tales from urban dilettantia

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Behold the First Date Resolvatron, Beta!

Apparently I’m not the only one engaging in tongue-in-cheek discussions along the lines of ‘well, if only I could quantify whether [interpersonal issue here].’  In this case ‘well, if only it were easier to know whether I really wanted to ask someone out’.  (I have a fairly low threshold for Ahh, Whatever, Can’t Be Bothered, which means that I generally stop worrying about it, grab another glass of wine and play Skyrim for five or six hours.)

So, I made a toy.  As a data modeller it shames me – hard-coded numbers in formulae and arbitrary assumptions abound. And because humans are stupidly complex, it ignores about eleventy-million critical variables. However, it amuses and appears to generate not-unreasonable results for most inputs.  (Not-unreasonable results at least, for my brain, which is clearly not your brain.  Unless it is, which would be creepy, so back off zombie and/or clone.)

I haven’t ported it to Google Docs yet, so you’ll need Excel 2007 or later to play:  First Date Resolvatron

Now the computer tells me that I must go and ask someone out to dinner. How awkward.

Women of Numbers, Unite

Note (01 May 2012): I may have strayed from my intention in writing this one, as I fear it has been misinterpreted in some quarters.  I know many, many women who are good data analysts, and great data analysts.  I’ve read many wonderful articles containing great quantitative research.  However, the the best of my knowledge there is still a black hole when it comes to women talking about data as a feminist issue.  Datafeminists, to coin an awkward term.  Let’s keep talking.

I’m a researcher. I am passionate about research. And yet I hated every moment spent researching this article.

Search for any combination of words including ‘feminist’ and ‘statistics’ and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no body of work around the importance and use of statistics and data in feminist writing; no discussion around sourcing and interrogating data, and effectively communicating the information derived. Similarly, it seems that feminist posts taking oft-cited statistics and subjecting them to robust analysis don’t exist, or are so overwhelmed by a torrent of vitriol that they are near impossible to find.

Vitriol, you say? The posts I came across while searching for material were dominated by comments like these:

“Feminists never tire from promoting their lies”
“Why Feminism’s Vital Statistics Are Always Wrong”
“You are better off ignoring feminist stats”
“Feminism is the main cause of divorce in America”
“Feminists falsify facts for effect”

There are traps here. To say ‘we should have tried harder’ and so to accept the vitriol and the shaming, and – abhorrently – to blame ourselves. To rage against the often raised (and often valid) point that women must unfailingly conform to a higher standard than men to prove themselves. I’m probably going to fall into a few of those traps, in spite of trying my best.  But regardless, I wanted to write this and release it into the wild, because poor data, lazy research are problems wherever they arise, and it genuinely matters to me that we give these things our best effort – particularly when they pertain to very issues that we care about the most.

So, the researching of this post was a falling into the void in popular feminist writing that lurks in the place of well-referenced, well-researched, statistically sound numbers. A void where I would hope to see women with a passion for statistics vigorously promoting and debating the use of quantitative data. Encountering instead, unreferenced statistics, unsourced numbers, sweeping conclusions based only on anecdotal evidence. I’ve worked as a financial analyst, and now as an economist. I aspire to be the best rationalist I can be, however imperfect my achievement. And it grieves me to see such a deficiency, a great disconnect between two things I hold dear.

It’s not that the figures, the assertions, the conclusions are necessarily incorrect. But even if a number pulled from the ether without verification happens to be correct, this does not validate the process used to derive it. Erroneous – or perhaps worse – fundamentally unverifiable numbers propogate without scrutiny. Consider a number of specific cases. (I apologise in advance for cherry-picking and do note that these too are, ironically, anecdotal. However, given the shortage of self-critique and self-correction in feminist analysis, today we will settle for cautionary tales.)

1. Joan Brumberg, historian and former director of women’s studies at Cornell University wrote in Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease that there were 150,000 to 200,000 fatalities from anorexia nervosa in any given year. Brumberg was misquoting the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association which had stated that there were 150,000 to 200,000 sufferers of of anorexia nervosa in the United States in any given year.

This error might have easily been identified by checking with the National Center for Health Statistics, which gave a figure of 70 deaths from anorexia in 1990. However, widely read authors including Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth and Gloria Steinam in Revolution From Within uncritically cited Brumberg’s figure without seeking out the primary source. (Both authors issued a correction once the error was highlighted.)

