Thursday, September 30, 2004

Post-Election task for

I watched Fog of War last night. It was, of course, hard to watch this without thinking of Iraq.

I have two thoughts after watching it, neither too happy. The first one looks at the task of re-building a country after a war (or, maintaining stability.) Two models frequently held up as examples are post-WWII Japan and Germany. But the obsveration here is that both countries a) surrendered in a legal / diplomatic sense (I don't believe that Iraq surrendered as ceased to be an on-going entity), and b) lost significant population. For instance, in the case of Germany, it went into the war with a little under 80 million people (not to mention nearly 2 million more women), and lost over 10% of the population, ending up with a population of about 65 million. (I can't immediately find similar data for Japan, but I believe it to be substantially similar). Ten percent is a huge drop in population. I wonder to what extent the simple fact of being under-manned made it easier to establish control over the countries, and rebuild them in "our" image.

The next thought is that it's time to start seriously thinking about what the Iraq War (II) memorial is going to look like. Especially if W gets re-elected, it would be a useful task for one of the 527 groups to hold a preliminary contest for memorials. One could imagine a Maya Lin-like design where a central part of the the work (for several years) would be a daily addition of new names as they were announced. I doubt it would be possible to site it anywhere near the eventual "official" memorial, but I think it would still be worth at least conceptualizing. I don't think it would be too expensive (especially compared to a 30-second spot in prime time), and there would be lots of exhibition possibilities for the finalists.

In terms of FoW, I can't tell what to think of it. McNamara is clearly in a bid to try to clear his name (or conscience, or both), but he has some useful insight. I also realize how painfully unaware I am of the history of the Vietnam conflict (beyond the movie history I glean from things like "Apcolypse Now," and "The Quiet American"). In terms of a documentary, it was a fine piece of film-making, and once that I found more to my taste than the various Michael Moore expeditions I've seen. Of course, in full disclosure, I've not yet seen F9/11.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Social Networks in the Workplace

In my current project, I keep on coming back to social networks as a good place to do research. Of course, the power of social networks is completely part of today's zeitgeist, so in that way, I'm not being too original.

But my current set of questions revolves around social networks in the workplace. Are they useful? And if they are useful (it's not clear to me that social network analysis has power in the workplace beyond 'gee whiz' type applications), how should networks be measured and then used and/or maintained? I've been playing around with an interesting SN dataset here at work, but it's unclear that it's the 'right' data set. (I've also come up with about three possible SN data sets here, depending on how much time and effort I want to expend, and how deeply into people's lives I want to probe)

SN seems to have two remarkable weaknesses right now: multiple relationships and temporal data. All of the social network data I have identified has temporal aspects to it, and it's not clear how to handle time. (Of course, I don't think people have a good sense about how contacts decay over time which makes this analysis harder. I know there are some friends I can drift out of contact with for months at a time, and then re-build the connection later.)

The multiple relationships are also tricky; most analysis works with a link and a link-strength, not multiple links. Of course, one can create weightings of different relationships to come up with a real-valued weight, but I think that misses some of the richness and complexity of what real social networks are about. "Tools" like friendster and Orkut have only links and no weights (although I believe Orkut now has weights). There is also this related question that some of these resources are automatically gathered from data sources. Are the relationships constructed from these interactions "real"? Are they important? I am hedging here a bit, because I don't want to talk about the particular data sources that I am using here; some of them are considered proprietary data. But there is an argument that the relationships they embody aren't genuine social relationships. (They are genuine *business* relationships; that is perfectly clear from the data, but what of it?)

Not that anyone reads this (yet), but I'd be interested in thoughts.

Monday, September 27, 2004

getting on the blogwagon

If the New York Times features it in the magazine section, it must be so tragically unhip as to be ready to make a come back. So, I'm starting a blog. Of course, all the good names and URLs had already been taken (like "wonkette," "miswritings," "gawker," or "apophenia").

I note that my blog ID in the URL bar is 8,496,418. Which suggests that there are over 8 million blogs on blogger. (or they pick a random number, which really doesn't help me) I am deeply disappointed that I don't have the option to pick a currently mood ("amused," of course) or what I am listening too ("aqua," if you must know. My taste in music has gone down hill recently.)