Stories, thoughts and interesting facts as seen by Liviu Lica

A tent in a field – thoughts about the Do Lectures No comments yet

A few weeks ago, at the end of September 2011, I went and stayed in a tent, in a corner of Wales, with some of the most fascinating people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting up to this moment in life. This came about because I attended the Do Lectures, an event which is branded as an annual conference but I prefer to call it a gathering of people with passions and desires to be better or do better. At least this is the best way I can describe this event that left such a powerful mark on me.


Chailo Sim – Replete by Chailo Sim

And these 4 days and 4 nights (the nights were as important as the days, as it turns out) were wonderful. Full of great ideas, inspiring, fun, extremely intense and yet, in the same time, in some way even peaceful. They were peaceful because we, the attendees, the speakers and the wonderful organizers, we were all there for one thing and one thing only. To attend the lectures, to speak to each other and get inspired to do great things, to enjoy our time in the little, rainy, corner of paradise James created in that part of the world.

That common and clear purpose of us being there gave the whole madness a controlled and tranquil feeling and made it easy for everybody to make friends, talk about their passions and enjoy a good conversations.

Nobody was going home at the end of the day, to the usual problems and issues; nobody had to go to work the next day. There were only the lectures ahead, food, pints, music and endless, insightful and fascinating conversations and a little bit of sleep in between, under a reindeer skin.

Everybody was committed to this event, because of the long way they had to travel to get there, because of the bad reception (if you ask me no reception at all would have been even better), because we were all there for four days and we chose to be there, because we chose to invest this time in the being there.

In the end, after the four days had come and gone, after I was back in the real world and I was trying to slow down my overflowing brain and to rest my aching for sleep body, one thought kept coming back, when trying to figure out what made those four days so good.

And the thought was that we all lived in the moment, we all were there, not with our nose in a computer screen, how, ironically, I am doing now, not buried in worries and thoughts about a million projects we want to do and thousand of undone chores and hundreds of to do’s. We were there, in that tent, or near the struggling hot water boilers, or near the pub, or in the mess hall, or in the middle of the field.

If I learned one thing from this experience is that living in the moment and committing to that moment as much as you can pays off big time.

And this is not all that I learned. I saw so many people who showed that following a passion is immensely rewarding, no matter how hard it can be at times. I saw people who wanted to make a change, to give a gift, to build a community, to tell a story that moved. I saw optimism and energy and I felt happy. I felt that I was surrounded by people better than me and I felt that I wanted to be like them. It’s a great feeling.

As testament to how powerful this experience was, people are still talking about it, almost 3 weeks after it took place and I’m sure they will still talk a long time about it. Most conferences come and go; this one managed to leave a deep mark.

What takes place in that tent, in the middle of a field, in a forest, in a small country called Wales has the power to drive real change, for us all, as a society, and for each of those that are lucky enough to find in them enough reasons to commit to spend the 4 days in that tent.

Mine is just one of the stories the people that attended the lectures told about it. A few of the others are listed below:

And there are more here, and here and here and surely there are more that I missed.

To end my little story about the Do’s, here is a great little video about the lectures and his amazing founder David Hieatt.

A theory about smoke and flyes and preserving food No comments yet

Before refrigeration was invented, to preserve food you had to do one of the following:

  • dry and smoke the fruit, vegetable or piece of meat;
  • salt and smoke it;
  • pickle it, somehow;

Although smoking is not always used, it surely is used in many cases. The question is why? Drying and salting is clear. It takes the water out of the food you want to preserve and prevents bacteria from destroying it. But smoke? Besides the taste and smell?

Indian woman smoking meat

I have a theory about why smoke is and was used, especially when doing the drying in open space, and not in a house or controlled environment: it keeps insects away! Put a piece of meat in the sun to dry and leave it there and you will soon have a ton of flies on it. Eat that, if you dare!

Now, there is one more part to this puzzle. Why is smoke such an effective insect repellant? It’s not deadly, or anything. My theory is this: It’s a defence mechanism. No creature wants to get into a forest fire and burn and die. And where there is fire, there is smoke, so if there is smoke, better turn around and get out of there.

