Friday, January 23, 2009


It is really nice to have a legit President (one who was actually elected) and one that can speak English really, really well.

Transcript of Obama's inauguration speech.

Analysis by Stanley Fish.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Davidson, R., Poor, N., Williams, A. (Forthcoming).

Hooray! We've only been working on this paper for about four years. We added a major dimension to the statistical analysis (major regroupings for ANOVA), re-ran all the analysis, then the dataset was cleaned up so we had to re-run everything again on slightly different variables, then revisions and more revisions. All three authors have moved since we started.

Davidson, R., Poor, N., Williams, A. (Forthcoming). Stratification and global elite theory: A cross-cultural and longitudinal analysis of public opinion. International Journal of Public Opinion Research.

Wow, I had no idea that was the title. I wasn't in charge of that part, I did all the analysis and SPSS work.

Dear Dr. Davidson,
Thank you very much for your revised manuscript "Stratification and Global Elite Theory: A Cross-Cultural and Longitudinal Analysis of Public Opinion" and your extensive letter to the editor specifying how you dealt with the remarks of the reviewers. We are delighted to let you know that we will publish your article in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research under the condition that you make a slightly revised version of the manuscript based on the remarks in your manuscript.

Sweet! Now all we need to do is minor revisions. Feels good.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Diversity is Strength

Technologically, biologically, culturally. Think diversity of opinion.

The president’s elderly stepgrandmother brought him an oxtail fly whisk, a mark of power at home in Kenya. Cousins journeyed from the South Carolina town where the first lady’s great-great-grandfather was born into slavery, while the rabbi in the family came from the synagogue where he had been commemorating Martin Luther King’s Birthday. The president and first lady’s siblings were there, too, of course: his Indonesian-American half-sister, who brought her Chinese-Canadian husband, and her brother, a black man with a white wife.

(From the NYT, by Jodi Kantor.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Content vs. Channel

Too many companies out there have not understood that they are content delivery companies, and instead become fixed on the idea that they are solely about delivering that content over one (or primarily one) type of channel.

The music industry... Even though they had seen transformations from vinyl to CD, they also had cassette and 8-track in the mix, but lately they became obsessed with CDs and only CDs. If they had understood that they were a content company, and needed to deliver their content over a variety of channels (like the Internet), they would have managed the transition much better.

The movie industry, despite Jack Valenti's famous Boston Strangler comment, seemed to deal with VCRs, DVDs, rental stores, and now online delivery a little better.

Newspapers still haven't figured it out, and have been struggling with and against digital distribution networks for about 30 years. Yes they're online now, and I think the NYT is slowly figuring it out (multimedia, photo essays, and I especially like some of the blogs there), but they think they are newspaper companies. No no, newspaper companies [sic], that's your channel. You're a content company. You have content. Your business plan is to deliver it in the best way(s) possible. If newspaper is not the best channel, then find the best channel(s). Maybe papers, the web, and TV. Yes I just said TV. How about a (satellite?) radio channel? Yes, there is value in the newspaper distribution network, but the primary value is the information.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thai Food Blog

I am very tempted to title this "Food Porn" but I think some people don't know the phrase (no it does not typically mean anything to do with porn, it's just foodies have a similar reaction to it). But, the photos are beautiful. Makes me think I need to re-post all the food from my defunct UM blog.

Thai Food Blog

Friday, January 16, 2009

Media Misattribution

Two things in the media have been rather horribly wrong, although the second one was only today but two things was one too many.

The NY Post, which is very trashy and revels in being so, had the big front page splash (pun intended) about the airplane landing safely in the Hudson. The call it the "Miracle on the Hudson." Sorry, no, that assumes that the pilots didn't know what they were doing, and that they were doomed to crash and many people were going to die, except that some unknown, invisible force (which had just moments before thrown some birds in the engines, so nice!), intervened. ("Engines Missing" is the headline, well yes, they do tend to get ripped off the plane in the event of a water landing, so, no surprise that they're not attached -- but they're not missing, they're just at the bottom of the river.)

The pilots on American commercial jetliners are heavily trained in dealing with emergencies and are highly qualified to do so. No miracle, just good training, and the good foresight to train pilots in case of emergency. Luckily there was enough open space on the Hudson, which is fairly large, but it is also full of boats. Hitting a boat is probably worse than hitting a bird.

But, the Post is trash. It's like the Boston Herald. Waste of paper.

The second, also annoying, is how in the many Bush reviews now that he is finally leaving, too many commentators are unproblematically saying that Bush has had, over his eight years, both record high and low approval ratings, with the low being current (and for a while), and the high being right after 9/11.

