Leading Lead Guitarists’ String Physics


Image by Ethan Prater

[This post was originally uploaded on August 1, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on February 12, 2015 and February 27, 2015.]

What are the underlying physics behind how many of the greatest lead guitarists in rock have instinctively achieved their signature sounds? Ever wonder how Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen and Jorma Kaukonen¹, among many others, so mastered their Strats and Gibsons? First, I suggest checking out Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists for a comprehensive list. In addition to all these virtuosos, for an example I also urge you to a listen to the extended guitar intro Bruce Springsteen played to Prove it All Night during a September 18, 1978 performance at the Capital Theater in New Jersey for a truly astonishing and blistering performance (expertly supported  by E Streeter Roy Bittan’s extraordinary work on the piano).

How do they do it? For the benefit of all of the countless guitar players in the world, how do these masters produce such distinctive guitar sounds? An article entitled The Physics of Playing Lead Guitar was posted on Phys.org on July 23, 2014, described the work of Dr. David Martin Grimes at Oxford University’s Department of Oncology. His regular gig is as a medical researcher. But he is also a guitarist in a band who has been working on understanding the physics of playing lead. He has focused his research here upon the elements of pitch and how they are affected by such factors as the height of the strings above the neck, how strings are “bent” by the musicians, vibrato and whammy bars.

For any musicians as well as others who appreciate the intersection of art and science involved here (but who might only know how to play the radio), I highly recommend a click-through and read of this piece to learn about Dr. Grimes’ unique and, well, sound analytical work.

February 12, 2015 Update:

Many of the rock guitar icons mentioned in the original post above, in addition to many others of equal stature, owe much of their success to the original developer of the solid-body electric guitar, Les Paul. A very admirable summary of his life’s work and accomplishments is clickable here in Wikipedia. He was a pioneering musician, recording innovator, songwriter, string instrument builder (also known as a “luthier”), and inventor. For many decades since he created the first truly electric guitar, the Gibson Guitar Les Paul line of guitars has been revered among musicians around the world and been responsible for some of the greatest music of modern times across a wide array of musical genres.

An incredible artifact from Paul’s life, the original prototype of his electric guitar called “Black Beauty”, is scheduled to be auctioned on February 19, 2015 by Guernsey’s in New York at the Arader Gallery. Here is the page from Guernsey’s website with the description and photos. This upcoming event was covered in a very interesting report in the February 10, 2015 edition of the New York Times entitled Les Paul’s Groundbreaking Guitar Prototype Is Headed for Auction by James Barron. I will sum up some of the key points. I highly recommend clicking through for a full read and to see three additional photos of the Black Beauty.

It is truly an astonishing thing to see in these pictures. Les Paul worked closely with Gibson to get everything just right for this truly revolutionary instrument. There also is a gem of s story in the article about how, Thomas Doyle, the luthier he worked with for many years, ended up purchasing Black Beauty for $1,100 many years ago.

According to Arlan Ettinger in this article, the president of Guerney’s, it could possibly sell for $2 million². Other items including a “mixer” or soundboard that Les Paul used in his own legendary live performances, microphones, recorder and concert set lists will also be available at this auction.

I could easily foresee the bidding becoming very competitive. Although for anyone who has the resources to make a serious bid, my advice is that they should not, well, fret about even going beyond their limits to acquire this cornerstone of modern musical history.

Just to embellish this story a little bit more, eleven years ago, I read a very engaging and offbeat book entitled Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks Inventions & Lore That Shaped Modern America by Martin J. Smith and Patrick J. Kiger (Harper, 2004). It contained a chapter about how Les Paul invented the electric guitar. I cannot quote this verbatim, but one very clever line in that chapter has always remained in my memory because of its imagery and imagination. The gist of it went something like this: When Les Paul invented the electric guitar in the late 1940’s, he could not possibly have foreseen that one day, decades later, Jimmy Page would be using it to create the sound of a T-Rex being being chain-sawed in half. How true and 100% cool!

February 27, 2015 Updates:

1.  For  a wonderful bio and retrospective on Jorma’s remarkable career and extraordinary musicianship, I highly recommend Jorma Kaukonen: Still Working the Roots by Barry Mazor, which was posted on Medium.com on February 8, 2015. From his vast catalog of albums, I urge you to check out Sea Child on Hot Tuna’s Burgers album for his highly unique guitar style and songwriting.

2In somewhat of a surprise result, Les Paul’s Black Beauty electric guitar was won at auction for a successful bid of $335,000. This was quite a bit below preliminary estimates of its value. The winning bidder was Jim Irsay, the owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts. Here are the complete details in an article in the February 19, 2015 edition of The New York Times entitled Owner of the Colts Pays Six Figures for a Les Paul Six-String by James Baron. My gratitude to the reporter for a great story well told by him.

GDELT 2.0 Launches Bringing Real-Time News Translation in 65 Languages


Image by Library and Archives Canada

I only speak two languages: English and New York. Some visitors to NYC, especially those for the first time, often feel like they are hearing some otherworldly dialect of English being spoken here.

