Archive for January, 2013


Big Data and Social Media : Australia’s ‘Warmest 100’ Countdown 2013

An interesting case study in using collated data to predict social trends hit the interwebs recently.

Showcasing the most popular hits of the past year, the annual Triple J Hottest 100 countdown is one of the most significant popular music charts in the country. Listeners submit their votes, and the list is tabulated from compiling those votes. This year, a group of four individuals utilised social media to compile their own prediction of what tracks would make the top 100. The details about how these individuals went about collecting their data is described in this article, but in a nutshell, this is what the ‘project’ entailed:

1 – Every user is able to share their votes via the Triple J website itself, on a unique page. This means that the root URL of every voting page is the same. In other words, the only thing that distinguishes person A’s vote from person B is the ‘random number’ at the end of the URL.

2 – For instance, your voting site might look like this:

and mine might look like this:

4 – So, because these root URL’s are similar, and because all this information is freely available, votes can actually be collated!

5- The Warmest 100 was thus collated (for more details about the process look it up here) with a sample size of about 35 thousand votes from roughly 3600 unique voters, giving them a sample size of a mere 2.7 percent of the voting total.

6- The result: They accurately predicted the top 3 songs on the list, and several others in the top 20, give or take some errors and discrepancies here and there. Here is a spreadsheet detailing the differences between the predictions and the actual results.

For a small sample size, the results obtained are impressive. So much so that the organisers of the countdown have decided to change the voting system for next year’s countdown.

Lev Manovich addresses some issues and concerns with the implications of ‘Big Data’ in the age of social media proliferation and increasing digital presence. One of the concerns he raises is the authenticity of information shared over social networks. In light of this, the Warmest 100 countdown provides one with an interesting example. Unlike other forms of digital information such as photos shared on Flickr and Facebook wall posts, there is no doubting the authenticity of users’ countdown votes. In fact, users are even encouraged to share their votes via social media – Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest plugins are standard fare. In retrospect, allowing this information to be freely available has, in the case of the Warmest 100, given users and voters themselves the ability to take the collating process into their own hands, eliminating (to a certain extent) the countdown’s element of mystery!

The goal, the objective of the Warmest 100 is clear cut – predicting the results of a countdown. When applying the collation of big data in humanities based projects however, ‘objectives’ and ‘goals’ might not be so clear cut. With so much information on users available freely over the internet, the example of the Warmest 100 tells us just how powerful statistics can be in extrapolating information about social trends. If we apply this to humanities based work, the emphasis comes back to that of interpretation. One might have all this data available, but so what? What can one do with data that is available? What can the data tell us?

And I suppose that’s where humanities researchers step in. Interpreting and analysing big data. Which brings me back to the roots of my doctoral research – where my first foray into digital humanities research stemmed from a quantitative analysis of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets.


Matt Shea, “The Inside Story of How Four Techs Broke Open Triple J’s Hottest 100“, The Vine, Jan 2013

Lev Manovich, “Trending: The Promises and Challenges of Big Social Data”, Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold, University of Minnesota Press, 2012


Histories of Emotion Blog

A long overdue post. The ARC Centre of the History of the Emotions has a blog that is up and running. Check it out here to know more about the stuff the Centre’s research associates are currently working on.


X-Men to Re-Launch as All Female Team

I’ve been a fan of X-Men for as long as I can remember.

I actually own a copy of this iconic X-Men#1 from 1991. Wonder how much it is worth?

So it is interesting that the latest re-launch/re-boot/instalment of the franchise has decided to take a different approach – an all-female superhero team!

Interesting to see how culture has evolved in ten years. We’ve gone from bulging hypermasculine figures to placing a renewed emphasis on the female gender. Let’s see how this one turns out. For more, check out this Wired article.


RIP Aaron Swartz

The web is awash with tributes to Aaron Swartz. You might remember him as the person persecuted for downloading articles off JSTOR with the intention to make their access free to all.

The charges against Swartz were nothing short of excessive. This link compares the charges that he faced against sentences for crimes such as bank robbery and manslaughter.

Swartz was also suffering from depression, and he took his life on Friday.

Here are some links to some related articles on Swartz’s case.

How the felony count for Swartz’s case was raised from 4 to 13. This article also has a link to Swartz’s indictment: click here

Interestingly enough, it seems that JSTOR had already settled their civil case with Swartz in 2011.

In a response to Swartz’s death, hacker group Anonymous took down the MIT website (Swartz was affiliated with MIT) for a period of time: click here.

Statement from Swartz’s family: click here.

Lawrence Lessig’s post on the prosecutor as bully summarises it all: click here.

Here is a link to Swartz’s manifesto on open access: click here



Explainer: What is Deja Vu? (The Conversation)

Came across an article in The Conversation explaining the phenomenon of deja vu in scientific terms. The concept of the ‘double’ , a significant trope in Gothic literature, shares common ground the concept with deja vu – deja vu comes from French for ‘already seen’. I’m reminded of an anecdote I read years ago about the poet Goethe and how he met his doppelgänger while crossing a road:

As I rode along the footpath to Drusenheim, I was seized by the strangest premonition, namely, I saw myself, not with the eyes of the body, but those of the spirit, coming toward myself on horseback on the same path, and, to be sure, in clothing I had never worn: it was bluish gray with some gold trimming. As soon as I shook myself awake the figure vanished. Yet it is curious the eight years later I found myself on the same path, coming to visit Frederica once more and dressed in the same clothes I had dreamed about, which I was wearing not by choice but by coincidence. (Goethe, Poetry and Truth, Book Eleven, Part III)

“Looking handsome, son!”
“Same to you, bro!

