Wednesday Morning Soundtrack

Now that I’m not on Facebook, I have more time to listen to music. Here’s what I’ve got this morning. First, Fare Thee Well from the soundtrack to Llewyn Davis:

Second, my son’s favorite song to sing wherever he happens to be, a Bruno Mars song called Count on Me:

Finally, one of my favorite songs of my favorite band, First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes:

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I quit Facebook and my life is better now

I don’t need to hear from all you people who never got on Facebook in the first place. I know you’re already smiling your smug smile. This story is not for you.

But hey, you people who are on Facebook way too much, let me tell you my story.

It’s pretty simple. I was like you, spending more time than I was comfortable with on Facebook. The truth is, I didn’t even go there on purpose. It was more like I’d find myself there, scrolling down in what can only be described as a fetid swamp of echo-chamber-y hyper partisan news, the same old disagreements about the same old topics. So many petitions.

I wasn’t happy but I didn’t really know how to control myself.

Then, something amazing happened. Facebook told me I’d need to change my password for some reason. Maybe someone had tried to log into my account? I’m not sure, I didn’t actually read their message. In any case, it meant that when went to the Facebook landing page, again without trying to, I’d find myself presented with a “choose a new password” menu.

And you know what I did? I simply refused to choose a new password.

Over the next week, I found myself on that page like maybe 10 times, or maybe 10 times a day, I’m not sure, it all happened very subconsciously. But I never chose a new password, and over time I stopped going there, and now I simply don’t go to Facebook, and I don’t miss it, and my life is better.

That’s not to say I don’t miss anything or anyone on Facebook. Sometimes I wonder how those friends are doing. Then I remember that they’re probably all still there, wondering how they got there.

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In the New York Review of Books!

I’m happy to report that my book was reviewed in the New York Review of Books along with Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice E. Stucke’s Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy, by Sue Halpern.

The review is entitled They Have, Right Now, Another You and in it she calls my book “insightful and disturbing.” So I’m happy.

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Using Data Science to do Good: A Conversation

This is a guest post by Roger Stanev and Chris French. Roger Stanev is a data scientist and lecturer at the University of Washington. His work focuses on ethical and epistemic issues concerning the nature and application of statistical modeling and inference, and relationship between science and democracy. Chris French is a data science enthusiast, and an advocate for social justice. He’s worked on the history of statistics and probability, and writes science fiction in his spare time.

Calling Data Scientists, Data Science Enthusiasts, and Advocates for Civic Liberties and Social Justice. Please join us for an information and preliminary discussion about how Data Science can be used to do Good!

Throughout Seattle/Tacoma, the state of Washington and the other forty-nine states in America, many non-profit organizations promote causes that are vital to the health, safety and humanity of our friends, families and communities. For the next several years, these social and civic groups will need all the help they can get to resist the increase of fear and hatred – of racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry – in our country.

Data Scientists have a unique skill set. They are trained to transform vague and difficult questions – typically questions about human behavior – into empirical, solvable problems.

So here is the question we want to have a conversation about: How can Data Scientists & IT Professionals use their expertise to help answer the current human questions which social and policy-based organizations are currently struggling to address?

What problems will minority and other vulnerable communities face in the coming years? What resources, tools and activities are currently being employed to address these questions? What can data science do, if anything, to help address these questions? Do data scientists or computer professionals have an obligation to assist in promoting social justice? What can we, as data scientists, do to help add and expand the digital tool-belt for these non-profit organizations?

If you’d like to join the conversation, RSVP to

Saturday, January 14
11am to 1pm @ King County Library (Lake Forest)
17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park, WA 98155

Saturday, January 21
11am to 1pm @ Tacoma Public Library
1102 Tacoma Ave S, Tacoma, WA 98402

Saturday, January 28
1 to 3pm @ Seattle Public Library (Capitol Hill)
425 Harvard Ave E, Seattle, WA 98102

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Box Cutter Stats

Yesterday I heard a segment on WNYC on the effort to decriminalize box cutters in New York State. I guess it’s up to Governor Cuomo to sign it into law.