So this is my theory about smoke: it triggers a defence mechanism and because of this effect on insects, it works magic for food preserving

Value of a click No comments yet

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times already, attention is becoming the most valuable resource of our time. It’s not information that valuable anymore, Google and the gang solved this. Knowledge is. And attention. There is so much going on daily that 5 minutes of my time are suddenly outrageously expensive.

Taking a look at what you’ve produced, in the form of a post, tweet, Facebook update, the project you’ve moonlighted on for the past 4 months, email and so on, requires that I spend some of my precious attention and time on you, instead of looking at some cat playing a piano, reading the latest news or actually doing some work.

All of this makes one simple click extremely valuable. Pressing like on the post somebody has just written sends the message that you took the time to actually read it and appreciate it. One click, one like, +1, share, Digg, has become important and valuable.Woman Writing A Postcard

What ever happened to hand writing a post-card and sending it via email? Just thinking of how much time, effort and attention this required makes me shiver. Now it takes just a tweet + a picture. I’m sure it won’t be long before we hear, hey, send us a tweet from your vacation. Actually, I think I’ve already heard it…

It’s amazing how much a simple click is beginning to be worth and how invaluable is becoming taking the time to write a personal message or having a genuine face to face human interaction.

The Death of the Hit Songs 2 comments

Album cover for Beatles 1It might be the process of getting father and father away from being a teenager (know as getting older), it might be change in interests, it might be wisdom or it might be being clueless, but I really do think that hit songs, the kind of which become the soundtrack of generations, are going away slowly and for good.

I’m not saying there are no more good songs. In fact I believe quite the opposite is true. I’m saying that it is much harder for a song today, and definitively in the future, to be played over and over and over again until it gets so well embedded into the social contentiousness that it will be something of a soundtrack for a generation. Think of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ by Bob Dylan. How many hundreds of times have you heard it? Or Yesterday, by the Beatles, or Mr. Robinson, by Simon and Garfunkel and so on.

 

My argument has to do with 2 things:

  • The devices and technology with which the songs are consumed;
  • The consumption habits.

In the not so distant past there were two main ways of listening to music: radio and records. Both were limited in the number of songs they could play. If you had a Metallica cassette or CD or whatever, you would listen the hell out of it, because there was nothing else to listen to, you had few other things to listen to and especially if you were a penniless youngster, with very few means of getting your hands on new music. Radio stations had to pay royalties and to maintain a big physical records collection, so they had limits to.

In conclusion, the DJ’s of the past and your own limited collection were the things that defined what you listened to over and over again, embedding into your mind a certain song. And yes, there was MTV and VH1 which played the same limited amount of songs, if not even more limited, because they needed to have video for them.

Today we have radio, but arguably, it’s not so influential anymore. I consider myself connected to the new ways of consuming data and digital content. Except for listening to the radio in the morning, while having breakfast, and while in the car, the influence radio has on me has diminished. At work I use Grooveshark and 8tacks and all kind of streaming services where you can find a ton of new music. There are tens of services dedicated only to finding new stuff. So the songs I’m listening to are more often then not stuff I’ve never heard before.

Consumption of digital content is shifting from a scheduled form (TV, radio, newspapers) to an on demand form (I would like to watch Rambo again – click and watch).

And finally, arguably, the members of the younger generations have the attention span of puppies, which is probably a defense mechanism to the avalanche of data they have to plow through.

Putting everything together I believe that because it is much easier to discover new stuff and to jump from one thing to the other, there is no way a whole generation will listen 500 times, during a summer, to the same Lady Gaga (or pick an famous artist) song. There might be one crazy fan who will put that song on repeat on his mp3 player and listen the hell out of it, but things get old fast(er) for most. And while there might be meaningful songs for certain individuals, there will not be a songs that you and all your friends, new and old, have listened to.

Don’t believe me, but I want to challenge you. Go to your old record collection, take a cassette / cd / record of any kind that you listened to hell out of, or if you don’t have what to play it on anymore just get it from somewhere on the web and listen to it, on repeat, a couple of times. Now, tell me, how did that make you feel? And why did that make you feel so? Was it because 10, 15, 20 years ago you were listening to that song all the time on the radio or recorded? And while listening to it you were doing some things that are now dear memories to you?