Even when writer Christina Hoff Sommers pointed out the mistake, she herself made the error of uncritically taking the Centre for Heath Statistics figure, stating that the actual number of deaths from anorexia was “less than 100 deaths per year.” In not considering the sources of data used by the the National Center for Health Statistics (which happened to be death certificates) she failed to consider heart failure, suicide or other causes of death arising as a consequence of anorexia. In contrast, the [peer reviewed] study, The Course of Eating Disorders (Herzog et al, eds.) indicated that the long-term fatality rate might be closer to 15%. Recognising the mistakes of others does not make one immune to making one’s own, and as Sommers herself said, “Where were the fact checkers, the editors, the skeptical journalists?” And, to give credit where it is due, Sommers has been one of our more vocal watchdogs when it comes to accuracy and factual reporting.

2. The March of Dimes Foundation, a United States non-profit established to work for the health of mothers and babies provides another example. In November 1992, Deborah Louis (then president of the National Women’s Studies Association) posted a message to the Women’s Studies Electronic Board citing the March of Dimes Foundation, stating that, “according to [the] last March of Dimes report, domestic violence (vs. pregnant women) is now responsible for more birth defects than all other causes combined.” Peculiarly, the March of Dimes Foundation did not publish a report on this topic, and was not aware of any research supporting the statement. Indeed, Maureen Corry, director of the March’s Education and Health Promotion Program, said “We have never seen this research before.”

This did not prevent Patricia Ireland, then president of the National Organisation for Women, saying that “battery of pregnant women is the number one cause of birth defects in this country” on the Charlie Rose program in February 1993.

The misinformation then propogated though The Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News and Time magazine before the error was traced to the founder of a domestic violence advocacy project, Sarah Buel of Harvard Law School. Buel had misunderstood a statement made by Caroline Whitehead, a maternal nurse and child-care specialist in North Carolina, who cited a March of Dimes study indicating that more women are screened for birth defects than are screened for domestic battery. Whitehead had made no comment on the connection between battery and birth defects.

3. In January in 1993 at a news conference held by a coalition of women’s groups, reporters were told that Super Bowl Sunday is “the biggest day of the year for violence against women.”  The reporters were futher told that 40% more women would experience domestic battery on that day. (More, one might ask, than on what other day?) Sheila Kuehl (California Women’s Law Center) had used a study conducted at Virginia’s Old Dominion University three years before. Again, the statistic propogated through the media, with Rober Lipsyte of the New York Times referring to the “Abuse Bowl.”

The following day, psychologist and author of The Battered Woman Lenore Walker claimed on Good Morning America that she had compiled a ten-year report that showed the sharp spike in violent incidents against women on Super Bowl Sundays. And the day after that, reporter Lynda Gorov reported in the Boston Globe that women’s hotlines and shelters were “flooded with more calls from victims [on Super Bowl Sunday] than on any other day of the year,” citing “one study of women’s shelters out West” that “showed a 40 per cent climb in calls, a pattern advocates said is repeated nationwide, including Massachusetts.”

When writer Ken Ringle from the Washington Post called Janet Katz, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion and co-author of the study originally cited by Kuehl at the news conference, Katz said “That’s not what we found at all,” and stated that an increase in emergency-room admissions “was not associated with the occurrence of football games in general.”

When Lenore Walker was asked to provide details of the findings from her ‘ten-year study’ she declined to share them, saying “We don’t use them for public consumption, we used them to guide us in advocacy projects.”

4. Since the mid-1980’s statements have have proliferated to the effect that women represent one half of the world’s population and a third of its labour force, are responsible for two-thirds of all working hours, receive a tenth of world income and own less than 1% of all property.

The numbers appeared in 1984 in Robin Morgan’s introduction to a book called Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology. I remember seeing them in pamphlets and on posters at university, some fifteen years later. The oldest known source for them is in an editor’s introduction to an issue of the journal Women at Work, published by the International Labour Organisation in 1978, which stated:

“A world profile on women, using selected economic and social indicators, reveals that women constitute one half of the world population and one third of the official labour force; perform nearly two-thirds of work hours; but according to some estimates receive only one-tenth of the world income and possess less than one-hundredth of world property.”

