jim describes the pitch:

Next comes the fear. WARNING! You actually want to leave us! We can’t help you once you do, and everything could go to shit and you’re own your own. Are you really ready for this. Don’t do it. We know you overpay, but you’re relatively happy, right? You still want to go? Well, then click this box which frees us of any responsibility of helping you. Goodbye

This pitch has been discussed elsewhere on wiki. See Fear-Selling Methodology

Other stages follow. This is really final! You should call us to talk about it. You have to call us to talk about it.

It’d be interesting to think about what the hate-selling industries (travel, domain names, cable tv, cell phone service) have in common.

Hate-Selling [...]

A post on Skift introduces a new term: “hate-selling”. You see it in travel where “conversion managers have run amok” and you are charged absurd combinations of little charges at the precise amounts analytics says you will tolerate. (Link)

Some examples of hate-selling in the travel industry from the article:

  • Car rental sites with crazy surcharges (a 17.25% premium location fee)

  • Low fare airline seats, “hate-sold” to you in such a way they say — “Here’s what you don’t get with your cheap seat, you idiot” in an attempt to upsell.

  • Buy-now-or-else prompts in the buying experience – “We’ve unearthed this special offer/upgrade for you only available if you click here now.”

The author shares some screenshots and receipts. It’s truly horrifying to look at. The author concludes:

This is what happens when you let conversion marketers run amok with customer experience. They made it a science, but forgot being human.

The problem, as the author points out is that hate-selling works. You can mathematically prove it. You A/B test a gate-checked baggage fee and revenue goes up or down. You take away the free in-flight soda from Economy class and give it to a special Economy+ class. You choose the way that maximizes the revenue.

But revenue isn’t the only metric. The long term outcomes to your business are determined not by quarterly revenue, but by customer experience. Just ask Blackboard, which made a mint hate-selling the LMS to institutions only to find itself in a desperate state when it encountered a “one price gets you everything” competitor.

Blackboard now wants love, but all people remember are baggage fees and upsell.

Jim Groom discusses companies that are Hate-Selling You Domain Names

Problems with the Fee Model [...]

Offering insufficient basic service for a flat price with fees for upgrades seems like a smart move in a number of ways. For one, it shifts the burden of certain amenities onto the people who actually use them. Why should you subsidize a companies “backup” feature, for example, when you aren’t using backups? However, as experience in the airline indstry has shown, it can create the wrong incentives for both consumers and businesses. The New Yorker investigates. (Link)

But the fee model comes with systematic costs that are not immediately obvious. Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins. (Source)

Here’s some of the hidden costs of fees:

  • Baggage Fees. We are not rational creatures. So to avoid a $25 baggage charge we will invest $40 of our time packing clothes into a smaller bag, $10 on smaller toiletries that can get through security, and another $20 on whatever we forgot. As a group we’ll also shove increasingly more into overhead bins which means slower loading and unloading of the plane.

  • Rebooking Fees. We’re increasingly assessed hefty rebooking fees which go far beyond what it costs a company to rebook. Because we discount future trouble, we ignore the rebooking fees when we book, leading to suboptimal behavior. (Delta and United collected nearly a billion dollaars of rebooking fees in 2014).

The biggest problem, however, is on the business incentive side. In an everything included model, each company competes on the best overall experience of the customer.

In a fee-based model, the way to make money is to increase the differential between the economy ticket and the ticket-with-benefits. One way to do that is to create new and exciting benefits. But the easiest way to do that is to take things that should be included (humane boarding, reasonable rebooking policies, some level of refreshment on the plane) and moving those to different fee based tiers.

In other words, you get rewarded for making the basic ticket people miserable.

See also Hate-Selling

Blue-Eyed Shuffle [...]

Flickr photo, user LookIntoMyEyes (source)
Flickr photo (source)

A genetic mutation which took place 6,000-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye color of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today, and can be traced to a single ancestor. There appears to be no evolutionary advantage to the mutation; it is instead a good example of how biological processes constantly reshuffle our genetic makeup into new combinations.

“Originally, we all had brown eyes,” said Professor Hans Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a “switch,” which literally “turned off” the ability to produce brown eyes.” The OCA2 gene codes for the so-called P protein, which is involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives colour to our hair, eyes and skin. The “switch,” which is located in the gene adjacent to OCA2 does not, however, turn off the gene entirely, but rather limits its action to reducing the production of melanin in the iris — effectively “diluting” brown eyes to blue. The switch’s effect on OCA2 is very specific therefore. If the OCA2 gene had been completely destroyed or turned off, human beings would be without melanin in their hair, eyes or skin colour — a condition known as albinism. [ source]

Templated Self [...]

Coined by Amber Case, the term “templated self”  describes how the affordances and defaults of systems affect online expressions of identity.

A self or identity that is produced through various participation architectures, the act of producing a virtual or digital representation of self by filling out a user interface with personal information

For example, the design of the facebook profile expresses one’s identity as a combination of where you live, where you work, where you were educated, and what you like.  Audrey Watters describes how software such as learning management systems, although not explicitly social, can have some of the same identity templating effects (Link)

See also schema

Horse_ebooks [...]

Horse_ebooks was a Twitter account initially thought to be generated by a spam bot slipping under the radar. It became famous for seemingly randomly generated yet poetic tweets.


It was revealed in 2013 that the account had been, at least since 2011, the work of two media artists who had written each tweet in an attempt to impersonate a bot veering towards the poetic.

Alena Smith, a writer of twitter fiction herself, summarized the confused feeling that followers felt on the reveal:

We thought we had happened upon a trove of found art, and like a horde of minor Duchamps, we faved and retweeted these supposedly accidental, inexplicably engaging, ready-made bits of Internet nonsense, savvily designating them as interesting, as amusing, as meaningful. Instead, the disclosure that @horse_ebooks was already the intentionally curated work of two artists — two writers — put us back in our place as a passive audience: as performance-spectators, as fiction-readers. (Source)

She goes on to note that the work succeeded as art:

The fiction @Horse_ebooks wove was not the kind we typically find in books. The intention was not to tell a story but rather to involve us in an experience — an experience that could only exist on Twitter and, indeed, is reflective about ethical quandaries that arise specifically when humans are engaged with Twitter. (How do we know if we’re interacting with other humans when we can’t see them? What if they are robots? What does it mean to “follow” a robot? Are we becoming robots ourselves? Et cetera.) (Source)

See Objet Trouve for the philosophy of found objects.

Wow So Portland! is a bot that we think actually is a bot, but it is still a work of art.

via Horse_ebooks.

Mullet Strategy [...]

Simon Owens describes the “mullet strategy” of sites like Medium in a recent article: business in front, party in the back. The front pages are high quality, professional content to draw in users. The back is the social media platform of unknowns speaking to unknowns. (Link)

The strategy was pioneered by early political blogging sites, most notably Daily Kos, which modeled the idea of a blogging community with a curated front page. In Kos-like sites (including Blue Hampshire) dedicated writers would write for the front page to build a following, and to encourage people to sign up for accounts to comment.

Once people signed up to comment, however, they found they could write their own blog posts under that account. A variety of front page affordances then allowed the “back pages” bloggers to gain recognition, the ultimate of which was being “front-paged” by an editor.

The strategy worked remarkably well. Through a series of efforts at engaging readers, our site Blue Hampshire was able to build a registered user base of over 5,000 users. When users made good comments they were encouraged to write a post on it. If the post was good, it would be front-paged. Consistently good posters were invited to become permanent “front-pagers”.

Part of this relates to Shirky’s Own Worst Enemy point that communities need ways to elevate the status of the users that are most productive on a site. But the bigger point is that the hybrid magazine/community model provides an easy way for the community to thrive, and associates membership with a site recognized for solid writing or reporting, while allowing the messiness that communities need to thrive.

The Mullet Strategy was supported in software platforms both by Daily Kos’s platform and by the SoapBlox platform used by many state blogs. An argument could be made that the success of progressive state blogs was partially driven by access to these platforms. Certainly the transition of Blue Hampshire to a generic WordPress platform coincided with a Colony Collapse on the site (though many, many other factors played a role).

A claim that the mullet strategy is deceiving and exploitative. html

Labor Illusion [...]

While we say that we only care about results, in reality we tend to value results based on the effort we perceive people put into a task. Artists get asked “How long did this take you to paint?” and workers that accomplish little but leave late are seen to be exemplary workers. Some psychologists refer this to the “labor illusion”.

And the ubiquity of complaining about long days at the office suggests that people tend to apply this idea to themselves, too, giving more weight to time spent laboring than actual accomplishments. Because one, of course, does not necessarily lead to another: Consider the recent study, for example, that found office workers routinely fib about working 80-hour weeks in order to get ahead at work. Their bosses mostly fell for it, suggesting that they couldn’t tell the difference in terms of what their subordinates actually got done. (post)

via Labor Illusion | Hapgood.

Peter Elbow [...]

Peter Elbow is a teacher and theorist of composition. His work focuses on the writing process, and the ways in which teachers can help their students become better writers through embracing the messiness of the writing process.

