Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One Is Looking) by Christian Rudder

DATACLYSM 2: Relationship Test Boogaloo

I’ve already written about Christian Rudder’s Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One’s Looking, which looks at samples of social networking data to study human perception and behavior. Rudder knows that mere representation of data may not be enough to teach about data use. After all, as data producers, we have a right to use our own data (and to see how our data is used). So Rudder and his team offer a neat activity. At, anyone can plug in their own Facebook data and have the site analyze their network structure. This is the relationship test. This test measures just how central your partner is to your life using tie strength, an informal measure of the “closeness” of a friendship.

This test uses recursive dispersion method for determining tie strength. Previously, many social networked data analysis used embeddedness as a factor for determining centrality. People structure their networks around certain foci. One focus can be a number of co-workers; another can be the people you went to college with. My Facebook friend structure looks like this (with me in the center):


Why isn’t anyone playing with me?

Which of these blue dots (nodes) represents my partner of 10 years? Which my best friend of 8 years? Many of these friends share mutual friends with me who are in the same focus. We call them highly embedded in this focus. However, they may not have ties to other foci.

Node cloud representing two groups of embedded friends

LIke the dangerous spider I am, I keep my prey in multiple webs.

As you can see, I have two areas of focus that contain deeply embedded mutual friends. Everyone to the left of my network is pretty evenly spaced. Now, the embeddedness analysis is not very reliable for characterizing romantic relationships because it gives equal weight to all linked members of a focus. The reality of social networking is that highly embedded links surrounding foci is not a predictor of a strong tie.

Identification of my partner and my best friend in the node cloud

I’m so lucky to have you as my best friend, Mark.

As you can see, my strongest ties are in that sparsely spread out field to the left on my node cloud. My partner and my best friend share a few links to focus neighbors, but they have a very low embeddedness factor– indicating that their social orbits are not bound within any one focus. Recursive dispersion looks not at just the number of mutual friends two people share (embeddedness), but also at the network structure of these mutual friends. A link between two people has a high dispersion when their mutual friends are not well-connected with each other. Let’s look at some numbers.

Friends by the numbers

Friends by the numbers

As you can see from the network node cloud, my partner is not highly embedded within any one focus. However, according to the numbers, we share the most mutual friends at 43. That means we have a high dispersion rate with our mutual friends belonging to more than one social focus. He has a high number of links to nodes on the left of the node cloud, with a few links to nodes in my graduate school focus, and no links to nodes in my work focus. Why is that? Well, he just hasn’t met many of them in a meaningful context yet. I have only just started interacting with them in a digital environment myself. This method gives more weight to the person who has more dispersed mutual friends, because it correctly assumes that romantic relationships follow a different social structure than other relationships.

Another interesting tidbit that I looked at were the numbers for my best friend. Her node also falls on the evenly spaced left side of the node cloud. According to the numbers, we share 16 mutual friends, but only have an assimilation score of 116701. Why is that? Well, what the numbers don’t tell you is that my best friend lives in Japan, so while we have 16 mutual friends (out of my 146 total friends), her total friends (at 212) consist of a lot of people that I will likely never meet and will likely never be able to communicate with due to the language barrier.

Strangely enough, for me, the nodes on those clusters of highly embedded social foci on the right of my node cloud are people I engage with less frequently than most of the dispersed nodes on the left of the cloud. I don’t currently hold a professional position using my graduate degree, so my engagement with that focus is low. I also just moved to a new city relatively recently, so my work cluster consists of people I am still getting to know. My strongest ties are to less embedded people: my partner, my best friends, my family members, life-long friends.

This is all fascinating and revelatory. Data science can show us that assumptions we make on seeing data representations may not be accurate–that findings can actually prove to be the opposite of what we think we see. The first instinct is to see highly embedded clusters of information and think of them as consisting of strong ties, but life doesn’t work that way. The strongest ties are to people who we let in to every part of our lives, not just the clusters around one aspect. All of those dots are people I let into my life, but those evenly spaced ones on the left are the ones I keep.

We don’t need to be afraid of data. We don’t need to live paranoid lives about what people are reading in our data, especially when data science can lead to greater understanding of how we use seemingly ubiquitous tools like Facebook to structure our relationships. That’s me in those numbers–a me I never imagined. Technology is meaningless without the people who award it its value. We can use it to connect with the world and to measure and quantify that connectedness. To me, that’s true progress.

You can take this test for yourself! It’s at And you can read more about it by picking up a copy of Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One’s Looking.

