Archive for June, 2011


Strength of Ties

June 25, 2011

Yes, I have noticed your recent activity on LinkedIn; it looks like you have exceeded Dunbar’s number of 150, which is said to be the typical maximum number of people with whom one can maintain a meaningful relationship.  It is also said that the number of people that someone can typically put a name to a face to is 1500, so you are getting into weak ties territory.  Dunbar’s argument is based on the premise (established through various experiments) that friendships decay within six months unless nurtured, but I wonder if that is really the case.  Somehow, I have this feeling that if relationships are strong when initially formed, then they can last a very long time without much contact at all.  Of course it is hard to know.

As you know, it has not been my tradition to initiate friend requests on social networking sites, whether Facebook or LinkedIn or what have you, though I do accept them.  I know at least a few more people like me, who do not initiate friend requests, but do accept friend requests.  I wonder if there is some interesting mathematical question related to graph connectivity governed by the fraction of people that are like me: some sort of phase transition?  Perhaps in a similar vein, percolation theory has been used to study the spread of disease and the effects of immunization on epidemics.  

One rather old piece of work related to percolation theory as applied to communication networks that I have found to be quite interesting is the doctoral thesis of Irwin Jacobs.  I even quote from it to open my Channels That Die paper, which was recently submitted and posted to arXiv.  Everyone’s favorite story about Irwin Jacobs is how he started out in the Hotel School at Cornell before switching over to the School of Electrical Engineering, our alma mater.  In something of a reversal, one of my papers, Coordinating Global Service Delivery in the Presence of Uncertainty, will be in the proceedings of the 12th International Research Symposium on Service Excellence in Management, which was hosted by the Hotel School a few weeks ago.  Incidentally, do you know what happened to Joel West and his book?

That is very interesting what you say about dissociating people from words.  I hope the words aren’t just put in a bag, but that higher level thoughts are preserved, though it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case. 

One of the most brilliant pieces on sports/culture/technology that I have seen in a long time was just written by Chuck Klosterman, all about dissociating space and time through technology.  I think it is even more brilliant than the work of Landecker on the same subject but with regards to life rather than sports: what do you think?  Also, if we keep using the word dissociation, will it suddenly be picked up by marketers?

dissociation, dissociation, dissociation
dissociation, dissociation, dissociation
dissociation, dissociation, dissociation


Content, Curation, Marketing

June 24, 2011

How are things going Señor Jeje Lalpekhlua?  As you’ve noticed, I recently decided that I would actively add connections in LinkedIn, and have added quite a few people the last couple of weeks.  In going through Pawan Deshpande’s profile, I updated myself on what he’s been up to.  His company, HiveFire, is all about content curation, especially in the B2B marketing context.  The term B2B refers to a business selling a product to other businesses, as opposed to B2C in which a business sells to consumers.  We’ve been going back and forth about content creation and curation, so I thought that was interesting. 

I actually used the term B2B in a phone call yesterday, pointing out that most of the use cases currently in the works for Cognos Consumer Insight are B2C rather than B2B.  (I’m starting to talk like a bidnessman.)  This makes sense since the middle word is consumer.  Building upon what you said about dissociation, I think another thing that is being dissociated is social media content from the humans that produce it.  The idea behind consumer insight from social media is to look at trends in the words people are blogging/tweeting/commenting/posting, where almost like it doesn’t matter which forest the wood is coming from, it doesn’t matter which individual the words are coming from.

Congratulations on the Jin-Au Kong thesis award honorable mention.


Solving Puzzles

June 5, 2011

I was reading the other day and saw this post, where Anand put up a puzzle and received a solution within minutes.  This whole collective intelligence thing is really exploding, isn’t it?  Anyway, I thought I might also put up a puzzle and see if you or anyone else out there can provide a solution.  Alright, here we go.  I have a sequence of numbers and I want to find the next number in the sequence.

-2 + \pi\left(\frac{1}{2}\right)
-2 + \pi\left(\frac{2\sqrt{3}}{9}\right)
-4 + \pi\left(\sqrt{2}-\frac{1}{2}\right)
-4 + \pi\left(\frac{2}{5}\sqrt{5-\frac{2}{5}}\right)

Do let me know what you think the next number is. Of course anything would fit, but I have something particular in mind for the next number.  I don’t however know whether there is a simple general form for the whole sequence.


Modern Technics

June 5, 2011

In your previous post, you asked me about the Cronon book, Nature’s Metropolis.  It is indeed a very interesting account of the environmental and economic history of the west.  One of its central concepts is that of hinterland and how things like railroads connected Chicago’s hinterlands to Chicago and then on to the east.  I don’t know if you saw this article in the Post-Standard about a house that came to Syracuse via boxcar, selected from a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, but it is a great example of what you described with respect to marketing.  Something that is unmentioned in the article is where the lumber was sourced from: presumably from the hinterland, the forests of the northern midwest.  And there is a reason for this omission.  One of the great changes that took place in that era was the so-called dissociation of modern technics.  Once lumber entered Chicago, wood became commoditized.  It didn’t matter whether it came from Wisconsin or Iowa or Kamchatka: wood was wood.  Indeed one can reasonably argue that exotic financial instruments, which were in peak fashion a few years ago and which are almost completely dissociated from the assets they represent, are another step in this arc of history through to the present.

This idea of modern technics was first invoked by Lewis Mumford in his 1934 book Technics and Civilization.  As I’ve argued elsewhere, the notion of a bit as a common currency for information is another manifestation of this dissociation.  With the information-based services sector becoming dominant in modern economies and labor productivity in information services arguably rising, I very much wonder what will happen as the financial and informational trends of dissociation come together.  I guess we will see, or perhaps even play a role in shaping things.

Some things however are not commoditized.  Coming back to the Sears catalog house on 1500 James St., and in fact the whole James St. and Sedgewick  neighborhood, I hope there is no fear for those properties becoming vacant, but then again, maybe spatial econometrics, data analytics, and urban economics will say something else. Would you play SimCity with a dashboard?


2 Brute

June 2, 2011

Dobrý den Señor I. P. Pavlov. On my way back from ICASSP, where I presented two papers, I read an interesting newspaper article about Groupon, a site that offers promotions and discounts. 

Google had secret algorithms that gave superior search results. Facebook provided a way to broadcast regular updates to friends and acquaintances that grew ever more compelling as more people signed up, which naturally caused more people to sign up. Twitter introduced a new tool to let people promote themselves.  Groupon has nothing so special. It offers discounts on products and services, something that Internet start-up companies have tried to develop as a business model many times before, with minimal success. Groupon’s breakthrough sprang not just from the deals but from an ingredient that was both unlikely and ephemeral: words.

At Groupon, humans write the words, the stories.  As I suggested, what if machines could take over the creative aspect and still produce copy that was engaging for consumers?  Groupon is itself innovative, but a machine-generated Groupon would be wild. 

Interestingly, the article connected Groupon back to another change in buying and selling.

Chicago has revolutionized retailing before. In 1872, a dry-goods salesman named Aaron Montgomery Ward wearied of visiting far-flung stores, so he mailed descriptions of goods directly to rural residents. The orders were sent by a new delivery system that wreaked havoc on traditional commerce: the railroad. Ward’s innovation was as much of a cultural achievement as a merchandising one — farmers read his catalogues for pleasure, dreaming of a better world. They were the foundation of a retail empire that lasted more than a century until the management failed one time too often to anticipate a shift in consumer tastes.

Some time ago,  Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West had resonated with you. What other lessons were there in that book?