Sunday, December 02, 2007

Fan Videos, Redux or Three

There's been a sudden spurt of press about fan video creators recently, specifically New York Magazine's profiling of Luminosity, in Online Videos 2007. Henry Jenkins has a short writeup here, suggesting he nominated her work. And here's a coincidentally timed article in the Japan Times on anime fan music video, pointed to by a vidder friend of mine.

While I'm at it, here's a link to my older post about a talk I gave at IBM on fan video creators. LiveJournal is one of the main places they are hanging out now, and in that post and talk I showed some network relations among "vidder" groups on LJ. The anime vid crowd is very distinct from the other TV show vidding crowds. They have an aesthetic and interests that evolved very independently. (As a former fan vidder myself, I don't love LiveJournal and what it's done for and to fandom's communication, but it has certainly been a nice central point for many folks to find each other and also avoid each other if wanted. LiveJournal's prominence in online media fandom is also mentioned frequently in Henry Jenkin's Gender and Fan Culture discussion.)

And speaking of gender and academic studies, I have a minor peeve about the discussion of vidding and Lum's work in that New York mag article, and in Henry's writeup. I suppose this is also one reason I got disillusioned by the academic studies of fandom while I was on their fringes as a fan vidder and grad student. There's a bit too much focus on stuff like "feminist critique" of TV shows and other big concepts that seem to "legitimize" something that to outsiders probably looks goofy and crazy. (Unless they're active in sports fandoms, and even then, that's okay in a way that TV fandom isn't!) The very vids that were picked of Lum's to host on NY mag's site in a postage-stamp-sized, stopmotion playback fashion are kind of off-topic, to me. They aren't the emotional ones about plot and story and character, they're commentary with gorgeous images and effects. I don't mean this in any way to criticize her work, which is excellent as always; but they aren't the ones of hers that are best-loved by the fan consumers. She herself says she goes for the emotional punch; so to me this makes these vids odd choices for the story, perhaps ones that were thought to hold up better to outsiders?

And a few comments on the online video THING that bugs most of the purist vidders. It may mean greater access and easier distrubition being on YouTube or Imeem, but the playback still sucks. Big screen quality of experience, caliber of edits, timing, etc. are all important to fan vidders. These online sites don't support it, and that means a lot of vidders just aren't happy with them as a means of distribution. If you watch vids on YouTube, you aren't seeing the real thing. I'm just saying. It started long before the Internet, and still lives in parallel, despite what people having conferences about online video might say. To illustrate, here is a long list of vids made about the Professionals (a UK tv show), with dates and authors. Look at the dates lower in the list. Those were made on VCRs, the way many of us started.

Relevant other links: DIY video conferenece, covering fan video in part, in February 2008. (They have reviewed submissions for the ones they think are best, by their criteria, not community criteria, again? I know a fan or two is involved, but still, their conference site worries me.) Some friends of mine whom I used to vid with posted a sampler of vids, including one of my co-authored ones, announced here. If you want to see all of Luminosity's fan works in non-postage-stamp jerky playback, her list is here.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

LiveJournal in the Blogosphere

Work by Matthew Hurst on mapping the blogosphere has been blogged around recently, particularly because of his cool hyperbolic graphs of the huge data set of linkages, one shown above. I post here because I've got friends reading on LiveJournal -- I know LJ folks occasionally wonder why the press about social networking sites rarely mentions LJ, favoring MySpace and others. One reason may be that LiveJournal is a fairly close-knit and separate community site, with a lot of internal links via friends lists, and not a lot of other blogging post cross-over or linkage in. (I don't know how he handled syndication on LJ friends lists, if at all.)

LiveJournal's small network cluster is shown in the image as cluster #3. The others are (1) DailyKOS, (2) BoingBoing, (4) other political bloggers, (5) porn, and (6) sports fans. LiveJournal is further out than the porn fans, but bigger! Smaller than sports fans, though.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Social Networks of Video Editors on LiveJournal

A few months ago, I did a talk at IBM Research in Cambridge on video (or "vid") editors and their online and offline communities. I made a few social network images, which I thought would be interesting to folks here, and I know I have readers on LiveJournal.

The basic gist of the talk was that hobbiest television fan music video editors existed long before YouTube and their history and organization reflect how they use the internet now -- which is verifiable with some simple data analysis. (NB: I used to be one myself, and in the talk I used a lot of personal examples and anonymized the rest, to protect privacy of anyone who wasn't contacted about this talk. So I'll say "we" here although I'm not practicing myself these days.)

In a quick sum of my talk: We used to do music video editing with VCRs. We existed before the internet was our main way of communicating, and we used fanzines and APAs to exchange tips and tricks (but truthfully, this was borderline before my time, although the friends who taught me all did this). We had and still have conventions at which we showed off our work, to supplement the now popular online posting mechanisms of distribution. (YouTube is not a major site for fan video editors, but another current social network tool that supports video has just become very popular among my friends who use LiveJournal for their conversations.)

Knowing the history makes for interesting cruising of the video communities on LiveJournal. The anime video makers turn out to be, for the most part, a distinct group. This isn't too surprising when you read the "about" text on one of the video community pages (slightly disguised here):

Anime "vidders" are told they may not be as comfortable here, and that VCR vidders are welcome.

This image shows the network of members in the anime community (highlighted) which is somewhat separate from the group (and its affiliates) quoted above:

One of the communities that is closely related to this one is one in which an annual face-to-face convention is discussed, started and fed by some of the older VCR editors and now pretty much populated by the non-linear digital folks, of which former VCR people are now a part. The convention-discussion community members, highlighted below in orange, are closely interconnected to the community quoted from above, which is circled in red here:

The group circled in blue is a Battlestar Galactica video group, less closely related but more so than the anime group. The closely inter-connected groups in these images are the generic discussion groups, at which the craft and technique and technical discussions occur. More specific discussion groups are generally less connected.

I made these images with prefuse, and apologies for the quality of the uploads. I'm available to talk about this stuff anytime :-)

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Demotivation and Burnout

Picture from Creating Passionate Users

Today's post is brought to you by a five day vacation, during which I've been catching up on some reading and not working long hours! I've found a couple interesting pieces recently on the subject of why people burn out, which suggests it's not the overtime in itself.

The first article was on Blogher, It's Not Just You. A recent Wharton School study looked at reasons for worker burnout. (It's unfortunately not yet available free online.)

"One of the biggest complaints employees have is they are not sufficiently recognized by their organizations for the work that they do. Respect is a component of recognition. When employees don't feel that the organization respects and values them, they tend to experience higher levels of burnout." Or, as Ramarajan puts it, "it is often not the job that burns you out, but the organization."

It turns out there was another good piece in the NY Magazine, Can't Get No Satisfaction, which meanders through social worker burnout, teacher burnout, medical burnout, and into high tech and NY Wall Street burnout. This one notes previous good research:

In 1981, Maslach, now vice-provost at the University of California, Berkeley, famously co-developed a detailed survey, known as the Maslach Burnout Inventory, to measure the syndrome. Her theory is that any one of the following six problems can fry us to a crisp: working too much; working in an unjust environment; working with little social support; working with little agency or control; working in the service of values we loathe; working for insufficient reward (whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback). “I once talked to a pediatric dentist,” she says, “and he said, ‘A good day is when there are no screamers.’

