Tag Archives: Telling It Like It Is

THE EATBEAT: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald


I stumbled upon this via her son’s Google+ post. Of course having gone viral it would apparently be hard to miss but I’m 100% with the people who don’t think it’s quaint or ironic or twee. I think one kick ass no nonsense hard working woman is doing a straight up job and I appreciated her writing, her common sense and compassion. I’m glad 99% of the blogosphere/twitterverse what have you is happier to have honesty than hip.

The Robot State | Technology, Culture and Gender

Automated Life After Death

GRUMPY CUSTOMER: Adam Robertson, 24, has been left $900 out of pocket after a company he bought a tablet computer from shut down following the death of the owner. ANDREW GORRIE/Fairfax NZ

It strikes me that this is a very cyborg/robot kind of story. Our automated lives continue after death. Who has the power to turn off your systems? What impact will your proxies and extensions have on the lives of other people. There are a growing number of online executor businesses like legacy locker (tech crunch article about). The focus is largely on social sites, photos and emails, as described in the Time.com special “Tools for Managing Your Online Life after Death” . This doesn’t take into account the trend towards independent single operator online businesses or even small startups. How do you shut turn the shopping cart off? What other cloud based services don’t die?

Hundreds of Kiwis have been left out of pocket because an import company continued trading after the only man at its reins died.

Tech Brands Pacific’s sole shareholder and director, Brian Isaksson, died on November 4, leaving no-one in charge of the business.

The company continued to sell technology products such as iPhones and iPads on sites like pricespy.co.nz. People were buying through the shopping cart function on the website until a week ago.

via Tech Brands Pacific | Hundreds lose money after… | Stuff.co.nz.

RoboTigers and human-robot relations | The Robot State

artist/engineer Kezanti from Brugge (tbc)

The Bloggess isn’t my usual source for robotics writing, so I was overjoyed to read today’s yesterday’s post about Robot Tigers. It’s a sublime demonstration of all the contradictory and confusing human-robot relations that exist, in reality and in fantasy. Don’t make me spell it out. Enjoy.

Victor:  One day I’m going to finish my robot tigers and we will rule the world.

me: It’d be easier if you just took over the world with real tigers.

Victor:  Robot tigers are scarier than real tigers.

me:  No.  Real tigers are scarier because they’re unpredictable.

Victor: My robot tigers have a random setting.

me: Like a shuffle function on an iPod?

Victor: Exactly.

me:  That is way scarier.

Victor: Plus they could beat you at chess.

me: Well, not me specifically.  I’m pretty damn good at chess.

Victor:  Not as good as a robot tiger.

me:  Live tigers are still scarier because they’re real and you know they hate you. With a robot tiger you understand they’re just doing their job when they kill you.

Victor: My robot tiger would be a cold, calculating killing machine – set on random – that also has an emotion chip and laughs at your pain.

me: That actually sounds scary as shit.


crossposted over at Robotstate.com too

Google genders engineering

Your categories
Below you can review the interests and inferred demographics that Google has associated with your cookie.
Business & Industrial – Business Finance – Venture Capital
Internet & Telecom – Service Providers – ISPs
Jobs & Education – Education – Teaching & Classroom Resources
Science – Engineering & Technology – Robotics
Your demographics
We infer your age and gender based on the websites you’ve visited.
Age: 35-44
Gender: Male

I’ve checked out my Google ad preferences. Classic. If you like technology then you must be male.

If there weren’t so many other examples of gender by design, this would be depressing. But I’ve seen magazine display racks, toy shops and clothing stores. There are so many fronts to fight this battle on.

What scares me is feeling as though I’ve been coopted. As Google collects data from more and more places, where will it be ok to be female or middle aged or anything not associated with my work or public persona. I don’t wan’t to turn in to a stereotype. I’m tweeting #VAGINA more frequently to keep female technophilia alive. Let’s encourage alternatives and defeat stereotypes.

Ada Lovelace Day – Carol Bartz

It’s Ada Lovelace Day and to share the woman in tech who inspires me was hard. I can think of a lot of fantastic tech heroines. Ultimately, I choose Carol Bartz, ex CEO of Yahoo and AutoDesk. Throughout her entire career she has not been afraid to be a woman in a hostile environment. She stayed in tech, she fought to the top of the industry and she kept a family life balance, saying it’s not possible to be perfect. She looks totally glamorous, swears like a trooper and worked her way through a comp sci degree as a cocktail waitress.

