Archive for December, 2010

You Took My Dreams From Me

| Gabriel |

December 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm 1 comment

Lyx and UltraEdit

| Gabriel |

I’ve been using the beta of Lyx 2.0 for a few weeks now. The first beta was unstable but the second beta has yet to crash or otherwise give me problems so I’ve gone ahead and committed to the new file format (which is still a dialect of TeX, just a slightly different one). I generally find it to be a big improvement in all sorts of subtle ways, particularly how it resolves subtle dependency issues. For instance, I could never get Lyx 1.6.x to recognize the Aspell dictionary on my Mac so I’d have to run a Ubuntu VM to check my spelling. Lyx 2.0 automatically reads the Mac OS X dictionary.There’s also an amazing “compare documents” feature that lets you diff any two files but instead of standard diff output it gives you something that looks a lot like “track changes” in Word. The full list of features is here.

You can download the beta here. Note that this is an ftp not web link and some browsers don’t do FTP so either use an FTP compatible browser like Chrome, an FTP enabled file manager, or a dedicated FTP client. The “dmg” link is for Macs and the “exe” link is for Windows. Note that the Lyx 2.0.x file format is not backwards compatible with Lyx 1.6.x software although Lyx 2.0 beta can export to the old format.

The other software I’ve been playing with is UltraEdit for Mac, for which I was a beta tester. Overall it strikes me as a very good editor and they’ve made admirable efforts to make it Mac native but it still looks like Windows software because it has one big window with internal demarcation rather than lots of floating pallettes, etc. Anyway I’m going to stick with TextMate (which has better language support for the languages I care about) and TextWrangler (which I find more intuitive for batch cleaning files) but I think people transitioning from Windows to Mac might be well served by UltraEdit, especially if they used it (or similar software like Notepad++) on Windows.


December 21, 2010 at 4:13 am

The Owl of Taboo Flies at Dusk

| Gabriel |

So the hot new internet toy is the google ngrams engine that gives you time-trends for different keywords from Google Books. A lot of people have been using it to look at the rise and fall of different theoretical or management trends. It occurred to me that you could also use this to do a quantitative replication of Ari Adut’s work on scandal, in which he argues that scandals often represent a kind of death rattle of a taboo since if something is really taboo it’s too scary to accuse people of. Only as a taboo starts to loosen do people get charged with it.

The biggest change in morality in the last generation or two is almost certainly homosexuality so it’s a good test case. Over the last 40 years, homosexuality has gone from being a mental illness and homosexual acts a felony to a completely normal identity in polite society that is gradually being incorporated into central social institutions and opposition to which or discomfort with is increasingly criminalized or medicalized — a nearly complete 360 on the subject in 40 years. Common sense would thus predict that expression of the new attitude and old attitude would be counter-cyclical whereas Adut says they should be correlated. For instance, in Witness Chambers implies that as a young man working on a subway construction gang, he saw colleagues having sex in the bunkhouse but he doesn’t actually say it and refers to the acts as “unspeakable,” which in 1952, they were. I figured that the best words to check this out are “homophobia” (which implies that opposition to homosexuality is deviant) and the best phrases encapsulating the old perspective are “crime against nature” and “sodomite” (which imply that homosexuality itself is deviant).

Anyway, here’s the graph:

It’s a little hard to read since the “homophobia” term is so much more popular than the two anti-gay terms, so here they are shown independently.

So basically, the term “sodomite” has a very close correlation with the term “homophobia.” It’s obviously a much older word, but its usage has really picked up in the last 30 years. On the other hand, the term “crime against nature” has a much weaker correlation in the time-series (it’s only slightly more popular after 1970 as before 1970), but it’s also the least popular of the three. Overall, I’m willing to chalk this up as confirming Adut’s theory that discourse about a taboo, including scandal of it, becomes intense only as the taboo relaxes.

December 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Audience Evolution

| Gabriel |

I’m holed up in my undisclosed location where I’m supposed to be writing my book (and in fact am making good progress), but I spent most of Wednesday reading Phil Napoli’s new book Audience Evolution in large part because I liked his previous book so much that I was confident I’d get enough material for my own book to make it worth it. I indeed did get some good stuff and I recommend the book to people who are interested in cultural markets and/or sociology of knowledge/categories. Overall the best one-line summary of both of Napoli’s books is that they’re a lot like (and frequently cite) the Anand and Peterson 2000 Org Science article about Soundscan and how information is socially constructed and in turn structures organizational fields.