From the YouTube Archives: Favorite Debut Novels Book Reviews

Another vlog I filmed for BookPeople. My favorite debut Novels. Enjoy!

Titles featured:
The Last Days of California by Mary Miller
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Shop local!

Bearing witness for #teamharpy

Taking a break from book reviews and humorous GIFs for a moment to highlight a serious issue going on in the library/information professions. Two women are being sued for speaking out about sexual harassment, an intimidation tactic at best and a crippling of their professional, personal, and financial lives at worst. Please donate or bear witness for #teamharpy.

Feral Librarian

Two extraordinarily brave and talented colleagues of mine are being sued for speaking out about sexual harassment and they need and deserve the support of all of us who believe that victims of sexual harassment have the right to speak and to be believed. They need our financial support for their legal defense fund, and they need witnesses willing to testify.

Almost 20 years ago, I submitted a sworn statement that was part of the investigation that led to a highly decorated Army Colonel being removed from his appointment as a department chair at the United States Military Academy for sexual harassment and abusive leadership. I have some sense of how scary it can be to simply tell the truth and bear witness to the abusive, harassing behavior of those with power and privilege; and I stand in awe of those who have already come forward in the…

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Obscenegasm: An Editorial on Vandalism as Censorship

Last week, during my morning walkthrough, I found a book in my store that was vandalized. If you follow me on Instagram, you likely saw my photos of the cover of the book Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind-blowing Sex by Claire Cavannah and Rachel Venning, which was vandalized by some Random Crusader Against The Orgasm by writing the word “obscene” across the cover in black ballpoint ink.

The culprit then shoved the book behind The Guide to Getting It On and left it there. So forgive me, but the rest of this post is written directly for the culprit.

Booksellers and librarians will tell you, we have to make constant decisions on where we place things that balance the security of our inventory and the privacy of our patrons. Do I want to move my sex section to a place that is more visible by either booksellers or our security cameras? No. Absolutely not. People have the right to browse in private. Does that mean that I have to do more work replacing the shrink wrap on books that have been opened that shouldn’t be? Yeah. Does that mean I wash my hands a lot more at work than I would on a day off? Hell yeah. I guide people to the information they seek. I’m not in the business of telling people what information they can have and what information they can’t. They can do that for themselves.

And this is why this pisses me off so much. You only get to decide what is obscene for yourself. Unless you’re a Supreme Court Justice, you don’t get to decide what’s obscene for anyone else–especially not by writing in ball-point pen across the cover of a book for which you did not transact ownership. (A general rule: if it’s not yours, don’t fuck with it.)

So who gets to decide what’s obscene? Well, the Supereme Court for one. In Miller v California (1972)–a case involving the distribution of actual pornographic materials (not an informational book)–the Supreme Court refined its definition of obscene material as lacking “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Considering that Moregasm contains information on safely and comfortably performing an activity that nearly everyone does (go home and thank your parents), that encourages open communication resulting in mutual pleasure for all parties, it’s pretty apparent that it contains informational socialscientific (and possibly political) value.

But if what you’re looking for is obscene material, and because National Banned Books Week is right around the corner–a magical time when booksellers, librarians, teachers, and information professionals celebrate the works of literature that citizens like you decided to police for the sake of other people’s sensibilities (which, the did not ask you to do)–here are some books that are on our shelves that are far more obscene than Moregasm:

Tropic of Cancer

by Henry Miller

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller book jacket

Published in 1934, on trial for obscenity in 1961 (after a reprint). “This is not a book in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will.” I’d say his aim was pretty clear here. This is not art. Or is it? What can be described as art?

Still from Martin Scorsese's After Hours

Paul read Henry Miller in public before it was cool. Have a great night, Paul!


Naked Lunch

by William S. Burroughs

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs book jacket

Challenged for obscenity for its depictions of child-murder, rape, homicide, orgies, drug abuse, cop-killing, auto-erotic asphixiation, graphic depictions of homosexuality, and more. Banned in a Boston trial in 1962 for depictions of child murder and pedophilia (decision reversed in 1966) Burroughs claimed that you have to peel away the veneer of artificiality to really see out what you are consuming on the end of your fork. This book lays it all bare.

Gif from the film Naked Lunch directed by David Cronenberg

Must be one of them metaphors.

