Monday, September 8, 2014

Death Threats and Cramped Planes

This week I was watching The Dark Knight and I came to that wonderful scene where the Joker describes his life philosophy: “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. I just do things.” Which often describes my approach to scientific research. Some random investigation seems interesting, so I try it [1].

So here are three experiments in ascending order of seriousness. If enough people participate and we get interesting results, I’ll describe them in a future post.  

1. Recently the New York Times has written at least 3 stories about leaning your seat back on a plane, which I’m pretty sure is more than it’s written in the same time period about, say, global warming. I would love to get your opinions on the acceptability of leaning your seat back -- please fill out this short survey! (And don’t go and read all the articles prior to filling it out, please.)

2. I went into an Apple store to purchase a new laptop and got a recommendation from an employee. I would love it if, the next time you are near an Apple store, you could drop in and take careful note of your experiences so we see if we get the same recommendation. (I promise there is a motivation for this, but I have to tell you what it is later to avoid biasing you. Because clearly this is a very rigorous experiment.) Here are your marching orders:

a) Go into the store, tell the employee you want to buy a new laptop and that your main requirement is that it have 16 gigabytes of RAM (say it like the sheep).
b) After that, be pretty vague and suggestible. For example, if they ask you what you use the computer for, try not to say things like “I am a professional data scientist” or “Mainly for watching porn” which will probably bias the employee in one direction or another; instead say something like “Work, email and watching movies.” Do try to ask the employee for details like “So do I want the fastest chip?” or “Do I want a ton of hard disk space?” or “Do I want the 15-inch or the 13-inch?” If they try to talk you out of the 16 gigabytes of RAM thing, don’t be too pushy, and let yourself be persuaded.
c) Take careful note of what computer they recommend you buy -- remember as many details as possible, particularly its price. Record your experiences here.

3. Death threats on Twitter -- they’re a thing. I’m wondering if it’s worth monitoring them so we can attempt to determine something about the people who send death threats and when they come in. Probably this is a lost cause, but if you have received threats of violence via Twitter or other means, please shoot me an email.

Because one should never take data without giving some in return, here’s a link to all the datasets I have collected that I would be happy to share. You are welcome to use them -- all I ask is that you a) shoot me an email describing what you find and b) provide a citation or link to this blog!


[1] To keep from being kicked out of grad school, I’ll point out that I’m separated from the Joker by a conscience and lack of psychopathy. Also, I have a tendency to see connections to research in every movie I watch. Recently I saw Iron Man, and when he puts on his suit I thought yeah! That’s how I feel when I open my laptop -- and after that I watched Sex Tape, and when they say, “Nobody understands the cloud!” I thought true that. These experiences indicate either that I need to think less about research or watch less TV.

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