Googling for Maslach, I hit an online quiz that rates your current level of burnout risk. The questions are about how you feel and about your work environment, as predicted by Maslach's findings. (E.g., "Do you feel that you are achieving less than you should?"; "Do you feel under an unpleasant level of pressure to succeed?"; "Do you find that you do not have time to plan as much as you would like to?" etc.) See how you score!

Finally, there's a related by different piece I just read when catching up on Creating Passionate Users, on Knocking the Exhuberance Out of Employees. When you burn people out, you've got robots and zombies working for you. Zombies and robots don't argue, don't have ideas, and don't threaten you or the status quo. They're a lot easier to manage, too. Hopefully no one who works for me is reading this, though, because I like arguing with them and am in no way an advocate of less exhuberance. Let that go as read!

Lastly, an article on Job Burnout in an online manufacturing magazine says (citing Maslach) burnout is about a mismatch "between what people are and what they have to do. It represents an erosion in values, dignity, spirit, and will-—an erosion of the human soul." America, with increasingly long hours and questionable corporate values, is a leader in burnout. We measure customer satisfaction, but worker satisfaction isn't a serious corporate issue, and the 40 hour work week is long dead.

Postscript: I can't believe I forgot the classic article on burnout, the electrocuted dogs experiment by Seligman: Learned Helplessness. This one has a positive spin to it, in that it suggests some therapeutic ways out of the syndrome. Happy New Year!

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Social Drinkers Earn More Money

Somewhat disturbing, but ringing true in a bunch of dimensions... This study shows that social drinkers earn more money than non-drinkers, and claims it's because of the increase in social capital gained by knocking one back with colleagues.
Although there is a united campaign to restrict alcohol, labor market data may surprise noneconomists: recent studies indicate that drinking and individual earnings are positively correlated. Instead of earning less money than nondrinkers, drinkers earn more. One explanation is that drinking improves physical health, which in turn affects earnings (Hamilton and Hamilton, 1997). We contend that there is an economic explanation. We hypothesize that drinking enhances social capital, which leads to superior market outcomes. Glaeser et al. (2000: 4) describe social capital as “a person's social characteristics, including social skills, charisma, and the size of his Rolodex, which enable him to reap market and nonmarket returns from interactions with others.” Some aspects of social capital might be innate, but people can enhance others, such as Rolodex size. If social drinking increases social capital, social drinking could also increase earnings. We attempt to test whether drinking enhances social capital by differentiating between social and nonsocial drinking; we predict that those who drink in public will have higher earnings than those who drink at home. New data confirm that drinkers earn more, and we find that social drinkers earn even more.

The article is here and comes with a somewhat scary libertarian slant intro, be warned:No Booze? You May Lose:Why Drinkers Earn More Money Than Nondrinkers (pdf). Note, this obviously supports the value of conference trip networking as important for career, if money is an indicator of career success (it is to some).

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work

I have long been fascinated (and disgusted) by the lack of government, union, or HR care for the abuse of workers in the software industry. During the dot com era, I actually heard it touted as an intentional strategy by some Silicon Valley managers to hire young programmers right out of school who would work long hours for little pay and were considered "disposable." Mostly, they were disposed of, by burn out.

This attitude was reflected a little more indirectly in the cuts in benefits and pensions everywhere including major companies like AT&T, layoffs in which senior people were cut on the principle that they were easy to replace; among other people mismanagement decisions that seemed to me to be incalculably stupid. Incalculable, unfortunately, because the decisions and decisionmakers at these companies were protected by layers of indirection (about the reasoning, minimally) and because there is profound difficulty in measuring the damage to the company, products, and customers, both long and short term. Stupid, because the people in the trenches doing the work understood the impact every day, in terms of workload, quality of work, culture, their attachment to the company, belief in the industry and in what they were doing...

More than one person I knew who was young and abused in the dot com era decided they were "getting out," went to open a record store (or flower shop) and never looked at a computer again. In an era of declining enrollment in computer science programs, we as an industry can't really afford that.

Here's a guy in the game industry--one of the most famously abusive software sectors--trying to make the case with a fairly well-researched article on the subject: IGDA - Articles - Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons. Tagline: There's a bottom-line reason most industries [except the software industry] gave up crunch mode over 75 years ago: It's the single most expensive way there is to get the work done. Of course, in the software industry, quality hasn't mattered that much, till recently. Will things change? Will software management change? Will the calculation become easier to make to argue against the stupid?

And here's an article, only tangentially related, but I think still related, on why America is lagging in R&D. The State of Research Isn't All That Grand. R&D is being outsourced, because it's cheaper that way; and R&D is "hard to measure" because it's a long-term investment. Most American companies aren't actually that good at long-term anything, in a profits-now-or-your-bonus-is-impacted business world.

Why hasn't Built to Last had more impact?

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

More on Skunk Works

Following up on yesterday's post, and pointed to some stuff by Steve C: some radically different skunk works innovation stories, with huge business success.

Firstly, the actual original Skunk Works at Lockheed, and a list of their principles for successful operation. A few of the more interesting ones, applicable to software:

The contractor must be delegated the authority to test their final product in flight. They can and must test it in the initial stages. If they don't, they rapidly lose their competency to design other vehicles.

There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor with very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.

The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal systems).

A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.

The principles point to small, flexible, efficient, with well-understood budget and cost accounting procedures; and in sharp contrast to most other skunk works projects in software, blessed by directorial or higher level executive support who gives them autonomy.

Finally, I like this nice quote at the bottom of the principles list: "Reducing the time to evaluation of a system almost always leads to lower costs, greater flexibility for change, improved overall performance, and less risk."

For a sharp contrast, there's this classic and fun read on the creation of the Graphing Calculator at Apple by two unemployed guys who snuck into the building to work on it anyway. It reads like fiction, but you know it isn't. I admire them for their attitude towards teamwork and quality, if not corporate legality.

Next, we needed help writing software to draw the three-dimensional images that our software produced. A friend with expertise in this area took a weekend off from his startup company to write all of this software. He did in two days what would have taken me a month. My skunkworks project was beginning to look real with help from these professionals as well as others in graphic design, documentation, programming, mathematics, and user interface. The secret to programming is not intelligence, though of course that helps. It is not hard work or experience, though they help, too. The secret to programming is having smart friends.
They have a nice page of lessons learned from designing for the PowerPC, and it has a nice list of UCD items in it, as well as some smart observations on how to do screen-drawing behavioral things that are important to users rather than just clever or fast because they can be.
The goal is to maximize use of whatever processing power is available in the design of the user interface...
  1. Tackle expensive computations when they can improve the interface.
  2. Eliminate dialogs and command lines in favor of direct manipulation.
  3. Drop old assumptions and idioms. Use the processing power to explore new interfaces.
  4. Provide a starting point for exploration.
  5. Avoid programming cleverness. Instead, assume a good compiler and write readable code.
  6. Invest development time in user-centered design.
  7. Learn the new rules for performance.
  8. Design tiered functionality: take advantage of whatever hardware you're running on.
  9. Test on real users.
I suppose one of the things I like about their story, apart from the lesson that "it takes a team of different skills to make something really good," is that they did a good root cause analysis of their success. You can't replicate what you don't understand. Although their motives in doing this while unemployed were admittedly murky to the end of the story. This kind of thing wouldn't have flown at Lockheed.