Unsourced. No explanation of the ‘selected’ indicators. No elaboration on where ‘some estimates’ might have come from, or what these might be.

In 2007, author Krishna Ahooja-Patel, the editor responsible for that statement back in 1978, published a book called Development Has A Woman’s Face: Insights from Within the U.N. where she mentions that the formula was her own, and that it was “based on some available global data and others derived by use of fragmentary indicators at the time, in the late 1970s.”

The assumptions underlying Ahooja-Patel’s numbers include a guess that women constituted 33% of the world’s formal workforce and data from ‘several countries’ (unspecified) that they earned 10% to 30% less than men. From this, she took the higher end of the range from the earnings data, rather than a midpoint, and calculated that a third of the world’s total income was earned by women.

Further, Ahooja-Patel’s only explanation of the assertion that women own less than one hundredth of the world’s property is that “if the average wage of women is so low, it can be assumed that they do not normally have any surplus to invest in reproducible or non-reproducible assets.” She cites “various UN statistics” as her source.

For more than a quarter of a century, these numbers have filtered down through publications, women’s groups, the media, the internet and more. Often, the primary source is never stated, giving a misleading impression as to the date, time and context in which they were originally provided. They have been endlessly repeated wherever the issues of women, money, work and property are raised. And yet in their unreliability and unverifiability, they do no justice to feminism’s most critical concerns.

These are tales in isolation, demonstrating the manner in which bad information can indiscriminately spread. Far worse, is how little we care; where are our wonderful, fierce women arguing in favour of excellence in research and analysis? Where are those well-known women who have played key parts in the tales above, warning and educating us by virtue of the lessons they’ve learned? Where are the feminist bloggers, clamouring for an end to apathy and lazy journalism?  They may be out there, but we do not help their voices ring loud enough for me to find them in the world.

We can do better than this. So much better. I know women who are ethicists, financiers, lawyers, economists, actuaries, librarians, curators, researchers, doctors, biologists, accountants, architects, engineers, chemists, anthropologists, writers, geologists, journalists, linguists, computer scientists, pathologists, mathematicians, political scientists and more. Intelligent women who know better than to take a number at face value, or to state a conclusion without credible support. Intelligent women who value quality and who wholeheartedly support a culture of honest analytical contribution and critique.

Sometimes, we are story-tellers. Anecdotes have a valuable role in sharing a message, in communicating a large picture to a small audience. But we are not only story-tellers. We are astoundingly well-educated, connected human beings, and that in itself is a great privilege – the children of a providential intersection of race, class, geography and more.

Do better, loudly and visibly. Because we are astoundingly clever and astoundingly well-educated, and there is no honour in doing less than the best we can.

Further Dispatches from the Perth Geek Underground

(Heads up – This one is pretty triggery, particularly regarding rape. Consider yourself warned.)

Thank You; Yes You!

The response to my Resistance Is Useful essay, from both men and women, has been fabulous. I’ve had many enthusiastic discussions on Twitter, seen it reposted on LiveJournal and Tumbler and personal blogs, and had some great and challenging private conversations as a result. It seems that managing situations where an otherwise decent person accidentally or obliviously crosses boundaries is something that is of particular interest to many of you, and given the lack of tools our society gives us to deal with such situations, it’s understandable.

I truly believe that boldly talking about these issues – both of intentional and non-intentional transgression – instead of hiding them in dark corners is for the best, and it’s really lovely to see so many Perthites taking part in this. You are good people, you are responsible for the positive change that has already occurred, and you will be the catalyst for the positive change to come.

I Get Comments

I’m not keen to censor well-considered and constructive criticism, as I’m well aware that certain internet media propagate a disproportionate number of ‘I do agree’ responses. On the other hand, I’m not into approving comments from trolls. (A Very Special Hello to MikeUSA who posted a particularly vile comment and appears to post similarly abusive content all over the web. Thank you for severely testing my abilities to refrain from setting you on fire, Mike. Good times.)

However, I was unsure how to deal with one particular comment from the charming (for certain values of ‘charming’) Mark, a fellow Perthite. A friend suggested adopting an MST3K / Pharyngula ‘I Get Mail’ approach of sharing it and marking it up with my comments, rather than approving it. I appreciate that a number of you know this guy (that’s Perth for you) and it may be a little socially awkward for me to lay into him. But then, sucking up the social awkwardness and speaking out in spite of it is exactly what I’ve been talking about.