Techniques advocated by Elbow include Minimal Grading and The Believing Game.

Lysenkoism in Poland (Test Page) [...]

This should be a YouTube video

This a paragraph with a note,* a note in the middle.

Lysenko with Stalin
Lysenko with Stalin

First Header Second Header
Content Cell Content Cell
Content Cell Content Cell

This is a link. °



Hierarchy and Cooperation [...]

We have shown that achieving cooperation among humans is more difficult when there is an underlying hierarchical structure producing different ranks between people and therefore unequal payoffs for the participants. This result is driven by insufficient contributions from lower ranked individuals who cannot be confident that they will benefit from cooperating. Remarkably, human behavior is consistent with a trend that permeates the rest of the primate order; primates in steeply hierarchical societies have difficulty cooperating for benefits that must be divided, whereas primates organized in weakly hierarchical (egalitarian) societies are more successful. (Source)

Streams Don’t Merge [...]

Network map showing two widely disconnected groups

Emma Pierson writing about tweets and Ferguson notes that red and blue tweeters live in discourse environments that are nearly fully separated. The graphic produced by her demonstrates the severity of this division.

So we have two groups of people who rarely communicate, have very different backgrounds, think drastically different things, and often spray vitriol at each other when they do talk. Previous studies of Twitter have found similar echo chambers, the Israel-Palestine conflict offering one representative example. It is unclear to what extent Twitter merely reflects social divisions as opposed to causing them; I find it unlikely that Mckesson and the red tweeters would be friends if they met over beers. But even this preliminary analysis does not bode well for the possibility of reconciliation.– from Quartz (post)

That said, it’s not clear that the intent here is to communicate to each other. As Bonnie Stewart and others have noted, these events are used by activists tactically, and the goal is not persuasion of enemies but often the much more narrow aim of shaming the press into covering an undercovered story, alerting other activists of an event or issue, or mobilizing moderates into to more radical action.

Bonnie Stewart talks about the activist uses of Twitter. See Tactical Twitter

Related to polarization: in social media, Anger Spreads Fastest

Our world now is a result of the lifestream concept. See Lifestream History

Wow So Portland! [...]

Screenshot 2015-10-25 at 12.21.48 PM

Wow So Portland! is a bot-run twitter account by @tinysubversions that selects random images from portions of the Google Street View of Portland and pairs them with common sayings about Portland’s unique and quirky hipsterness. The images selected generally come from the office parks and factory shipping docks of Portland. The effect of the bot, which runs four times a day, is broadly humorous as most street scenes look like any formerly industrial city trying to transition to a post-industrial economy.

Screenshot 2015-10-25 at 12.17.42 PM

The media narrative of Portland is this revealed to be focused on the tiniest sliver of Portland life, the Portland of the upper middle class young creative professional that the press loves to cover, at the expense of the broad experience of the general population.

Screenshot 2015-10-25 at 12.27.09 PM

Horse_ebooks was thought to be a bot unintentionally producing poetic tweets, but the truth was more interesting.

Sensory Adaptation and Inattentional Blindness [...]

Although our perceptions are built from sensations, not all sensations result in perception. In fact, we often don’t perceive stimuli that remain relatively constant over prolonged periods of time. This is known as sensory adaptation. Imagine entering a classroom with an old analog clock. Upon first entering the room, you can hear the ticking of the clock; as you begin to engage in conversation with classmates or listen to your professor greet the class, you are no longer aware of the ticking. The clock is still ticking, and that information is still affecting sensory receptors of the auditory system. The fact that you no longer perceive the sound demonstrates sensory adaptation and shows that while closely associated, sensation and perception are different.

There is another factor that affects sensation and perception: attention. Attention plays a significant role in determining what is sensed versus what is perceived. Imagine you are at a party full of music, chatter, and laughter. You get involved in an interesting conversation with a friend, and you tune out all the background noise. If someone interrupted you to ask what song had just finished playing, you would probably be unable to answer that question.

See for yourself how inattentional blindness works by checking out this selective attention test from Simons and Chabris (1999).

One of the most interesting demonstrations of how important attention is in determining our perception of the environment occurred in a famous study conducted by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris (1999). In this study, participants watched a video of people dressed in black and white passing basketballs. Participants were asked to count the number of times the team in white passed the ball. During the video, a person dressed in a black gorilla costume walks among the two teams. You would think that someone would notice the gorilla, right? Nearly half of the people who watched the video didn’t notice the gorilla at all, despite the fact that he was clearly visible for nine seconds. Because participants were so focused on the number of times the white team was passing the ball, they completely tuned out other visual information. Failure to notice something that is completely visible because of a lack of attention is called inattentional blindness.

In a similar experiment, researchers tested inattentional blindness by asking participants to observe images moving across a computer screen. They were instructed to focus on either white or black objects, disregarding the other color. When a red cross passed across the screen, about one third of subjects did not notice it (Figure) (Most, Simons, Scholl, & Chabris, 2000).

A photograph shows a person staring at a screen that displays one red cross toward the left side and numerous black and white shapes all over.
Nearly one third of participants in a study did not notice that a red cross passed on the screen because their attention was focused on the black or white figures. (credit: Cory Zanker)

Portions of text orginally from Psychology by OpenStax College, licensed under a Creative Commons License 4.0 International

Lysenkoism [...]

Lysenkoism, named for Russian botanist Trofim Lysenko, was a political doctrine in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union that mandated that all biological research conducted in the USSR conform to a modified Lamarckian evolutionary theory. It was imposed for largely ideological reasons. Lysekoism is today used as a term applied to centralized attempts to determine the direction of scitech.

The Russian problem with Darwinism was the embracing of “Malthusian ideas”. [ html]

As a response to Lysenkoism, Polanyi developed the theory of Spontaneous Order.

Darwin and Malthus
Lysenkoism in Poland

Many conservatives believe Global Warming research is the new Lysenkoism. [ post] [ html]

Reputation Traps [...]

A reputation trap is protective device set around issues of sensitivity in a given profession. Reputation traps enforce epistemic closure: to express a certain view or engage in a certain type of work renders one untrustworthy, which in turn further invalidates the view.

The term was coined by Hew Price in an article on cold fusion research:

Again, there’s a sociological explanation why few people are willing to look at the evidence. They put their reputations at risk by doing so. Cold fusion is tainted, and the taint is contagious – anyone seen to take it seriously risks contamination. So the subject is stuck in a place that is largely inaccessible to reason – a reputation trap, we might call it. People outside the trap won’t go near it, for fear of falling in. ‘If there is something scientists fear, it is to become like pariahs,’ as Lundin puts it. People inside the trap are already regarded as disreputable, an attitude that trumps any efforts that they might make to argue their way out, by reason and evidence. [ source]

Sometimes such traps are helpful, in cases where there is a near-unanimous consensus backed by overwhelming evidence. As an example, a person expressing a view that man-made global warming does not exist would (at this point) find it hard to work in mainstream climatology. It would be difficult to trust the expertise of someone who could look at the available evidence and come to that conclusion. A history of effort to disprove evolution would cause similar issues for a biologist (and again, rightly so).

In most cases, however, reputation traps do more harm than good. In evolutionary science many scientists steered clear of certain work in evolutionary science because it bore a superficial resemblance to the disgraced ideas of Lamarck. Today those same issues form one of the more exciting branches of evolutionary science.

As Price notes, we find a similar situation today with cold fusion research:

Again, the explanation for ignoring these claims cannot be that other attempts failed 25 years ago. That makes no sense at all. Rather, it’s the reputation trap. The results are ignored because they concern cold fusion, which we ‘know’ to be pseudoscience – we know it because attempts to replicate these experiments failed 25 years ago! The reasoning is still entirely circular, but the reputation trap gives its conclusion a convincing mask of respectability. That’s how the trap works.

Fifty years ago, Thomas Kuhn taught us that this is the usual way for science to deal with paradigm-threatening anomalies. The borders of dominant paradigms are often protected by reputation traps, which deter all but the most reckless or brilliant critics. [ source]

When reputation traps are institutionally defined, they are sometimes considered Lysenkoism

Reputation Traps are one issue around innovation, as they keep people from working on paradigm-shifting solutions.

See also Sugar Trap for an example from the field of nutrition.

Circadian Typology [...]

Circadian rhythmic expression differs among individuals. Some individuals are night people and some are morning people. Mechanisms and evolutionary rationale for such differences are unknown, as is the reason behind related disorders. Studies have shown that “eveningness” may be associated with mood disorders, ADHD, and eating disorders. (pdf)

Circadian Typology could be related to kin selection, via Hamilton’s Rule

Typology calls into question the premise of First Hours, Best Hours.

Cohen’s Law [...]

Quoting Clay Shirky, from Own Worst Enemy:

Geoff Cohen has a great observation about this. He said “The likelihood that any unmoderated group will eventually get into a flame-war about whether or not to have a moderator approaches one as time increases.” As a group commits to its existence as a group, and begins to think that the group is good or important, the chance that they will begin to call for additional structure, in order to defend themselves from themselves, gets very, very high.

via Cohen’s Law.