Uniform of invisibility No comments yet

Who wears an uniform and why? Members of different organizations or clubs that want or need to show that they belong to that particular organization, right? And still, what is the purpose of a uniform?

For a policeman, firefighter, medic, soldier, the uniform is the a mark that tells you that whoever wears it has the right to pull you over and ask for you papers, brake your door with an ax and trash you home, cut you open and stick needles in you or shoot you, all for the good of the society they are protecting, of course.

For a kid, going to school, a big, bearded and tattooed biker and trekkie fans, it’s a way of showing and expressing belonging to a certain group, with it’s own rules and rituals.

And now, there are the security guys at the subway in Bucharest. These guys are dressed in black, with a cap on their head and sit in a corner, sometimes a dark corner. It’s so easy to miss them that the whole purpose of them being there is gone. They role is to show that a person who has the right to bang you on the head and keep you until the police gets there, is present. Of course, you should do something bad to get that bang on the head, I don’t encourage abuse of power here or something like that. they are there to intimidate and discourage unwanted behavior, they are there to give a (false?) sens of security to the people who do respect the law. They are there to assure you that the chances of somebody snatching your bag are very little. And how do they do that? They hide in a corner…

Uniforms are there as much for show as they are useful and this is why. Uniforms should not be invisible, especially in law enforcement.

Would you pay attention to this guy, in traffic?

Traffic Police

Would you be intimidated by this guy?

Riot police

Would you notice these guys?

Mounted riot police

When normal behavior becomes shocking No comments yet

When normal behavior becomes shocking and surprising, there is a social meltdown taking place. Forget about progress, it’s not progress and just the new way things are done which the ‘older’ generations does not understand.

Predicting the Oscars with uberVU 2 comments

On the 27th of February 2011 the 83rd Academy Awards took place. As with all the previous years there have been innumerable speculations of who will win, experts predicting, search engines like Yahoo and Google pounding their chest that their indexes can predict the winners, all kind of polls, from Webtrends to Yahoo. Some use the chatter on Twitter and other social networks, some their indexes and most failed miserably.

Google, who claimed that in the previous 3 years the buzz around the movies, as recorded by Google Trends, were a good indicator of the winner. They even made a special website, not available anymore, where you could compare the most likely winners. If you looked at the graphic below, the King’s Speech is dead last, with Black Swan marching towards victory.

image 

So Google was wrong, Yahoo was wrong, pre-Oscar chatter was wrong, but is there something measurable that could predict the winners? Well, it turns out there is something,

Before going on a small warning is needed. Everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The jury that decides who gets what award is made out of humans with subjective opinions and with different qualification than that of the masses that generate all this data. So it’s normal, in a way, that what is popular is not viewed as the most award-worthy. If you go back and look at stats you will see that The Clash of the Titans, not a masterpiece for the ages, had more buzz than some of the excellent movies that were nominated. So take everything with a grain of salt and make your own judgments.

With the help of the tools the uverVU provides I was able to get sentiment data for 6 of the movies I thought were most likely to win. I also gathered the number of mentions. The aim was to see if the sentiments about a movie are able to predict which one will win. The categories I aimed at were Best Picture, Best Actor in Leading Role and Best Actress in Leading role. Because the same movies, more or less, were nominated for Best Sound or Best Costume, and I had no way to differentiate between the criteria, only these 3 categories were picked.