I am always amazed and a bit envious when I people are genuinely fluent in more than one language. I have friends and colleagues who can converse, write and even claim to think in multiple languages. Two of them immediately come to mind, one of whom who can speak 5 languages and the other can speak 6 languages. How do they do it?

Thus seeing an article posted on Gigaom.com entitled A Massive Database Now Translates News in 65 Languages in Real Time by Derrick Harris on  Feb. 19, 2015 immediately got my attention. I will sum up, annotate and add some comments to this remarkable story.

The Global Database of Events, Languages and Tone (GDELT) is an ongoing project that has amassed a database of 250 million “socioeconomic and geopolitical events” and supporting metadata from 1979 to the present. GDELT was conceived and built by Kalev Leetaru, and he continues to run it. The database resides in Google’s cloud service and provides free access and coding tools to query and analyze this massive quantum of data.

Just one representative of GDELT’s many projects are an interactive map (available on GDELT’s home page), of conflicts and protests around the world.  Support for this project is provided by The US Institute of Peace. an independent and nonpartisan American government institution.

Here is a deep and wide listing from GDELT’s blog that links directly to more than 300 of their other fascinating projects. Paging through and following even a sampling of these links will very likely help to spark your own imagination and creativity as to what can be done with this data and these tools.

On February 19, 2015 GDELT 2.0 was launched. In addition to a whole roster of new analytical tools, its most extraordinary new capability is real-time translation of news reports across 65 languages. The feeds of these reports are from non-Western and non-English sources. In effect, it is reporting from a different set of perspectives. The extensive details and parameters of this system are described in a February 19, 2015 blog post by Mr. Leetaru on GDELT’s website entitled GDELT Translingual: Translating the Planet.

Here is an accompanying blog post on the same day announcing and detailing many of the new tools and features entitled GDELT 2.0: Our Global World in Realtime. Among these is a capability called “Realtime Measurement of 2,300 Emotions and Themes” composed of  “24 emotional measurement packages that together assess more than 2,300 emotions and themes from every article in realtime”. This falls within the science of content analysis which attempts to ascertain the deeper meanings and perspectives within a whole range of multimedia types and large sets.

I highly recommend checking out the Gigaom.com story. But I believe that is only the start if GDELT interests you. I further suggest clicking through and fully exploring their site to get a fuller sense of this project’s far-reaching vision and capabilities. Next, for the truly ambitious, the data sets and toolkits are all available for downloading right on the site. I say let the brainstorming for more new projects begin!

Back on December 2, 2014 in a Subway Fold post entitled Startup is Visualizing and Interpreting Massive Quantities of Daily Online News Content, we took a look at  an exciting new startup call Quid that is doing  similar sounding deep mining and analysis of news. Taken together, they represent a very fertile field for new endeavors like GDELT and Quid as the sophistication of machine intelligence to parse, and the capacities to gather and store these vast troves of data continues to advance. For both profit and non-profit organizations, I expect that potential benefits from deep global news analysis, interpretation, translation, visualization and metrics will continue to draw increasing numbers of interested and ambitious media companies, entrepreneurs, academics and government agencies.



Law School’s Innovative Efforts to Produce “Practice Ready” Lawyers


[This post was originally uploaded on January 6, 2015. It has been updated below with new information on February 19, 2015.]

With law school applications in a very steep decline, the number of legal jobs requiring a bar admittance shrinking steadily, clients not willing to pay for new associates’ time spent learning how to actually practice, and a growing number of legal services becoming more automated, law schools are making a variety of efforts to make their graduates more marketable. Simply stated, they are working to make them far more “practice ready” when they arrive at their new jobs than generations of law gads have traditionally been in the past.

Two previous Subway Fold posts have looked at this new marketplace environment from different perspectives. First, was a July 30, 2014 post entitled New Law School Courses Aim at Keeping Pace with Changing Times about classes in emerging areas of technology and policy, followed by a November 30, 2014 post entitled Does Being on Law Review or Effective Blogging and Networking Provide Law Students with Better Employment Prospects?  Another new and innovative approach was covered in the January 5, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal  entitled Law School’s Practical Side by Joe Palazzolo. The story was also summarized and excerpted here on the same day on the WSJ Law Blog by Jacob Gershman, as well as posted here in full on the University of New Hampshire School of Law (UNH Law) website.

To briefly sum up this story, selected students at students at UNH Law who are enrolled in the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program are given special courses and hands-on experience in the highly practical skills they will need as lawyers. For example, how to, as stated in the article “interview clients, take depositions, and draft motions and interrogatories”, all geared towards litigation practice. The school’s web site further itemizes these offerings wherein students “counsel clients, work with practicing lawyers, take depositions, appear before judges, create basic business documents and learn to negotiate and mediate.’

This program has been in operation for ten years and one study has shown these graduates do indeed perform better early on in their careers than other students who had not gone through the program. Quotes from several graduates in a variety of practices, including large firms, confirmed their perceived advantages after they began their first law jobs.