Typewriter Art [...]

Typewriter art predates ASCII Art, and anticipates many of its techniques. See Basics of ASCII Art.

October 1898 typewriter art, by Flora Stacy in Phonetic Journal. (source)
October 1898 typewriter art, by Flora Stacy in Phonetic Journal. (source)

Flora Stacy is the first well-known typewriter artist, although people were playing with the possibilities of typewriter art from the invention of the very first typewriter. Stacy’s picture of a butterfly, typed on an early typewriter, appeared in the Phonetic Journal in 1898.

Interestingly, typewriters allow more granular positioning of the typed elements than most electronic means, allowing for the creation of more organic looking compositions. Also, on older manual typewriters the darkness of the letter can be adjusted through the force with which the key is hit.

Works such as the Portrait of Nicole Kidman by Keira Rathbone make use of this ability to position, overtype, and vary darkness. (html)

Portrait of Nicole Kidman, by Keira Rathbone (source)
Portrait of Nicole Kidman, by Keira Rathbone (source)

Paul Smith, a man with cerebral palsy, is famous for his typewriter art. To see his technique, try Paul Smith’s Typewriter Art.

Typewriter artists even did things close to emojis. See Typewriter Emojis.

Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope [...]

Nineteen years after the formation of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is thrust into the struggle of the Rebel Alliance when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has lived for years in seclusion on the desert planet of Tatooine. Obi-Wan begins Luke’s Jedi training as Luke joins him on a daring mission to rescue the beautiful Rebel leader Princess Leia from the clutches of the evil Empire. Although Obi-Wan sacrifices himself in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader, his former apprentice, Luke proves that the Force is with him by destroying the Empire’s dreaded Death Star.  (1977)

Defeat Device [...]

A defeat device is an embedded system or mechanism that attempts to dupe regulators or potential buyers. The most recent example is Volkswagen’s on-board emissions module, which detected whether a car was undergoing emissions tests and changed the functioning of the car to pass the tests.

Samsung Smart TVs have also been accused of using a defeat device:

Independent lab tests have found that some Samsung TVs in Europe appear to use less energy during official testing conditions than they do during real-world use, raising questions about whether they are set up to game energy efficiency tests. (html)

Samsung claims this is an abuse of the term.

Source: Defeat Device

More recently. Renault is facing suspicion of using defeat devices. (Link)

The VW defeat device was apparently developed at Audi in 1999. (Source)

Glitch Art [...]

Glitch cabinet
An example of glitch aesthetic applied to furniture. The photo here is not glitching, the cabinet is carved to look exactly like this. (source)

Glitch art intentionally reproduces the glitches associated with analog and digital media for artistic effect. Examples of glitch art abound in the audiovisual arts, but have even been used in areas such as furniture creation (see photo).

Glitch Safari collects photos of glitches from the real world. (flickr) (vimeo)

Washington’s First Open Textbook Law [...]

It’s well known that Washington State adopted one of the first open textbook laws in the nation. But what does it say? Here we excerpt the pertinent bits of H. B. 1025 of 2009.

(1) The boards of regents of the state universities, the boards of trustees of the regional universities and The Evergreen State College, and the boards of trustees of each community and technical college district, in collaboration with affiliated bookstores and student and faculty representatives, shall adopt rules requiring that:


(b) Faculty and staff members consider the least costly practices in assigning course materials, such as adopting the least expensive edition available, adopting free, open textbooks when available, and working with college librarians to put together collections of free online web and library resources, when educational content is comparable as determined by the faculty.

RebeccaPurple [...]

Eric Meyer talks about the death of his daughter and the beauty and the cruelty of the web. The same process that memorialized his daughter so sweetly in the CSS tag for #663399 is the same process that created GamerGate. Many say that these processes are neutral, and what can be used for good can be used for evil. But the truth is that most online interactions can be improved by better, empathetic design.

Meyer talks about the remake of League of Legends to reduce online abuse. See Analytics of Empathy

Abuse is a serious problem, but UI can help. See Reducing Abuse on Twitter

One problem with Twitter is conversations tend towards polarization. See Streams Don’t Merge

Sea-Lioning [...]

Sea-lioning is the act of jumping into discourse communities you are not a part of with demands for evidence. Sea-lioning usually maintains a pretense of civility, but ignores incessant requests to desist. The term comes from a well-known Wondermark comic strip where a sea lion overhears a passing remark about sea lions and persistently demands support for the comment. (html)

It’s important to note that while many see sea-lioning as bad behavior, it is behavior that is produced in part by Inhospitable Writing.

Sea-lioning is related to Concern Trolling, a malicious form of discourse meant to divide communities by posing as a “concerned member” of those communities. See Concern Trolling

ALEKS Is Public Software [...]

ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces) is an adaptive learning platform. It provides material in mathematics, chemistry, introductory statistics, and business. It is also an example of software developed with public, not private, funding.

ALEKS was initially developed at UC Irvine starting in 1994 with support from a large National Science Foundation grant:

A cognitive scientist turned mathematician, Falmagne began working on the mathematical foundation of ALEKS – which stands for Assessment & Learning in Knowledge Spaces – in the early 1980s with Jean-Paul Doignon of the Free University of Brussels. Falmagne initiated content development and software programming in 1994 at UC Irvine with support from a large National Science Foundation grant. (post)

ALEKS Corporation was granted an exclusive, worldwide, perpetual license to the software by UC Irvine’s Office of Technology Alliances. (wikipedia)

In 2012, the partnership brought $500,000 in royalties to UC Irvine. (post)

In 2013, the ALEKS Corporation was acquired by McGraw-Hill Education.

Castle Bravo Miscalculation [...]

The famous detonation of a 15-megaton nuclear weapon off of the Bikini Atoll in the 1950s has an under-reported aspect: the size of the detonation was miscalculated, exposing many people to unanticipated levels of radiation:

The designers of Castle Bravo seriously miscalculated the yield of the device, resulting in critical radiation contamination. They predicted that the yield of the device would be roughly five to six megatons (a megaton is the equivalent of one million tons of TNT). Scientists were shocked when Castle Bravo produced an astounding 15 megaton yield, making it 1,000 times as powerful as the U.S. nuclear weapons used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The miscalculation occurred because scientists did not realize that the “dry” source of fusion fuel, lithium deuteride with 40 percent content of lithium-6 isotope, would contribute so greatly to the overall yield of the detonation. (post)

The explosion was recorded on film:

The history of the nuclear weapons program in the U. S. is rife with error. See Command and Control

This YouTube video is a five minute documentary explaining the miscalculation. (youtube)

Australian Buggles Chart Position [...]

The sleeve notes to the reissue of The Buggles’ Age of Plastic claim it was the biggest record in Australia for 27 years.[ cite] Yet very little other evidence of this claim can be found. Here we log possible interpretations of the claim and evidence supporting or refuting them. Along the way we consider the many possible meanings of “biggest record in Australia for 27 years” and, incidentally, deal with the messiness of historical claims.

Interpretation #1. Age of Plastic charted for the most consecutive weeks.

Finding. According to Wikipedia maintained Australian charts, Age of Plastic (the album) seems not to have significantly charted at all. [ cite][ cite]

Interpretation #2. “Video Killed the Radio Star” stayed number one for more weeks than anything for the previous 27 years.

Finding. Again, not likely. The single charted for seven weeks, which was the best showing of that year. But the previous year both “You’re the One That I Want” and “Stayin’ Alive” had seven week runs and the year before that the Wings charted an eleven week run in the top spot.


This investigation was spurred by a claim in Video Killed the Radio Star – Why History is Narrative (& Messy).

Origin of the “Social Web” [...]

The origin of the social web is various, but the origin of the term is attributed to Howard Rheingold.

social web

From Wikipedia:

The term “social Web” was coined by Howard Rheingold for this network in 1996; Rheingold was quoted in an article for Time on his website “Electric Minds”, described as a “virtual community center” that listed online communities for users interested in socializing through the Web, saying that “The idea is that we will lead the transformation of the Web into a social Web”. (wikipedia)

It’s worth noting that the use of HTML forms (crucial in wiki as well) was key here. Forms became the way to hack a read/write web together.

The HTML form was born in the curses browser. See Birth of the Form.

Video Killed the Radio Star – Why History is Narrative (& Messy) [...]

On August 1, 1981, The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star became a staple of popular culture history when it was the first music video to be played on the MTV cable network.  The song had been a hit when released in 1979, but its status as the maiden voyage has elevated the song beyond the ebb and flow of popular music, allowing a narrative to be built around the song, the band and their importance on the history of popular music.

The public domain image from NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, modified (and copyrighted) by MTV for their August 1, 1981 launch.

In this narrative, two young musicians (Trevor Horn & Geoff Downes) form to create The Buggles, put out a synth-driven album, see the time-stamped success of a Top 40 album from 1979, and by the time the song adorns MTV the musicians have disbanded The Buggles, forever to be one-hit wonders.  MTV’s emergence allow The Buggles to live forever, their premonition of video killing the radio star ringing true for the cable media giant.