For these movies I calculated a simple index, that basically normalized  the data in a range between 0 an 100 and the bigger the index the more positive the chatter was. The results are the following

Film \ Date 20-Feb 21-Feb 22-Feb 23-Feb 24-Feb 25-Feb 26-Feb 27-Feb AVG
(ex. 27)
The King’s Speech 76.50 77.55 78.10 77.05 76.65 75.35 77.15 91.95 76.91
Back Swan 67.45 68.40 68.40 69.15 69.05 71.90 72.10 81.10 69.49
The Social Network 75.80 76.45 77.40 77.30 76.45 75.95 75.80 90.55 76.45
127 Hours 64.70 66.75 66.70 66.95 63.85 56.45 55.90 70.00 63.04
Inception 79.10 66.85 67.25 68.45 67.70 67.30 66.20 78.55 68.98
True Grit 76.25 76.60 75.35 73.35 76.30 77.90 76.45 88.15 76.03

The table gives the sentiment index for these dates and the last column is the average, without the 27th, when everything sky-rocketed for some of the movies. So this data, which you can get and calculate, predicted the winner, granted with the smallest of margins on The Social Network and True Grit, but it still did.

For best Actor the story is the same. The data is fro the period 14-26th February.

Best Actor Leading Positive Neutral Negative Index
Javier Bardem 94 1.8 4.2 94.9
Jeff Bridges 85.3 10.8 3.9 90.7
Jesse Eisenberg 88.1 5.3 6.6 90.75
Colin Firth 94.7 3.8 1.5 96.6
James Franco 81 17.3 1.7 89.65

And  for Bes Actress… not so much, Natalie Portman being the last. Arguably because of her weird role, but still, the data did not prevail.

Best Actress Leading Positive Neutral Negative Index
Annette Bening 92.8 0 7.2 92.8
Nicole Kidman 99.5 0 0.5 99.5
Jennifer Lawrence 96.4 0.7 2.9 96.75
Natalie Portman 79.1 19.2 1.7 88.7
Michelle Williams 99.1 0.1 0.8 99.15

But still, with a little magic from uberVU and some sentiment analysis you had better chances to pick the winner by using this techniques than with going with the Google approach.

To Google’s defense, if you followed the actual number of mentioned on uberVU you would of gotten a similar result as with their Google Trends, no matter how you plotted those trend lines. It just wasn’t the year of mentions.

image

Hope you found the article interesting, if you have any questions drop me a line, and before I end I’ll write the story of how I came to do my little study.

A huge thanks to uberVU for giving me an account to play with the data for a project I’m working on!

So how come I ended up using uberVU for this and what’s the back story. In an attempt to figure out if there is any connection between the data that you can pick up from social networks and actual economic results I went back to a research that stirred up some attention a few months earlier. In a paper called “Twitter mood predicts the stock market”, Johan Bollen and his colleagues used sentiment analysis and Twitter data to improve existing algorithms for predicting the stock-market. In Bollen’s own words “We were pretty astonished that this actually worked … Including this mood information leads to higher accuracy”.

By using the same logic I thought to gather information about a field that is narrow enough to be easily filtered and popular enough to generate a ton of messages, so movies were chosen. I went and built my own little app that gathered messages from Twitter about 30 movies, and made use of a service called Tweet Sentiments to figure out if the tweets were positive, negative and neutral. By running the app for 2 months and gathering and analyzing I ended up with more than 850.000 messages that were classified based on their sentiments. Using a simple formula I computed the “Sentiments Index”, which shows on a value from 0 to 100 if the tweet is positive or negative, 100 being completely positive and 0 completely negative.

With this I went to IMDb and got all the ratings for these 30 movies, as I figured that they are a good indicator of how well received the movies are and then crawled various sites to find the box-office earnings. Armed with this, it was time for some simple correlations and surprise-surprise, there is a correlation between the sentiments and the ratings or box-office. The number of movies is small enough not to be extremely accurate, sentiment analysis is not very accurate and messages from Twitter are not always very meaningful, so the data could be better, but it was a start,

My own application gathered data that was somewhat inaccurate so I went and used uberVU, a company I greatly admire and gathered the same data, as they give a very nice breakdown of overall sentiment in positive, negative and neutral.

image

There data turned out to be more accurate than my little app could gather and I bet that my hosting provider was happy I stopped harassing the servers.

So now I had an idea that sentiments about movies have a connection to the ratings and the box office, a way to get it and the Oscars were coming up. So, why not gather data about those movies and see if the winners come on top. As you saw, my results were more accurate that the more elaborate attempts.

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