I believe this is a giant step in the right direction for the entire legal profession as well as for clients. Many law schools have offered such practical skills, clinics and internships for years, but UNH Law seems to have taken this up to a new and distinguished level.  What is not mentioned in the article or on the school’s web site is how much of this practical instruction includes training and experience with supporting legal technologies including, among others, project management, document assembly and predictive coding.

Moreover, I believe that the UNH Law approach in conjunction timely new syllabus offerings, enhanced networking skills, and hands-on projects with core legal technologies would, altogether, produce a bundle of complementary benefits.  Law students would more likely have then have most, if not all, of the resources to keep adapting to a quickly changing market for legal services.

February 19, 2015 Update

Designing and implementing innovative programs to assist in preparing law students to become “practice ready” is now gathering substantial new momentum at other US law schools. As an encouraging follow on story to The Wall Street Journal’s feature on the UNH School of Law’s Daniel Webster Scholars Program described above, now The New York Times has published a most interesting full-length article entitled Law Students Leave Torts Behind (for a Bit) and Tackle Accounting by Elizabeth Olson on February 12, 2015. I will summarize some of the main points of this new report about four law schools that are focusing their effort on business skills and concepts.

1. Brooklyn Law School is now offering students a 3-day intensive “boot camp” to acquaint them with the fundamentals of, among other topics, accounting, financial statements and asset valuation. This is driven by the realities of today’s market for legal services where more rote legal processes are being “outsourced and corporate budgets are cut back”. Brooklyn Law is attempting supplement their students’ education with real world business realities not widely found in traditional legal education curricula. These further include “teamwork, business strategy, client interaction”. The dean of the law school, Nicholas W. Allard, believes that the recent recession and resulting changes to the legal marketplace have now facilitated the need to teach the business skills such as those his school is now offering.

To prepare their program, Brooklyn Law worked with Deloitte Financial Advisory Services and Brooklyn Law alumni, John P. Oswald, who is on the top executives at Capital Trust Group. Deloitte had previously developed their own similar program for new associates at law firms. (This is in contrast to the inverse arrangements elsewhere in the corporate world as described in a September 17, 2014 Subway Fold Post entitled Law Firms and High Tech Companies are Now Providing Training to Their Respective Clients.)

2. Cornell University Law School has a similar program called Business Concepts for Lawyers. It was established last year following the February 2014 publication of a survey Harvard Law School of 124 employers. They were asked about the classes law student would need most for corporate and business practice. Almost half of Cornell Law’s graduates go on to work at large firms in these fields.

3. Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland has established a business law track student may choose to pursue. The number of graduates from it has increased significantly in the last three years. In addition, the school offers a 3-day “boot camp” for students to learn business basics and negotiation skills. As with Brooklyn Law, Deloitte also participates in this. Students appreciate the value of this because of it gives them a sense of experience they have not previously had.

The law school will also soon announce a one-year fellowship program where students will work with companies and be compensated.

4. University of Colorado Law School last summer began its own boot camp focused upon the provision of legal services called the Tech Lawyer Accelerator. It uses companies to instruct students on the use of legal technology. The first round drew 16 students which led to a “10-week internship with a technology company” to apply their newly acquired skills.

I will also add to this group a similar program here in New York at Cardozo Law School called the Cardozo Data Law Initiative, launched in 2014. This is a special track designed, according to their website “to prepare law students for careers” in “information governance, e-discovery, data privacy, social media law, and cybersecurity”. In addition to 11 core courses in these areas, the program places students in 8-week externships with organizations working in these fields.


A Real Class Act: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are Changing the Learning Process


Image by Ilonka Tallina

[This post was originally uploaded on November 15, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on February 18, 2015.]

Studying for and then taking the New York State bar exam was about as much fun for me as having a root canal without Novocaine. In fact, root canal might even have been preferable.

Nonetheless, the most extraordinary learning experience I have ever had while studying for anything up to that point was attending a two-day comprehensive lecture on the Federal Rules of Evidence by the legendary law professor Irving Younger. This subject is a challenge to fully master and always a favorite topic throughout the exam. Having attended Professor Younger’s mesmerizing lectures, not only did I feel prepared for the questions on evidence but I left fully convinced that he could have taken in anyone at random walking by the building and taught him or her enough about this subject to pass. Please check out this video on YouTube of his dynamic lecture on 10 Commandments Of Cross Examination at UC Hastings College Of The Law for, well, incontrovertible evidence of this.

For many years during and after Professor Younger’s life, some US law schools kept audio tapes of his lectures on evidence and civil procedures on file in their libraries. If he was lecturing today, it is a near certainty that his classes would now accessible across the Web.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are classes presented on the web so that anyone can learn just about any subject from anywhere across the globe. Universities, public and private schools, and other for providers from many fields have placed video lectures, syllabi, downloadable course materials, and
discussion forums available. Homework assignments and projects are often part of the MOOC experience.

Users can audit these courses, obtain certifications for having attended them and done the course work, and even have degrees conferred. MOOCs related by topic are often group together into pre-packaged options. Of course, the quality of these offerings can vary quite a bit. But to a highly significant degree the web is transforming the process of education.

