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Surveys as a Means of Audience and Institution Construction

Posted by Ben
on 03.09.19

Somewhat recently, I attended a rather dire event at the San Francisco Ballet, which was partly, even, I would say, in large part, intended to attract a new, and one assumes younger, crowd to that august institution than normally can be found in attendance. (Aside from the obvious evidence for this, I judge it likely because part of the terrible speaker's terrible pre-performance spiel explicitly and hopefully pandered to any first-time attendees in the audience.) The following day, they sent me a survey, which isn't really that different from the surveys that it and similar institutions send to attendees following any random performances. They're really strange and revealing documents, though!

They want to know what other artistic &c performances interest the attendee:

But only to the extent that the attendees might be patronizing a select list of institutions that the surveying institution has decided are its peers. It's unsurprising that the sort of place where you pay $15–20 at the door for an unassigned seat (let alone $10 for no seat) doesn't appear here, but it is somewhat surprising that the ballet doesn't (as, IIRC, the symphony does) consider SF Jazz a peer, and also that it does list the Exploratorium, for some reason. The omission of less upscale venues makes sense if the purpose of the list is to reflect the organization's sense of itself and its situation relative to other organizations in the area, but it's absolutely baffling as an instrument of learning about its audience, especially following an event that was plainly intended to attract people who don't normally attend. If one of the attendees goes regularly to ODC Dance Commons and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (both of which regularly host non-ballet dance performances), and decided to venture to a stodgier venue, the SF Ballet does not care to know that, at least, not to the extent of offering either as an explicit option.

The surveys are also revealing regarding why the institutions think anyone might want to attend:

Notable absences from this list—and here one there isn't even the option for free-form responses—are: any mention of pleasure enjoyment of dance as an art form (the closest option is exposing someone else to "the artistic experience"; or anything suggesting an intellectual or analytical interest in dance, again with the possible exception of exposing someone else to "the artistic experience". One is left wondering, somewhat, what they conceive the artistic experience to be! They are, however, really big on the emotions:

Anyway, I think it's interesting what these surveys let slip about what the institutions peddling them think about their own activities, and the way that they, though ostensibly vehicles to learn about the respondents, are so strongly structured by the institutions' imagination of what the respondents could possibly be motivated by, or interested in, in the first place. Someone ought to collect just tons of them and write a paper.


 

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Happy Friday.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.08.19

Rascal, age 4: Dad, I actually do want to play basketball.
Jammies: Well, next season we'll sign you up!
And I want to play baseball, too!
Okay.
And football!
We don't play football.
Okay. I just want to do all the sports I can play.
Great! You can play soccer, basketball, baseball, try karate sometime, and when you get older, try things like tennis.
Can I also race?
Oh yeah, when you get older there's track and field.
But can I race cars? When I'm older, of course.
We'll talk about that.
Can I trim bushes?
What?
Can I trim bushes?
Can you trim bushes?
Yeah!
Of course.
When I'm older.
Sure. We don't have any bushes around the house. We'll have to plant some.


 

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Guest Post - a post, prepared in an environment which contained traces of analogy

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.07.19

Nworb Werdna writes: The UC system has broken off its negotiations for a new contract with Elsevier, because the company wouldn't agree to a deal which bundled the fees it charges readers of its journals with the fees it charges authors. The University's idea, in common with most of the rest of the Open Access movement, was that it was a bit rich to be charged coming and going when all the specialised labour of peer review and indeed writing was done for free. But making money out of unpaid labour is the central model of academic publishing.

Looking at these lunatic economics I suddenly had a thought. The big companies - Elsevier, Wiley, Springer/Nature - had stumbled over the economic model of the social internet long before the internet itself existed. What they are actually selling isn't knowledge. It's status. That's why people will work so hard for them without monetary reward.

Science is interesting from a sociological perspective because it really has constructed something like the invisible hand. Scientists can be complete arseholes or motivated only by ruthless ambition, yet when the system works properly this doesn't matter. It still generates reliable knowledge or understanding. It's even supposed to detect cheating. Obviously this model assumes a completely (spherical?) selfish scientist and most of them are not like that at all. But I've certainly known some whose devotion to abstract knowledge far outweighed their interest in any actual human beings.

