Friday, November 14, 2014


A great take on the children, restraint, and marshmallows experiment over at Math Babe's blog. She does great work and everyone should learn from her.

All the Data? Yes.

Been quiet here since I took a three-month post over at Democracy Works for the Voting Information Project (you know, twelve hour days, weekends, all that, which still means a lot easier hours-wise than being a professor). It's an ongoing, yet outwardly an election-year, project with Google and the Pew Charitable Trust to help get voters information about when and where to vote as well as ballot information (ok technically that's the Ballot Information Project, but it's all bundled together into one end product).

So we had to get.... ALL THE DATA... for every polling location in the 50 US states and DC. Some states partner with the project, but for the ones that don't we had to make lots of web visits to county websites and phone calls to county clerks. LOTS.

It was awesome. But, it took all my time. And, you can't even see it anymore! If you Googled something to the effect of "where do I vote" you'd get an infobox, and could enter your address, geocoding magic would happen, and you could get a map to your polling location!


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Horrible Web Ads

I am tired of horrible web ads, I am tired of women's images being used to manipulate curiosity and click throughs, and I am tired of pathetically transparent false geo-targeting, but it's kind of funny when it doesn't work.

And misuse of quotes. 'Rattled', what does that even mean?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

(Mis)Information Propagation

"The One Dirty Little Secret About The Web You Don't Know!" Of course you probably do know it, and that's an intentionally horrible click-bait line. The reason you see Wikipedia's content scraped and represented in so many places is because people are too lazy to do the actual work required to do whatever it is they are trying to do (usually just make a buck). But this gets interesting, slightly, when the information is wrong.

My main, and it was going to be the sole, example was regarding the gas station / service station that does not exist around the corner from me here in Brooklyn, to which I was alerted by Apple maps. This is why I don't use Apple maps. I have reported it several times, and it is still there. They could use Google Street View to see very easily that there is no service station at that location (or anywhere near it), but whoever maintains that information does not care. Not at all. But first a quick few paragraphs about the iconic "ironworkers on a beam high above NYC" photo.

The Smithsonian Magazine, and note I love and respect the museum and a good friend of mine works at the museum, has an article about the photo. Which is great, except it's completely wrong. The man on the right of the beam isn't Patrick "Sonny" Glynn. "Pat Glynn is also the source for the identity of this worker, who he claims is his father, Patrick 'Sonny' Glynn." It's the grandfather of some friends of mine who I have known for over 30 years. (And if you look closely you can see he's missing part of a finger which he lost in a construction accident.)

To say that "for 80 years, the 11 ironworkers in the iconic photo have remained unknown" is horrible, because it's overselling, hype, and completely untrue. Just because the general public didn't know who those men were doesn't at all mean they were unknown. Just because there wasn't a source for the information didn't mean it was unknown. What does it mean to be unknown? By whom? Who gets to count as knowing?

As far as I can tell, the Smithsonian has not corrected this article at all, which is disappointing. However there was a fair amount of press one can find online from the same time, which I believe came about because a movie about the photo was released then.

Which brings us to Apple maps and the service station that is not in my neighborhood.

Here's the Apple maps image, from August 29th, 2014:

Yes the blue circle is approximately me. Note the "7th Ave Performance Center", at 121 7th ave there. There is no such commercial establishment there.

But the internet, well ok Google, will tell you there is:
(They're all purple because I clicked them.) These are the top ten results (somehow out of almost 5 million results, which makes no sense whatsoever). Nine of them are completely wrong. Only the second one gets it right (and I looked at this a few years ago when I had some small hope for Apple maps), because there is probably a service station down at 7121 7th avenue -- somewhere along the way, the leading 7 on the street address got lost, and site after site unthinkingly copies the error. (The second link there -- and I know it's a screenshot here -- also has the zip code correct.)

Which brings us to my overall annoyance. All these sites are just copying information. They don't particularly care if it's correct. That's really pathetic. Alright I have once again submitted it as an error, maybe I'll see one day if they correct it.

When Google Was Better

Google used to be about finding information for people (search), now it's about finding information on people (advertising).

Facebook used to be about keeping track of your friends (social), now it's about keeping track of your habits (advertising).

tldr: Public sphere, corruption thereof by advertising, Habermas. (That was a very heavily coded sentence using an academic concept and its author.)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Not Ok, Cupid

Regarding the recent Ok Cupid "study", there's a nice piece about both it and the horrible Facebook study you can read over at Kottke. One thing I like is that it essentially discusses the community in which FB posters exist, which is something I found an important and overlooked issue.

"It's not A/B testing. It's just being an asshole."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gephi and Importing an Edges List

So, I wanted to import a CSV I had made in Python into Gephi. Easy. But, no. Gephi wasn't importing it correctly. File: Open wasn't reading the file correctly, the headers were being counted as nodes, and the weights were also being counted as nodes.

To the Internets! They were horrible. They all said to use the "Import Spreadsheet" button in the Data Table tab in the Data Laboratory. I didn't have such a button in the Data Laboratory. Bastards.

Mine looked like this:

As you can see there are no buttons with "Import Spreadsheet" there at all.

The Internets (like here, here, and the wiki page) kept telling me it should look like this:

BUT IT DIDN'T. Come on. Killin' me.

Solution: File: New Project. (Or command-N.) Really. That's all.

So I tried to fix the wiki page about it, but you have to have an account and I don't see anywhere to make one. So I tried the contact for the main community person, but the link to his page went nowhere, and the link for the American community guy went to some old generic page that has been retired. (I can't easily find those pages now and it's not worth the time.)

Not useful, people, not useful. A shame too, since Gephi is fantastic.