Thu, Apr 28, 2016

How Rude

Nomy Arpaly has an interesting post at Daily Nous called Is Polite Philosophical Discussion Possible? She says, in part: I am not a philosophical pacifist, but you don’t need to be a literal pacifist to oppose war crimes, and you don’t need to be a philosophical pacifist to oppose gratuitous rudeness. Being compelled to break the rule of thumb against telling people that they are mistaken in the understanding of an important thing is no excuse for also yelling at them, repeatedly interrupting them and talking over them, responding to their painstakingly prepared talks with a sneering “why should I be interested in any of this”?

Fri, Apr 8, 2016

Tironian Notes

Irish parking sign with a Tironian ⁊, or et. If you visit Ireland, you’ll see that official signs (such as road signs and the like) are written in both English and Irish. On some of them you’ll see a character that looks like a backwards ‘r’, like this: ⁊. It’s used instead of an ampersand, or &. Although I knew the glyph and its meaning (it’s common enough on signage, and some of my teachers used it when they wrote on the board), until yesterday I never knew why it looked like that.

Thu, Mar 10, 2016

The Protracted Game

You may have heard the news that Lee Sedol, a Go Master, has been defeated by a computer program created by a group of Google engineers. A second match is underway today. The Google/DeepMind team has a technical paper in Nature describing AlphaGo, the program they wrote. Various commentators have remarked on the sometimes surprising but extremely effective moves that AlphaGo made. And of course there’s the usual half-serious musings about the inevitable robot uprising that this victory portends.

Wed, Mar 9, 2016

Plain Text and Pictures

Here are two small sites I made recently, and which I may continue to tweak and expand. The first,, presents “The Plain Person’s Guide to Plain-Text Social Science”. It is designed to address some questions about managing research and writing projects in the social sciences using plain-text and free or mostly-free tools like Emacs (or other text editors), R, pandoc, and make. The second, which I’ve mentioned before, compiles notes from a short course in data visualization I taught last semester.

Thu, Feb 18, 2016

Walled Garden

The FBI obtained a court order requiring Apple to unlock an iPhone 5C belonging to the San Bernardino killer. A public letter from Tim Cook lays out the grounds for Apple’s refusal. The debate about this conflict is developing quickly on both the technical side of things and the public policy side. As a sidelight to this debate, I want to ask why is it that Apple, of all companies, is the one taking such a strong stand on this issue?

Mon, Feb 15, 2016

Two Revolutions

In the next week or two I’ll be talking to some social science students about tools for doing research and writing up results. Over the years I’ve accumulated various things on the topic, ranging from bits of advice to templates or things I use myself. My focus is on managing the various pieces of the work process in plain-text, especially when it comes to writing code you can read later, and keeping track of the work you’ve done.

Fri, Feb 12, 2016

Gravitational Network

The Gravitational Waves paper that was in the news yesterday has almost a thousand authors. (Actually there’s more than one paper—there’s the “discovery” paper and the “implications” paper.) Out of interest, I fed the list of authors in the “implications” paper into R and constructed an affiliation network with ties based on the university or research institute listed. Then I colored the nodes by the country of the primary institutional affiliation.

Wed, Feb 10, 2016

Data Visualization Course Notes

ASA Section Membership and Revenues. I taught a half-sized introductory seminar on data visualization last semester. It’s an introduction to some principles of data visualization for working social scientists, and is focused mostly on teaching people how to use ggplot effectively. I’ve made the (slightly rough-and-ready) course notes available as a website. The notes include numerous code samples, .Rmd files for every week, and there’s a GitHub repository containing all the material to build the site, including the datasets used to make the plots.

Sat, Feb 6, 2016

A Kind of Magic

This week’s ATP episode covers the tide of complaints about Apple’s software quality problem. There’s some good sputtering from John. The gist is that niggling software problems have become much more pervasive, even as dramatic events like full-on application crashes are rarer. An important secondary point is that, partly as a consequence of the ubiquity of cloud services and partly as a result of Apple’s choices in software design, when these errors happen they often present themselves to the user in an especially opaque way.

Wed, Jan 27, 2016

Apple Sales Trends to January 2016

Continuing my nonremunerative career as an IT Analyst, I updated my Apple Sales plots to the most recent (end of 2015) round of quarterly data. These plots were originally inspired by Dr Drang, and the trend for the iPad (shown below) continues to confirm his views. I also took the opportunity to clean up the code a little, and to fix a small problem in the earlier versions. The x-axis of the “Remainder” panel didn’t line up properly with the line plots above and below it.

Sociology and other distractions, since 2002. View all posts by date, or an index of posts by category.


I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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