Welcome to the world. [Well hello there.] It is not a safe place and only children think it is. [It’s nice that you had that experience as a child. I didn’t.] You are now sufficiently paranoid that you can no longer be considered a child, congratulations. [Do I get Moët and a present for graduating? I hope so.] I, personally, am rather tired [Sorry to bore you.] of hearing about children of adult ages [From the context of the post upon which you are commenting, I can only guess this is an interesting and creative way of saying ‘women’.] who have not developed sufficient paranoia to avoid getting drunk at (or even entering) [I left the house. What was I thinking?] parties full of strangers without many friends. [It seems you exist in a glorious parallel universe where women are largely assaulted by strangers, rather than friends, family, colleagues and/or people they’ve known for a long time. Please tell me how I can travel there.] No, I am not being facetious or mocking [I know, you’re just unable to read for meaning.] I truly think that there is only one person who can be held responsible for my safety, and that’s me. [I appreciate you bringing your privilege to the table. It’s shiny. I feel so pleased for you to hear that your safety is a personal problem rather than a structural and cultural one; that must be feel good.] I apply the same policy to other people, trust no-one. [Thanks for all your hard work to make the world a better place and/or your unwavering dedication to quoting the X-Files.]

In short, thanks Mark, for posting rape apologism in response to a post about rape apologism. It’s sweet of you to play to my love for recursion and irony.

I’d like to mention here, for what it’s worth, that not a single friend of mine has informed me of being raped by a stranger, nor of having taken a sexual assault case to the police. But quite a number of my friends have been raped and assaulted nonetheless, and every one by someone they knew.  And this, this is why I wanted to share Mark’s comment rather than hiding it away – because we all know people who put forward this argument as if it were rational, but it’s full of embedded assumptions about how women are harmed by strangers, largely because of their own foolishness.  To make this argument is not only a failure to acknowledge reality, but also an irresponsible distraction from – and argument against – doing anything that may help mitigate the problem.  We are harmed by trusted fathers, brothers, lovers and friends.  We are harmed by the devil we know.

The Flying Blogspot will return to your regular menu of ‘Today I Ate Soup’ posts, local history (I have a great post about my cottage’s former residents in the works!) and banality shortly, but for a few more days, enjoy the love and rage.

Resistance Is Useful: An Essay

Hello internet. We have something to talk about, and it’s been cooking for some time.

We’re going to talk about geek culture, about misogyny, about rape culture and rape apologism, about safe-spaces and fear, harassment and assault, about growing-up-geek, about social responsibility, reckoning and resistance.[1]

We’re going to talk about my experience of this in a small Australian city, and about making a declaration of intransigence. For the bemused and curious some context and links can be found at the bottom of this post. I’d suggest taking a look before reading further. Additionally, there are footnotes, because if you are reading this, you deserve juicy footnotes.[2] Now, on with the show.

For many, many years, I have lived as a nerdy young woman in this city. I grew up and grew older (and perhaps wiser) lurking on IRC, posting on the Usenet, reading and watching science fiction, blogging, data modelling, attending cons, gaming, geeking-it-up and generally being me. And during that time, within the culture that by all rights might be expected to be a place of belonging for a nerdy being such as myself, I have witnessed a parade of abhorrent behaviours and events. We shall not argue here about whether geek culture is broadly misogynistic, predatory and hostile. We shall talk about the fact that in this place, in my small city, I have observed geek culture embracing all of those things, that I have been on the receiving end of them, that I have been an observer of them, again and again and again. Stalking, rape, the enabling of rape, rape apologism, sexual assault of various kinds, opportunistic harassment, predation, collusion to trivialise boundaries and consent issues, violation of consent, coercion, marginalisation and broadly, a deep, vile and insidious culture of loathing and sexual violence. This is not theory; this is what has happened and what continues to happen. It happens your cons, in your city, in your gaming groups, on your streets, on your internet, at your parties, in your forums, on your blogs and in your workplaces. And this is my big Fuck You to all of it.

