Monday, April 26, 2010

Infinite regression; its turtles all the way down

I'm feeling a little lacking in science today having presented a very descriptive account of an actor network as my PhD study in a work based seminar today. Nonetheless as Latour has it: If those textual accounts in notebooks don't look scientific enough, then what heavier equipment would do? They are all the science needed for grasping a recalcitrant object through some artificial device of representation.

"What is so wrong with mere descriptions? A good text is never an unmediated portrait of what it describes-nor for that matter is a portrait....
No scholar should find humiliating the task of sticking to description. This is on the contrary, the highest and rarest achievement." (p. 136)

I had found myself wanting to provide explanations for text message counselling being a preferred practice. Explanations that the audience might credit as having depth and meaning; fiscal forces from economics, ego protection from psychology, even a little bit of conspiracy theory in why I dont have an answer to questions asked twice...
Some nice grounding then from Czarniawska(2003). She calls it plainly, "behind the fiction there is always another fiction, it's turtles all the way down".
Representation is always representation.
And some Latour realism; "Much like safe sex, sticking to description protects against the transmission of explanations."

The lurch in my research question, from a process one (what is happening here) to an evaluative one (is the change good) suggests the work net has enrolled me in stabilizing the change i have been observing...or that i have enrolled the infinite regression. And I really do not know which is true...and it may not matter.

Some more Latour to make my day feel better: A good text should trigger in a reader (or audience) this reaction" 'Please more details, I want more details.' God is in the details, and so is everything else- including the devil."
Today felt like this, questions a plenty, and answers that expanded rather than collapsed down. And knowledge too that it might always be otherwise.

And a snippet from Gell-Mann (discoverer of the Quark, a subatomic particle);
Chapter one draws me in:
I have never really seen a jaguar in the wild...
For most of my career as a theoretical physicist, my research has dealt with elementary particles, the basic building blocks of all matter in the universe. Unlike the experimental particle physicist, I dont have to stay close to a giant order to conduct my most all I require is a pencil, some paper, a wastepaper basket. Often even those are not essential. Give me a good nights sleep, freedom from distractions, and time unburdened by worries and obligations, and I can work. Whether I'm standing in the shower, hovering between wakefulness and sleep on a late night flight, or walking on a wilderness trail, my work can accompany me wherever i go.

Czarniawska, B. (2003). Management she wrote: organization studies and detective stories. In S. Linstead (Ed.), Text/work: Representing organization and organizing representation (pp. 15-40). London: Routledge.
Gell-Man, M. (1994). The quark and the jaguar. Adventures in the simple and the complex. New York; Henry Holt and Company.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (p135)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

tweeting is such sweet sorrow
Romeo and Juliet retold in real time on twitter.
Just goes to show what emotive content can be invoked in 160 characters:
I'm <3ing it

"Leave your window open tonight because tomorrow I'm going to wake you up with a kiss. =) See you tomorrow xx "

":) Ill see you in my dreams! And when i feel your kiss I'll know im no longer dreaming! SO much love! See you on the morrow :) xxx"

Its a five week performance, of “tweets” - Twitter updates which may be thoughts, messages, links or confessions - of Romeo, Juliet and four other characters .

Provided by a Twitter-stream of six actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The actors write their actual tweets themselves, using the rich backgrounds the writers have given them, along with a detailed diary that tells them where their characters are at any one moment of the adventure- what they are feeling, who they are with, who they want to talk to.

This may be as ordinary as telling us what they had for breakfast or as remarkable as announcing a deep, deep love.

And it all takes place as it would in real life.

To catch up, look at the Live Timeline and The Story So Far on this Such Tweet Sorrow site - also look out for events in the storyline that you can join in...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

texting doubles soul quotient

“Learn a new language and get a new soul” (Czech proverb)
By some estimates, half the world’s population is bilingual and many others are multilingual (Grosjean, 1982). With regard to this group, it has often been noted, sometimes by bilinguals themselves, that bilinguals express different personalities when they speak in different languages.

So begins the following article:
Nairán Ramírez-Esparzaa, Samuel D. Goslinga, Verónica Benet-Martínezb, JeVrey P. Potterc, James W. Pennebaker. (2005). Do bilinguals have two personalities? A special case of cultural frame switching.

And i asked Sarah about it because she recently returned from Japan. She agrees, I asked in what ways, and she said she's nicer in Japanese...
Shucks, I always suspected we got a changeling some time between having her and this monster with gripe...