Anyway, here’s some of my marginalia:
(p 33) Other feedback mechanisms, such as audience correspondence with the content provider, have a long history
it’s funny how this has been rediscovered as buzz metrics (which he discusses later in the book). of course as he notes the main thing that makes this unrepresentative is by nature it’s biased towards audience members for whom the content is unusually salient.

(p 50) he discusses work by Ohmer on George Gallup’s Hollywood consulting and it sounds very similar to some of the techniques practiced decades later according to Gitlin’s tv book and Bielby + Bielby’s “Flukes” article

(p 121-2) Research has shown that organizations will respond to new performance metrics that present their organization in a less favorable light by engaging in activities such as emphasizing alternative performance criteria and calling into question the validity of the measurement system.
For instance, elsewhere he discusses efforts to redefine audience measurement other than sheer exposure (ie, raw number of viewers) and get at more touchy-feely issues like “engagement” and “affinity.” A lot of this has to do with folks who do poorly on straight-up exposure trying to find another metric by which they do well. Overall the development of these alternate metrics reminds me of Karabel’s The Chosen, in which ivy league admissions policy developed various fuzzy criteria of “well-roundedness” when it became clear that they were getting more Jews than they cared to have under an admissions policy based on standardized testing.

(p 124) [T]he changing role of the media audience will likely emerge as a key source of tension in the relationship between media content producers and distributors, with producers seeking to capitalize on the increasingly open distribution channels, thereby neglecting—or at least denying privileged access to—traditional distributors…
Soooooo true. You can find an example of this in any issue of Variety or Billboard picked at random. Here’s a few of my favorites:

  • Hulu blocking the Boxee user-agent string
  • Sony giving up several freight trains worth of money by holding the This Is It DVD release until the first quarter so as to avoid getting into a fight with the theaters
  • Comcast buying a movie studio to provoke a fight with the theater owners over same-day video-on-demand
  • Steve Jobs selling Pixar to Disney in part so they’d play ball on iTunes
  • Comcast buying NBC in part to stop them from playing ball on iTunes

(p 127) Another recent report has gone so far as to claim that while YouTube has a tremendous amount of content, “from the perspective of advertisers, much of it is utterly worthless” (Lyons 2009:1). Hulu, the newer video-streaming site launched by traditional media content providers such as NBC and Fox, has already emerged as a more profitable enterprise than YouTube, hinting at the entrenched preference among both advertisers and media audiences for more traditional content (Lyons 2009).
This reminds me of page 160 of Neuman’s Future of the Mass Audience where he predicts (way back in 1991) that, yeah, the internet will mean that anybody can create and distribute content but people will just ignore all that stuff and stick to the high-production-value and highly-promoted stuff put out by the big media companies.

(p 132-142) Discussion of the LPM and PPM (also see Napoli’s blog post from yesterday)
I’ve blogged about these issues before, but he does a much better job of it. Basically, improved technology would reveal that certain stakeholders weren’t as good as everybody thought and these stakeholders formed a bootlegger-baptist coalition to kill the new technology. What I hadn’t known was that Nielsen used Arbitron’s introduction of the new technology to introduce a competing product that pandered to the stakeholders biases:
(p 141-2) And the fact that a less sophisticated methodology is being employed as the mechanism for making inroads into this market is a reminder that technological developments alone do not necessarily drive this construction of the institutionalized media audience.

(p 153) [I]t is often questionable at best whether improved accuracy and reliability in audience information systems is something that is legitimately sought by the majority of stakeholders in the market.
good microcosm of the book

December 16, 2010 at 5:20 am 4 comments

Stata tv

| Gabriel |

Stata Daily links to a bunch of instructional YouTube videos on Stata basics provided by U Minnesota.

Similarly, UCLA ATS has a Stata starter kit, which includes videos.

Stata Tidbit of the Week also has lots of screencasts. His videos tend to be on slightly more advanced issues than the other two sites so people who are already used to Stata should go here but absolute beginners should start with the Minnesota or UCLA material.