If you are not yet familiar with this revolution in education, I suggest starting with this report by correspondent Sanjay Gupta on 60 Minutes on CBS that was first broadcast on September 2, 2012. It is about the wildly popular and highly effective classes offered online by The Khan Academy for students around the world on a multitude of subjects. The video classes are largely designed for grade school through high school levels. I think The Khan Academy’s smashing web-wide success with students and educators add new credence and incentive the old adage that a great instructor can effectively teach his or her subject to anyone interested in learning new things.

This Wikipedia page provides an excellent survey of the expanding universe of MOOCs, with a surfeit of valuable links baked in, to help you navigate this rapidly evolving world. As well, an article posted on BusinessInsider.com on November 4, 2014, entitled 15 Free Online Resources That Will Make You
Smarter by Sujan Patel is a terrific reference and fully linked on-ramp to today’s leading MOOC providers for business, finance, tech and academic topics.

During the past year I have had an opportunity to take a number of MOOCs available on Coursera.com (one of the 15 online providers covered in this article). Two of these quickly became Professor Younger-like experiences from which I learned more than I could have imaging at imagined from the course description when I registered, and for which I am deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to participate.

The first was Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization taught by Professor John Lavine of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. (Creating a free membership online will give you access to the links for both classes described here.) This was a brain-bending six-week MOOC that thoroughly defined, explored and demonstrated what exactly “content strategy” is in the rapidly changing world of e-commerce and how to put its best practices into action. The home page for this MOOC does an expert job of describing the particulars.

The second was Understanding Media by Understanding Google taught by Professor Owen R. Youngman, also of Medill. This was a captivatingly deep and wide examination of the numerous services, influences and technologies that have made Google such a pervasive global phenomenon. Again, please see this MOOC’s home page for the flight plan of an educational journey will not soon forget.

In both of these MOOCs the classes were given assignment and projects to provide valuable practical experience that could readily be adapted and applied back in the workplace. Moreover, what I found that really rocked were the discussion forums for these MOOCs. Thousands of participants from across the globe generated and joined into thousands of online discussion threads about the contents of each week’s lectures. A strong sense of community quickly arose and rarely have ever seen such high bandwidth, crackling virtual exchanges of ideas, experiences, commentary and enthusiasm as I did here. The highest levels of civility and respect were also scrupulously maintained by everyone who participated.

Both of these MOOCs will be given again in 2015. I highly recommend checking the Coursera site for their scheduling and then registering for them.

Did I mention that these two MOOCs and all others of Coursera, as well as the majority in the links to Wikipedia and BusinessInsider.com above are reasonably priced to sell: They are available for free!

February 18, 2015 Update

Are MOOCs still being perceived as truly disruptive? Well, maybe not so much for now at least.
Notwithstanding my enthusiasm and appreciation above for MOOCs as a genuine shift in the paradigm of technology-enabled learning, their star might not be shining as brightly as before.

According to an article posted on the Chronicle Of Higher Education’s website on February 5, 2015, entitled The MOOC Hype Fades, in Three Charts, by Steve Kolowich, the latest data gathered about this phenomenon appears to be trending this way. I will sum up some of the key points, and ad some links and comments. I urge you to click through for all of the details and three informative charts.

The Babson Survey Research Group released its 2014 report entitled Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States, 2014 on February 5, 2015. Its initial key finding is that while the number of schools offering MOOCs has steadied at 14%, doubts remain among 2,800 academics surveyed that online courses could generate funds or reduce costs. The first chart clearly shows sentiment in this regard has reached nearly 51%.

The fiscal sustainability of MOOCs depends on these educators’ points of view. A mere 6% actually expected MOOCs to make money or lower costs. Rather, their main motivation for their MOOCs is to raise their school’s profile and enhance student recruitment. They further realize that quantifying this is rather difficult.

The second chart is a bar graph of six factors those surveyed believe will prospectively have the largest effects upon higher education. “Cost/student indebtedness” ranked highest with 62% and “self-directed learning” ranked last with just 9%.

According to the third chart, 20% of the schools also felt that trying out MOOCs would provide “new insights about teaching and learning”. Nonetheless, there has been a steep decline from 50% to 28% in the last two years of the number of schools that felt compelled to learn more about “online pedagogy” (which, in its simplest terms, means studying and implementing the best teach methods).

Thus, according to this Chronicle article, the “hype” surrounding MOOCs has been reduced. Educators are trending towards not seeing MOOCs as quite so transformative. Rather, the consensus is now that MOOCs have their place in recruiting and research for those schools with the resources available. These findings also provide incentives for those schools still reluctant about MOOCs to at least give them a try.