Finally, here's a link to an article on What Drives Innnovation (pdf) with some case studies and lessons learned. Their heuristic process to decide if an innovative idea is worthwhile for the business or executable inside a business culture is simple, but it's hard for me to figure out what to take from it... Despite the "possibly" and "no" frequency in some of the case studies, the idea was still successful. So, hmm. But worth a read.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Secrets of Great Teams

There are some nice short articles on teamwork in business at CNN's site for Fortune.

The top story, Why Dream Teams Fail, points out some of the failure modes also described in other resources on teamwork, but in somewhat different terms:

  • Signing too many all-stars
  • Failing to build a culture of trust
  • Tolerating competing agendas
  • Letting conflicts fester
  • Hiding from the real issues
The most interesting notes in there were on the difficulty of finding dream executive teams, because as you climb the ladder, you're supposed to be an all-star. So of course there's less likelihood of collaboration and trust at that level. When there is, it's usually a pair consisting of one famous "outward-facing" figure, and a lesser known, internally focused-on-execution person.

The article on the Motorola RAZR is a little painful; it's another case of skunk works innovative design breaking corporate rules and even breaking human factors rules. The importance of risk-taking and mold-breaking comes up a lot in these kinds of business success tales.

A good sidebar piece looks at optimal size of teams: 4.6 people. Another one looks at the network of communication in an organization and how it differs from the org chart. You know I love anything that looks beyond the tree and makes networks:

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Social Isolation Growing in U.S.

A much blogged social networking article: Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says. Putnam's famous Bowling Alone was on this topic, and things have only gotten worse, apparently.
A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two. The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties -- once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits -- are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone. "That image of people on roofs after Katrina resonates with me, because those people did not know someone with a car," said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University sociologist who helped conduct the study. "There really is less of a safety net of close friends and confidants."

Barry Wellman, known for his studies of internet community networks, suggests that people have more diverse network connections and spread out their needs among different links. Hmm. I'm reminded of Oldenburg's Great Good Place, about the increasing lack of "third" places like bars or community centers, not work or home sites, in which people hang out and have social lives. Suburbia is particularly prone to this problem (except in NJ, where all the kids hang out and smoke at the all-night diners).

Some of the concerns this raises are that isolated people are more depressed, more prone to illness, potentially to crime...


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Reforming Project Management

This is an excellent blog on project management and development: Reforming Project Management. It also, coincidentally, happens to be written by someone who works in the AEC industry (architecture, engineering, construction), which might interest some people I work with.

I like it because it has good stuff on quality (lots on Toyota right now), some good book pointers, and some nice commentary on methods in projects and leadership. I just read the entire current page of articles from the top down, without realizing I was still on the same site.

Hal's definition of project: "A project is a single-purpose network of commitments undertaken by a temporary social system."

Face it. Projects are temporary organizations. People come together on projects as strangers. We're not likely to change that. What we can do is make sure people share a context, have intentions that are aligned, and have a relationship that allows them to successfully coordinate action together.

And while I'm at it, this isn't at all a bad article on Dr. Dobbs about short-term-high-profile-crisis projects: Quick-Kill Project Management. The authors suggest 3 things are indispensable, for project success under really crappy crisis conditions:

  • Vision and scope document
  • Work breakdown structure
  • Code review
Since Dobbs is a software journal, the insight into doing good work breakdowns and code reviews was useful even independent of the topic of crisis management.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Daily Hassles

I've been tracking my time, in part because we were asked to (for budgeting better on the next release cycle) and in part because I just love the data-centered view of the world. Buried in the details of everyday life, we don't see the big picture, and this kind of time tracking exercise helps. (God forbid I do it for my non-work life, that would provide a level of big picture insight I don't feel prepared for right now.)

A while ago there was a small kerfuffle on the 37signals blog about the uselessness of meetings -- the gist of the post from the ballsy, tiny small startup was "meetings are a waste of time, just get down to doing the work." This caused the usual response from the less big-mouthed, possibly more mature crowd of readers with experience at larger companies or on more software teams: "Not all meetings are a waste of time, and maybe you guys are a special case in some ways." I was one of the readers who was irritable, because I genuinely believe that without meeting-time, we can't produce coordinated design work on complex products and we can waste a huge amount of time in email (delaying critical work) and acting on poor or poorly understood information. Project risk increases without meetings as a forum to be sure everyone understands what's going on and what's next.

That said, I do believe there are inefficient meetings, and teams that revisit decisions made in meetings undermine meeting usefulness; and meetings that go badly have the ability to damage relationships and project work as much as they could have improved things and made projects more likely to be successful. To add to the list of my many opinions on this topic, meetings are a place -- sometimes the only place, which is worrying in itself -- for necessary social chitchat interactions (on the meeting margins) as much as for making project progess, and folks who don't care about that aspect of face-time are more likely to have meetings that go bad and cause project damage.

But I went off and did some research on the topic of meetings and stress and found this article: Meetings and More Meetings: The Relationship Between Meeting Load and the Daily Well-Being of Employees (pdf, Luong and Rogelberg).

Defined in the stress research literature as “annoying episodes in which daily tasks become more difficult or demanding than anticipated,” hassles have been found to predict stress symptoms better than most other predictor variables (Zohar, 1999, p. 265). Varying from equipment malfunction to inappropriate behavior of coworkers (Zohar, 1999), such obstacles predict an array of stress-related effects, including burnout (Zohar, 1997), anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions (Koch, Tung, Gmelch, & Swent, 1982; Motowidlo, Packard, & Manning, 1986).

More or less, one of the article's findings is that meetings annoy people because they aren't seem as a goal in themselves, they're a necessary evil that's often, in poor cultures, really evil in practice. They are seen as hassles, instead of work in themselves.

Digression: I remember a friend, on moving from engineering management in which he still wrote code to higher level strategic management, having the realization that meetings weren't getting in the way of work, but instead, "Meetings ARE my job now!" I also remember a developer at Adobe realizing that the number of meetings my UI colleague and I had to have with his project team to move that design forward were the tip of the iceberg in our lives; you effectively multiplied those meetings times the number of projects we were assigned to, to reach the total of some ridiculous number of meetings we were responsible for calling, preparing for, and documenting afterwards in order to produce specs, which was our perceived "real" job. We were always borderline psycho, of course, in a constant state of frenzied stress, prone to freaking out if a pen ran out mid-use or the video conference system needed rebooting and we lost 10 minutes of meeting time.

But back to the above quote. Say meetings are a necessary evil, and viewed in a better light, a significant part of work in themselves rather than a blockage to doing "real work." Then, maybe the other hassles in our workday that are genuinely just hassles rather than misunderstood work might be "fixable." Like the bad pens and video systems.