December 14, 2010 at 4:37 am

Apples to Apples

| Gabriel |

At Slate’s XX blog, Amanda Marcotte discusses a report by Brad Wilcox (a good friend of mine from grad school) and basically asks if we can be sure that marriage actually benefits people or is it just selection:

Sure, marriage chauvinists can point to things such as marriage’s impact on health and well-being, and to the fact that married men are less anti-social. I’m skeptical, though, because these kinds of studies lump all nonmarried people into one group. People who are in long term, committed relationships without that piece of paper are put in the same group as people who’ve never held a relationship together. I want to see apples to apples comparisons. How do unmarried people who’ve been together for five or 10 years hold up next to people who have been together that long but tied the knot in their first year or two together?

Let’s put aside the fact that cohabitating couples are indeed different from married couples even holding constant duration. There’s an interesting question here and it has a lot to do with what you mean by “apples to apples” and how such commensuration works under different logical premises. The traditional approach is to throw controls at something. So following this logic, Marcotte is exactly right to say that we ought to be controlling for things like duration of the union.

However traditional (or common in scholarly practice) such an implication may be, it just ain’t right. Suppose that a couple in their mid-to-late twenties came to you and said, “We are deeply in love and committed to each other. We’d probably like to have children at some point. Given that we have no religious reasons to get married, should we marry or just move in together?” It would be silly to base your advice to this young couple on the expected quality of their union conditional on it not dissolving. The reason is that one of the worst things that is likely to happen to this couple is breaking up and all the ugliness this entails, especially if they have kids. If dissolution is much more likely if they are cohabiting then this is worth factoring in rather than assuming away. The total treatment effect of marriage versus cohabitation needs to count from formation forward and include all end states rather than using a cross-sectional sample of survivors (which from the viewpoint of formation is systematically censored) and using tenure as a variable. The same logic applies in more extreme forms to tournament model labor markets. If you want to know whether being a rock star is a good career aspiration you shouldn’t look just at rock stars but also at the far more numerous people who seriously pursued careers in pop music but nonetheless failed at it.

OK, let’s make a slightly more charitable argument and assume that Marcotte understands everything I just said but thinks that there is selection into cohabitation versus marriage such that most of these ephemeral cohabitations would have dissolved even if they were marriages. In particular she seems to have in mind some kind of selection on the unobservable of “commitment.” This is a fair point in part but unlikely to change anything much. First, if an unobservable is correlated with observables then omitted variable bias is mitigated. Second, something like unobservable “commitment” is likely to be a relatively ephemeral inclination and most of its impact should be early in the union whereas the hazard for dissolution of cohabitation remains persistently high rather than crashing after a few years like the hazard for divorce. We have support for this in qualitative data. Contrary to “that baby ain’t mine bitch” stereotypes, a very high proportion of unwed fathers express a commitment to a newborn child and (to a slightly lesser extent) the child’s mother. Nonetheless unless they marry the mothers, within a few years most of these fathers will have broken up with the mothers and an almost inevitable consequence of the dissolution is much less involvement with the child than the father initially expressed the intention to maintain. I’m generally inclined to think that accounts are as much cultural scripts as reliable articulations of preferences and logics of action, but the rich qualitative work in this area seems to have established that the men are sincere and so I’m willing to say that if you’re not convinced by the last 20 years of qualitative and quantitative demography that there really is a substantial treatment effect of marriage then the burden of proof is on you to prove that there’s not.

December 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Want to answer my really hard questions for a living?

| Gabriel |

CCPR, the pop center here at UCLA, is looking to hire a statistical programmer. I’ve reproduced the listing below:

December 11, 2010 at 12:45 am

Zeno’s Webmail Security Team Account Confirmation

| Gabriel |

Last year I described how a “reply to all” cascade follows an s-curve. Now (via Slashdot) I see that another pathology of email results in the other classic diffusion process. That is, the number of hits received by phishing scams follow the constant hazard function, otherwise known as an “external influence” diffusion curve or Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the tortoise.

link to original story

This is of course entirely predictable from theory. Once you realize that people aren’t forwarding links to phishing scams, but only clicking on links spammed to them directly then it’s obvious that there will not be an endogenous hazard function. Furthermore, con artists know that the good guys will shut down their site ASAP which means that it is in their interest to send out all their spam messages essentially simultaneously. Thus you have a force that people are exposed to simultaneously and they react to individualistically. Under these scope conditions it is necessarily the case that you’d get this diffusion curve and you’d get a majority of fraud victims within the first hour.

This only comes as at all surprising to people because we’re so enamored of s-curves that we forget that sometimes people open their umbrellas because it’s raining. (Which is not to say that such behavior is asocial in a broader sense).

December 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

The Culture Geeks