Science so far is unable to provide a clear explanation as to the prevalence of this phenomenon. We are only just beginning to understand how the human brain works, and perhaps in time to come science will be able to shed more light on this phenomena. As far as the literary Gothic is concerned, the double continues to be a pervasive trope that can be traced in many works. Freud’s theory of the uncanny is a staple of Gothic criticism, and in that essay, deja vu is synonymous with the uncanny (unheimlich) effect. An interesting study is Linda Dryden’s monograph The Modern Gothic and Literary Doubles , which devotes itself to an exploration of this concept in the works of Stevenson, Wilde and H.G Wells. In fact, the convention of the double is one that, I would suggest, has almost saturated the genre. And yet, like Romero’s zombies, the trope keeps recurring, again and again throughout fiction and even the genre of film. Perhaps there is something that is intrinsically fascinating about seeing mirrors of ourselves. Perhaps this stems from, as Freud would suggest, a narcissistic preoccupation that stems from repression.

EDIT: On a related note, I just came across a link to an invention that epitomises the term ‘unheimlich’. Check out this link  to have a look at the ‘most horrifying robot baby you will ever meet‘.


Free for all: ARC-funded research now open to the public (The Conversation)

Good news for all. The Australian Research Council has announced the implementation of an open access policy for all research that is funded by the ARC. This is a great move, one that grants the appropriate level of accessibility to publicly funded research. With the interesting research projects that are undertaken at the Centre for the History of Emotions, allowing public access will definitely be a boon to expanding the impact of the Centre’s work.

I’ve always been a proponent of open access publishing. There is no point in imposing barriers to research, particularly when certain scholarly publishers obtain high levels of profit for essentially being middlemen. After all, it is researchers and reviewers who are doing the hard work Researchers and reviewers should, in an ideal situation, actually be remunerated for their contributions to the academic community rather than being taxed for it. These lines make me sound like an idealist, and I have had discussions with others who have differing opinions. But if stripped down to the basics, aren’t we providing a ‘product’ through our research? Logic suggests that we should be paid for our ‘products’ rather than being taxed for it, or having restrictions placed on it.


Printed Journalism May Be Dying, But Books Still Have a Future (The Conversation)

An interesting article by John Potts in The Conversation today musing about the future of printed presses and how the experience of reading has been changed by the advent of digital technologies. The article certainly does not say anything new, but it struck a chord with me in that I have been considering acquiring a tablet for reading e-books, and as a portable notebook.

I’ve been a regular patron of the Save the Children bookfairs that take place at UWA. Over the years, i’ve acquired a stash of books ranging from $3 Lonely Planets to a poetry anthology that was published in 1897. I’ve also been living a relatively nomadic life – shifting from apartment to townhouse, townhouse to townhouse, apartment to apartment…..even I have lost track of how many times I have moved since moving to Perth. And it follows that with every move, the books go with me as well. And so, the wonderful assortment of bargain books have begun to be a logistical impediment. This has made me re-assess my views about e books. On my recent flight back to Perth, in an attempt to travel light, I took only my laptop bag and my gig bag onto the plane. It was a nightmare stuffing two books into them. On the plane, while I am rummaging through the bag trying to get my books out, a man sitting across from me casually flicks through pages on his Kobo……

So on one hand, electronic books do make the experience of reading a lot easier logistically. I remember commenting to a lady in an airport bookstore about the length of Hugo’s Les Miserables. Imagine compressing all that into a single PDF!

But the move to reading vis an electronic medium has its challenges as well. As Potts writes:

“What is front page news in the hard copy may be hidden online. I’ve had conversations on current events with a friend, based on my reading of the Sydney Morning Herald paper, and her reading of – it became apparent that we had read quite different versions of the news.”

Issues such as priming and political agendas then begin to creep into the picture. Thankfully, my background in communication studies has embedded a practical sense of scepticism with regards to news outlets, but what happens when the consumer/reader is not as discerning?

This is why I find Clive Barker’s Mister B Gone so fascinating. It is a book that celebrates the power of the written word. There is something about the physical, tactile sensation of holding a book in one’s hands that cannot be replaced by whitewashed PDF’s.  In the words of Walter Benjamin, books have an irreplaceable ‘aura’. Which is why, on my trip to Europe later in the year, I will make it a point to check this out:

Shakespeare’s First Folio

But at the same time I am also reminded of Ray Bradbury’s dystopia in Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury imagines a world where books are banned. A world where nobody reads. In Bradbury’s vision, this world destroys itself, and cities are eventually obliterated in the haze  of atomic war. But at the end of the novel, Bradbury gives us a glimpse of hope. Some survivors have learnt a method to memorise the contents of a given book wholesale. So even if books are destroyed, their contents live on in the minds of these select men. Some excerpts:

Would you like, some day, Montag, to read Plato’s Republic?”

“Of course!”

“I am Plato’s Republic. Like to read Marcus Aurelius? Mr. Simmons is Marcus.”


We’re nothing more than dust-jackets for books, of no significance otherwise. Some of us live in small towns. Chapter One of Thoreau’s Walden in Green River, Chapter Two  in Willow Farm, Maine. Why, there’s one town in Maryland, only twenty-seven people, no bomb’ll ever touch that town, is the complete essays of a man named Bertrand Russell. Pick up that town, almost, and flip the pages, so many pages to a person. And when the war’s over, some day, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know and we’ll set it up in type until another Dark Age, when we might have to do the whole damn thing over again.


‘I hate a Roman named Status Quo!’ he said to me. ‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in  factories.


There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them.

'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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