Saturday, August 25, 2012

Metrics and Analytics

A few weeks ago, a woman named Molly Templeton began a How-to Tumblr in response to a How-to series in the New York Times. She put out a call to women writers, to write about anything they knew how to do and to share their writings with her. She received (and continues to receive) many, many submissions, on an endless array of topics. I check in daily, partly because I am curious to see what will turn up, and partly because I submitted a how-to, which she posted (this how-to also appeared on my blog). I like to check back to look at my submission because readers can attach "notes," and I am curious to see how many notes people attach to mine (both in and of itself and in comparison to others). I do not understand how one goes about attaching a note on Tumblr (I have tried to figure it out by exploring the site, but no dice), so I am unable to attach notes to mine or anyone else's submission. I'm guessing I'd need to register with Tumblr to leave notes.

Anyway, these notes are not like comments on a blog. People don't actually say things, they just note that they liked the post or that they reblogged it. Being reblogged is kind of nice because that means the post gets spread into other corners of the Internet, and some kind people have done this with my post. You can forget what your mother used to say about "This isn't a popularity contest," because life on the Internet actually is sort of a popularity contest, and there are all sorts of metrics and analytics for determining who/what is most popular.

Everything is ranked and counted. We can easily see on the New York Times website which article is most popular, which is most emailed, and even what is recommended for me (based on metrics and algorithms, a term we hear a lot these days). We can see on people's blogs and Twitter accounts how many followers they have, how many people they follow, how many tweets they've written, how many times they've been re-tweeted, and (on blogs) how many comments one has gotten. Some blogs get 100s of commenters per post. We also have related concepts like wisdom of the crowd and crowd sourcing, and crowd funding, and crowd purchasing--all based on numbers and analysis of those numbers. The higher the numbers of course, the more marketable or valuable in some sense one is seen to be.

So I thought I'd share some of the metrics I've collected from Molly's How-to Tumblr. This is not at all a comprehensive list of all the how-tos she has posted. Just my own arbitrary and subjective selection, but here goes, and let's see what if anything we can make of this.

How to Dodge a Falling Rock—16 notes

How to Survive Your Child's Stay in the NICU—7 notes

How to Write a Poem—80 notes

How to Become a Full-Time Artist (this was the only one presented in graphic/cartoon style; the all-time favorite, so far)—230 notes

How to Travel by Yourself—175 notes

How to Spend Time with a Work of Art—43 notes

How to Move Rattlesnakes Humanely—5 notes (this one was completely fascinating to me, despite the low number of votes)

How to Read a Victorian Novel—24 notes

How to Do a Little Bit of Good for Your World—34 notes (this was mine)

How to Have a Good Attitude about Getting Bedbugs—74 notes

How to Make a Bourbon Old-Fashioned (the Right Way)—47 notes

How to Become a Digital Nomad—45 notes

How to Apply Noir (a style of drawing)—7 notes

How to Make a Found Poem—40 notes

If I wanted to make this easy for you, I would have listed the items in numerical order--largest number of notes to smallest, or vice versa. But complicating the puzzle is part of the interest I think--to notice the high interest in poetry, booze, and bed bugs, or the low interest in applying noir vs. the very high interest in becoming a full-time artist, or the fact that surviving your child's stay in the NICU is close in popularity to moving a rattlesnake.

What else? What else?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Art and Commerce

When my daughter was in town, we went to the art museum one afternoon. I haven’t been there in ages; it’s just not on my usual itinerary, and it’s expensive, and I just don’t feel very connected to it the way I do to other aspects of Chicago culture. But it seemed like a good thing to do, a place to meet my mother-in-law and spend a few interesting hours together before having dinner. The museum was featuring a big Lichtenstein retrospective. I never thought deeply about his work before—except that it was pop and edgy and bold. But there it all was . . . 100s of his creations (drawings and painting and sculptures and prints) from the numerous decades of his career. 

Walking through the rooms, looking at the images (no headphones or guided tours for us this time), I felt that I could see and understand the structural genius of the work—the way he divided up the flat space of a canvas to create whole worlds and dimensions, the complicated use of geometry and lines and dots and primary colors, the precision, the way he knew how to lead the eye and economically tell a story. Later, when we left the Lichtenstein exhibit and walked through other parts of the museum, I could better see those same kinds of artistic and structural choices and techniques in other work and also who/what influenced Lichtenstein and in turn who he influenced. I haven’t done much formal study of the visual arts, don’t know much about the vocabulary (or the sometimes-intimidating pretensions), but I felt I understood something—because of life and experience and careful looking and thinking for all these years.