As with any meaningful new online phenomenon sweeping a broad market sector, I remain optimistic about the future of MOOCs for the following reasons:

  • The growing utility and ubiquity of MOOCs can reach people across the web who neither have the time nor funds to attend traditional classes. They are indeed priced to sell and free is a tough price to beat for such a useful and dynamic product.
  • Attending MOOCs helps students to maintain and enhance their levels of skills and knowledge which, in turn, have an upward effect on wages.
  • As educators and MOOC platforms such as Coursera continue to move up the experience curve they will be able to better market their content and shape their course offerings. Moreover, they will continually learn and thus refine how MOOCs are structured, taught and distibuted.
  • As mobile technology, web accessibility and cloud storage capabilities continue to accelerate while getting smaller, faster and cheaper, MOOCs will likewise be able to take advantage of these trends and reaches even greater numbers of students with more expansive offerings. Their economies of scale will continue to be reached and surpassed.
  • Based on my own personal experience with 10 MOOCs during the past year, I have found them to be invaluable in keeping my skills and knowledge current in a number areas. I have learned about subjects, resources and online communities that I might have not otherwise had an opportunity to discover. Surely many other MOOC participants have had the same experience.

2015 Super Bowl TV Advertisers are Evaluating the Data Generated from Their Twitter Hashtags

Image by Ken Varnum

Image by Ken Varnum

A remarkable moment in modern advertizing occurred during the 2013 Super Bowl when the power temporarily went out at the Superdome stadium in New Orleans. Oreo cookies quickly put out a tweet with an accompanying photo that read “Power Out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” It has since been widely heralded as a spontaneous stroke of genius and proved to be incredibly effective across the Twitter-verse. The story of how this happened, including the actual tweet and graphic, were told in a concise report on CNET.com entitled  How Oreo’s Brilliant Blackout Tweet Won the Super Bowl by Daniel Terdiman on February 3, 2013. The story was widely reported elsewhere in traditional and social media venues.

Two years later, the 2015 Super Bowl itself ended in incredible drama. Neither any sports writer nor the NFL itself could have scripted a more improbable ending. Discussions of the final minute of the game broke out instantly across social and traditional and will likely continue on for years afterwards.

In addition to the hard lessons learned here about football strategy, about half of the sponsors of the game have also gained valuable troves of insightful data and the resulting analytics from the Twitter hashtags they included in their TV commercials. A very interesting and instructive report on this process was posted on SocialMediaToday.com on February 15, 2015, entitled How Advertisers Are Tracking Their Ad Dollars Using Hashtags: Lessons from the Super Bowl, by Tukan Das. I will recap, add some links, and commentary to this article. I suggest clicking through and reading it in its entirety for its detail and helpfulness. This story also tracks well with two other Subway Fold posts about the applications of Twitter data and analytics to  marketing and business development entitled New Analytical Twitter Traffic Report on US TV Shows During the 2013 – 2014 Season (July 31, 2014), and then Is Big Data Calling and Calculating the Tune in Today’s Global Music Market? (December 10, 2014).

For additional information on this topic, I recommend an earlier article entitled Half of Super Bowl Ads Had Hashtags by David Goldman was posted on CNN.com on February 2, 2015.  It contains an itemized list of all of the hashtags that were used. As well, just two days prior to the game, an article on AdWeek.com entitled Infographic: Will Super Bowl Advertisers Put Hashtags and Facebook URLs in Their Spots? on January 29, 2015 by Christopher Heine. The infographic it presents by StarStar, a mobile services company, depicts what value and audience reach advertisers get in return for purchasing a 30-second Super Bowl ad for $4 million. (See also the January 30, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Timely Resources for Studying and Producing Infographics.)

According to the report on SocialMediaToday.com, the virtual “water cooler discussions” that occurred on Twitter around the advertisers’ hashtags embedded in their TV ads showed that users are now employing multiple screens to experience the game (the television screen and then at least one other computing device’s screen). These additional screens can be used to track and analyze the value per ad dollars spent while the advertisers evaluate their social media data in real-time rather than traditionally having to wait for TV viewing data to arrive. By further adding specialized demographic data into the mix, the advertisers can thus more deeply assess their data, scaling from in the aggregate level all the way down to the individual level. This gives advertisers the opportunity to observe and assess individuals “interacting with their brand” and pinpoint the “influencers” on Twitter among them. Furthermore, they can overlay an additional layer of data onto their contemporaneous hashtag analyses by using prior Twitter exchanges involving their audience in an effort to illuminate “brand affinity, preferences, and attitude changes over time”.

My questions are as follows:

  • What calculations and considerations are used when advertisers select their hashtags for advertising on TV and other media? Does Brand X use one hashtag for a certain media platform and/or audience than they do for another? Does Brand Y in the same market sector use a similar or different approach?
  • How, if at all, do geographic factors affect the choice of advertising hashtags? Will viewers and readers from one area of the US respond differently than another area to the same hashtag? Is there any difference in hashtag strategy from country to country or does the global nature of TV and the social media eliminate such considerations?
  • If a particular hashtag worked well for 2015’s Super Bowl, should it automatically be re-used for next year’s game or should marketing and content strategists re-evaluate their hashtag formulation and selection process?
  • Are advertising hashtags usually devised by a company’s internal marketing and analytics staff members or do they more often engage outside consultants for assistance with this?