This concise history is not untrue, but it is told from the perspective of technological progression in media and popular culture.   It ignores several events and reorders timelines, which when put together cast a very different light on The Buggles and their supposed one claim to fame.

Video Killed the Radio Star was written by Horn and Downes, as well as a musician named Bruce Woolley.  The song was first recorded by these three, as well as famed music and technology pioneer Thomas Dolby.  Woolley was on lead vocals for this version, recoded under the band Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club.  This version is much more up-tempo and driven by the punk and social influences of British music at the time, rather than the more languid and synthetic pacing of the Buggles version.

Dolby and Woolley continued on with The Camera Club, and Horn & Downes, who had a 50% stake in the song, recorded their own version under The Buggles, which folded into the technological concept album looking at the virtues and obstacles of technology in society.  Both versions charted; Woolley’s won more critical acclaim while The Buggles had more commercial success both in Great Britain and internationally.  Then 1979 morphed into 1980, The Buggles had moved on to work with Yes (and would later split, with Horn joining Art of Noise while Downes joined Asia, a progressive rock supergroup). Thomas Dolby went on to have a significant impact on synthesizer music under his name (his album The Age of Wireless considered a touchstone in 1980s popular music), as well as a entrepreneurial career in computers and mobile technology.  Bruce Woolley has become a well-respected conductor and composer, and a world-renowned theremin player.

The cultural history of Video Killed the Radio Star might fit the narrative of musical progress as seen by MTV, but it misses the rich histories of those who created the song, which was for them but one of many successes.

Narrative is not only messy history, but also Narrative Is Our Memory Storage

The dominant paradigm about Video Killed the Radio Star [ html]

Three versions of the Bruce Woolley-led Video Killed the Radio Star [ html]

The original article noted that the Age of Plastic was the top selling record in Australia for 27 years, but further investigation calls this into question. See  Australian Buggles Chart Position

Earliest Web Annotation Proposal [...]

People talked a decent bit about annotation on the www-talk list in the early 90s. The first lengthy treatment I can find of it is in a post by Dave Raggett in November 1992 (although he references earlier conversations). Raggett outlines a number of types of annotation, some structured around newsgroup-type functionality and others more focused on document markup affordances. Types include:

  • Linked replies or related documents, which would be stored in separate documents that are associated with the root document dynamically at runtime.
  • Page annotations, which would work much like modern page annotations, with highlights, sticky notes, and the like.
  • Revision history, which would include a standard set of check-out/check-in metadata to prevent accidental overwrites.

See Ragget’s November 1992 note. (www-talk)

The earliest web annotation roadmap for a product I can find comes from James Whitescarver on the www-talk list in December 1992. Talking about the release of his new curses client for the World Wide Web he states:

We plan to impliment group hypertext using a mail server to suppliment the HPPT access protocol. Readers can contribute anchors to a text via mail to www at the server machine. Our browsers will support this transparently. Later we hope to participate in a broader effort to include SGML tags to support forms, for truely interactive hypertext. (html)

Note again the idea here — the assumed activity of the reader is adding links, a process that was very common in hypertext of the time which often broke permissions into the roles of reader-annotator and author.

The update method here is also rather interesting — the browser hosts a mail client in the background which can send annotations via email to any server understanding the method. Neat.

Jim Whitescarver is one of the unsung heroes of the Internet. See Birth of the Form.

Harnessing the Potential of Memory in Writing [...]

A common problem for writers who want to write but are not sure on what specific topic:  how do those long-term memories bubble-up, those we do not have pulled up in the short-term?  The answer is a trigger.  Some triggers are easy (pictures of events, artifacts of celebrations or accomplishments, places and people), but those are the ones people interact with regularly, so they are not the problem we speak of!  We need to work on ways in which to produce triggers people would not normally engage.

File name :DSC_0010.TIF File size :16.9MB (17769206 bytes) Date and time :Mon,Mar 25,2002 2:25:03 PM Image size :3008 x 1960 Resolution :300 x 300 dpi Number of bits :8 bits/channel Protection :Off Camera ID :N/A Model name :NIKON D1X Quality mode :HI (RGB Uncompress) Metering mode :Multi-pattern Exposure mode :Manual Flash :Off Focal length :35.0 mm Shutter speed :1/2 seconds Aperture :F18.0 Exposure compensation :0.0 EV Fixed white balance :Preset1 Lens :35 mm F2.0 Flash sync mode :N/A Exposure difference :2.0 EV Flexible program :No Sensitivity :ISO125 Sharpening :Normal Curve mode :High-contrast Color mode :Color Tone compensation :N/A Latitude(GPS) :N/A Longitude(GPS) :N/A Altitude(GPS) :N/A
(Four Portraits, Portfolio) Sigmund Freud by David Wurzel.  Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of free association in his theories on psychoanalysis.  Like the Atkinson & Shiffrin science on memory, much of Freud’s work is criticized and even discredited, but our purpose here is not to produce effective psychoanalysis as much as it is to pull from our memories some of the narrative elements that shaped us, and so it can be a launching point for our studies.

In free association, the participant is encouraged to begin talking/engaging on a topic or point.  The key for the participant is to not censor their thoughts or to push them in a certain direction through conscious manipulation; rather, the participant is encouraged to follow the subconscious and continue talking about what they are moved to speak on.  The only wrong answer in free association is the forced answer.  This means free association can be non-sensical at times, include lots of filler as voice or fingers can keep up with memories, but when engaged it can provide a window into the past for the participant.

A related practice can be found in Peter Elbow’s The Believing Game, where participants are asked to turn off traditional “critical thinking” reflexes and find the value in a foreign idea or perspective.

Limerence [...]

Limerence is a form of obsessive love (to some romantic love) commonly experienced by people in some relationships but not in others, and often at the beginning of relationships. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term in her 1979 book Love and Limerence.

It is also not necessarily unhealthy, although a craving for limerence above other forms of love can be.

Whether we call it limerence or some other thing, the question becomes to what extent the relationship can be grounded in reality. Helen Fisher, a neuropsychologist, suggests that limerence, sex drive, and attachment were complementary drives:

  • Sex drive pushes individuals to get out, and survey many potential partners.
  • Limerence pushes individuals to focus high amounts of energy on one person, in order to successfully bring about offspring.
  • Attachment keeps people together long enough to raise offspring to the age where they can reproduce. [ cite]

A few things can go wrong though. First, many people become addicted to limerence, to the point they cannot form attachment. To illustrate this, Walster and Walster (1978) quote the actor Marcello Mastroianni:

That’s my trouble. I believe I’m having a great love, but it’s only on a plane of fantasy. I can’t bring it down to the acts, the gestures, the attitudes of one who’s really in love. Maybe one should love without imagining too much. But I can’t, and it becomes a game where I’m left with the fantasy while the reality, the woman I love, is eventually gone … destroying any chance have for a happy life. [ source]

Additionally, while these different states can form a sequence, they are in truth often detached from one another, which can create all sorts of problems.

Not Every Axis Should Be At Zero [...]

One of the more common forms of chart abuse is messing with the axis, starting from a non-zero point to make a trend look more substantial. But people often become dogmatic about this point, not realizing the point of the rule is to make meaningful differences meaningful (and only make meaningful differences meaningful).

But first, let’s show a somewhat egregious example of y-axis abuse:

Fox Chart

The impression this chart gives is that welfare has quadrupled over the period of a couple years. With the axis set to zero, the trend looks a lot less ominous:

Federal assistance-new graph

It’s easy to scoff and say this is the end of the story (it is, after all, a Fox news graphic we’re debunking here). But the truth is that the redone chart probably hides meaningful differences as well.

So what’s fair? First, the axis here probably shouldn’t be a zero, but if that’s the case we shouldn’t being using a bar graph (bar graphs should always have the vertical axis at zero, line graphs can be more flexible).

As far as what to set the Y-axis at — well is would depend on the historical trend of the thing being measured. We’re looking at a three year trend here — my preference would be to look at what the range of welfare has been as a percent of the population in the past and set the Y-axis to a bit more than that range.

Here’s a graph that gets it right — it takes a given year as an index value, shows the lead-up, and then the increases are off of the indexed year:


One way to think about this graph is this — this is the sort of information you’d look for if you were running a business. If you relied on the Fox News graphs, you’d be out of business in a very short time.

One final example of why the zero-based axis is not always a good idea. Here’s chart that the National Review posted to “prove” that climate change is not a problem (and no, I am not making this up):


That shows a chart, indexed at zero Fahrenheit, of the climate crisis, the growth in global temperature from about 57 degrees Fahrenheit to 60 degrees.

But think about this for a second. What is the meaning of the index here? Fahrenheit’s zero index has nothing to do with global temperature. It’s arbitrary. If you did this in Celsius it would be less pronounced. In Kelvin it would be unreadable. On the other hand, if we had a scale that started at 56 degrees F, the temperature would appear to have tripled.