A central part of the system is that the knowledge is generated as a side-effect of the striving for status. The admiration or envy of your peers is taken as a proxy for success in understanding the world, spreading the light of reason, advancing the progress of humanity, etc.

What the journals sell, then, is a system in which this status contest can be performed. [Of course the social internet, with its likes and retweets, does the same thing but is better at flogging adverts off the back of it] Elsevier and Nature are not selling shovels in a gold rush: they're selling venues to musicians. So they don't have to be exceptionally greedy, villainous, or shameless to take advantage of the situation. If scientists will pay them $5000 to get published in a journal that then charges $30 for 24-hour access to an article, of course they'll accept the offer. If scientists will do the work of peer review for free partly because that is how they are validated as peers, what kind of idiot would pay them?

And this complicity is what makes it so hard to clean up the system. The interests of scientists as consumers of papers are diametrically opposed to their interests as producers.

And, of course, as consumers, they can always do what I do and just email the authors for a copy. Beyond that, there is sci-hub. UCB has just put out an infographic for staff and students full of ways to deal with the collapse of the Elsevier deal (which only affects new issues) and right at the bottom there is a note saying "Don't use sci-hub".

But of course lots of people do. In fact I suspect that it's become an entirely necessary safety valve and if ever the industry succeeded in closing it down, the prices publishers could charge would suddenly collapse.

Heebie's take: As was observed, this is an analogy of course, but this bit still gave me a fresh insight into what Nworb was getting at:

Elsevier and Nature are not selling shovels in a gold rush: they're selling venues to musicians. So they don't have to be exceptionally greedy, villainous, or shameless to take advantage of the situation.

Math and a few other fields rely on ArXiv instead, of course.

(Because I'm at a primarily teaching institution, I don't actually stay abreast of any field at all, and only read math papers when I've exhausted all other possibilities of doing the thing I'm trying to do.)


 

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.8 g protein/lb of body weight/day Is Hard to Do.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.06.19

Back in December, I signed up for a 6 week Nutritional Challenge run by my gym. It started mid-January. Almost immediately I felt like a big dummy for signing up. The challenge was well-designed, and preached healthy lifestyle practices like doing a weekly grocery shopping and meal planning, and learning how to cook foods. A lot of Michael Pollan-type wisdom. It would have been useful to me in my 20s, but by now I've long implemented those things. (Plus there was a constant sprinkling of dubious nutritional science and I had to do a lot of self-talk not to start an argument about it.)

About two weeks in, I admitted to my coach that all I'd done is replace my veggie burgers with avocados and hardboiled eggs, and that I really wasn't expecting to see any results. He launched into a big lecture about how I wasn't getting enough protein. I countered that I am not a vegetarian, I cook with a bunch of beans, etc. That he wasn't giving me credit for healthy eating habits. He said, "Basically nobody is getting .8 g protein/lb of body weight/day. Nobody!" I left without winning the argument.

So first, there are a lot of sciencey body-builder websites out there which promote this .8 g protein/lb of body weight/day. (There is a single writing style which is as rigid and equally annoying to Pioneer Woman style, but different.) I figured out that I was currently probably eating about 20-30% of the protein they claimed I needed.

So: four weeks left in the challenge, I say fuck it, let's go all in. I'm going to eat 120 g of protein a day, and see what happens. Progress is measured on the gym's In-Body machine, which is considered state-of-the-art for poor rural gyms. It claims to measure body composition. Maybe it doesn't, but whatever it's measuring can at least be compared against itself.

So: it's really hard to get .8 g protein/lb of body weight/day. You have to consider density of protein per 100 calories. I couldn't figure out how to do it, while holding my total calories more or less constant, without eating a lot more meat. So I bought a ton of chicken thighs, and kept roasted chicken on hand for lunches, and swapped out chicken sometimes at dinner, and basically I ate an enormous amount of chicken because I prioritize simplicity of planning over diet variety.

THE CHALLENGE finally thank god ENDED. Today was my In-Body Day. Let's get the big reveal!