That’s Write: Putting Aside the Keyboard and Using a Pen or Pencil Can be Good for Your Brain

IMAG0044This post was originally uploaded on February 10, 2015. It has been updated below with additional links to new articles and a podcast on April 5. 2016, August 17, 2017 and December 27, 2018.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a student all the way through grades 6 through 12 in the New York City public school system was to prepare a handwritten outline before writing a homework assignment, essay, paper or exam question. This process continued to serve me well through college, graduate school and then all of the jobs I have ever had. Not only does this serve to organize my writing into an orderly beginning, middle and end, but moreover, writing by hand is also a means to use several senses (vision, touch and even listening), at once to assist in planning things out.

Even after Word and WordPerfect began to include outline functions in their programs, I always continued to use them in conjunction with printing out my outline drafts and editing them by hand. Picking up a pen to enhance, edit and annotate the text has always given me an additional perspective on whatever topic I am outlining. The same goes for the full text of drafts insofar as printing them out and marking them up by hand.

As well, I still continue to write out the following items by hand:

  • Notes taken during situations where I want some sort of record including, among others, during business meetings, telephone calls with consumer companies, and at professional presentations and classes. I often go back over such notes and further write out summaries and follow-up questions.
  • To make my daily “To Do” list of what needs to be done each day, which I continue to mark up as my schedule progresses.
  • To schedule all of my appointments in my daily planner, including additional annotations about many of the upcoming events.

I have always believed that by writing out these thing in longhand helps me to plan, analyze, summarize and retain the most important points. However, if I did this by keyboard on an electronic device, or else not at all, I do not think I would retain as much of this content as I do when I set my pen down on a sheet of paper.

For many years I wrote with the BIC R730. This pen was outstanding because of the speed with which I could write with it and, because of the many textures I could get out of its writing point, was likewise great for doodling. (See The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently by Sunni Brown, 2014, Portfolio Hardcover, for a terrific treatment on the virtues of doodling.) Unfortunately, I can no longer find them for sale with blue ink. I have found a worthy replacement to be Uni-Ball Vision Elite (third row down, second image from the right in this link), for writing as well as doodling.

As a result of my continued enjoyment of handwriting, notwithstanding all of the time I spend each day working on real and virtual keyboards (as does everyone else on Planet Earth), I was recently delighted to see a brief article on Mashable.com on January 19, 2015, entitled 7 Ways Writing by Hand Can Save Your Brain by Yohana Desta. The reporter spoke with Dr. Marc Seifer who wrote The Definitive Book of Handwriting Analysis (Career Press, 2008). I highly recommend clicking through to read this post and view the accompanying videos. To sum up the seven advantages Dr. Seifer sees in writing by hand (and adding my own anagram to remember them as sailing the 7C’s), it:

  • Produces a calming effect on your demeanor when you repeatedly write down positive thoughts.
  • Helps to coordinate the activities of the left and right (and maybe “write”, too), cerebral hemispheres.
  • Improves cognitive skills. The article links to another very interesting article that appeared in the October 10, 2010 edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled How Handwriting Trains the Brain by Gwendolyn Bounds.
  • “Inspires creativity” because writing is slower than keyboarding thus giving you more pause to consider what you are doing.
  • Continues to keep minds sharp as people age.
  • Improves content retention.
  •  Uses the connected areas of your brain for reading while you are writing. Studies have shown this is not the case with keyboarding.

A similar and highly persuasive case for the educational development benefits of teaching handwriting to students appeared in an article in the June 2, 2014 edition of The New York Times in an article entitled What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades by Maria Konnikova. This explores the lasting effects upon children when they are taught to write first insofar as they learn to read faster and build better retention of what they have read. Indeed, learning to write simultaneously activates three important areas of the brain. There might even be some distinction in the effect of learning to print and learning cursive writing. I highly recommend clicking through and reading the full text of this fascinating feature together with the equally informative WSJ article linked in the third bullet point above.

I believe it is always safer to be on the write side of things.

April 5, 2016 Update:

Today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal carries an article entitled Can Handwriting Make You Smarter?, by Robert Lee Hotz. The short answer to this question is indeed yes. This fascinating articles reports on the findings of researchers who have been studying whether students retain and understand college lectures better by taking handwritten notes or by using a laptop in class. I highly recommend reading this in its entirety. I believe that it provides some very worthwhile follow-up information to the above post.

August 17, 2017 Update:

For an additonal and highly informative resource on the many benefits of handwriting that persist in the digital age and follow on directly with the above post and update, I highly recommend the podcast and its transcript entitled Who Needs Handwriting?, first broadcast on the NPR radio network on February 10, 2016, available on Freakonomics.com. I recently heard this on a rebroadcast and found it to be directly on point here. 

December 27, 2018 Update:

The Style section of today’s edition of The New York Times has a fascinating article entitled Let the Fountain Pen’s Flow!, by Miranda Purves. This is an in-depth and very informative report on the upswing in sales of highly diverse range of specialty pens, inks and papers. There are also highly sought after brands of these items, special showings and events, and even podcasts and YouTube channels catering to these aficionados of write and wrong. This was very enjoyable reading and I strongly suggest a click-through and read of it if you have an opportunity.  