In one of my favorite books, Management of the Absurd, Farson cites Maslow on the hierarchy of grumbles in organizations. The gist is that people always complain -- it's a human fact -- but the category of complaints is significant. Grumbles about equipment, the "hassles" of the above quote, are the most worrying, because they mean that low-level needs aren't even being taken care of. Hassles that interfere with the "real" work add significant stress, and are invisible to many managers. These could be the equivalent of the food and safety level of office needs. (Admittedly, the threat of arbitrary job loss is something that's a bit more "safety" related and counts as more than a "hassle." So my parallel may not be entirely fair here...)

Farson says that a better company will have people complaining about higher order issues like the source of credit for work, whether there is truth and justice in the office, about the opportunity for creativity and self-expression on the job.

Everyone is working at capacity these days, it seems. But folks who are most stressed may be stressed because of too many daily little hassles. I'd put on the hassle list the inability to schedule a meeting room, or frequently-used intranet software that fails 50% of the time because of a server issue that hasn't been taken care of. People who are already working at capacity are especially prone to not coping well with the little hassles -- but they are actually a lot more fixable than the higher order issues people face at higher order companies. So I guess there's some good news if you go looking deeper at the sources of workplace stress.

(Here's another citation from Zohar's work on work stressors: "When things go wrong: The effect of daily work hassles on effort, exertion and negative mood" (pdf).)

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

You Make Your Own Luck

A nice (positive!) story off one of my favorite blogs, Mind Hacks. You Make Your Own Luck is a summary of the book by Richard Wiseman, The Luck Factor. Wiseman's analysis says that being "lucky" comes down largely to personality attributes, such as being open-minded, optimistic, experimental, and aware of opportunities when they come up.

Principle One: Maximise Chance Opportunities Lucky people are skilled at creating, noticing and acting upon chance opportunities. They do this in various ways, including networking, adopting a relaxed attitude to life and by being open to new experiences.

Principle Two: Listening to Lucky Hunches Lucky people make effective decisions by listening to their intuition and gut feelings. In addition, they take steps to actively boost their intuitive abilities by, for example, meditating and clearing their mind of other thoughts.

Principle Three: Expect Good Fortune Lucky people are certain that the future is going to be full of good fortune. These expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies by helping lucky people persist in the face of failure, and shape their interactions with others in a positive way.

Principle Four: Turn Bad Luck to Good Lucky people employ various psychological techniques to cope with, and often even thrive upon, the ill fortune that comes their way. For example, they spontaneously imagine how things could have been worse, do not dwell on the ill fortune, and take control of the situation.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Physics of Friendship

Another interesting (and successful) paper on modeling of social networks by physicists: A System of Mobile Agents to Model Social Networks (pdf), by Gonzalez, Lind, and Hermann. I recommend the more accessible writeup here.

The gist is that they can model friendship patterns in schools with a system of particle collisions and diffusions, and accurately reproduce the empirical data from a large survey of 84 schools' friendship relations. With a minor variation, the model extends to sexual relations in an HIV study (not at schools).

How depressing to learn we're just particles bumping into each other!

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why Don't We Choose What Makes Us Happy?

People are flawed. But it's rarely so well summarized as it is in the paper "Decision and Experience: Why Don't We Choose What Makes Us Happy?" (Hsee and Hastie 2006). The authors recap the many experiments in the literature of behavioral-decision theory that show that people don't choose outcomes that maximize their happiness, due to a number of failures in the human psychological makeup.
The vast popular literature on self-improvement is based on the belief that we aren’t getting everything we could out of life, and is replete with recipes to increase happiness. Recent findings from behavioral-decision research provide evidence that people are not always able to choose what yields the greatest happiness or best experience. People fail to choose optimally, either because they fail to predict accurately which option in the available choice set will generate the best experience or because they fail to base their choice on their prediction, or both.

They identify these biasing problems:

  • Impact bias: We misjudge how severe an impact will be and hence choose the wrong option.
  • Projection bias: We project from our current emotional or physical state how we will feel in the future. Hungry shopper buy more food than needed.
  • Distinction bias: Joint-evaluation versus single-evaluation models screw us up. I pick from a selection of plasma TVs, but weigh attributes incorrectly because in my home I only experience one of them and the factors I weighed weren't relevant.
  • Memory bias: We misremember peak events or significant events, and it influences future choice. (Subjects were lightly tortured with cold water for this one.) The bias disappears with gentle questioning though, good news for therapists.
  • Belief bias: Lay theories about what will make us happy -- or, poor self-analysis. (People probably differ in this area.) This section really highlights how pathetic we are, though: "Another common belief is that more choice options are always better. In reality, having more options can lead to worse experiences [38–40]. For example, if employees are given a free trip to Paris, they are happy; if they are given a free trip to Hawaii, they are happy. But if they are given a choice between the two trips, they will be less happy, no matter which option they choose. Having the choice highlights the relative deficiencies in each option. People who choose Paris complain that 'Paris does not have the ocean', whereas people who choose Hawaii complain that 'Hawaii does not have great museums'."

Failures to follow decisions, another source for the failure of rational paths to happiness, are explained by:

  • Impulsivity: We choose the short term immediate over the long-term outcome.
  • Rule-based decisions: Related to aphorisms and cultural beliefs about "what's right," this is behavior based on rules like "don't waste" rather than rational predictions.
  • Lay rationalism: Related to rules, this category represents the attempt to apply correct reasoning but getting it badly wrong. The 3 types covered here are "lay economism," "lay scientism," and "lay functionalism." "Another manifestation is ‘lay scientism’, a tendency to base choices on objective, 'hard' attributes rather than subjective, 'soft' attributes. For example, when choosing between two equally expensive audio systems, one with a higher wattage rating (a hard attribute) and the other with a richer sound (a soft attribute), most people chose the high-wattage model, even though when asked to predict their enjoyment, they favored the richer-sounding model. A third manifestation of lay rationalism is ‘lay functionalism’, a tendency to focus on the primary goal(s) of the decision and overlook other aspects that are important to overall experience."
  • Medium maximization: People confuse the medium for happiness with the actual results, the most famous example being money. People work harder to get more money but more money itself doesn't increase happiness.

The implications for this type of research are politically worrying, of course (we assume in democratic and capitalist societies that people are capable of choosing what is best for them and should be allowed to do so). For software design and other economic problems, the implications are equally sad; if people can't be relied on to choose the products that are "best" by rational means, then the well-intentioned decisions of designers are that much less important and less related to final market success. Product usability itself is a "soft" factor subject to being sacrificed as unimportant, thanks to lay rationalism and the impact and distinction biases.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Projects: Succeeded, "Challenged," Failed

The Standish Group have done numerous studies of software project success and failure rates over the last 10 years. They've observed some trends in project management suggesting things are marginally improving out there.