We are shaped, in part, by our solitary journeys through unsafe spaces, and by our experience of predators. We grow up, experience sexual violence and harassment, flee the unsafe places and retreat into enclaves of safety. And as we do so, a new generation of younger (and younger, ever younger) women are left to meander into the meat market we have abandoned, and to learn the same hard lessons, the same hard way. For many of us, there are few other routes to learning these things, groomed as we are by society to please, to succumb to coercion, to be polite and compliant. To keep the dirty secrets of others, to shelter them from the judgment and disapproval of our community. To to trivialise, to accept blame, to dismiss. Each subtle line of that code is still written somewhere deep in my brain.

Like many, I did not begin this journey with the code that told me how to fight back, how to be joyfully and relentlessly non-compliant, nor how to feel good about making a scene when I damned well thought it justified.  I had no concept of calling out another person on their bad behaviour and feeling anything other than guilty for having done so. And, thanks to the prevalence of the first Geek Social Fallacy[3], I also picked up a few more lines about it being so very wrong to exclude others, no matter what.

And so, once I had learned to slip past the hands, to see trouble coming, to largely stay alert and sober and evasive, I retreated into a communal bubble where consent ruled supreme, and where respect flourished. Which was all very well and good. However, it also meant that I stopped going to the cons, started declining the invitations to parties and other social events, started feeling uncomfortable about having even a single drink when in the company of whole tranches of the Perth geek community. Essentially, I excised the spaces and people grinding down my will to engage, and left them to those women who would choose to brave the jungle.[4] My friends have done likewise, and all too often, this has meant that the most predatory and intolerable of spaces – less characterised by well-intentioned failure than by the unambiguous intent to prey – are abandoned to newer, younger and more vulnerable women, more inclined to awkwardly tolerate assault than to oppose it.

And to all of this, I wish to say: Fuck You. This is unacceptable. This is war.

I believe in the need for a collective resistance, and in the need for an aggressive take-down of the predators in our geek communities. I believe in colonising those previously abandoned, unsafe spaces and sub-communities, and inoculating them. I believe in our collective social responsibility to police our culture, to change social norms, and to shelter our vulnerable. (For at times, we are all vulnerable.) I believe in declaring that no, it’s not just you to whom this has happened.  Not just you who has been stalked or fondled, harassed, pressured, abused or raped.   That this is all so very wrong and it’s honourable to resist and criticize, to not only say ‘no’ but to call people publically on their bad behavior, to out repeat offenders and generally, to make one hell of a scene where one hell of a scene is required.

And I have an idea. Alone, I am prey. But when I gather a handful of safe, trusted friends and we explicitly commit to fight this, I always have someone to fall back upon when I don’t know what to do. I have someone I can call, or bring along, who will make space for me to be heard and will speak for me when I’m unable to find the words. I have a handful of people of various genders and backgrounds to whom I can turn for context, illumination and consultation.  As does each of those people in that handful of safe, trusted friends.  And if one of those people gathers their own handful of people to do the same, the first cell spawns another, and another and the resistance spreads. The permission to speak out, to inoculate new groups, to normalize a culture of respect and safety, to make amends when we have caused harm, to talk about our experiences, to discuss the behaviour of ourselves and others, and to make a big damn fuss without shame or fear – it expands.

When I feel threatened or unsafe, I will have someone who has made a explicit commitment to stand with me. Whenever another woman is threatened, I will have made a public commitment to stand with her – not just for her individual well-being, but as an advocate for and protector of my community. When I accidentally trample someone’s boundaries (as even the most careful of us will do upon occasion), I have people to help me work our where I went wrong, and how best to make it right. This is not new; it’s not even particularly exciting – we know how to back each other up, and largely we do it competently.

What interests me more is this: acknowledging the grey, fuzzy, difficult nature of consent, the fundamentally inadequate nature of a ‘no means no’ approach, and the benefits of both women and men helping their male friends in dealing better with these issues, and helping men call out other men on sexual violence. I have spoken to so many who have expressed a concern that intervening in a situation will be insidiously trivialised and dismissed as ‘jealously’ or ‘just trying to impress her’ (or more typically, ‘just trying to get in her pants’). And it will, because that is how it works. I have spoken to many who have watched small consent violations escalate, and angsted over exactly when and how they ought to say something, without overriding an adult woman’s right to speak for herself. So many fundamentally decent people who feel they have handled a situation poorly or violated a boundary, or may be about to, and who are unsure who to ask for compassionate yet honest feedback and practical advice. To innoculate our spaces, women backing up women – while essential – is insufficient on its own. The men who loathe this violence also need access to the support of others whom they can ask to speak with them, or in their stead; allies who will back them up when they call a predator on their behaviour, who will help them negotiate difficult, grey and ambiguous situations, where ‘no means no’ is insufficient to deal optimally with a complex reality.