The Lichtenstein exhibit included one very large painting. My mother-in-law didn’t like most of the work in the exhibit; it’s too pop for her. But she did like that big painting, said it was her favorite. Here it is.

Something about this painting was familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Later, in the car, on the way home, I remembered: the sculpture I’d seen in Italy decades ago of Laocoon and his sons attacked by serpents.

I was excited to have put that together (not sure what Lichtenstein calls his painting; perhaps if I'd looked at the label, I would have known right away). My husband and daughter were very impressed when I showed them a picture of the sculpture on my Smart phone and that I had the cache of cultural knowledge and experience to draw from.

A few days later, we went shopping for clothes with our daughter, which is overall a pretty uncomfortable experience for both my daughter and me. I’m not a very good shopper: I rarely know what I want and what I don’t want and/or how to find it, and I get easily derailed by body-image issues and guilt about spending money and social/political critiques of consumerism. Still, when one’s clothes have holes in them (my daughter’s situation), one wants to replace them. I always feel I should be a better helper to her, and I usually feel that I fail--including in the sense that I have passed some of my negative attitudes on to her. She wanted some summer dresses, and nothing was fitting or working or looking good (top too big, bottom too small or vice versa), and I could see that she was starting to feel bad about herself. Ugh. All around us, hundreds of girls and women wearing summer dresses. They had all found dresses that worked for them. Surely there were dresses that would work for my daughter, who is quite lovely and very fit.

One more store, I suggested, and although she was reluctant, we went, and I saw a dress I thought could work, and then we saw some other things. And they did work (here’s one of the good ones).

Later, I told her about a conversation I had recently with one of my friends, who had been seeing a man several decades younger than she is who she found quite beautiful.
     "He doesn't even realize how beautiful he is," she said.
     “Just like we didn’t realize how beautiful we were,” I replied.
     And then my daughter asked why I was telling her this, and I said, “Just in case you don’t realize how beautiful you are.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to Do a Little Bit of Good for Your World

  Molly Templeton has started a how-to issue over at Tumblr, with lots of interesting submissions. This is mine.
     1. Take a walk in your neighborhood, noting details of brickwork and construction and vegetation and people and weather.
     2. Do this with as much regularity as possible, noting changes in items listed in number 1.
     3. Remind yourself that whatever surface you are walking on (sidewalk or dirt path or grassy field or blacktop), this is basically the surface of the Earth.
     4. Notice the litter—in particular, recyclables, such as plastic and glass bottles and beverage cans. Once you start noticing, you will see it everywhere, along with the cigarette packs and gum packs and candy wrappers and empty bags and Styrofoam carryout containers.
     5. Start to carry a bag with you on your walk because once you have begun to notice, you will start to feel that you could do something about this mess, and the thing you will do is pick up the litter, put it in your bag, and take it home with you or to the closest recycling bin.
     6. If you are ambitious, you can carry two bags—one for recyclables and one for everything else.
     7. Try not to be judgmental about the crude morons who think the world is their garbage can or who have not yet realized that they are moving on the surface of the Earth. If you are a writer or a reader who is interested in complex characters, you can try to understand them, why they would discard their trash here and there and everywhere.
     8. Once you have gotten into the habit of litter collection, start to notice the seasonal patterns—candy wrappers around Halloween, firework leftovers around the Fourth of July, and so on. Also develop a ranking system—e.g., glass bottles are among the highest-quality finds, as when you remove those from the street, you eliminate the possibility of broken glass, damaged tires, cuts in human flesh.  Indulge your imagination—e.g., imagine squished plastic bottles and plastic bags as jellyfish washed up on some ancient seabed. Ask yourself why we are such hungry, thirsty, and basically oral people (so much eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing going on all the time).
     9. Don’t feel obliged to pick up everything you see—nothing gross, or as a friend of mine says, “nothing wet.”
      10. Note: Once you have adopted these practices, you will see litter pretty much wherever you go. You will not always have a bag , nor will you have ready access to trash or recycling bins, and this may make you feel uncomfortable. Adopt some calming mantra, such as “The litter lady is getting perturbed.” Carry on. You are doing the best you can.