During the segment we hear a Latino man who tells his story: he was found by cops to be in possession of a box cutter and spent 10 days in Rikers. He works in construction and having a box cutter is literally a requirement for his job. His point was that the law made it too easy for people with box cutters to end up unfairly in jail.

It made me wonder, who actually gets arrested for possession of box cutters? I’d really like to know. I’m guessing it’s not a random selection of “people with box cutters.” Indeed I’m pretty sure this is almost never a primary reason to arrest a white person at all, man or woman. It likely only happens to people after being stopped and frisked for no particular good reason, and that’s much more likely to happen to minority men. I could be wrong but I’d like to see those stats.

It’s part of a larger statistical question that I think we should tackle: what is the racial discrepancy in arrest rates for other crimes, versus the population that actually commits those other crimes? I know for pot possession it’s extremely biased against blacks:marijuana_use_rate_by_race_yearmarijuana_arrest_rates_by_race_year

On the other end of the spectrum, I’d guess murder arrests are pretty equally distributed by race relative to the murdering population. But there’s all kinds of crimes in between, and I’d like some idea of how racially biased the arrests all are. In the case of box cutters, I’m guessing the bias is even stronger than for pot possession.

If w had this data, a statistician could mock up a way to “account for” racial biases in police practices for a given crime record, like we do in polling or any other kind of statistical analysis.

Not that it’s easy to collect; this is honestly some of the most difficult “ground truth” data you can imagine, almost as hard as money in politics. Still, it’s interesting to think about.

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Five Stages of Trump-related Grief

Denial. This happened to all of us at first, even people who voted for him. We couldn’t believe it, we were living through cognitive dissonance. We’d wake up in the morning wondering why they were referring to inane tweets on NPR, suddenly realize at lunch time that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will probably never do anything significant again. Binge-watching West Wing helped me sustain this stage. They were so damn patriotic and good. Their integrity and well-meaning-ness were leaking onto everything, and although they didn’t have gay marriage, they were progressing towards it, not backing down from it.

Anger. This stage hit me a few days after the election, in spite of my West Wing strategy. It was a rainy, cold day, and everyone I saw on the street looked absolutely pissed. People were bumping into each other more than usual, partly because of the umbrella traffic, partly on purpose. It was dumb rage, as anger always is. Nobody understood what the point was of being there, they just wanted to get home, to eat muffins, to smoke a damn cigarette. I came very close to picking up smoking that day.

Bargaining. For many people, this stage is still happening. I want to snap them out of it, out of the idea that the recounts will work or that the electoral college system will be changed or that electoral college delegates will refuse to do their job. It’s not gonna happen people, and Jill Stein can please stop. And it’s not that I don’t want to recount stuff – why not? – it’s just that the dying hope that it will change the outcome is sad to witness.

Depression. The problem with calling it depression is that people who are realistic, rather than overly optimistic, seem depressed. I’ve got to admit, I was much more prepared for this than most New Yorkers I know. I think it’s because I’ve been in war mode since joining Occupy in 2011. I never thought Hillary would win, that she was a good candidate, or that people’s resentment and anger had been properly addressed. I’ve basically been here, poised for this moment, since Obama introduced HAMP as a shitty and insufficient way to address the financial crisis back in 2009. So you can call it depression, I just call it reality.

Acceptance. And by acceptance I do not mean “normalization.” By acceptance I mean it’s time to move forward, to build things and communities and organizations that will protect the most vulnerable in post-fact America. That could mean giving money, but it should also mean being an activist and coming up with good ideas, like these churches offering sanctuary to undocumented migrants. It also might mean occupying the democratic party – or for that matter, some other party – and reimagining it for the future. Acceptance is not passive, not in this case. Acceptance means accepting our roles as activists and getting shit done.

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In NYTimes’ Room for Debate

This morning I’m in the New York Times, having written a short opinion piece on the following Facebook-centered theme:

How to Stop the Spread of Fake News

My actual opinion is entitled Social Media Companies Like Facebook Need to Hire Human Editors.


Tell me what you think!

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