A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘social networking

[URBAN NOTE] Chris Selley of the National Post on Toronto drivers and shortcut apps

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In “Apps promise to cut through gridlock, now if only Torontonians would learn how to drive”, Chris Selley looks at Toronto drivers and how technology can help them improve, among other things.

Heading out of city hall on Wednesday afternoon shortly after five, the Swiftly transit app revealed that I had just missed a Bay Street bus. But as it turned out, I hadn’t: walking north at a leisurely pace, I soon caught up to it. And then passed it.

Then I stood on the corner of Dundas, for perhaps eight minutes, mouth agape, watching as eastbound motorists blocked the intersection over and over and over again. At one point not a single northbound vehicle made it through for three consecutive green lights. If you had been quick about it, you could have had a jolly picnic in the middle of Bay Street, anywhere between there and Gerrard.

There are many reasons for gridlock in this city. Some could be ameliorated if politicians had the courage to risk motorists’ irrational anger for the greater good: more restrictions on turns and parking; ending the ludicrous mixing of streetcars and cars; towing away illegal parkers even more mercilessly, and raising fines even more, than has been done under Mayor John Tory’s crackdown; a James Bond-style helicopter magnet that picks up intersection-blocking automobiles and drops them into a junkyard from a great height.

As such courage is not in overabundance, it is all the more satisfying to see private enterprise doing end runs around the problem. Using open data about transit vehicle locations, transit apps now compete to navigate you better through the gridlock. Some offer Toronto Transit Commission, Uber X, Car2Go and bike-share options on the same screen. Swiftly claims it can predict the next vehicle’s arrival better than its rivals, using its own algorithm.

And for motorists, there’s Waze — a free, advertising-supported GPS navigation app that routes and reroutes you, as necessary, based on other users’ speed (passively monitored as they go), and any reports of accidents, constructions or gridlock they enter into the app (hopefully not while driving). The more users there are, the more data there are to optimize your commute.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2016 at 3:35 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Neighbourhood Watch”: Asma Malik of The Walrus on neighbourhood sousveillance

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In The Walrus, Asmaa Malik writes about how a Facebook group that she joined on moving to her new neighbourhood managed to disabuse her of the idea that racism in Canada was confined to Québec. It’s much more pervasive than that.

Before I moved to the east end, I joined two east-end Facebook groups. One was public and the other was not. I joined the invite-only “Pocket” community group hoping to learn more about the area and the people who share my streets, my grocery store and my subway station. The neighbourhood borders my own and is defined by its closed-loop streets that end at the ttc streetcar yard. It is located within the economically and ethnically diverse Blake-Jones corridor, and in 2012, Toronto Life listed the Pocket as one of the city’s ten hottest real-estate neighbourhoods. The volunteer-run community group is known for its work to beautify the local park and to rename an alley after the late street musician and long-time mayoral candidate, Ben Kerr. It organizes several events for residents, including movie nights for charity and block parties.

When I first joined the Pocket group, I was pleased to get useful insider information about local daycares and eavestrough-repair services. The tone of the comments on the Facebook group seemed friendly and appeared to come from well-meaning neighbours who took pride in their community.

[. . .]

On a sun-dappled summer afternoon, a member of the Pocket Facebook group posted photos of black teenagers biking on a residential street as a warning, saying that she had seem them “snooping” into private laneways and pegging them as potential suspects for a recent bike theft. As I read the comments below the pictures, I was alarmed to find that a majority of Facebook group members appreciated her alert.

Again, the assumptions about the membership of the Facebook group were evident. The poster and her supporters were not concerned about the potential consequences of uploading photos of teenagers without parental consent. Implicitly, the move pre-supposed that the parents couldn’t possibly have been members of the group. These youth were black and allegedly up to no good. Never mind that the teenagers were not guilty of doing anything but being teenagers. What was worse, the Pocket Facebook group membership included a local community police officer, who now had access to images of these targeted teens.