Visualization, Interpretation and Inspiration from Mapping Twitter Networks


Image by Marc Smith

[This post was originally uploaded on September 26, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on February 5, 2015.]

Have you ever wondered what a visual map of your Twitter network might look like? The realization of such Twitter topography was covered in a terrific post on September 24, 2014 on socialmediatoday.com entitled How to Create a Visual Map of Your Twitter Network by Mary Ellen Egan.

To briefly sum up, at the recent Social Shake-Up Conference in Atlanta sponsored by SocialMediaToday, the Social Research Foundation created and presented such a map. They generated it by including 513 Twitter users who participated for four days in the hashtag #socialshakeup. The platform used is called NodeXL. The resulting graphic of the results as shown in this article are extraordinary. Please pay particular attention as to how the “influencers” in this network are identified and their characteristics. I strongly urge you to click through to read this article and see this display.

For an additional deep dive and comprehensive study on Twitter network mapping mechanics, analyses and policy implications accompanied by numerous examples of how Twitter networks form, grow, transform and behave, I also very highly recommend a report posted on February 20, 2014, entitled Mapping Twitter Topic Networks: From Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters by Marc A. Smith, Lee Rainie, Ben Shneiderman and Itai Himelboim for the Pew Foundation Internet Project.

I believe this article and report will quite likely spark your imagination. I think it is safe to assume that many users would be intrigued by this capability and, moreover, would devise new and innovative ways to leverage the data to better understand, grow and plot strategy to enhance their Twitter networks. Some questions I propose for such an analysis while inspecting a Twitter map include:

  • Am I reaching my target audience? Is this map reliable as a sole indicator or should others be used?
  • Who are the key influencers in my network? Once identified, can it be determined why they are influencers?
  • Does my growth strategy depend on promoting retweets, growing the population of followers, getting mentioned in relevant publications and websites, or other possible approaches?

What I would really be like to see emerge is a 3-dimensional form of visual map that fully integrates multiple maps of an  individual’s or group’s or company’s online presence to simultaneously include their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn¹, Instagram and other social networks. Maybe a platform like the Hyve-3D visualization system² could be used to enable a more broadly extensible and scalable 3D view. Perhaps this multi-dimensional virtual construct could produce entirely new planning and insights for optimizing one’s presence, marketing and influence in social media.

If so, would new trends and influencers not previously seen then be identified? Could tools be developed in this system whereby users would test the strengths and weaknesses of certain cross-social media platforms links and relationships? Would certain industries such news networks³ be able to spot events and trends much sooner? Are there any potentially new opportunities here for entrepreneurs?

February 5, 2015 Update:

A very instructive and illuminating example of the power of mapping a specialized Twitter network has just been posted by Ryan Whelan, a law and doctoral student at Northwestern University. It is composed of US law school professors who are now actively Tweeting away. He posted his methodology, an interactive graphic of this network, and one supporting graph plus four data tables on his blog in a February 3, 2015 post entitled The Law Prof Twitter Network 2.0. I highly recommend clicking through and reading this in its entirety. Try clicking on the graphic to activate a set of tools to explore and query this network map. As well, the tables illustrate the relative sensitivities of the data and their impact on the graphic when particular members of the network or the origins and groupings of the followers is examined.

I think you find it inspiring in thinking about what situations such a network map might be helpful to you in work, school, special interest groups, and many other potential applications. Mr. Whelan presents plenty of information to get you started off in the right direction.

I also found the look and feel of the network map to be very similar to the network mapping tool that was previously available on LinkedIn and discussed in the August 14, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled 2014 LinkedIn Usage Trends and Additional Data Questions.

My questions are as follows:

  • What effects, if any, is this network and its structure having upon improving the legal education system? That is, are these professors, by being active on Twitter in their own handle and as members of this network as followers of each other, benefiting the professor’s work and/or law students’ classroom and learning experiences?
  • Are the characteristics of this network of legal academics any different from, let’s say, a Twitter network of medical school professors or high school teachers?
  • Would more of a meta-study of networks within the legal profession produce results that would be helpful to lawyers and their clients? For example, what would Twitter maps of corporate lawyers, litigators and public interest attorneys show that might be helpful and to whom?

1.  See the April 10, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Visualization Tool for LinkedIn Personal Networks.

2 See the August 28, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Hyve-3D: A New 3D Immersive and Collaborative Design System

3.   See also a most interesting article published in the September 23, 2014 edition of The New York Times entitled Tool Called Dataminr Hunts for News in the Din of Twitter by Leslie Kaufman about such a system that is scanning and interpolating possible news emerging from the Twitter-sphere.

“I Quant NY” Blog Analyzes Public Data Sets Released by New York City


Image by Justin Brown

[This post was originally uploaded on October 24, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on February 3, 2015.]