In 1995, their report identifies these key factors and associated weights contributing to project success:

1. User Involvement 19
2. Executive Management Support 16
3. Clear Statement of Requirements 15
4. Proper Planning 11
5. Realistic Expectations 10
6. Smaller Project Milestones 9
7. Competent Staff 8
8. Ownership 6
9. Clear Vision & Objectives 3
10. Hard-Working, Focused Staff 3

As you can see in the graphic below, in 1994 the the success rate for projects was only 16%, while "challenged" projects (over time and cost) accounted for 53%, and failed (canceled before completion) accounted for 31% of all projects. In 1998, 26% were successful. Then in 2004, we reached a 29% success rate. Project costs are higher and the success rates are lower for larger companies.

The 1995 piece has a scorecard to apply to your project to help you assess your potential for success. They're good questions (but a little intimidating even in 2006).

The 1999 report is quite sobering; they suggest that project size, team size, and project duration are the major factors correlated with success. They identify project management and standard infrastructure as crucial factors for team success. (Their comments on project management are well worth looking at, too, including the role of mentoring project managers.) I am quite sure that Scott Berkun would agree with them.

In 2001's report, they state that executive sponsorship replaced user involvement as the number one critical factor, because the IT world had caught on to the user involvement philosophy. Staunch business and management support now trump requirements analysis and user review of product design.

Finally, here is a telling quote about written communication on projects, from their original article:

Achieving the answers to solving project failure often lies in developing written communication such as problem statements, project plans, and detail specifications. However, one of the problems with any written communication is the participant's (reader's) level of understanding. As technologists, we think, write, and talk in a manner that is not readily grasped by many people outside our industry. Aside from sounding intimidating, you run the danger of the reader actually thinking they understand what you are saying, while your meaning may in fact be entirely different. To paraphrase the words of the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge "Until you understand a reader's ignorance, presume yourself ignorant of his understanding". In other words, write the document devoid of all technical terms and pseudo technical terms. This includes words used by our industry, but rarely used outside our industry. Words like paradigm, metric, abstraction, and orthogonal, should not be used in any document if you want the normal reader to understand. Remember it is your job make the reader understand the plan. It is not your job to show how smart you are or to demonstrate that you can use big words.

Sadly, "phenomenological" is probably not a good word to put in a spec either.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sleep on it for complex decisions.

Complex decisions are made better after a night's sleep, according to BBC NEWS: Sleep on it. It looks like simple decisions are better made consciously than unconsciously, though. (Now, how can you tell the two apart? And why does the alert brain seem so limited-- is this another "7 plus or minus 2" result?)
The conscious thought group managed to pick the best car based on four aspects around 55% of the time, while the unconscious thought group only chose the right one 40% of the time.

But when the experiment was made more complex by bringing in 12 attributes to weigh up, the conscious thought group's success rate fell to around 23% as opposed to nearly 60% for the unconscious thought group.

Importantly, post-decision satisfaction ratings were included in this study. So -- if you have a group of people in charge of making complex multivariate decisions, who also have sleep disorders, your organization is in trouble--? Unless someone up above gets a lot of sleep on all the complex decisions everyone is coping with, perhaps.

That question cuts a little close to home, for some of us. It also begs a new candidate interview question...

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Networked Governance: Network & Teams

Harvard University has a Program on Networked Governance, on whose site I found some nice links on networks and teams. I thoroughly enjoyed the literature review in their first article link, Building Effective Intra-Organizational Networks: The Role of Teams (pdf). The starting observation is that there hasn't been a lot of research cross-over between people studying social network analysis (SNA) and effective teamwork in organizations.

As a tourist in both fields, I found the literature review and the points of contrast and comparison very interesting. It's a good intro to both fields.

  • Bavelas and his colleagues at MIT conducted experimental analyses of how communication patterns among teammates influenced team effectiveness ... When the information was simple, centralized communication was optimal. When the information was complex, centralized communication was dysfunctional.[Me: For decentralized communication to work, the network must be highly functional.]
  • The paradigmatic focus of team research is on the task performance of a small group with a clear and well-defined boundary (Alderfer, 1977) “Clear and well-defined” means that team members and outsiders know who is on and who is off the team (Hackman, 1990). This is a critical element of the very definition of a team. [Me: This is also the in-group/out-group issue I found in the community studies literature in my dissertation research. Individuals who are shared across multiple teams may have a harder time identifying with any one team, and this may impact productivity or team relationships.]
  • For teams with little autonomy or with overloaded team members, communication initiated by the external environment negatively affected team performance. [I guess this includes management wrenches thrown in the game very late...]
  • Do team members know each other before the team exists? Jehn & Shah (1997) found differences in intra-team communication when they compared teams composed of friends to teams composed of acquaintances. [Not surprising. Check who has lunch with each other!]
  • We know that a team’s success or failure can influence subsequent feelings of cohesiveness among teammates (Turner, Hogg, & Smith, 1984). One possibility is that misery (lack of success) breeds company (connectedness). Another possibility is that successful collaborations result in increased communication. Lack of success may lead to a vicious cycle of failure, leading to disconnectedness, leading to more failure, and so on. [As a manager I would think hard about retaining the same team members in a context where their first product was seen as having been a failure... or where they thought it was.]
  • While knowledge networks describe who knows what, each individual in the organization also has his/her own perception of who knows what, or a “cognitive knowledge network” (Contractor, Zink, & Chan, 1998). Cognitive knowledge networks are a combination of knowing who knows who, and who knows what – i.e. who knows who knows what. Cognitive knowledge networks vary in their accuracy and completeness (Contractor et al.), where higher levels of accuracy can be expected to result in greater access to the knowledge in the network. [An environment where people don't know what other people know, or who knows what is a risky environment for the success of a teams and individuals.]
  • Another mechanism social systems have that regulates individual tendencies toward noncooperative behavior is the possibility of continued relationships, because the fruits of future collaboration are at stake (Axelrod, 1981). ... We would expect teams made up of relationships with a greater expected duration will suffer from less free riding. When one free-riding team member can “crash” the entire team, and free riding is thus a dangerous risk, a desirable network will feature high levels of embeddedness, strong ties within the team, and expectations for future interaction. [Free riding, of course, is slacking off, in a work context. So, if the team hasn't felt it has been a failure, the existence of the group over time encourages individual performance and communication.]
  • When a manager assigns people to teams, he/she is molding the social capital of the organization. .. There are two overarching points here: (1) when assigning people to teams, managers should consider the impact of a team on the organization’s long term social capital; and (2) managers should consider viewing social capital the same way they view other types of capital: it may need to be amortized over time. Under certain conditions, it may even be worth sacrificing some short-run team performance for the sake of fostering long-run organizational performance.
I really enjoyed this article, but then I'm a great tourist.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Negative Network Ties

This is an unusual article (a pdf): an examination of negative relationships in social networks, particularly in organizations. The bulk of social networks studies and community studies are about the positive -- benefits acrued, capital, positive reciprocity, sharing of resources, emotional feeling and trust -- but humans do have negative feelings and interactions and groups exhibit negative behaviors both by individuals and collectively.

Labianca and Brass point out that negative work relationships may be non-reciprocal, and may be a result of loss of trust, friendship, or just dislike; significant social liabilities may result from more extreme negativity, as one or both participants in the relationship avoid one another or change work habits to prevent interactions that would be unpleasant. Although they don't associate relationship "conflict" with negative ties directly, they do point out that there may be negative repercussions to the individuals regardless of the existence of conflict "episodes," because of avoidance behaviors impacting work.