My earlier misgivings about the nature of the neighbourhood group quickly returned. Under the neighbourly chatter, the local recommendations and friendly swaps, lay a layer of racial assumptions, coded messaging and micro-aggressions ready to be expressed but later vehemently denied at the first provocation.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 28, 2016 at 7:47 pm

[NEWS] Some Wednesday links

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  • The Australian Financial Review warns that Brazil should try to avoid the trajectory of Italy from the 1990s on in falling prey to Berlusconi-like populism.
  • Bookforum looks at the very early history of word processing for writers.
  • Bloomberg View suggests that an inflexible China is on its way towards a Japan-style slump.
  • CTV News reports on despair among Newfoundlanders after the province’s new budget.
  • The Financial Times notes how allegedly hiding a billion dollars’ worth of debt cost Mozambique significantly with the IMF.
  • Foreign Policy looks at the distancing between the United States and Saudi Arabia under Obama.
  • Kate Beaton at Hark A Vagrant considers the implication of Dagger’s frankly unwearable uniform.
  • Mashalla News reports on Portuguese-speaking communities in Lebanon, product of migration by Brazilians of Lebanese background.
  • New York‘s Jonathan Chait is critical of Sanders’ approach as he is losing, while Vox visits Sanders’ upstate New York stronghold of Ithaca.
  • Australia’s SBS looks at immigrants whose ancestral countries no longer exist. How do they identify?
  • The Toronto Star looks at the impact of climate change on the agriculture of the Prairies.
  • Wired notes the struggle of Pinterest to move on from being an American platform to being a global one.

[LINK] “Computer Algorithm Can Spot a Drunken Tweeter”

D-Brief’s Nathaniel Scharping blogs about a new computer algorithm that can detect drunken tweeters.

Drunk tweets, long considered an unfortunate, yet ubiquitous, byproduct of the social media age, have finally been put to good use.

With the help of a machine-learning algorithm, researchers from the University of Rochester cross-referenced tweets mentioning alcohol consumption with geo-tagging information to broadly analyze human drinking behavior. They were able to estimate where and when people imbibed, and, to a limited extent, how they behaved under the influence. The experiment is more than a social critique — the algorithm helps researchers spot drinking patterns that could inform public health decisions, and could be applied to a range of other human behaviors.

To begin with, the researchers sorted through a selection of tweets from both New York City and rural New York with the help of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Users identified tweets related to drinking and picked out keywords, such as “drunk,” “vodka” and “get wasted,” to train an algorithm.

They put each relevant tweet through a series of increasingly stringent questions to home in on tweets that not only referenced the author drinking, but indicated that they were doing so while sending the tweet. That way, they could determine whether a person was actually tweeting and drinking, or just sending tweets about drinking. Once they had built up a dependable database of keywords, they were able to fine-tune their algorithm so it could recognize words and locations that likely proved people were drinking.

To get tweeters’ locations, they used only tweets that had been geo-tagged with Twitter’s “check-in” feature. They then approximated users’ home locations by checking where they were when they sent tweets in the evenings, in addition to tweets containing words like “home” or “bed.” This let them know whether users’ preferred to drink at home or out at bars or restaurants.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 20, 2016 at 3:15 pm

[LINK] “Social Networks, Interlocking Directorates, and the Power Elite”

At the Everyday Sociology Blog, sociology professor Christopher Andrews looked at how the elite of our society network.

cial network analysis involves studying social structures through the use of networks and graphs, allowing sociologists to visualize and measure properties of the ties that connect individuals, groups, or organizations. Rooted in the formal sociology of Georg Simmel (e.g., dyads vs. triads), anthropology (e.g., kinship diagrams), social psychology (e.g., group dynamics), and mathematical sociology, social network analysis has been used to study friendship and acquaintance networks, terrorist organizations, criminal drug markets, disease transmission, and sexual relationships, just to name a few examples.