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure 

by John Cleland

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Published in 1748 while the author sat in debtor’s prison, this novel is known as the first original English prose pornography, and the first pornography taking the form of a novel. This title sat on the banned books list in America 145 years as a result of the first obscenity case in the United States in 1821 until a Supreme Court decision in 1966 declared that it was not obscene material.

Oh snap! Free Fanny Hill ebook download! 

The number one book challenged for obscenity in 2013 was Captain Underpants. It didn’t stop hundreds of children and parents from showing up to BookPeople in support of Dav Pilkey when he celebrated the release of the latest Captain Underpants installment last week.

The bare fact is, by challenging these titles, you bring more attention to them. To challenge a book is to step up to the line of censorship: a line that booksellers, librarians, teachers, and information professionals consider something of a firing line. We will fight tooth and nail against censorship. And whether you know it or not, you directly contribute to these titles’ increased circulation as more attention is brought to them. In most cases, you revive interest in books that may well sit on the shelf, untouched. I suppose that’s why my first instinct is to lay bare the most obscene books I can think of.

For the rest of you, enjoy National Banned Books Week! I will be reading two books challenged this past year: John Green’s Looking For Alaska (yep, the same John Green who is getting all of his books optioned into highly successful films) and Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (because this girl is a freaking hero.) What are you reading for Banned Books Week?

Gif from the Francois Truffaut film Farenheit 451

It was a pleasure to burn.

Friday Night’s GOOSEBUMPS Live Tweet

Friday night…

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Rob Liefeld’s creation of Cable was a crime against comics. I stand by this.

Nothing?!2014-09-19_stine4_10 2014-09-19_stine4_11

These kids, they’re just awful.

2014-09-19_stine4_12 Actually the Dairy Freeze. I guess someone didn’t want to pay out royalties…2014-09-19_stine4_13 2014-09-19_stine4_14


Does anyone know if posting horrific images from a fortune-telling camera violates Instagram’s Terms of Service?2014-09-19_stine4_16 2014-09-19_stine4_17 2014-09-19_stine4_18 2014-09-19_stine4_19

I can only hope for a gold nugget of a sentence in the Happy Meal McNugget of each of these books.2014-09-19_stine4_20 2014-09-19_stine4_21 2014-09-19_stine4_22

I’d say, “There’s no need to be racist,” but everyone is terrible. 2014-09-19_stine4_23 2014-09-19_stine4_24 2014-09-19_stine4_25 2014-09-19_stine4_26 2014-09-19_stine4_27 2014-09-19_stine4_28 2014-09-19_stine4_29 2014-09-19_stine4_30 2014-09-19_stine4_31

I’m not even exaggerating. Spidey dies, and the kids just go home. For the life of me, I can’t understand why this one was so popular (enough so to merit a sequel). It doesn’t have the tongue-in-cheek classic sci-fi cinema references that Stay Out Of The Basement! has, and not a single character is worth siding with. I was genuinely conflicted when Shari disappeared because (a) even though I didn’t like her, no kid deserves to vanish, and (b) I was a little afraid that something real happened to her, but nope. It just turned out the camera made her disappear. This could have been a seriously dark tale; instead, it turns out to be spoiled children who act entitled to other people’s property then get surprised when it backfires.

My Goosebumps #4: Say Cheese and Die! tweets on Storify.

Last Night’s GOOSEBUMPS Live Tweet

Last night…2014-09-16_stine2_01 2014-09-16_stine2_02 2014-09-16_stine2_03 2014-09-16_stine2_04 2014-09-16_stine2_05 2014-09-16_stine2_06 2014-09-16_stine2_07 2014-09-16_stine2_08 2014-09-16_stine2_09 2014-09-16_stine2_10 2014-09-16_stine2_11 2014-09-16_stine2_12 2014-09-16_stine2_13 2014-09-16_stine2_14 2014-09-16_stine2_15 2014-09-16_stine2_16 2014-09-16_stine2_17 2014-09-16_stine2_18 2014-09-16_stine2_19 2014-09-16_stine2_20 2014-09-16_stine2_21 2014-09-16_stine2_22 2014-09-16_stine2_23 2014-09-16_stine2_24

Seriously, though. Stay Out Of The Basement! is worth a read. With direct references to Frankenstein and RoboCop (and props to the writers for recognizing they’re essentially the same the story) and indirect references to David Cronenberg’s The Fly, Troll 2, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, you really get the feeling that someone had a lot of fun writing this one. I had fun reading it.

My Goosebumps #2: Stay Out Of The Basement! tweets on Storify.