A better strategy here is, well, basically anything else. But a simple way to do this is the way the los angeles times did this below. Take an average of the last 100 years or so and plot a line at the center, then show the deviations from that line:


Because of the statistical noise I’d probably put in a trend line, but even without it you can see the point — what we are seeing here is a trend with no parallel in recent history.

The Believing Game [...]

The Believing Game is a thought exercise developed by Peter Elbow. He sees it as a necessary balance to the Doubting Game practiced in western culture under the name critical thinking.

Critical thinking asks one find flaws in thinking that looks right. The Believing Game asks for virtues in thinking that looks wrong. Elbow believed these two modes to be complimentary:

The doubting game represents the kind of thinking most widely honored and taught in our culture. It’s sometimes called “critical thinking.” It’s the disciplined practice of trying to be as skeptical and analytic as possible with every idea we encounter. By trying hard to doubt ideas, we can discover hidden contradictions, bad reasoning, or other weaknesses in them–especially in the case of ideas that seem true or attractive. We are using doubting as a tool in order to scrutinize and test.

In contrast, the believing game is the disciplined practice of trying to be as welcoming or accepting as possible to every idea we encounter: not just listening to views different from our own and holding back from arguing with them; not just trying to restate them without bias; but actually trying to believe them. We are using believing as a tool to scrutinize and test. But instead of scrutinizing fashionable or widely accepted ideas for hidden flaws, the believing game asks us to scrutinize unfashionable or even repellent ideas for hidden virtues.

Often we cannot see what’s good in someone else’s idea (or in our own!) till we work at believing it. When an idea goes against current assumptions and beliefs–or if it seems alien, dangerous, or poorly
formulated—we often cannot see any merit in it.*

A lot of people think we’ll get empathy and understanding through trying to express our feelings and beliefs more fully. But why would we? Expression pushes us deeper into our value and belief system, not out of it.

Wikity forgoes the usual blog-as-expression route and asks its users to host the ideas of others, finding useful connections between them and their own writing. Writing expresses the author, but is produced as a lens that others might be invited to look through, not a missle aimed at enemies.

Perhaps this, and not relentless self-expression, is how we bridge the gap between us?

The Believing Game has some relation to methods of free association, which attempt to temporarily disable the critical faculty to find hidden connections. See Harnessing the Potential of Memory in Writing

James Flynn discusses how “Taking the Hypothetical Seriously” makes us more empathetic. See Flynn Effect

Civility’s Curse? [...]

We’re told that civility is what we need to bring people back into politics. Diana Mutz, a leading researcher on the psychology of “in-your-face” politics disagrees. Too much incivility has deleterious effects, but too much civility leads to apathy and inattention:

For those concerned about widespread political apathy, Mutz concludes, more civility on television is not a solution. Political programming need not be shout fests, but it does need to be entertaining. Campaigns may never be the carnival-like events they were in the 19th century, but by taking cues from shows like American Idol, political television (particularly around election season) can better compete in an entertainment-dominated media environment. (html)

Mutz also finds that when it comes to arousal, text-based incivility (not intra-personal, but rather the kind of thing one sees in op-eds and transcripts) cannot compete with TV for creating agitation.

There are some clear links here to civility online and even the sort of balance we need to strike between the Garden and the Stream.

A related issue is how catastrophic events motivate us more than slow growth. See Tree That Falls

Declining Young Adult Suicide Rates in the 1990s [...]

Suicide rates among young adults declined markedly in the late 1990s. While there are many explanations as to why this pattern emerged, much evidence points to the introduction of newer antidepressants and an increased awareness among medical practitioners of the issue. Others suggested that the fall might have been due to an improving economy.

Screenshot 2015-11-22 at 8.49.11 AM

In the mid-aughts, suicide rates began to rise again.

See Rising Suicides

Town Equals 4,663 [...]

Machine Learning algorithms can only be as good as the structure of the data they use, and the scripts they have to inform them of data context. This sign from New Cuyama is a decent demonstration of what a world of unstructured data can look like to a machine.


Roger Schank and Robert Abelson proposed Script Theory to deal with issues of cultural knowledge in machine interpretation (it kind of applies). See Script Theory.

This photo and initial commentary via Michael Nielsen on Twitter. (twitter)

Cocteau’s Bataclan Play [...]

Jean Cocteau’s play Ox on the Roof (in French, Le bœuf sur le toit) played to appreciative audiences at the Bataclan in 1921, after being roundly mocked a few years earlier.

From NYT 30 October 1921:

Another event of great interest to all who are closely watching the modern manifestation of Paris is included In the new program at the Bataclan vaudeville house. This Is a farcical futurist sketch by the advanced young poet Jean Cocteau, set to distinctly futurist music. It is called “Ox on roof.” The title has nothing whatever to do with the action. It was produced privately a couple of years ago. All the characters wear huge, grotesque masks of a remarkable design. The action, which Is entirely unconnected. takes place at a saloon bar.When it was originally produced many persons thought It was nothing more than a huge joke that Cocteau and friends were playing on Paris. Few who saw it then would have believed it possible that It would be two years later applauded by an everyday bour-geois audience. But that is the case….

The Bataclan was one of the first women-owned theatres in Paris. See First Women-Directed Theaters in Paris


Tenures [...]

Thomas Littleton’s Tenures (often New Tenures) was the first textbook written specifically on English land law. It was printed as a Textus Inclusus text, with wide margins for annotations. The language was a dialect of French called “law French”. The earliest copies emerged in the 1480s, but the text was popular throughout the 16th century and in use through the 21st. [ cite]

STC 15749.2 copy 1, showing the large margins. (Photo by Caroline Duroselle-Melish)
STC 15749.2 copy 1, showing the large margins. Photo by Caroline Duroselle-Melish. [ fairuse]
In the work, Littleton attempts to make a classification of rights, each stated clearly at the beginning of a chapter, after which he discussed the various nuances of the application of the principle.

The work is clearly addressed to students of law,[ cite] and was distinguished by its focus on English law, excluding the civil law that governed continental countries.

STC 15749 copy 2, with the large margins almost entirely filled with notes. (Photo by Caroline Duroselle-Melish)
STC 15749 copy 2 of Tenures, with the large margins almost entirely filled with notes. (Photo by Caroline Duroselle-Melish) [ fairuse]
At the time, copyright was not in force, so the original publisher had to fend off competition from other printers. [ cite]

The edition displayed above is an example of Textus Inclusus.

Much like Suicide Clusters.


College Suicides Down Slightly [...]

Contrary to public perception, suicides at colleges may be down slightly.

That’s probably because Schwartz’s account of what’s going on is rather nuanced. While anecdotal accounts of ever-more-mentally-ill students abound, he said that “If you look at things that are a bit more carefully, rigorously tracked, like rates of suicide, actually, when rates of suicide were measured in the Big 10 study of colleges” — which looked at university suicides from 1980 to 1990 — “as compared to two surveys that were done in the 2000s that go up to 2009, the rate seems to have gone down slightly.” [link l=””]

Of course, there are some demographic trends that must be controlled for here. White men commit suicide at the highest rates, and the proportion of white men at college has shrunk in the past twenty-five years. On the other hand, the college population is also older, and risk for suicide increases throughout a person’s twenties, which should predict an overall increase in suicide rates among college students.  Likewise, the presence of student veterans, who are also at elevated risk, might drive the numbers up.

There are some other risk factors of note (in particular, the risk for transgender students) but it is difficult to see how they might have shifted average suicide over time.

All in all, there’s probably legitimate questions about whether the rate is slightly up or down, but there is little support for a suicide epidemic in colleges. In fact, the trend outside of college-age students is far more dismal. See Suicide Belt, Rising Suicides]]

The Big Ten Student Suicide Study: A 10-Year Study of Suicides on Midwestern University Campuses. (1997) [ pdf]

The lower suicide rate on campus has been attributed to the lack of access to firearms on campus. See Guns and Suicide on Campus

Colleges sometimes are reluctant to report student deaths as suicides, for fear of Contagion Effects on Campus




False Frame [...]

download (4)Interesting picture from the Baltimore protests of 2015. It looks like a purse is being snatched from an innocent victim, as the victim’s friends try to assist and fend off the attacker. But the truth is more complex.

According to the women in the glasses, Caitlin Goldblatt, the rehead, was a stranger to all of the others in the picture. She came out of a bar drunk and began heckling the black man, who appeared to her to have stolen a bottle of liquor from a liquor store. In the process, the drunk redhead hurled her bag at the man, and the other women (who knew neither of them) came over to pull her off the black man, who in the meantime had grabbed onto the purse the redhead had thrown.

This is not to render guilty and not-guilty verdicts on people in the picture. It certainly looks like the man intends to walk off with the purse, and walking around with a new bottle of vodka in a riot isn’t exactly unsuspicious.

But an interesting point made by Caitlin and others is how natural it is for us to assume the white women must all be acting together in the photograph. Remove the assumption of homophily and it is a different story altogether. twitter

Another example of false framing is Selfie False Frame.