On balancing a career with family, Bartz says: “I have a belief that life isn’t about balance, because balance is perfection … Rather, it’s about catching the ball before it hits the floor.” ^ Kharif, Olga. “To Autodesk – and Beyond?”Business Week. (May 12, 2004) via Wikipedia/Carol Bartz.

In the 70s, Bartz worked at 3M but they wouldn’t promote her because “women don’t do these jobs”, so she moved on to various companies including DEC and Sun Microsystems. As CEO of Autodesk in 1992, Bartz transformed the company into a focussed highly successful business. Bartz also served on several boards and has been a member of the United States President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Bartz’s move to Yahoo in 2009 was perhaps a ‘glass cliff’ as most were sceptical about the chances to resurrect one of the original internet dinosaurs, huge but facing extinction.

 In spite of pleasing business analysts with her performance over the last two years, Bartz was ignonimously dumped from Yahoo a few weeks ago, whereupon she called the board a bunch of ‘doofuses’ who had ‘fucked her over’. I love how Bartz went out fighting. She also continues to behave with integrity, honoring commitments made before leaving Yahoo for talks, donations, and visits.

She’s telling it like it is. Sometimes it just can’t be rosy for women in tech. I love the Wired cover of Limor Fried, who is another kickass tech girl goddess. But evoking Rosie the Riveter just reminds me of what happened to all those women who ran the factories and farms while the men were at war. Booted out when the war was over.

Although Ada may have been forgotten, originally computer programming was going to be a female job, while the men built the hardware. But it seems that the moment an industry looks interesting and/or lucrative, it becomes a male industry.

Statistically, no matter how well women are performing academically, and no matter how many great role models we can now point to, there still aren’t many women at the top.

“Since 1966, the number of women receiving bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering in the US has increased every year to come close to half. The proportion of grad students closer to 40%. The more technical an area is seen to be, the fewer the number of women.

Research on women’s participation in the “hard” sciences such as physics and computer science speaks of the “leaky pipeline” model, in which the propoertion of women “on track” to potentially becoming top scientists falls off at every step of the way, from getting interested in science and math in elementary school, through doctorate, postdoc, and career steps. Various reasons are proposed for this, but the vast differences in the “leakiness” of this same pipe across countries and times argue for a cultural interpretation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_science

Bechdel’s Rule – Gender in Film/Movies


This is so simple and yet it is so difficult to find movies that meet the three criteria.

1. Must have more than two women in it (with names as opposed to crowd bg)
2. That talk to each other (not the men)
3. About something other than the men.

I think Bechdel’s Test could be applied to many situations outside of movies too. I mention this a lot to other people half of whom have heard of ‘The Rule’. I have trouble remembering the Bechdel part so I’m blogging it again for the record. The Rule was in a comic drawn by Alison Bechdel in 1985 in ‘Dykes to Watch out For’ and has been referenced in feminist film theory and popular culture as the Bechdel Test.

Social sciences still young

  • Edward L. Glaeser

Social scientists seeking an ancient intellectual lineage can find antecedents for economics, sociology, and political science in the work of Plato and Aristotle, but truthfully, the social sciences are parvenu fields. The widespread application of scientific methods to the study of human society—rigorous formal theories, serious empirical testing—occurred only during the twentieth century, mostly since World War II. The youth of the social sciences is exciting: progress is still being made at a ferocious pace, and the contours of these fields are rapidly evolving.

Without data, even the boldest theory is only an untested hypothesis, and in 1900, social scientists had very little real data. Economists lacked basic figures on national earnings. Political scientists knew little about individual voting. Ethnographic research was in its infancy. Only a few pioneering sociologists, like Émile Durkheim and W.E.B. Du Bois, were writing heavily statistical treatises on topics like suicide and African-American life in Philadelphia.

During the twentieth century, great measurers transformed social science. Some, like the economist Simon Kuznets, created usable data series by gathering information from disparate sources. Others, like the sociologist Samuel Stouffer, pioneered the design of large-scale surveys, taking advantage of the opportunities created by mass mobilization during World War II. Anthropologists like Franz Boas and Margaret Mead, and the Chicago sociological school, acquired evidence by close observation of a community. Psychologists began studying human behavior in their laboratories.

