The Takeaways: Week 6 of 2017

A round-up of some of the intriguing, insightful, and/or thought-provoking things I read over the last week.

Julia Slige, What Programming Languages Are Used Most on Weekends? (February 7, 2017)

A good first pass over a new dataset is a descriptive one: pick a few relevant aspects, sort or solve for them, and describe what you see. Slige works in this mode throughout, describing the distributions of GitHub programming language tags as shares of weekday and weekend questions. She offers very few interpretations of the data. There's one about the appearance of rapid prototype app platforms Heroku and Meteor among the "weekend tag" leaders, "which may suggest that they are being used for weekend hobbyist projects." She also muses that changes over time in tag distribution might map onto languages' adoption and evolution. She's very generous to Microsoft, never once saying outright that those tags cluster so strongly during the week is because nobody uses them if they don't need to.

The comments are less generous to MS, but nevertheless many of them advance ideas and possible hypotheses that could drive a second pass. Maybe the weekend tags are driven by CS students, studying for classes. It's analytically convenient to take one timezone's weekend as The Weekend as such, but to what extent does that skew the data? They also quickly surface some of the major tensions in the profession: The scope of available choices for using one's time on the weekend is highly dependent on one's life situation.

Tonya Riley, AI Doesn't Get Black Twitter Yet (September 22, 2016)

It’s that very hallmark of dialects, divergent from standard English, that cause natural language processors to fumble. Fed only articles from the Wall Street Journal, language from societal groups like Black Twitter isn’t seen by the machine as English at all.

Add this to your "technology is neither objective nor neutral" bibliography.

Joaquin Quinonero Candela and Yann LeCun, Artificial intelligence, revealed (December 1, 2016)

It’s 8:00 am on a Tuesday morning. You’ve awoken, scanned the headlines on your phone, responded to an online post, ordered a holiday sweater for your mom, locked up the house, and are driving to work, listening to some great new music on the radio.

To be read once you've absorbed the lessons above and the analogy below.

Cathy O'Neil, Donald Trump Is the Singularity (February 6, 2017)

Trump is pure id, with no abiding agenda or beliefs, similar to a machine-learning algorithm. It’s a mistake to think he has a strategy, beyond doing what works for him in a strictly narrow sense of what gets him attention.

One does love a good analogy.

Jawwad Siddiqui, We Shut Down Our Edtech Startup. Here’s What We Learned. (June 12, 2016)

One of the major differences between the private sector and the public sector is that the private sector has the ability to narrow focus and select for conditions likely to lead to profitable outcomes. Not true in the public sector. Instead one inevitably finds extant groups with deeply-held, strongly-felt, and (sometimes) well-defined interests and goals. In the private sector, one can define a market narrow enough to serve. In the public sector, one instead faces the challenge of making a single thing that can satisfy stakeholders whose roles are not necessarily aligned in a way that a product can handle. Two-sided markets are already tough. Try building something for students and instructors, for health care providers and patients, for librarians and patrons, and so on. So while it's true that one would want to "[m]inimize or eliminate layers of approval and interdependence of your product," that leaves aside the fact that the public sector (edtech included) is nothing but layers of approval and interdependence.

Noel Murray, The first episode of The Walking Dead may still be the show’s finest hour (February 6, 2017)

The narrow focus is rare for the first episode of a TV show, which traditionally tries to reveal as much of its world as possible, to hold the attention of the widest possible viewership. All The Walking Dead needed to win audiences over was one dude. But maybe it’s because the first episode did so well with such a limited perspective that this show has always been good (and popular), but has only been great in short stretches.

Although I stopped watching The Walking Dead near the start of the third season (adults in this world, fine; infants: no, thank you), I've continued to read about it via the AV Club's coverage -- and its comment sections. I've always loved long, multi-volume narratives - especially shaggy ones that struggle with consistency. It's also a pleasure to see others take things seriously, and write about it.

Eric Ravenscraft, How the New FCC Plans to Dismantle Consumer Protections (February 7, 2017)

With a new President comes a new FCC. The agency has a new chairman who already started making big changes over the last few days. Here’s what’s happening and how it affects the principle of net neutrality going forward.

Speaking of the relationship between the public sector and the private sector...

Angus Loten, Most Digital Efforts Aimed at Operations: Survey (January 10, 2017).

40.8% of CIOs responding to a recent IDC survey said that the focus of their digital initiatives is "improving operations" a opposed to 35.5% who cited “new products” and 34.2% that mentioned “new markets.

Let's hope they read the next entry below.

(Hat tip to Gill Press, via "Digital Transformation Surprisingly Focused on Operations")

Drew Bell, Legacy systems are everywhere (February 8, 2017)

I took on a project not long ago that will sound familiar. It’s a huge, complex system that’s been running for a long time, and has had many, many sets of hands working on it over the years.

Spoiler alert: It's a house!

Header image: detail of Jacob Lawrence, Library. Smithsonian American Art Museum. image2: detail of Jacob Lawrence, Library. Smithsonian American Art Museum.__