My interest is in what change the medium through which we communicate might also alter what ways might talking in text change personalities....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The cost of texting

What price do you put on having people who love you as close as your pocket, anywhere, anytime?
Given such measures are hard to calculate, what is the 'true' or financial cost of a text message?
Please do check the maths, the dashboard isnt up with the digital play, and maths is not my strong point...however the bit calculator has helped

A standard SMS message contains up to a maximum of 160 characters.
Most messages are way shorter than this,but I will work with the standard charge as people are charged for the potential not what is actual.

Apparently SMS uses 7 - not 8 - bit characters - and it is 1 bit to 8 bytes, except when its SMS and then its 7 normally...
1120bits divided by 7 gives the 160 characters that can be used in a message

At the maximum, of 160 characters, that would be a transfer of 1120 bits of data and converting this to Bytes...
140 bytes

And using my online converter this is
0.13671875 Kb

The costing in NZ has been 20 cents a message sent, regardless of whether it is one character at 7 bits or 160 characters at 1120 bits.
Admittedly there are a variety of other costing options now available (2010)
with telecom
and vodafone
and 2degree mobile (newcomer with a significantly lowered transaction cost, not used by the majority of cell phone users so i have not yet factored these costs)

And regardless of the number of bits sent, we are charged at the maximum possible, used or not, 140 bytes of message being sent each time.

So, 140 bytes divided by the cost per message gives us 140/20 so,
every 7 bytes of data sent by mobile SMS costs a NZ 0.01 cent.

I'm told by the people I interview for my PhD research that young people use texting because it's cheap, but I am now wondering if the actual costs are cheap.
How does texting compare then with other media transfer costs?

The cost of a song to my ipod...
2500Kb to 6000Kb per song and a song would cost me 99cents per song from apple.
If I take nice little songs with nice round numbers, say 4MB or 4000Kb or 40,000 bytes of data. Then that song is going to cost me- from apple-
404 bytes of data costs a NZ 0.01 cent.

And then to download it on my NZ$67.00 a month plan for 10 gigabytes
(10 gigabytes is 10485760 Kb or 10737418240 bytes or 85899345920 bits)
(Nb. this also gives me a web page posting, but note how expensive broadband access is for NZers...yet it is soooo much cheaper than sending a text message)

10737418240 bytes can be be divided by my monthly broadband charge of $67.00
to work out the NZ$1.00 charge per byte, so,
160259974 bytes per NZ$1.00
and divided by 100 cents in the dollar, gives me
1602599.74 bytes to the NZ 0.01 cent.

Now I'm not a maths savvy person, so feel free to correct this if I am wrong

for 1 cent 'apple' can sell me 404 bytes of access to a song
for 1 cent I get 1602599.74 bytes of data downloaded when I'm on my computer
and 1 cent gets me 7 bytes when I am sending a cell phone message
23,000 times more expensive to text on a mobile phone than data transfer by computer

It is more than a little unfair to compare 'apples with oranges' as I don't have any 'need' for a song, but I might have 'need' for contact.

So comparing texting with other forms of communication:

A letter. How much does that cost me?
NZ $0.50c, for 500gms standard post.
This would be unfair, taking three days to arrive isn't really a fair contrast.
Within 24 hours fast post, NZ$1.00 per 500gm.
A more reasonable contrast, however, I do note that convenience is compromised, but maybe being able to say so much and even send pictures could be used to balance the equation a little.
A sheet of paper weighs about 4.5 grams...and I need to allow for an I could easily send 100 pages...and I can write, or draw, on both sides!
When I'm teaching students essay writing, I assume a rough count of 250 words a page...average word is 5 characters, add one character for space per word...and font size still has to be reasonable...and I can send 250 words per page x2 as its double sided...
So that is 500 words a page x 100 pages
50,000 words for NZ $1.00
Or 500 words per cent (not that this is possible, because i will be charged the minimum NZ$1.00 postage)

And 500 words per page (double sided) times 6 (average letters per word and a gap per word), times 100 for the number of pages I can send plus the weight of an envelope...
Then 500x6x100 = 300,000 bits can be sent
And if I take the 'bit' charge per character as 7, since that is what SMS messaging works on... then
300,000 bits could be sent for NZ$1.00
30,000 bits for NZ 0.01 cent.