First Hours, Best Hours [...]

Cognitive psychologist Dan Ariely notes on Reddit that the time of day we are most ready to cognitively engage hard tasks (the first two hours) is wasted with trivialities. (Source)

Ariely: One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity (like social media). If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want.

Q: What are those hours? I must know.

Ariely: Generally people are most productive in the morning. The two hours after becoming fully awake are likely to be the best.

Maria Popova has also analyzed working habits of writers and found successful writers work early in the day. (jpg)

First fully awake hours would be about two hours after waking. See Sleep Inertia
Creative Nights argues that night work is better suited to particular tasks.

Haiku by a Robot [...]

Digital literature scholar Zach Whalen discovers the most amazing poem in Highlights magazine: “Haiku by a Robot”. While many people saw his tweeting of the poem as ironic, Whalen digs deep into the true brilliance of the poem. (Link)

The poem:

Haiku by a Robot

Seven hundred ten
Seven hundred eleven
Seven hundred twelve.

— Nathan Beifuss, Age 9

Haiku by a Robot. (source)
Haiku by a Robot. (source)

First, Whalen argues, the choice of reducing a poem to numbers has precedent, and can be profound, especially in a context such as this, where the conceit plays off of the semantics of the title. Here we see that robots can actually express beauty and form, even if differently than humans. I’m unsure if Nathan provided the drawing as well, but together there is a sense of machines groping towards humanity, but perhaps being as much defined by the gap.

Second, although readers might not realize this, haiku sequences in the ordinals are rare. In fact, this sequence, starting at 710 and continuing to 712, is the first sequence in English that can be expressed as a haiku pattern, and one of only twelve sequences under a million that can be written that way.

In short, it’s not an easy poem to have written, and it’s not a meaningless poem either. The poem is discovered, true, but so are many meaningful things.

History is full of examples of artist “discovering” art in the accidental or the naturally occuring. Kandinsky “discovered” abstract art by “accident”. See On Its Side

Artistic context makes the mundane artistic. Perhaps. See Objet Trouve

Computers have actually been writing poetry for some time. See The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed

Whalen mentions the number poems of Mills. Here is Mills and his wife reading one in the the late 1960s. See Number Poem for Two Voices

There is a fascination with art expressed through mechnical constraint. See Basics of ASCII Art

The mechanistic has an interesting relationship to artistic control. See Stravinsky’s Player Piano

via Haiku by a Robot.

Number Poem for Two Voices [...]

British Poet Neil Mills wrote a series of “number poems” in the early 1970s. “Number Poem for Two Voices” was one such work. It was recorded by Mills and his wife as part of the album Koncrete Canticle: Experiments in Disintegrating Language.

Mills and his wife reading the poem:

Said Mills: “I believed that the meaning which emerged in the reading of poetry lay primarily in intonation and rhythm, and only secondarily in semantic content i.e. that what was important was how something was read, rather than what was said the human voice functioning as musical instrument.” books

download (4)
Konkrete Canticle ‎– Experiments In Disintegrating Language (record sleeve).(source)

Gated Openness [...]

Gated openness appears to encourage free interaction of diverse viewpoints but in reality prevents exposure to differences of opinion. (source)

In Heterotopic Communication, Leah A. Lievrouw asserts one of the paradoxes of virtual communication is it presents the appearance of openness while providing hitherto unimagined affordances for homogeneity and selective, motivated interaction.

“Our personal and technological devices allow those of us with the right educational and technical resources to avoid exposure to disagreement, difference, or other information that does not serve our direct purposes or reflect our individual views of the world, yet they also let us convey the appearance of openness, availability and cooperation.” – Our Own Devices: Heterotopic Communication,Discourse, and Culture in the Information Society (1998) (pdf)

Related: Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness
Inhospitable Writing can contribute to Gated Openness.

See also Streams Don’t Merge

Gated openness can be seen as an example of the Faux-pen.

Source: Gated Openness [ fedwiki]

Rockefeller Drug Laws [...]

Daily News
The Jan. 4, 1973 edition of the New York Daily News (via fair use)

The Rockefeller Drug Laws of 1973 radically changed how the American justice system worked. Under these New York State laws, the penalty for selling small amounts of heroin, opium, or marijuana became a minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison. (wikipedia)

Though not seen at the time, these laws marked a turning point in our approach to crime. Both the states and the federal government began to escalate “tough on crime” laws.

As of 2015, twenty-eight states have some form of three strikes law, and penalties for drug possession remain high. (html)

The prison population went from 330,000 to over 2.3 million at its peak. Blacks and other minorities were hit the hardest.

Joseph Perisco says that Rockefeller, previously a fan of treatment over punishment, was influenced by zero-tolerance policies of the time being introduced in Japan. See Drug Laws as Japanese Import

The laws were seen as a conservative white reaction to social decay, but recent research highlights the role of black communities in pushing for them. See Black Silent Majority

Films of the time detailed a city unraveling under the influence of drugs. See The French Connection, Panic in Needle Park

Campaign Zero attempts to undo some of the damage of the tough-on-crime policies.

Source: Rockefeller Drug Laws

Birth of the Emoticon [...]

Kevin MacKenzie suggested emoticons in the very first internet community, MsgGroup.

In 1979, Kevin MacKenzie, a member of the MsgGroup e-mail list, complained about the “loss of meaning,” the lack of facial expressions, vocal inflection and gestures in e-mail correspondence. He suggested the use of a new form of punctuation in e-mails and used the example -). This was far less sophisticated than the :o) and many other emoticons in use today. MacKenzie was flamed (criticized) by the other people in the e-mail group at the time, but his legacy lives on. At this stage in its development, few people outside the research community used the internet. [ source]


Heider and Simmel (1944) [...]

Take a minute to watch the video above. It’s 90 seconds long.

Try to summarize what happened in the video. We’ll assume that you interpret the shapes as people (almost everyone does). Given that, how would you summarize the story the video depicts? Try to answer the following questions (watch the video again if you want).

  • What kind of a person is the big triangle?
  • What kind of a person is the little triangle?
  • What kind of a person is the circle (disc)?
  • Why did the two triangles fight?
  • Why did the circle go into the house?
  • In one part of the movie the big triangle and the circle were in the house together. What did the big triangle do then? Why?
  • In one part of the movie the big triangle was shut up in the house and tried to get out. What did the little triangle and the circle do then?
  • Why did the big triangle break the house?

Heider and Simmel showed the film to a number of groups of subjects under different conditions. Group one was asked to simple narrate what the saw.

As you can predict, all but one of the 34 students described the film in terms of motivations, goals, and personalities. Scientific American summarizes their findings:

The small triangle was described by half the participants as heroic, valiant, brave, courageous, or defiant. Many interpreted its actions as the result of resentment at being bullied by the big triangle. The experimenters reason that the small triangle is thought of as brave because, unlike the circle, it hits back and defends itself against the big triangle. Like the circle, a third of participants described the small triangle as clever, brainy, or intelligent. And like the big triangle, the small triangle was almost universally referred to as male. [ source]

Group two was asked to explicitly discuss personalities and motivation. And group three watched the film backward, while being asked the same questions.[ cite]

In this process, another pattern was discovered — origin of action and sequence of events played a crucial role in interpretation. Again, from a Scientific American summary:

For example, several times in the video the big triangle and circle move in and out of the house. The motivations behind those actions would differ depending on the order in which the movements occurred. When the shapes’ actions were thought of as spontaneous, they might be described as “hiding” or “escaping.” But when the actions were interpreted as reactions, the very same motions might be described as “being forced in” or “being lured in.” [ source]

This work demonstrated a number of things to Heider and Simmel. The first was the pervasive nature of the narrative interpretation: out of three groups of about 40 subjects each, only a few subjects chose to interpret it purely geometrically.

Secondly, the story was dependent on the attribution of internal states and characteristics to the shapes.

Finally, agentive-ness (who is perceived as initiating action) played a crucial role in the interpretation of motivation. Viewers developed firm opinions about whether shapes were initiating action or reacting to the actions of others, and these attributions largely determined the viewer’s interpretation of the story.


Comedians narrrate the Heider and Simmel animation [ youtube]

You can make your own Heider-Simmel style animation, and ask others to interpret it on this amusing site. [ site]

Heider later went on to develop Attribution Theory, a crucial contribution to social psychology.

At around the same time, Philippa Foot was investigating aspects of agentive-ness in philosophy, with similar results.




The Hewlett Wave [...]

From 2002 to 2007 the Hewlett Foundation poured $68 million into initiatives around open educational resources. The bulk of the money went to the creation and subsidization of resources:

  • $43 million went to the creation and dissemination of open content
  • $25 million into reducing barriers, understanding, and/or stimulating use. [ pdf]

While the foundation was primarily U.S. focused, about $12 million of the funds up until 2007 went to international efforts, including $6 million to the developing world.