The problem is not that we require more like-minded people to fight this. We have like-minded people. What we require is interconnectedness between those people, and an explicit commitment to support, to defend, to assist, to go public and reach out to break the back of this sickness that pervades our culture.

If you’re in my small city, welcome to the Perth Geek Underground. If you’re elsewhere, pass it on.

[1] And for the sake of not writing a thesis we’re going to talk here about men and women, but not fail to bear in mind that the principles that are more broadly applicable to all genders, orientations and indeed people.

[2] Oh yes, you do.

[3] Geek Social Fallacies

[4] The words ‘cock forest’ came up in conversation the other day. This seems relevant.

 

Further Reading Around & Under & Beneath & In-Between

Geek Culture

On the criticism of ‘exclusionary spaces’

Women in Geek Culture

More Women in Geek Culture

Men and Women and Misogyny and Blogging

Privilege

Harassment

Predator Theory and Rape Culture

More about Rape Culture

Rape Humour

Victim Blaming – the process informing rape apologism

Growing-Up-Geek

Thoughts on Safe Spaces

87% More Real Balls at The Big Day Out

It was watching Rammstein’s lead singer, Till Lindemann, ride a giant penis cannon across the stage that got me thinking.  I’d spent the day wandering around the Perth show of Australia’s biggest music festival, the Big Day Out, and as I watched Lindemann frolic on the cannon, spraying the joyful crowd with foam, it occurred to me that I’d seen an awful lot of cock.*

Now I’m a reasonably well-read woman and I’ve spent enough of my time around activists and feminist historians to know the deal. Structural oppression making it tough for women to ascend the slippery ladder of rock music fame, complex economic and historical issues, blah blah blah. I appreciate that there’s a wider context, and sure, it takes a little more effort to find and book bands with female musicians, and I understand tour promoters are in this game to make money. I get this; I really do.**

But was it possible that, during a whole day at the country’s biggest festival, there hadn’t been one female musician on either of the main stages?  As a curious data analyst I decided to find out more, and pulled together a spreadsheet with every act and every individual musician performing at the Perth 2011 Big Day Out.  You may draw your own conclusions:

Five minutes on the Googletubes indicates that The New Pornographers, Rasputina, The Firey Furnaces, Portishead, Shonen Knife, Skunk Anansie, Amanda Palmer, Florence and the Machine, The Postal Service, Goldfrapp, The Breeders, Le Tigre, Belle & Sebastian, God Speed You! Black Emperor,Juliana Hatfield, P.J. Harvey, Morcheeba, Okkervil River, Regina Spektor, Silversun Pickups, Architecture in Helsinki, Broken Social Scene, The Magnetic Fields, of Montreal, Tender Trap, Tegan and Sara, Jebediah, Moriarty, New Rules For Boats, Schvendes, Cat Power, The Jezabels, Sneaky Sound System, Sparkadia, The Arcade Fire, Paramore, Ladyhawke, Tori Amos, Lacuna Coil and Beth Orton weren’t home to take the Big Day Out promoters’ call.

(See, I can do half-arsed research and find bands with women in them.  I’m sure the people who are paid to do this stuff could do the same. It’s not that hard.)

* That said, anyone walking into a Die Antwoord show should expect cock.

** I also get that we’re not likely to see a sharp increase of women in rock, punk or metal until we promoters book more female role-models on the big festival stages, but that deserves its own rant.

Dream(team)ing of Standard Deviation

In the spirit of giving you fair warning, if you’re not into Australian Rules Football or into data analysis, move along before you taint your eyes with the horrible mash-up of the two that follows.