To convert bits to bytes...
1024 bits to the byte...1 bit = 8 bytes usually -except in the case of text its 7 -
1 bit 7 bytes
30,000 bits x 7 = 3750 bytes or 3.662109375 Kb

Bear in mind, I should subtract the costs of these pieces of paper, and of the ink, but at present i will stick with the transaction cost...

so 1 cent to apple can sell me 404 bytes of access to a song for as long as i want it
for 1 cent I get 14925 bytes of data downloaded when I'm on my computer
and 1 cent gets me 3750 bytes of mail delivery
and 1 cent gets me 7 bytes when I am sending a cell phone message

Amazing then that texting is bought as a cheap option...
"fast, (almost) free, and easy"
'Cheapness' is a relative concept, it is what's perceived.
It also involves issues of convenience, and of relative comparisons.
Being able to 'do it' and 'do it now' has enormous appeal.
The costs of a phone call are higher. The start up costs for a computer vs mobile are higher. The monthly cost with a server is higher- albeit that it gives me greater service potential. The time and transaction needed for sending a letter is longer and more convoluted.
My mobile is as close as my pocket, but I am paying significantly for convenience.

This blog was prompted by today's sideswipe article
True cost of texting:

"According to Nigel Bannister, a scientist at the University of Leicester, sending a text message can be up to four times more expensive than downloading the same amount of data from the Hubble Space Telescope."

Which traces back to a 2008 article

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Some writing got wrought, and I am now right on track

In the little moments I filch from writing, I have been reading how to write a literature review. I have also been reading about how to just write. Here is what I have learned:

My paragraph construction is awry. I didn't know about not starting a sentence with 'however' or that 'nonetheless' is acceptable but means something else? I have only been less than fluent in English for half a century. And am still tortured by it. Time to throw all my toys out of the cot and say 'I don't care'. This is a blog for goodness sake! And I can start a sentence with 'and' if i want to. On the other hand, in my thesis I had better behave and apply some grammatical correctness. Nevertheless, I regret not paying more attention in my English classes as teaching myself grammar is difficult. Subsequently, I have so much unlearning to do.

My thanks to Monash University for establishing an excellent website on writing. Those of us that get into a University and progress to PhD without having learned enough about writing are appreciative.

And my friends wonder about how come 6 hours can be absorbed in progressing one paragraph....

Today I approached the task with stealth, and have, at least, been entertained.

Doing a google search for boring literature reviews I discovered a cute paper on how to write boring scientific papers.
To summarise: hell is rereading one's own work. Hell is also multi-layered and reading student PhD submissions could well be the purgatory that one deserves for inflicting such unapproachable writing on to an undeserving world.
The characteristics that make so much scientific writing unbearably boring, resulting in a top-10 list of recommendations for writing consistently boring publications.

* Avoid focus
* Avoid originality and personality
* Write long contributions
* Remove implications and speculations
* Leave out illustrations
* Omit necessary steps of reasoning
* Use many abbreviations and terms
* Suppress humor and flowery language
* Degrade biology to statistics
* Quote numerous papers for trivial statements

In the Annals of improbable research, I found this gem on How to write a PhD dissertation. The abstract tells me:
In this paper we demonstrate that writing a Ph.D. dissertation can have
many benefits. Not only do you obtain extensive typesetting experience,
but afterwards you can have your frequent-flyer literature addressed to
"Dr. Your Name."

The notes regarding Chapter 2 left me smiling:
There comes a time in the life of every graduate student when she or he realizes that another two years of graduate school cannot be endured. Even though a year spent writing your thesis will be filled with frustration and angst, it will end up being worth it in order to escape school forever.
Remember the following phrase: "No one will ever read your thesis.'' You'll hear this phrase a number of times as you finish up, and it's vitally important that you believe it to be true. The phrase is important because without it you would be tempted to work on your thesis until everything is perfect, and you would never finish.
Say "It's good enough for the thesis" to yourself several times a day. Tell yourself that you'll correct all the mistakes when you turn the various chapters into independent scientific papers, even though this won't happen (see Schulman 1996a and references therein).

I loved Schulman's approach of citing himself frequently, and hope he goes ego surfing and finds that others cite him also. Tracing a few of Schulman's references, I found myself reading the Ig Noble awards for research. My favourite was by David Sims in Organizational Studies, titled You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations
This one helped me to realise the task of academic writing is not so hard. Despite not being successful in my last grant application, I am not a failure. I now have further research that needs to be given voice...I could write a Narrative exploration into the phenomenology of soul destruction in academia...

Having been a little more grounded in the reality with the insight that polishing a gem that's never going to be seen is a waste of a life, and wanting my own life back, I am now ready to write. I will, on the advice of my supervisor, save my other considerations for publishing in my post doc life.