Except, his high approval rating after 9/11 wasn't an approval rating for him at all.

That's why we have training (like pilots!) in survey methodology. Just because you ask a question that looks simple and straightforward doesn't mean that it is. Human psychology is way too complex for it to be that easy. Of course, Bush didn't do anything after 9/11 except make some speeches, so there wasn't much to approve of. What people were responding to was showing faith in their country and patriotism. The President is, among other things, a figurehead, a human representation of the country. Expressing faith in the president is, in some cases, equivalent to expressing faith in the nation. Given that Al Qaeda had just shown us that we shouldn't have had much faith in our nation's ability to defend itself from terrorism (did you forget the first time they tried to destroy the WTC in 1993? You did? Shame on you! Didn't think they'd try again, huh? Complacency!), many people felt it was an important time to express faith in their nation. (The horribly sad story of the complete failure of the communications on that day is so depressing -- given how good the republicans are on security, you think they would have done something about that ahead of time -- oh, they didn't did they? They didn't defend us from the worst (so far) terrorist attack on US soil -- how good at security are they, you have to wonder. If they were any good, 9/11 wouldn't have happened.)

Here it is right here in the NYT today.

In surveys that began with Gallup polling in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Bush has the distinction of being the president with both the highest and lowest approval ratings. The highest, 90 percent, was recorded shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

So, it is disturbing to see media talking-heads repeat this statistic which is completely incorrect. They don't understand surveys, and not even the survey people are apparently pointing this out. Lies, damned lies, and statistics indeed.

I Do And I Learn

One of those supposed "Ancient Chinese Proverbs" (might actually be, how to tell?), I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I learn. That's why we have students do in-class exercises, presentations, and write papers and exams -- so they do things, and learn. Like sports. Do you: listen to descriptions of basketball to learn it, watch tape to learn it, or, do you actually practice which means you are doing the sport? You do, and you learn. Yes you listen and watch too, but, you do.

So, this is old hat.

MIT just got on board with its physics classes. Nice!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lie to Me Does Indeed

Highly annoyed by the advertisements for the new TV show, Lie to Me. Basic cop/mystery show (like CSI, Law and Order, NCIS, etc.) and the twist is the main character who can tell, based on body language alone, if someone is lying. The premise here is that non-verbal communication (that's the term of art in the academy) is a dead giveaway, is readable, and is accurate.

That's a lie. It isn't.

I've taught it, so, I've read the material. And if it is so easy, then why can only the main character do it? I think there is a connection between the idea that it is easy to figure this stuff out with the idea that yes, untrained idiots can easily spot terrorists. As others have pointed out, when you have amateurs doing terrorist surveillance, you get amateur-level security (for instance, see Patrick Smith's "The Hazards of Flying While Muslim", and the horrible story of an innocent techno-art student almost being shot by police).

The only amusing thing here is that one of the advertisements for Lie to Me, like the recent NFL ads, uses a Morrissey song (Glamorous Glue, in this case). Two in one year, that's a record.

Architecture and Cooking

I recently realized how architecture and cooking are pretty much the same thing. Artistic and scientific (if you doubt that cooking good food has anything to do with science, watch Alton Brown). Different regions of the world have their own versions of both that are easily recognizable. Often made to reflect local materials. Both are good. Often, simpler is better.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reading List

Three items for you, dear reader ("dear reader" is so Victorian of me, I don't believe I actually do that, I think it is funny but personal). This way you don't have to read my writing, you can read someone else!

Bono (of U2 of course!) in an NYT opinion piece.

An article about Mark Shuttleworth and Ubuntu Linux. If you do not know what... no no, read it anyways if you do. I haven't actually read it yet. That is how much faith I have in it being something you need to know! And this is only the second time I recall seeing the word "hegemony" in an NYT article, so, must read. Here's a snippet:

Close to half of Google’s 20,000 employees use a slightly modified version of Ubuntu, playfully called Goobuntu.

Ok Google is using this. How successful is Google? Very? Insanely? Very insanely? Then, why isn't your company doing the things you do in the way Google does their things? Like.... using Linux! Come on, this isn't rocket science. And anyway, how many MBA's did it take to destroy the global economy just recently? I hope you see my point.

For the more visually-inclined, how about Lawrence Lessig on the Colbert Report?

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Of Surveys and Statistics

Two items today: A very bad online survey (sadly most surveys I take online have problems), and the statistical package R makes the NYTimes!

Let's start with R. You can read about R in the NYT story, or on Wikipedia, or go to R's homepage itself.