By 2013, Hewlett had begun to shift from their focus on supply to a focus on adoption. ° But the impact on terminology had been set, and it’s influence is seen both in statements from the U.S.’s Education Department, and the 2012 Paris Declaration on OER.

Carnegie also played a large part in early OER efforts, and the Gates foundation has been a recent entry.

You might also be interested in Rising Support for Open Materials

Odor Network [...]

An interesting but mysterious site which claims to show the perceived relationships between smells. [ site]

Philippa Foot [...]

Best known for her famous Trolley Problem, Philippa Foot is one of the most important 20th century philosophers in the field of ethics. She is known for her critique of consequentialism, and for work that led to a new virtue ethics, even though Foot herself did not embrace the movement.[ cite]

She was known not for a single school of philosophy, but in her method of dealing with philosophical problems. By playing through various novel moral scenarios she was able to discover relations between concepts previously unconsidered, and unexamined elements within moral philosophy.

Listen to this lecture from the London School of Economics on the questions that she wrestled with. [ mp3] [ html]

The Trolley Problem has taken on new significance with the Ethics of Google Car.







Sensation [...]

What does it mean to sense something? Sensory receptors are specialized neurons that respond to specific types of stimuli. When sensory information is detected by a sensory receptor, sensation has occurred. For example, light that enters the eye causes chemical changes in cells that line the back of the eye. These cells relay messages, in the form of action potentials (as you learned when studying biopsychology), to the central nervous system. The conversion from sensory stimulus energy to action potential is known as transduction.

The sensitivity of a given sensory system to the relevant stimuli can be expressed as an absolute threshold. Absolute threshold refers to the minimum amount of stimulus energy that must be present for the stimulus to be detected 50% of the time. Another way to think about this is by asking how dim can a light be or how soft can a sound be and still be detected half of the time. The sensitivity of our sensory receptors can be quite amazing. It has been estimated that on a clear night, the most sensitive sensory cells in the back of the eye can detect a candle flame 30 miles away (Okawa & Sampath, 2007). Under quiet conditions, the hair cells (the receptor cells of the inner ear) can detect the tick of a clock 20 feet away (Galanter, 1962).

It is also possible for us to get messages that are presented below the threshold for conscious awareness—these are called subliminal messages. A stimulus reaches a physiological threshold when it is strong enough to excite sensory receptors and send nerve impulses to the brain: This is an absolute threshold. A message below that threshold is said to be subliminal: We receive it, but we are not consciously aware of it. Over the years there has been a great deal of speculation about the use of subliminal messages in advertising, rock music, and self-help audio programs. Research evidence shows that in laboratory settings, people can process and respond to information outside of awareness. But this does not mean that we obey these messages like zombies; in fact, hidden messages have little effect on behavior outside the laboratory (Kunst-Wilson & Zajonc, 1980; Rensink, 2004; Nelson, 2008; Radel, Sarrazin, Legrain, & Gobancé, 2009; Loersch, Durso, & Petty, 2013).

Absolute thresholds are generally measured under incredibly controlled conditions in situations that are optimal for sensitivity. Sometimes, we are more interested in how much difference in stimuli is required to detect a difference between them. This is known as the just noticeable difference (jnd) or difference threshold. Unlike the absolute threshold, the difference threshold changes depending on the stimulus intensity. As an example, imagine yourself in a very dark movie theater. If an audience member were to receive a text message on her cell phone which caused her screen to light up, chances are that many people would notice the change in illumination in the theater. However, if the same thing happened in a brightly lit arena during a basketball game, very few people would notice. The cell phone brightness does not change, but its ability to be detected as a change in illumination varies dramatically between the two contexts. Ernst Weber proposed this theory of change in difference threshold in the 1830s, and it has become known as Weber’s law: The difference threshold is a constant fraction of the original stimulus, as the example illustrates.

This video shows how you can think about Weber’s law, using your car stereo:

Portions of text orginally from Psychology by OpenStax College, licensed under a Creative Commons License 4.0 International


Up To £53,000  [...]

Good Cause, Bad Stats

Screenshot 2015-12-08 at 9.22.03 PM

The sign reads “The poorest 40% of students will graduate with debts of up to 53,000 pounds.

What are some questions we could ask of this statistic?

In what ways is it deceptive?

Sensitivity vs. Specificity [...]

People often want alarms, medical tests, and assessments to be as “sensitive” as possible: that is, in looking for condition X, we’d like to catch 100% of the occurrences of condition X. But increases in sensitivity almost always involve decreases in specificity and this can cause problems.

To understand the difference between sensitivity and specificity, consider the following test, which has been designed to always give a positive result. In a medical situation we can imagine a blood test that always tells you you have cancer, no matter what.

High Sensitivity
An example of our blood test. We identify all cases of cancer correctly (black dots) but only by identifying all negative cases as cancer too (empty dots).

The test does a perfect job at detecting cancer, at least in one sense: it correctly identifies every instance of cancer in the sample.

But in reality the test is useless. It creates so many false positives that it does not supply information we can act on.

The problem is that the “sensitivity rate” only measures the rate of true positives. To have an effective test we need to correctly identify all the negatives as well. The ability of a test to identify negatives correctly is called its “specificity”.

A perfect test correctly identifies all the positives (sensitivity) while also correctly identifying all the negatives (specificity). Here is what that looks like in practice:

A perfect test: all the positives are identified as positives (sensitivity) and all the negatives are identified as negatives (specificity). source
A perfect test: all the positives are identified as positives (sensitivity) and all the negatives are identified as negatives (specificity). source

Since specificity and sensitivity are often opposed in practice (a smoke alarm that is highly sensitive will produce many false alarms, but one with high specificity may miss a fire) designers of tests and processes have to think carefully about what they want out of a test.

In cases where you want to rule out a rare condition, a test with a high sensitivity and low specificity may be perfect.

In cases where a more common condition is being tested, and a positive result will result in drastic action, high specificity may be more desirable.

A related issue is found in nuclear weapons, where Safety and Reliability are at odds. We want a weapon to go of when it needs to (sensitivity) but not go off when it isn’t supposed to (specificity).

Alarm Fatigue can be a result of low specificity.

False Alarms [...]

Sending out global text messages to students may reduce their reaction to emergency alerts.

Sands, 20, of Oakland, said several different accounts of the shooting are funneling across campus through text messages and social media, and it took several minutes for campus community to realize the seriousness of the situation.

“We get a lot of Bruin Alerts for small things,” he said. “It took a while for everyone to realize this is serious.” (Source)

Black Silent Majority [...]

The Rockefeller drug laws of the early 1970s are often seen as a conservative white reaction to perceived black lawlessness. A new work argues black residents of the inner city were a substantial force in pushing for these policies of mass incarceration.

Often seen as a political sop to the racial fears of white voters, aggressive policing and draconian sentencing for illegal drug possession and related crimes have led to the imprisonment of millions of African Americans—far in excess of their representation in the population as a whole. Michael Javen Fortner shows in this eye-opening account that these punitive policies also enjoyed the support of many working-class and middle-class blacks, who were angry about decline and disorder in their communities. Black Silent Majority uncovers the role African Americans played in creating today’s system of mass incarceration. (Source)

More on the Rockefeller Drug Laws

Urban vigilante-ism often had racist overtones. See Bernhard Goetz

Nonwhite support for the 1994 crime bill was higher than white support. See Nonwhite Support for Crime Bill

Rockefeller Drug Laws [...]

The Jan. 4, 1973 edition of the New York Daily News (via fair use)
The Jan. 4, 1973 edition of the New York Daily News (via fair use)

The Rockefeller Drug Laws of 1973 radically changed how the American justice system worked. Under these New York State laws, the penalty for selling small amounts of heroin, opium, or marijuana became a minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison. [ wikipedia]

Though not seen at the time, these laws marked a turning point in our approach to crime. Both the states and the federal government began to escalate “tough on crime” laws.

As of 2015, twenty-eight states have some form of three strikes law, and penalties for drug possession remain high.[ cite]

The prison population went from 330,000 to over 2.3 million at its peak. Blacks and other minorities were hit the hardest.

Joseph Perisco says that Rockefeller, previously a fan of treatment over punishment, was influenced by zero-tolerance policies of the time being introduced in Japan.

The laws were seen as a conservative white reaction to social decay, but recent research highlights the role of black communities in pushing for them. See Black Silent Majority

Films of the time detailed a city unraveling under the influence of drugs. See The French Connection, Panic in Needle Park

Campaign Zero attempts to undo some of the damage of the tough-on-crime policies.

Penalty Compression [...]

Making all offenses capital offenses can have unintended effects.

From Slate Star Codex:

Chen Sheng was an officer serving the Qin Dynasty, famous for their draconian punishments. He was supposed to lead his army to a rendezvous point, but he got delayed by heavy rains and it became clear he was going to arrive late. The way I always hear the story told is this:

Chen turns to his friend Wu Guang and asks “What’s the penalty for being late?”

“Death,” says Wu.

“And what’s the penalty for rebellion?”

“Death,” says Wu.

“Well then…” says Chen Sheng.

