Reddit and Ron Paul

wtf?

Man, reddit was cool until some dorks started filling it up with articles about some loser named Ron Paul.

Eliminating NAs in matched data in R

hacks, open source, berkeley, research, education

This was bugging the shit out of me in our is271B (quant methods) final... I had three arrays with NAs in different rows of each array... I had done a weird brute-force machination like the following to get rid of the NAs and preserve the pairwise matching of the data observations. In the R code for my final, I eliminated NAs in one and then got rid of the corresponding datapoints in the other arrays like so:

> climaten <- climate[!is.na(climate)]
> urbann <- urban[!is.na(climate)]
> cropgrown <- cropgrow[!is.na(climate)]
> climatenn <- climaten[!is.na(urbann)]
> urbannn <- urbann[!is.na(urbann)]
> cropgrownn <- cropgrown[!is.na(urbann)]
> climaten <- climatenn[!is.na(cropgrownn)]
> urbann <- urbannn[!is.na(cropgrownn)]
> cropgrown <- cropgrownn[!is.na(cropgrownn)]

As you can see, if you're dealing with a ginormous dataset with many variables, this becomes hella tedious hella fast.

This bugged me sufficiently that I figured out how real R users do it. They put all the variables in question in an R data frame and then use the function na.omit() to remove all rows with NAs in them (you can do very complex types of extraction using the subset() function.). Here's how to do it in R:

> library("foreign")
> dat <- read.dta("world95.dta")
>
> #attach (make available) data variables
> attach(dat)
>
> #put vars in question in data frame to clean NAs
> dattmp <- data.frame(climate,urban,cropgrow)
>
> #this removes rows with any NAs
> datclean <- na.omit(dattmp)
>
> #take vars, cleaned of NAs, back from data frame to array
> climaten <- datclean$climate
> urbann <- datclean$urban
> cropgrownn <- datclean$cropgrown
>
> #a quick boxplot
> boxplot(urbann ~ climaten)
>
> #... we can continue from here.

Kim Alexander of CVF Honored

elections, reform, news, friends, policy

At the recent meeting of the Election Verification Network, we honored Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation and Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections for Leon County Florida.

I was honored myself to present the award given to Kim Alexander. Below is the short speech I gave. A couple corrections:

  • Kim tells me that there were 6 other organizations at the time offering online voter information via services like gopher.
  • Kim didn't get Kim Zetter on the e-voting beat; Zetter had been covering it already but Kim was the catalyst that convinced Zetter to take a deeper look at what was happening in California.

Kim Alexander, Our Hero

Amongst the winds that fill the sails of our election verification movement, the most powerful, the longest-lasting and the most true would be from Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation. I'd like to share a few stories about Kim's work.

Kim started the CVF in 1994 with an original mission to "shape a more informed and engaged electorate by emphasizing the use of new technologies." True to this mission, from the beginning she was the pioneer in leveraging technology to improve voting and voter information. For example, the CVF was the first organization, or at least one of the first, to provide online voter information. A long-time friend and associate of Kim's, David Jefferson, told me the following:

"Even before the era of the web, in 1994 and earlier, Kim and CVF ran a Gopher server with online nonpartisan information about candidates and propositions. She then teamed with engineers at DEC in Palo Alto and in subsequent elections built online voter information services on the Web. Kim basically invented the notion of online voter information, and CVF has continued to build online voter guides for every statewide election since 1994.

Another David, David Dill, was kind enough to dig up the very first email he sent Kim on December 8, 2002. Here's a bit of it... David said:

"I'm a computer science professor at Stanford. I'm aghast that places are actually using DRE machines with no paper trail. I would like to see if I can help to ensure that new voting machines are auditable. It seems that California would be a good place to start. What would be the most effective strategy at this point to get this changed? I would appreciate any advice you may have."

Obviously, David had a lot to learn. I can just see Kim reading this email and saying, "Uh, yeah. Who is this dork?" Luckily for us, Kim's relationships with people like the various Davids have been nothing but productive.