Using large data sets that local government agencies in New York City have made available by virtue of the NYC Open Data program, a visiting college professor at Pratt Institute, statistician and blogger named Ben Wellington, has been taking a close quantitative look at some common aspects of everyday life here in the city. He was a guest on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio in New York on October 16, 2014 to discuss four of his recent posts on his I Quant NY blog presenting the results of several of his investigations and analyses. The nearly 13-minute podcast entitled We Quant NY: Stories From Data is absolutely fascinating as Wellington describes his subjects, results and supporting methodologies.

(X-ref to this Subway Fold post on April 9, 2014 post, in particular to the fourth book mentioned entitled Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia by Anthony M. Townsend about other endeavors like this. As well, an article entitled They’re Tracking When You Turn Off the Lights by Elizabeth Dwoskin was published in The Wall Street Journal on October 20, 2014 [subscription required] about current efforts by researchers in New York and elsewhere to place “municipal sensor networks” around the city to gather and study many other data sets about the how the city operations and its residents. Townsend is also quoted in this story.)

The posts and analytics that Mr. Wellington discussed on the radio and online included:

  • Why it is nearly impossible to purchase or refill a MetroCard to pay your transit fares in such an amount that it will have $0.00 left on it. There always seems to be some small amount left no matter what payment option you choose at the vending machines.This irks many of my fellow New Yorkers.
  • Fire hydrants that generate the most tickets for parking violations.
  • The gender difference among the customer base for the Citi Bike sharing program. That is, Citi Bike riders in midtown Manhattan tend to be more male while riders in Brooklyn tend to be more female. Why is this so?
  • Which building in Manhattan is the farthest from the subway. (In his October 23, 2014 blog post, Mr. Wellington has studied and found the residence in Brooklyn which is the farthest from the subway.)

I believe that Mr. Wellington’s efforts are to be admired and appreciated because his is helping us to learn more about how NYC really operates on a very granular level. This can potentially lead to improvements in municipal services and other areas he has explored on his blog such as affordable housing, restaurant chain cleanliness (based upon the data generated by the NYC’s inspection and letter grade rating system), and the water quality and safety of the local swimming areas. I hope that he continues his efforts and inspires others to follow in this citizen’s approach to using publicly available big data for everyone’s benefit.

February 3, 2015 Update:

How interesting could the subject of laundromats in New York possibly be? As it turns out, these washing/drying/folding establishments generate some very interesting data and analytics about the neighborhoods where they operate. Who knew? Let’s, well, press on and see.

A few weeks ago, after Brian Lehrer had guests on his show to discuss President Obama’s State of the Union Address and then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State Address, he then had a segment of his show where he asked callers about the state of the own streets. This was a truly hyper-local topic about a city with a great diversity neighborhoods across its five boroughs. One of the callers to the show from the Upper West Side of Manhattan called in to say that as a result of ongoing real estate development on her street, all of her local laundromats had gone out of  business.

As it turned out, Ben Wellington of the I Quant New York blog (above), heard this and went to work on an analysis to see what the city-wide data might indicate about this. He then returned as a guest on The Brian Lehrer Show on January 28, 2015, to discuss his findings. The podcast available on wnyc.org is entitled Following Up: Are Laundromats Disappearing? Mr. Wellington’s post on his I Quant NY blog, also posted on January 28th, is entitled Does Gentrification Cause a Reduction in Laundromats? I highly recommend clicking through and checking out both of them as remarkable examples of how a deeper look at some rather mundane urban data can produce such surprising results and insights about New York.

On the podcast, they were also joined by author and photographer Snorri Sturluson who wrote a book entitled Laundromat (PowerHouse Books, 2013), and later on by Brian Wallace who is the president of the Coin Laundry Association, a trade group. Mr. Sturluson’s book is a photo album sampling many of the hundreds of laundromats across the entire city. (All ten of its reviews on Amazon.com are for the full five stars.)

The ensuing discussion began with the fundamental question of whether the increased affluence and real estate development in a neighborhood directly leads to a decline in the number of local laundromats. As it turns out, a more nuanced and complicated relationship emerged from the geocoded data. In Mr. Wellington’s mapping the results indicate (as shown on both the podcast page and his blog post), that population density is more likely to be the main determinant of the concentration of laundromats. Affluence in each neighborhood is also a factor, but it should also be evaluated in conjunction with population density. The mapping also shows that certain neighborhoods in Queens such as Astoria and Jackson Heights, have the highest concentrations of Laundromats.

Callers to show raised other possible consideration such as whether there are higher numbers of recent college grads in an area, the emergence of online services that offer full laundry services including pickup and delivery, and even the social acceptability nowadays of going to a laundromat. Here are my follow-up questions:

  • Is population density in this analysis more particular to New York than other cities or, if similarly mapped elsewhere, would the distribution of its impact and statistically weighting appear to be similar in other comparably large cities?
  • What other types of businesses, government agencies, scientists and universities might be interested in these results and in testing such data in other locations?
  • Are there additional patterns of businesses that cluster around laundromats such as supermarkets or restaurants and, if so, how to whom might these data sets and analytics be useful?
  • Will the eternal mystery of where socks lost in the laundry go to ever be solved?