This, incidentally, may be related to the "Lovable Fools" article that was summarized on a bunch of sooial network studies sites: it stated that people are more likely to seek out people they like, who may not be competent, in a workplace; which might, of course, also impact work performance at some point. But quoting Negative Ties:

While a great deal of research has been conducted on friendship formation, interpersonal attraction, and the evolution of friendships (see Berscheid & Walster, 1978, and Hays, 1988, for reviews), little has been conducted on the formation and development of negative relationships (Wiseman & Duck, 1995). The evolution of negative relationships may be very different from positive relationships. Friendship development is viewed as a gradual process. According to social penetration theory (Altman & Taylor, 1973), friendship development proceeds from superficial interaction in narrow areas of exchange to increasingly deeper interaction in broader areas. Perceptions of the rewards and costs of interacting with a potential friend drive this progression – if you feel that the rewards from a relationship outweigh the costs, you will continue to progress toward closer friendship.

However, Wiseman and Duck’s (1995) qualitative work indicates that negative relationship development is a much faster process that tends to lead to the other person being included in coarse-grained categories such as “rival” or “enemy.” By contrast, fine-grained ranking distinctions are created for friends as they move through a relationship progression from casual acquaintances to close friends. Thus, the formation of negative relationships is not the mere opposite of the way that positive relationships form. Not only is there evidence that negative relationships form differently, but there is also evidence that they may have greater power in explaining some socioemotional and task outcomes in organizations than positive relationships.

Some of the factors they associate with negative relationships are absenteeism and turnover (lack of organizational attachment), disproportionate impact on job satisfaction (i.e., a negative far outweighs any positives), disproportionate impact on promotion and salary (negative outweighs positives by far at review time).

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So what do you have to do to find happiness?

There's some coverage of the increasing study of what makes people happy in the Sunday Times Online. Some sample quotes in an excellent article:

Public surveys measure what makes us happy. Marriage does, pets do, but children don't seem to (despite what we think). Youth and old age are the happiest times. Money does not add much to happiness; in Britain, incomes have trebled since 1950, but happiness has not increased at all. The happiness of lottery winners returns to former levels within a year. People disabled in an accident are likely to become almost as happy again.

...Showing how easy it is to give people an intellectual boost, Isen divided doctors making a tricky diagnosis into three groups: one received candy, one read humanistic statements about medicine, one was a control group. The doctors who had candy displayed the most creative thinking and worked more efficiently.

..."The things that you desire are not the things that you end up liking. The mechanisms of desire are insatiable. There are things that we really like and tire of less quickly — having good friends, the beauty of the natural world, spirituality. But our economic system plays into the psychology of wanting, and the psychology of liking gets drowned out."

...In essence, what the biology lesson tells us is that negative emotions are fundamental to the human condition, and it's no wonder they are difficult to eradicate. At the same time, by a trick of nature, our brains are designed to crave but never really achieve lasting happiness.

Regardless of the pessimistic finding, there's hope at website, if you pay $10 a month. An interesting footnote in the article states that women and men do have different emotional makeup, with women more extreme in their highs and lows. Not surprising to me.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Preschoolers Drive Flu Epidemics

Surveillance Data Suggest That Preschoolers Drive Flu Epidemics. I found this linked off a social network analysis blog, bemoaning the lack of SNA in the study. I would have thought epidemiology was all up on social networks as a mechanism of disease spread. At least on TV the CDC are -- even if it's just a masked doctor asking who the carrier had contact with in the last 2 days, and then sweating and hissing, "It's getting out of control, shut down O'Hare and then LAX!!"

Quote:"The data suggest that when kids are sneezing, the elderly begin to die. Three- and 4-year-olds are sentinels that allow us to focus our surveillance systems." I wish they better explained what the "biosurveillance" system is.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Pavel's Second Life

Pavel recommends checking out Second Life.

They have a few features that make them sound destined for financial and usage success: a simple programming model, rights to intellectual property remain with the user creators, an internal economy that does real business for users, and a rate structure based on pay for creation rights.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Children develop cynicism at an early age

How sad: Children develop cynicism at an early age.
In the second part of the study the children were asked how self-interest might lead someone to make an incorrect statement. Children were provided with three choices: intentional deception, unintentional bias, or pure mistake. They rarely endorsed bias as the best possible explanation for being incorrect. The youngest children were more likely to think the characters were lying. ... "It is not until sixth grade that children begin to endorse lies and biases as equally plausible explanations for self-interested incorrect statements," Mills said. "Adults are clearly sensitive to all three sources of inaccuracy. How children begin to understand what it means to be biased is an open question."

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Silicon Valley Network Analysis

"Saxenian (1994) presented a systematic argument that network structure in Silicon Valley was quite different from that in the Route 128 corridor of the Boston metropolitan area, for a variety of historical, economic, and cultural reasons, and that this difference translated into what she called, in her book’s title, a distinct “regional advantage” for the Valley." One of the reasons for the difference is the dense social network linkages in Silicon Valley, the high mobility of employees, and the sharing of knowledge at sidewalk cafes -- impossible in a cold, secretive Defense-funded climate like Boston's.

On the SiVNAP--Papers's site, the last article summarizes the network effect on the founding of the semiconductor industry, the growth of Venture capital firms, and the relationships between Stanford and local industry.

I miss the Bay Area! Although it was somewhat disconcerting how small the world felt, every time you went for an interview ("what do you think of so-and-so--?").

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Physicists vs. Sociologists, oh my.

Apparently there's been a bit of bad blood over the fact that physicists are doing social network analysis. An account of some of the "hmph, why don't they cite us" is over at Crooked Timber.

It probably sounds like I'm not sympathetic, but actually I am. I had it bad in the cross-disciplinary early days of Internet research when I wrote my dissertation. It was hard to figure out who to read, what to cite, and where to follow-up. Hard, but not impossible, and so I am sympathetic. (But possibly the relatively powerless position of grad student made me more concerned about this process than tenured physics professors?)

Eszter at Crooked Timber has a nice reading list for social network studies. And here's the link to the infamous social network paper by physicists, on the Eurovision song contest -- always an interesting subject! Even more entertaining, from their abstract: "We investigate the complex relationships between countries in the Eurovision Song Contest, by recasting past voting data in terms of a dynamical network. Despite the British tendency to feel distant from Europe, our analysis shows that the U.K. is remarkably compatible, or ‘in tune’, with other European countries. Equally surprising is our finding that some other core countries, most notably France, are significantly ‘out of tune’ with the rest of Europe."

I'd guess the physicists are British.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

History of Social Networks Analysis

Here's a review of The Development of Social Network Analysis, which looks like an entertaining history.
Freeman defines social network analysis as having four key features: a structural intuition, systematic collection of relational data, graphic images, and mathematical or computational models. (I would add a fifth feature that is ancillary yet crucial: a study of the flows through the network.) The first four features alone tend to produce a static network, though in Freeman's own work flows are often important. When flows are added, networks become channels through which ideas, values, friendship, esteem, money, sales, disease, or almost anything can travel. The same network structure may pass flows of different kinds, or different structures may better facilitate different flows. The impact of social network analysis and its utility depends in large measure on which flows are studied. The way the different flows capture the popular and academic imagination determine, in part, the place of network analysis.