And thus began the famous Dazexiang Uprising, which caused thousands of deaths and helped usher in a period of instability and chaos that resulted in the fall of the Qin Dynasty three years later. [[  source]

Broken Windows Theory provided an opposite view, but it has been largely discredited. See Broken Windows Theory Broken

The Rockefeller Drug Laws provide one example of Penalty Compression. It’s not pretty.

Broken Windows Theory Broken [...]

The broken windows theory is a sociological explanation of how “good” areas go “bad” and how bad areas go good. In the theory, tolerance of small offenses (such vandalism) leads to increases in larger offenses (such as murder). Application of policies informed by the theory were credited for New York City’s decline in crime in the 1990’s. However, there are many reasons to doubt this explanation.

Homicide dropped nationally in the 1990s, not just in New York City. (source)
Homicide dropped nationally in the 1990s, not just in New York City. (source)

The biggest reason to doubt that New York’s crackdown on smaller offenses led to reduced crime over the 1990s is that crime in America fell everywhere, whether “Broken Windows” policies were enforced or not.

While New York may have had a greater reduction in crime than other cities, the minimal differences can be explained as regression to the mean — essentially the areas that had the highest escalation of crime in the 1970s and 1980s experienced the greatest declines as crime reverted to its historical trend. Harcourt and Ludwig show that this mean regression can account for almost all of the New York City decline. [ html]

A second area of concern is that it is unclear if what is really be observed in the “broken windows” correlation is influence of a third factor: economics. It’s possible that saying communities that have more broken windows have more murder is simply equivalent to saying “poor areas have higher homicide rates”.

Over the past two decades, criminologists have largely come to see the broken windows effect as minor at best and harmful at worst. Summarizing the research in 2004, David Thacher concluded:

Over the past few years, however, social science has not been kind to the broken windows theory. A number of scholars reanalyzed the initial studies that appeared to support it, arguing in particular that Wesley Skogan’s seminal study of the relationship between disorder and crime did not demonstrate the strong relationship that broken window proponents have claimed. Others pressed forward with new, more sophisticated studies of the relationship between disorder and crime. The mostprominent among them concluded that the relationship between disorder and serious crime is modest, and even that relationship is largely an artifact of more fundamental social forces. [ pdf]

Another line of thought is making small offenses capital crimes backfires. See Penalty Compression.

Broken Windows Theory brought in Compstat which created Perverse Incentives

Sometimes allowing small violations can lead to escalation. See Malheur’s Broken Window

Broken Windows Theory Broken [...]

The broken windows theory is a sociological explanation of how “good” areas go “bad” and how bad areas go good. In the theory, tolerance of small offenses (such vandalism) leads to increases in larger offenses (such as murder). Application of policies informed by the theory were credited for New York City’s decline in crime in the 1990’s. However, there are many reasons to doubt this explanation.

Homicide dropped nationally in the 1990s, not just in New York City.
Homicide dropped nationally in the 1990s, not just in New York City. (source)

The biggest reason to doubt that New York’s crackdown on smaller offenses led to reduced crime over the 1990s is that crime in America fell everywhere, whether “Broken Windows” policies were enforced or not.

While New York may have had a greater reduction in crime than other cities, the minimal differences can be explained as regression to the mean — essentially the areas that had the highest escalation of crime in the 1970s and 1980s experienced the greatest declines as crime reverted to its historical trend. Harcourt and Ludwig show that this mean regression can account for almost all of the New York City decline. [ html]

A second area of concern is that it is unclear if what is really be observed in the “broken windows” correlation is influence of a third factor: economics. It’s possible that saying communities that have more broken windows have more murder is simply equivalent to saying “poor areas have higher homicide rates”.

Over the past two decades, criminologists have largely come to see the broken windows effect as minor at best and harmful at worst. Summarizing the research in 2004, David Thacher concluded:

Over the past few years, however, social science has not been kind to the broken windows theory. A number of scholars reanalyzed the initial studies that appeared to support it, arguing in particular that Wesley Skogan’s seminal study of the relationship between disorder and crime did not demonstrate the strong relationship that broken window proponents have claimed. Others pressed forward with new, more sophisticated studies of the relationship between disorder and crime. The mostprominent among them concluded that the relationship between disorder and serious crime is modest, and even that relationship is largely an artifact of more fundamental social forces. [ pdf]

Another line of thought is making small offenses capital crimes backfires. See Penalty Compression.

Broken Windows Theory brought in Compstat which created Perverse Incentives

Four Junto Questions [...]

The four questions that one had to answer to join Benjiman Franklin’s Junto:

1. Have you any particular disrespect to any present members? Answer. I have not.

2. Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general; of what profession or religion soever? Answ. I do.

3. Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship? Ans. No.

4. Do you love truth’s sake, and will you endeavour impartially to find and receive it yourself and communicate it to others? Answ. Yes.

The final three questions were borrowed largely from questions John Locke required for admission into his own society.[ cite]


Junto [...]

“Juntos” were events organized by Ben Franklin in his youth that served to help spread academic and community knowledge among its participants. Pronounced “hoonto”, and derived from the Spanish for “to join”, the structure of these events has some lessons for those putting together informal learning today.

Franklin described the event in his Autobiography:

I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, [1727] I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased.

The group was far from elitist. It included in various incarnations cabinet makers, bartenders, printers, surveyors, and shoemakers. ° The men were all from Philadelphia and shared amongst them a spirit of inquiry.

Particularly of interest were the rules of debate, which Franklin devised to encourage free exploration of ideas rather than intellectual contest.

Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.

Here, warmth refers to “heatedness”. And to prevent the conversation from heating up, no one is allowed to make direct contradictions of one another, or to declare their certainty that they are right. To engage with others, all must approach the conversation with an attitude of uncertainty.

The full text describing the Junto is here. [ pdf]

Franklin limited the Junto to twelve members. Twelve Is an Interesting Number.

To gain membership, you had to answer affirmatively to the Four Junto Questions

Techno-Pastoralism [...]

Brautigan’s Machines of Loving Grace imagines a world made more pastoral, quiet, and contemplative by computers:

The text was printed over an image of electric schematics and it set out a utopian vision of a techno-pastoralism, where new digital machines could return us to a prelapsarian state, at one with nature in an electric Eden. (Source)

The poem, in part:


I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Historian Fred Turner believes the poem profoundly influenced the way people thought about tech:

As I sat with Fred Turner on a shady bench in one of Stanford’s many tree-Lined quadrangles, he mused about Richard Brautigan’s cybernetic meadow. ‘I think there was a deep hope here to fuse the natural and the technological in a way that creates a kind of benevolent cradle for making the self,’ he told me. (Source)

From the Houseboat Summit:

Timothy Leary: Now, we cannot say to this society, “Go back to a simple, tribal, pastoral existence.” That’s romantic.

Gary Snyder: You can say “Go FORWARD to a simple, pastoral existence.” (Source)

and, later:

Gary Snyder: So what I visualize is a very complex and sophisticated cybernetic technology surrounded by thick hedges of trees…Somewhere, say around Chicago. And the rest of the nation a buffalo pasture…

Leary: That’s very close to what I think.

Snyder: …with a large number of people going around making their own arrowheads because it’s fun, but they know better …(laughter) They know they don’t have to make them. (more laughter)

Tea Kettle Tech imagines a world of peaceful technology.

Tea Kettle Tech [...]

Example of Calm Tech from Amber Case. A tea kettle does not consume your attention until you need it to. It uses a single sound that you can hear from wherever in the house you might be to indicate your action is required. It does not have extraneous features or provide non-actionable information.

Tea Kettle Tech could save us from Alarm Fatigue

Tea Kettle Tech fits in nicely with a vision of Techno-Pastoralism

“Age of Alerts: Wake me when it’s over” (Link)

Alarm Fatigue [...]

Hospitals are overwhelmed with alarms, and it’s a problem with severe consequences: “Current clinical alarm technology is generally based on Data Threshold Science, which detects when a specific data threshold has been crossed and activates an alerting mechanism (usually an audible alarm). Unfortunately, this creates a concept known as “alarm fatigue,” which has truly frightening consequences when encountered in complex clinical environments. In such environments, critical alarms are often either ignored or even turned off.” – [ html]

The results, predictably, are injury and death.

Some causes of alarm fatigue include

False Alarms, which “cry wolf” and add noise to the system.

Notification Wars where every device must compete with the others for competition.

The sheer number of alarm conditions. In an ICU the average number of alarm conditions per day for a single bed was 771.

Tea Kettle Tech minimizes alarms by only giving alerts when action is required.

Wikipedia Backstage Pass [...]

Super fan David Spargo got access to the green room of his favorite Australian act Peking Duk last night in Melbourne by editing their Wikipedia page on the fly and listing himself as “Family”. The security guard, who was obviously sceptical first, was convinced by Spargo when he presented him with the edited Wikipedia page on his phone. Reportedly, the band was not upset and they ended up hanging out backstage and enjoyed a brew with the savvy Wiki-editor. [ source]