How does it work?

One way is to examine the measurable properties or metrics of a given network, including connections (e.g., number, type) as well as the way in which they are distributed (e.g., centrality, distance). For example, Stanley Milgram’s (1969) “small world” experiment found that people are, on average, “six degrees of separation” from any other person, a finding that has been replicated more recently by Duncan Watts (2002) using email. Similarly, Mark Granovetter (1973) used social network analysis to learn how people find jobs; rather than through close, personal connections, he found that people tended to find information about job opportunities through acquaintances, a phenomenon he refers to as the “strength of weak ties.”

Visual diagrams of social networks – or sociograms – can also be used to highlight structural properties or traits such as bridges and structural holes. Structural holes refer to gaps or the absence of a tie within a given social network, while bridges describe the way in which an individual fills a structural hole by linking two otherwise unconnected groups. Ronald Burt (2004), for example, likens structural holes to social capital; real estate agents, for example, profit from the distance created between home buyers and sellers, while car dealerships serve as middle-men between car manufacturers and consumers.

One of the more interesting applications of this method can be found at the website TheyRule.net which allows users to create interactive diagrams of companies’ and organizations’ board of directors. Along with some of the aforementioned studies, I also like to show students the connections that link various corporations and institutions. Given that a recent student newspaper article cited complaints with the university’s food service provider, several students suggested we look at Aramark.

There’s more analysis there. I would say that, with powerful networks like these, who needs conspiracy theories?

Written by Randy McDonald

March 11, 2016 at 8:54 pm

[LINK] “Straight People Are Going on Grindr to Make Gay Best Friends”

Shawn Binder’s Mic article is perplexing. As someone who finds Grindr barely useful at all, the idea of using it as a conventional social networking platform–of heterosexuals using it as said, of heterosexual men–using it is honestly shocking.

“This is embarrassing,” Elizabeth*, 26, told Mic over the phone, her voice shaking. She was talking about how she discovered her boyfriend was cheating on her after she found a dick pic on his phone.

To hear Elizabeth tell it, her boyfriend had never expressed interest in men before, so she couldn’t believe he might be interested in having sex with them. “I knew something was up,” she said. She needed answers but wasn’t sure where to begin, so she pulled out her smartphone and downloaded Grindr for reconnaissance.

At first, Elizabeth pretended to be a man on her profile, asking around to see if any of the men in her area were sleeping with her boyfriend. “None admitted to it,” Elizabeth told Mic. But even though she didn’t find out whether her boyfriend was cheating on her on Grindr, something surprising happened after she ultimately broke up with him: “I actually started making connections.”

Over time, Elizabeth started regularly hanging out with a few of the men she met on Grindr. “Once I told them I wasn’t a guy, a lot of them blocked me. But after I explained [my situation] to the few who would listen, they were all really accepting of me,” she told Mic.

While it might seem strange for a heterosexual woman to use one of the largest gay dating apps out there, Elizabeth is not alone. She is one of a number of people who have turned to the app for something other than sex: platonic friendship.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 11, 2016 at 8:33 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • City of Brass notes the lie that is Eurabia.
  • Crooked Timber considers Creative Commons licenses as a crude kind of anti-spam technology.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at Ontario’s interest in pioneering a guaranteed minimum income program.
  • Far Outliers looks at the history of Korean prisoners of war in the Second World War in Hawai’i.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the death of Nancy Reagan.
  • Language Hat starts a discussion about the cost of designing fonts.
  • Language Log notes the difficulties of some Westerners with learning Chinese compared to Western classical languages.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the complexity of the new European Union-Turkey deal on Syrian migrants.
  • Discover‘s Neuroskeptic notes that we are far from being able to upload content directly to our brains.
  • Strange Maps notes how, in Turkish, different cardinal directions are associated with a different colour.
  • Is Buffalo strongly anti-gay? Towleroad considers this finding, from a social media analysis.
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