There were plenty of kooky characters in this history, like in any academic field: Moreno had dark side: "self-centered, self-serving ... admitted hearing voices, he sometimes thought he was God, and he was convinced that others were always stealing his ideas" (p. 31). Though to gain a full appreciation of his bizarre side, there is nothing like reading Who Shall Survive, available in the original 1934 edition for about $175 (what to give your favorite network scholar) or the even more bizarre 1953 edition that -- oddly -- costs about the same. "For the most part Moreno seemed to be unfocused but, when he was involved with a woman who could serve as a muse, he succeeded in concentrating and was able to write" (p. 34).

Ew. On the other hand, it's probably a fun read.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

danah boyd: the biases of links

danah boyd has a bunch of observations about blogrolls and linking in an essay here: Many-to-Many: the biases of links.

The dark-- or at least gray-- side of blogging includes the fact that most of the Technorati Top 100 blogs are group blogs or professional blogs, usually aimed at marketing in some way. I suppose it makes good business sense to hop on the buzz-mot-du-jour bandwagon, just like Hagel and Armstrong did with Net Gain: Expanding Markets through Virtual Community. Who people link to in their sidebar, their "blogrolls" (which are often labeled "who we read"), is overwhelmingly gendered, in her sample. And the top dogs all get linked to, but don't link anyone.

It's not a solid quantitative research study, but it's interesting to read.

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Groups and Teams and Growing Pains

I've linked before to Big Dog's Leadership page, which summarizes the stages of team development described in Tuckman's classic "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups."

If you've got deja vu because you remember my post, well, so do I, since I'm going through the same phenomena yet again with a new group-- supporting how universal his observations were. Tuckman's stages are these, named with silly names (I'm quoting from here) :

  • Forming: The group gets to know each other. It's non-threatening. The major task functions also concern orientation. Members attempt to become oriented to the tasks as well as to one another. Discussion centers around defining the scope of the task, how to approach it, and similar concerns.
  • Storming (my favorite because it's the one I always notice and hate): Because of "fear of exposure" or "fear of failure," there will be an increased desire for structural clarification and commitment. Although conflicts may or may not surface as group issues, they do exist. Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, what the rules are, what the reward system is, and what criteria for evaluation are. These reflect conflicts over leadership, structure, power, and authority. There may be wide swings in members’ behavior based on emerging issues of competition and hostilities.
  • Norming: Group members are engaged in active acknowledgment of all members’ contributions, community building and maintenance, and solving of group issues. Members are willing to change theirpreconceived ideas or opinions on the basis of facts presented by other members, and they actively ask questions of one another. Leadership is shared, and cliques dissolve. When members begin to know-and identify with-one another, the level of trust in their personal relations contributes to the development of group cohesion. It is during this stage of development (assuming the group gets this far) that people begin to experience a sense of group belonging and a feeling of relief as a result of resolving interpersonal conflicts.
  • Performing: The Performing stage is not reached by all groups. If group members are able to evolve to stage four, their capacity, range, and depth of personal relations expand to true interdependence. In this stage, people can work independently, in subgroups, or as a total unit with equal facility....Members are both highly task oriented and highly people oriented. There is unity: group identity is complete, group morale is high, and group loyalty is intense. The task function becomes genuine problem solving, leading toward optimal solutions and optimum group development. There is support for experimentation in solving problems and an emphasis on achievement. The overall goal is productivity through problem solving and work.

The Big Dog site points out that groups aren't teams, and the above stages really characterize the formation of teams that work towards a known, shared goal.

While teams have an identity, groups do not. It is almost impossible to establish the sense of cohesion that characterizes a team without this fundamental step. A team has a clear understanding about what constitutes the team's 'work' and why it is important. They can describe a picture of what the team needs to achieve, and the norms and values that will guide them. Teams have an esprit that shows a sense of bonding and camaraderie. Esprit is the spirit, soul, and state of mind of the team. It is the overall consciousness of the team that a person identifies with and feels a part of. Individuals begin using "we" more than "me."

The formation of teams requires some special commitments -- everyone knows everyone is on board and working for the same goal; they can be relied on. If some of the members aren't reliable, or have split loyalties and agendas, there's not going to be a real team at the end of the day. There are lots of potential barriers, including prior history; I think I'm currently part of a subclique in the new group composed of survivors of another successful team (where some group members evolved to a real team and others dropped out); we're dubious about whether the new group will become a team, given what has gone before and who we're missing now.

Teamwork is hard to get right, that's all there is to it.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Intelligence is irrelevant to a happy old age

Huh. I was once on a lunch date with 2 female university professors who are friends of mine, and I asked idly if they'd like to be smarter. You know, to be able to do something really great, like cure cancer, or invent a new method of collecting lint off black clothes. Of course I would, so I was surprised when they said no! Their reasons were largely about social integration, I gathered. (I did wonder if men would have responded the same way to the same question.)

Since we can't be magically smarter, I guess this is good news for us all: being smart doesn't make you happy in your old age. The next question is, does it actually make you unhappier?

New Scientist Breaking News - Intelligence is irrelevant to a happy old age:

Previous studies have shown that people who possess attributes regarded as desirable by modern Western society, such as intelligence, money or sporting talent are rewarded with higher social status, a better paid job and a more comfortable standard of living. Higher social standing has also been linked to increased happiness. However, Gow and his co-authors suggest that intelligent people may also be more concerned about achievement and more aware of alternative lifestyles, which may lead to dissatisfaction.


Sexual Conflict

How important is sexual conflict? A special issue of the American Naturalist is dedicated to discussing it.
Sexual conflict occurs when males and females differ in their reproductive interests, is an inevitable consequence of sexual reproduction, and is enhanced by promiscuity when males and females have several partners. The study of sexual conflict and the impact it has on the evolution of male and female traits has become a rapidly developing field, in part because of disagreement over its importance. Sexual conflict can generate rapid anatagonistic coevolution between the sexes. This occurs when one sex, usually males, attempt to manipulate reproduction in the other sex, usually females, to the manipulators' benefit. If this manipulation is detrimental to females, females may go on the counteroffensive and selection would favor traits that help them resist this manipulation. Males may then be counterselected and evolve traits that, once again, allow them to manipulate females, while females again evolve measures to defend against manipulation, potentially setting off an endless evolutionary cycle of adaptation and counter adaptation. As with many exciting areas of biology, however, controversy exists over the details and generality of the scenario outlined. Sexual conflict is not in debate; what is being debated is whether this generates escalating arms races between the sexes, and if so, when, how often, and what is the effect of this on the sexes.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Creative or Nuts?

In the Psychiatric Times: Are Genius and Madness Related? Contemporary Answers to an Ancient Question . The answer is "yes" by a number of careful measures. Creativity is described as this set of attributes:
In general, creativity requires the cognitive ability and the dispositional willingness to "think outside the box"; to explore novel, unconventional and even odd possibilities; to be open to serendipitous events and fortuitous results; and to imagine the implausible or consider the unlikely. From this requirement arises the need for creators to have such traits as defocused attention, divergent thinking, openness to experience, independence and nonconformity.