Now, fair warning given, anyone who has had the pleasure of me herding them into an inescapable corner and ranting at them about standard deviation will know that I enjoy playing AFL Dream Team during the football season.    There’s nothing quite like hanging over the barrier at a game to yell ‘Oi, ya lazy #^%#!  Kick it, don’t handball it!” at one’s star recruit.  (Particularly if you’re also yelling ‘TACKLE HIM!!1!’ at your other star recruit who is on the opposing team.)  But most of all, I enjoy it because it’s fundamentally a game of statistics, and there are few things I love so hard as I love stats.

And so, I have a bit of a summer project going on this year.  The thing with Dream Team is that there are a bunch of players that everyone will have because they’re obviously going to (a) rise in value or (b) be consistent.  These players can be picked out quite readily by skimming the media or the plethora of Dream Team blogs and other resources that have come into being over the past few years.  The two things that differentiate a great Dream Team player from a middle of the road one are trading strategy and picking up relatively cheap players who unexpectedly come good.

The trading strategy is something I messed up a little this season just gone and will be working on, but my off-season project is all about the latter – trying to determine whether there are any early indicators of players who are about to have a good season.  As a first step, I’ve gone through a bunch of data I’ve managed to scrape from the web and hacked together a bit of an Excel model to help me pick out a pool of players to study.  (It turns out – not unexpectedly – that there are a lot of players who have a respectable second season after a low-averaging start as a rookie, but very few players who exhibit a dramatic jump in form from middle-of-the-road to Dream Team gun in years two to five.  In fact, far less than one would believe, given all the blog and forum chatter around the elusive ‘breakout year’).

Having identified these players, I’m going to look in more detail at their averages, games played, consistency and so forth in the year immediately preceding their ‘breakout year’ to see whether they share any common characteristics not observable in non-breakout players.  As a sideline, I’m also going to look at the second-year players who have demonstrated a significant improvement from their rookie form, although I think the reasons for this (and the likely players) tend to be a bit more obvious to begin with.  Here’s a screencap of the work-in-process with a bit more detail around the proposed  methodology:

Key Objectives - Fresh meat

Yes, this is truly what I do for fun on my lunch-break.  I reckon it beats shopping for shoes by a factor of about eleventy million.

Pseudonymous

I’ve been thinking this week about reducing the amount of content I send to Facebook, and this thinking has meandered down two separate paths, being the theoretical and the technological.

The theoretical:
Facebook bothers me for more reasons that I’m going to articulate here (don’t even start me on intellectual property fail and privacy issues, let alone junk economies based on social obligation) but at the moment the central one is that it pushes ‘real names everywhere’ as an internet norm.

Let me tell you something about ‘real names everywhere’: it’s the manifestation of great privilege. Of being so safely mainstream that one can be oneself without fear of a public mauling. Of being so vanilla, so straight, so monogamous, so apolitical, so moderate or so non-marginalised (or non-furious at or oblivious to marginalisation) that being absolutely authentic amongst one’s family, one’s various social circles, on one’s workplace, church or community is a given, not a risk.

On a very slight tangent, there are a couple of excellent posts doing the rounds at the moment on the topic of identity and pseudonymity which are worth a read, in response to the outing of an Australian public servant as the political blogger Grog’s Gamut:
If you can’t defend yourself, you shouldn’t be allowed to speak
Spartacus no more

The technological:
I’ve used Facebook fairly heavily to share content because it does a number of things well and and makes those things very simple. One-click link sharing via a bookmarklet. Photo sharing. Crowdsourcing. I particularly enjoy the way in which all the content I’ve posted is shown in a timeline on my wall, and how I can go back to something I posted a week or two ago and point it out to someone on my phone.

The question, then, has been how one might replicate this ease in a more pseudonymous domain. While Twitter is the obvious hub, its content management is largely non-existent, with users relying on third-party offerings such as TwitPic. (Which is perfectly reasonable – simplicity has long been Twitter’s strength.)

Yesterday, however, I stumbled across my long-unused Posterous account and discovered that the service has seen a large amount of development over the past twelve months. It can now push content to numerous sources, including Twitter, Friendfeed, Tumblr, Flickr and WordPress, and pull content from a similarly impressive array. Like my ‘Share on FB’ bookmarklet, the ‘Share on Posterous’ bookmarklet offers one-click image, link and video sharing, with the Posterous micro-blog serving as a repository and host for the shared content. And, unlike Facebook’s ‘Include image: 1, 2, 3, or 4’, it offers flexibility in the content clipped and displayed.