Yet these pioneering steps seem slow relative to the current onrush of new data that is now transforming the social sciences. Kuznets’s heirs are doing amazing things by using vast amounts of official data. Harvard’s Raj Chetty and Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez, for example, have been granted access to Internal Revenue Service data that have produced findings as disparate as documenting the evolution of income inequality across the last century and showing that better kindergarten teachers significantly increase their pupils’ adult earnings.

During the 1990s, Harvard’s John Kain labored long to acquire access to the Texas school system’s database on students, teachers, classes, and test scores. A flood of administrative data followed that has produced scores of pathbreaking papers on the determinants of student achievement. These papers have transformed public-policy debates about schooling.

Technological change has also made life easier to examine. More than a decade ago, Robert Sampson, then at the University of Chicago and now at Harvard, along with several co-authors, studied Chicago neighborhoods by combining census and survey data with visual information gleaned by vehicle-mounted movie cameras. Searchable text databases have helped measure media bias. Researchers using fMRI machines can observe the neural activity associated with ethical or economic activity. The research possibilities created by Google’s database are enormous.

As data quality has improved, social scientists have moved beyond facts and correlations to the deeper quest for causality. Children who grow up in poor neighborhoods typically have worse economic and education outcomes, but does this mean their neighborhoods cause these outcomes? Moving from measurement to experiments is the second great social-science trend.

Good social-science experimental research first proliferated in psychology labs. Economists followed the psychologists by creating labs that tested (and often rejected) the predictions that game theory made concerning behavior in markets and auctions. But there is only so much that laboratory experiments can teach us about the long-term impact of having good neighbors or the functioning of a large, real market.

To analyze these phenomena, social scientists had to take experimental methods to the real world. Many early approaches relied on “natural” experiments, which occur when some external event, like a public policy, more or less randomly affects some individuals and not others. For example, my Harvard colleagues Guido Imbens and Don Rubin, and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth, looked at people who won the Massachusetts lottery to examine the impact of extra earnings on spending and savings. The seemingly random timing of abortion legalization across states enabled John Donahue and Steven Levitt to test whether more abortions meant less crime.

But “natural” experiments are often imperfect, because policy changes are rarely truly random and may not answer the most pressing research questions. So social scientists increasingly have tried to turn public or nonprofit programs into true experiments. In the 1990s, the Department of Housing and Urban Development allowed part of its housing voucher program to become the Moving-to-Opportunity (MTO) Experiment. MTO randomly allocated housing vouchers across a pool of applicants from high-poverty neighborhoods, which enabled Harvard’s Lawrence Katz and Jeffrey Liebman and their co-author, Jeffrey Kling, to test whether children’s outcomes improved when parents were allocated vouchers that enabled them to move to better areas. Parents who got the vouchers did choose to have less-poor neighbors, but many of their children’s outcomes didn’t improve. Academically, girls did better but boys did worse.

The pressing problems of the developing world, and the lower cost of running experiments there, have led to an explosion of experiments in low-income countries. My colleague Michael Kremer helped pioneer such work when he helped set up and analyzed an experiment where de-worming drugs were distributed in some Kenyan schools and not others. School attendance increased substantially in the treated schools. Karthik Muralidharan and Venkatesh Sundararaman helped design an experiment in which teachers in some Indian schools but not in others got extra pay for improving test scores. When they compared the results across schools, they found that scores increased significantly in those randomly chosen schools whose teachers received incentive pay.

The adoption of experimental methods and improved data quality have, in turn, helped generate the third major social-science trend—the increasing irrelevance of traditional field boundaries. Empirical approaches are far more likely than theoretical edifices to be common across fields.

Moreover, the topic-based “silos” that once defined fields are far less binding, because we better understand the profound connections among economics, politics, and sociology. Economic outcomes often reflect sociological forces, and sociological outcomes respond to earnings. It is impossible to understand the wealth of nations without also knowing something about their politics, and Marx was at least right that economics has plenty of influence on politics as well. The connection between health and other outcomes means that the physical sciences are also being drawn in (as the work on de-worming suggests).

Social science is changing rapidly, as better data and real experiments replace the worldly philosophy of the past. Yet that change means that nineteenth-century field definitions feel increasingly obsolete. I hope that Harvard is at the vanguard in rethinking the shape of social science, just as it has been at the vanguard of working on better measurement and causal inference.

Edward L. Glaeser is Glimp professor of economics and director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government.