One month of 120 g protein/day, holding everything else constant:

At my initial scan, I had (supposedly) 58.0 lbs of skeletal muscle mass, and 31.9 % body fat. (I know the units are inconsistent.) At the final scan, I had... 58.2 lbs of skeletal muscle mass, and 32.3 % body fat.

Hooray! I'm going back to my veggie burgers now.


 

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Scam Adoptions

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.05.19

Mossy sends in this story of this Swedish woman, adopted from Sri Lanka at birth, discovering that she was more or less part of a baby theft mass adoption operation. This story is horrifying, and clearly part of a vast and ongoing crisis of how international adoptions are facilitated.

That said, the last photo is the absolute best. Be sure to click through for that. (Not a sex dungeon.)


 

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Learning without doing

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.04.19

Obviously teaching people to fish, etc, they eat fish for differing lengths of time according to your pedagogy. That said, parenting is a lot of watching your kid learn stuff you've long since forgotten, and getting a refresher course without doing the thing yourself.

The most interesting example of this in my life is the piano. I had an extremely American Cheese piano experience: practice 30 minutes every day, grow competent, dislike it all. (Clearly just like cheese.)

Hawaii has been taking lessons for five years now. During those five years, I have not played the piano myself any more than I did the five years before - in fact, probably less, since I was writing songs and having fun with it right around the time that I was pregnant with Hawaii through when Hawaii and Pokey were little babies. I was having fun, but I was very rusty.

The past five years, I've been sitting down with the kids, helping them read the music, etc, and it has totally shaken off the rust. My sight-reading is back, and I'm pretty sure I could work up a real song on par with my end-of-high-school self.

A slightly more dubious example is my Spanish. I've been hearing a ton more Spanish since the kids started Dual Language, and I've started forcing myself to listen to a Spanish podcast once a week. My ability to understand Spanish has zoomed forward. I now recognize all sorts of vocabulary words that I would not have recognized three years ago. BUT, I have not carved out any situations where I speak Spanish, and since I feel like an idiot doing so, I have not been aggressive about talking Spanish to Spanish-speakers in my life. So it would be interesting to know how far the gap is now, for my productive vs. receptive language ability, compared to what it was before the kids started the program, and compared to the last time I studied Spanish formally, as a teenager.

That said, you really can't learn math without doing it, I don't think. Or if you are, it's because you have enough mental RAM that you're doing it in your head, and getting the experience of doing it.

In fact, maybe that's the braggadocio conclusion of all of this: you can learn passively if you've got enough bandwidth to be activating the doing-part of your brain, and so you're actively playing along at home, in your brain. Good thing you are all such smartypantses that I'm entirely confident you know what I'm describing.


 

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Guest Post - The Silk Road Military Enterpriser

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.03.19

Mossy Character writes: The Chechens are coming:

In early August 2017, Malhama Tactical, an unusual militant group operating in Syria and sometimes labelled the "Blackwater of jihad," issued a statement in which it hinted at a planned expansion into China and alluded to the experiences of China's Uighur population in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.
[...]
The Malhama Tactical group is run for profit and advertises itself on social media networks as the first jihadist private military training company. In January 2017, it even posted a job opening on Facebook for instructors with military experience interested in joining a "fun and friendly team" and who were willing to conduct "professional training sessions on military theory and practice" for inexperienced fighters.
Meanwhile, in China:
[Erik] Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has made no secret about his ambitions in China. But since he became chairman of Frontier Services Group in Hong Kong five years ago, CITIC, his mainland benefactor, has slowly cemented its grip on the firm.
[...]
Then came word of the potential business in Xinjiang. Chinese media reported that FSG would invest in the training camp. An FSG spokesman said the company's statement was published in error by a staff member in Beijing. The statement said Citic unit executives were in attendance, as well as the political commissar of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an economic group with paramilitary functions that manages more than a dozen cities in Xinjiang.
[...]
The Xinjiang camp would be for safety training of workers going abroad under the Belt and Road Initiative, Ko said. He did not say whether the company would move forward with the camp.

Heebie has no take!


 

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