Despite the linkage between depression, alcoholism, suicide, and creativity, there is some hope:

Second, creative individuals score high on other characteristics that would seem to dampen the effects of any psychopathological symptoms. In particular, creators display high levels of ego strength and self-sufficiency (Barron, 1963; Cattell and Butcher, 1968). Accordingly, they can exert meta-cognitive control over their symptoms, taking advantage of bizarre thoughts, rather than having the bizarre thoughts take advantage of them. Furthermore, the capacity to exploit unusual ideas is supported by general intelligence. Although intelligence is not correlated with creativity in the upper levels of the intelligence distribution, a certain minimal level of intelligence is required for exceptional creativity (Simonton, 2000). That threshold level is in the gifted range, roughly equivalent to an IQ 120. Creators do not necessarily have genius-grade IQs, but they do have sufficient information processing power to select, develop, elaborate and refine original ideas into creative contributions.
And the article ends with some suggestions on how to treat creative individuals and maintain the edge that makes them create, without them sliding over it. Fascinating reading.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Software programs for social network analysis

I'm starting off on tools research for my workshop paper. It's been a couple of years (er, 10?) since I looked seriously into social network diagramming tools, and here's a nice looking list! In case you share the interest: Software programs for social network analysis.

Updated to add: And check out this cool online PDF text: Introduction to Social Network Methods.

Updated again (after this I'm going back to work): I found a nice site with a tool that's been applied in a bunch of domains and has links to articles on its application. Too bad the tool itself isn't available online and neither is the price. Site: See at the bottom the book chapter on voter turnout and voter choice analysed with social network tools: "It's the Conversations, Stupid! The Link Between Social Interaction and Political Choice," by Valdis Krebs, who seems to be the site owner and software author too. (He also has a bunch of white papers on organizational behavior, which look really fascinating.)

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Help Me Do Some Research: a Survey

I am preparing a conference workshop paper, and I need a little bit of fresh data on blogging and LiveJournal usage. It should only take about 15 minutes max.

I'll give out a random prize for every 30 responses I get. Your chance of getting a prize will increase if you pass the survey link along (I'll be weighting people when they get cited by others in the "where did you get this" question). Prizes will be matted photos of your choice from my photo collection (or possibly new ones, by arrangement, on non-people or non-body-part subject matter), or a small amount of cash if you really prefer.

Survey lasts till end of March... please pass it on and help me out! Go here to take the survey.


Friday, February 04, 2005

Social Science Simulations

I'm enchanted. I followed up a book reference on a game theory result on cooperative behavior to this: Robert Axelrod's Home Page. This fellow is an advocate of the use of simulation in social science research, and he's a lucid, intelligent writer. His "Advancing the Art of Simulation in the Social Sciences" discusses the issues of the "field's" dispersion across disciplines and research forums, lack of shared vocabulary, model description and replication difficulties, challenges in reporting of results; and it ends by describing some well-known social science models for the newbies among us.

I especially enjoyed this summary of the possibilities of "reporting" simulation results:

1. History can be told as "news," following a chronological order. For example, a simulation of international politics might describe the sequence of key events such as alliances and wars. This is the most straightforward type of storytelling, but often offers little in explanatory power.

2. History can be told from the point of view of a single actor. For example, one could select just one of the actors, and do the equivalent of telling the story of the "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire." This is often the easiest kind of history to understand, and can be very revealing about the ways in which the model’s mechanisms have their effects over time.

3. History can also be told from a global point of view. For example, one would describe the distribution of wealth over time to analyze the extent of inequality among the agents. Although the global point of view is often the best for seeing large-scale patterns, the more detailed histories are often needed to determine the explanation for these large patterns.

I'm even now musing on how to use my corporate software resources for simulation of organizational social network behavior... Stay tuned.

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Tyranny of Structurelessness

From a friend on LJ, an article from the women's lib days on how structureless groups have their own informal rules and roles: The Tyranny of Structurelessness:
For those groups which cannot find a local project to devote themselves to, the mere act of staying together becomes the reason for their staying together. When a group has no specific task (and consciousness raising is a task), the people in it turn their energies to controlling others in the group. This is not done so much out of a malicious desire to manipulate others (though sometimes it is) as out of lack of anything better to do with their talents. Able people with time on their hands and a need to justify their coming together put their efforts into personal control, and spend their time criticizing the personalities of the other members in the group. Infighting and personal power games rule the day. When a group is involved in a task, people learn to get along with others as they are and to subsume dislikes for the sake of the larger goals. There are limits placed on the compulsion to remold every person into our image of what they should be.

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The Sexual Network Of An Entire High School

Off BB, one of my favorite topics, social networks plus pics: Researchers Map The Sexual Network Of An Entire High School.

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Friday, December 10, 2004

How Creatives Work

This is a very entertaining list to dip into: a bunch of short pieces on creatives at work, and their methods/kinks/tips/oddities: rodcorp: How we work. Includes folks like Francis Bacon, Scott McNealy, Virginia Woolf... many others.

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The Economics of Happiness

After a lunch conversation about topics like the old gem finding that "incompetent people don't know they're incompetent" (here's the link to the full journal report: "Unskilled and Unaware of It"), I went looking for the article that came out a year ago about a study illustrating human inability to predict (or act intelligently on) what will make us happy or unhappy over the long-term.

Whilst looking, I hit this great site of some talks on social policy and the psychology of happiness. The difficulty of separating measurements of happiness from the impact of income level is discussed at length. Also, the observation that happy people may not be the best for some jobs, like power plant safety monitors. They're more likely to be feeling positive and not expecting the worst: "It was alright yesterday, why should it be any worse today?"

Look for the link at the bottom to the panel talk transcript: Informing Policy Choices Using the Economics of Happiness


Saturday, November 27, 2004

Biophilia & Emotional Well-Being

In honor of tree-huggers and the end of the green seasons, I've bought a pine tree for my living room and ferns for my bathroom. Here's an interesting article on Biophilia, the term coined by biologist Edward Wilson for the genetic memory of greenery. An interesting paragraph:

"Most homes and buildings are constructed according to a system of measure that is out of harmony with the sacred mathematics that we find occurring in nature. This is because the basic building materials are already of predetermined size. In order to save money, builders create discordant boxes for people to inhabit. When the Indian sage, Black Elk was asked what was the worst thing his people suffered under the white man, he said that 'they took us out of our structures of power (tepees) and made us live in square boxes (houses).'"

Another good article, on biophilia and architecture from the Rocky Mountain Institute, says: "Along with a greater connection between the interior and surrounding natural environment, some 'successful' projects we’ve examined so far boast attributes similar to those that would have enhanced our ancestors’ chances for survival: access to water, complexity and order, enticement, peril, and the duality of prospect and refuge."


Sunday, November 14, 2004

Common Ground - Community Mapping

Interesting article on community mapping, for eco-consciousness reasons. After all the election map variants, this was a welcome change of pace. Common Ground - Community Mapping