But, what I want to point you to (besides R's open source status), is the horrible quote in the NYT article from a marketing shill from SAS, a competing statistics program (along with SPSS and Stata).

...Anne H. Milley, director of technology product marketing at SAS. She adds, “We have customers who build engines for aircraft. I am happy they are not using freeware when I get on a jet.”

If it is free, it is bad. So annoying, this is FUD. She has no facts about R to back up her claim. What we do know is that she is badmouthing a competitor. She must be concerned, which gives legitimacy to R when she was trying to do the opposite. If SAS is paying her to market for SAS, why is she marketing for R? (It's always a bad day when I can do marketing better than a marketer.)

In survey news, I took an online survey this morning -- it's fun to see what they are asking about, and (especially for me) how they do it. Often they do it badly.

Today's inbox offering turned out to not be a survey, but a pre-survey. Do you qualify to take a survey? That's annoying. Don't make your sample jump through hoops. Given that the emails only go out to people who signed up (and who have an Internet connection), the sample is already rather small and unrepresentative statistically speaking.

One question in the pre-survey (this is important for the story) was about brands of jeans, and which brands I might have heard of. There was a large list of brands, and in many cases I had heard of the brand but didn't know they made jeans (that was not important to the story, but was just something I found interesting). But, there was a list. Keep that in mind.

So, eventually after saying "no!" to the common "do you or anyone in your household work in PR, marketing, advertising, or market research" question since you know if you say yes they don't let you take the survey, I got to the real questions. One other important tidbit is that the pre-survey and the survey were by different companies.

The survey asked about purchasing habits and jeans. The survey authors made lots of bad assumptions. One was that they assume I remember how much I paid for my recent jean purchases. I have no idea. None. Seriously, if I like them (and price is a factor), I buy them (assuming I am actually shopping for jeans, that is). Once I notice that the price is acceptable, I don't need to know the price anymore or ever again. It is completely irrelevant. This is a serious error in a lot of online surveys.

Another problem is that they assume I know where I purchased the jeans. I know I bought Gap jeans at the Gap, but couldn't remember where I bought Levi's (there are a million stores here in NYC). Oh, wait, I got them at the Levi's Store, maybe. I think so. I don't know exactly, it isn't important. (War in Iraq, global economic meltdown, those are important, where I bought some pants, not a big deal really.)

Another problem (am I using that phrase too much?) was when the real survey asked me what brands of jeans I had heard of. This was the exact same question I had seen in the pre-survey. Yes, two different survey companies, but the list seemed identical and the two companies are co-ordinating anyways because of the pre-survey. Technically I had heard of all of them just a minute previously! When you create a survey, you need to be aware of question ordering, and you need to be aware of what facts (or not) you prime the respondent with (so if you mention to respondents that Gerald Ford was photographed falling down the steps of an airplane, some respondents might think he was clumsy while others might feel sympathy for him, or if you mention how he went to UM, people who are pro-UM might feel more positively about him, while OSU and MSU people might feel more negatively about him -- might).

The other issue with the second question was that the HTML layout was terrible compared to the first version. For the first question, you could click a "yes" box if you had heard of the jeans, but otherwise ignore the entry. For the actual survey, there was a yes and a no button for every entry. There were about 30 brands. I don't want to click yes or no 30 times, how about I just click yes for the 7 I know? Don't make it difficult on your respondents to answer your questions.

What really irritated me, from a methodological point of view, was this question. Let me first point out they (whoever it was) made the survey so you couldn't copy and paste (way too complex HTML), but luckily there is always the "view source" option.
Q: Which two of the following categories are most important to you, meaning you would not be willing to cut your spending if you needed to spend less on something?

The categories were mundane, such as apparel, personal electronics, dining out, home improvement, sports, and the like. The problem is that they assume that their categories include two things in which you the respondent would not be willing to reduce your spending. That is a horrible assumption and it is flat out wrong. With incorrect questions and incorrect answer sets you end up with incorrect data. If the economy is bad enough, and it is, I'll cut spending across the board! What they think they are doing by forcing the answer set on you is forcing you to reveal your deeply-hidden inner truths. In some survey circumstances (which are far removed from this type of question), that may be appropriate -- for instance, asking a 4-point question (very yes, somewhat yes, somewhat no, very no) and not mentioning "not sure" but actually having it as an option (usually in face to face or over the phone interviews, this doesn't work with fixed online surveys).

"Most important" does not equal "not be willing to cut your spending."

And why two?

Update: About forcing answers/opinions... From Bennett and Iyengar, in the Journal of Communication, 58(4). They mention " polling that pushes people with no basis for having opinions into opinion expression..." That's what I'm talking about.