This may not ultimately be the alternative I’m looking for, but it’s certainly looking interesting enough to be worth a try. The idea that all the content I would otherwise have shared on Facebook (and so reluctantly cloistered within the service’s walled garden) will be associated with my flyingblogspot identity, rather than being cloistered a single site associated with the name Facebook would have you believe to be my only ‘real’ one.

Strange Attraction

Happy Friday! I am declaring today to be particularly good, even as Happy Fridays go, since (1) I went for a run this morning, (2) the cubefarm has exploded into the amusing chaos of Yet Another Desk Reshuffle and (3) the first person I saw as I walked towards my building this morning was oliverm, smiling and waving at me. Good things.

There will be a Day 2 of Happiness Posting – in fact I will post it tonight, because tonight I miraculously have a night to myself which I intend to use for blogging and painting and the like. (I’ll also take this moment to point out that I never used the words ‘consecutive days’. And in the words of Nick Hornby, yes, that is a sneaky lawyer’s trick.)

In the meantime, have a little of my pontification on one of the Many Shiny Things I am excited about. This particular shiny thing is data. And datasets. Datamining. Visualisation. Information. I accept that this is a field that is dead sexy only to a very specific sub-set of people. However – trust me on this, unbelievers – for those of us wired in that particular way, it can be an intricate, exquisite, fascinating thing.

The web is beginning to engage with data in increasingly interesting ways. For one thing, free datasets are becoming more and more accessible and people are using them in ways that are sometimes artistic, sometimes functional, and very often both. While the plague of inaccessible data, siloed in institutions and organisations, still represents an incredible waste of potential, the situation is certainly improving. And, from an entirely different direction, Web2.0 technology has delivered the tools to easily collect one’s own raw data.

On the latter point, I’ve been running a small personal data collection project recently. Applications such as MapMyRide, FourSquare, Last.fm, LibraryThing, Sleep Cycles for iPhone and Delicious track a whole lot of stats already in a fairly passive, low-effort manner. In addition to those, I’ve adopted Your Flowing Data (YFD) to aggregate information on a number of other variables. There’s a YFD iPhone app, and a spiffy hack for Latitude users. (The very pretty Daytum tool also provides similar functionality.)

Obsessed, any?
Obsessed, any?

In a move that most consider an odd choice, I’ve made most of my staggeringly banal YFD data public, on a page called Banalytics (yes, I’m proud of that one). The reasons I’ve decided to open it up are various, but I’m particularly interested in the way it massively reduces my tendency to tell small, pointless lies, and feels like a gesture to towards understanding that people will choose to like me or not like me just as I am. (And of course there are the cynical days when I wonder whether maintaining privacy for the sake of privacy is a drain on my resources, and no more than a shared delusion.)

On a less personal and more academic level, I’m utterly fascinated by people who create large scale projects of this kind. Nicholas Felton is one of the best-known examples, and his personal Annual Reports have received plenty of coverage. (He also posts some really lovely stuff over at Tumblr!) His passion for design, information, for the appreciation of the very small – these things resonate with me and I can lose myself for great lengths of time in the existential detail of his work.

I struggle to find the right words to explain why I find this field so enchanting; it is a discipline of numbers and forms, not well suited to words. The attraction for me has much to do with shapes and patterns and relationships. Both the analysis and the visualisation are acts of beauty; acts of untangling immense webs, and of deft slicing and assembly. They are acts of perceiving the interconnectedness of things, and acts of holding that up and saying ‘see what I have found; see that it has meaning’. And they are the great heart – each heartbeat counted and illustrated – of the the intersection between the analytical and the designed.

For anyone interested in reading further, see below for a rambling assortment of the data blogs, tools, resources and datasets currently available on the web.

Data & Visualisation Blogs:
Data Wrangling
Flowing Data
DataBlog (The Guardian)
Information is Beautiful
Infosthetics

Datasets
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Data.gov (US)
UK Data Archive
UN Data
WHO Data and Statistics
OECD.Stat Extracts
Numbrary
Infochimps
DBPedia
UCI Machine Learning Repository
Time Series Data Library

Meta-lists of Datasets:
DataWrangling List
Datasets for Data Mining

Techniques:
Statistical Data Mining Tutorials

Flickr


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About

@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.