The last story I'd like to share was told to me by another Kim, Kim Zetter of Wired News. After Zetter had written a piece on pollworker training for the California gubernatorial recall election, Kim convinced Zetter to come to the next voting systems panel meeting. It was hard for Zetter to convince her editors to let her leave for a day; Wired News is a national publication and it was difficult to make the case that the rest of the country would care. And at the meeting, there was virtually no one there, not even Californians seemed to care.

This first meeting convinced Zetter that there was and important story or two here. She saw the conflicts of interest between vendors and panel members... Zetter also saw that Kim knew more about these machines than the people tasked with certifying them. Zetter decided that she should come to the next meeting too... and that meeting stopped the presses. Literally.

It was at this meeting that the panel announced that Diebold may have installed uncertified code on machines in one county. Both Kims immediately realized the signifcance of this discovery and Zetter had to leave the meeting to dictate a story to her editor over the phone. She was the only reporter in attendence at the meeting, thanks to Kim having encouraged her to cover the emerging e-voting beat. In Zetter's words:

"The stories written that day took the voting issue to a whole new level and signaled to other reporters in California and across the country that they'd better start taking the voting machine issue more seriously. It was no surprise that a subsequent voting system panel meeting was standing-room-only. That was in good part due to Kim's diligence in making reporters aware that this story was worth pursuing."

Kim is frequently the voice of reason in our debates. She always seeks out the facts and relates them to the reality of the election integrity struggle. She's a geek that fights for the little guys. We owe a lot of the current progress in our struggle to investments Kim made early on. We owe her our thanks. Thank you, Kim.

Kill the Blogging Code of Conduct

blogging, wtf?, chilling effects, politics, friends, policy

The effort of Tim O'Reilly, Jimmy Wales et al. to establish a Bloggers Code of Conduct has to be one of the most flawed policy processes I've ever seen. I agree wholeheartedly with Dave that this is a textbook case of overreacting ("Overreacting") and will likely result in more harm than good. If it were really more like Creative Commons, we could sign on to parts we agreed with only and the terms would change as our culture, environment and technology changed.

In fact, I'll go as far as to say that this is stupid and bound to meet the needs of a very small segment of the blogging community. The last thing we want is for the blogosphere to look like Wikipedia in terms of policy... that would totally suck! There are also chilling effects dimensions to this... what if my position in society or employment (e.g., govt. employment) prohibits me from commenting non-anonymously? What if people start to refuse to read, list on their blogrolls, etc. blogs that do not adhere to the Code? Pbthhh!

UPDATE [2007-04-09T13:12:24]: I like Gruber's rule:

Don?t be an asshole.

Da Trolls

blogging, chilling effects, friends, policy

After reading Tim O'Reilly's post from today, "Call for a Blogger's Code of Conduct", the thing I most agree with is:

4. Ignore the Trolls

People suck. In large crowds like the blogosphere or the Internets -- a mesosphere of the blogosphere -- there's an increasing probability that the one dickhead in the crowd will be able to "get" you. And, as the yogics out there will recognize, reaction to these types of things does nothing for you.

Also, once we start to enumerate a set of behaviorial criteria, it's easy to be overinclusive. For example, O'Reilly mentions that we should consider eliminating anonymous comments. That's far from my own ideals. Yes, anonymity can be abused and it will be abused, but there is much good that flows from anonymity and I think it's irresponsible for us to eliminate it as a value we hold dear. I think a code of conduct like this should be constructed much like a license and include only what we need.

What I fear is that the blogging community might start to sign on to a dynamic code of conduct that only gets larger. We might then be moving the blogoshphere more towards a wikipedia model of interaction where everyone points to part of a policy to justify their behavior or a line of argument. Yuk.

I don't know Kathy Sierra, but some of my friends do. And they seem to be particularly concerned with this incident. It seems that many of us who don't think this incident was particularly remarkable have been hesitant to speak out. Don't get me wrong, misogyny can be extremely brutal, usually moreso than misandry. Death threats, even joking, are completely unacceptable social behavior, online or off. However, I don't think one dickhead should cause a phase transition where we start to enumerate the norms to which we subscribe. We should work hard to be just as vigilant about what we let get under our skin as we are about vocalizing what we feel is irresponsible behavior.

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