Thursday, 29 November 2007

Will you Make Friendship with me?

Cory Doctorow writes about How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook . To quote:

"...Having watched the rise and fall of SixDegrees, Friendster, and the many other proto-hominids that make up the evolutionary chain leading to Facebook, MySpace, et al, I'm inclined to think that these systems are subject to a Brook's-law parallel: "Adding more users to a social network increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance."... You'd think that Facebook would be the perfect tool for handling all this. It's not. For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there's a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I'd cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, "Am I your friend?" yes or no, this instant, please... "
(Link to original article via

I have to admit he has a point. Although it must be said, Facebook scores over Orkut in that it allows only 'friends' to view your profiles etc. The latter allowed just about anyone to scrap you (or at least it used to), which meant that almost any single woman claiming to live in India would get scrapped by strange engineers from Dindigul (or for that matter frustrated engineers from anywhere; let me not be parochial) about how she was sweet and asking if she would like to 'make friendship' with him.

As a counter-point,
here's a paper on "The Benefits of Facebook "Friends:" Social Capital and College Students' Use of Online Social Network Sites", where they found that

"...Regression analyses conducted on results from a survey of undergraduate students (N=286) suggest a strong association between use of Facebook and the three types of social capital, with the strongest relationship being to bridging social capital. In addition, Facebook usage was found to interact with measures of psychological well-being, suggesting that it might provide greater benefits for users experiencing low self-esteem and low life satisfaction."

Then again, the "users experiencing low self-esteem and low life satisfaction" could just be your creepy ex-co-workers, or engineers from Dindigul.

Monday, 12 November 2007

From He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to "The Love that dare not speak its name"

Now that JK Rowling has outed Dumbledore, I can't help but speculate on why she did so. After all, unless he had a secret stash of wizardly Viagra somewhere, old Albus seemed to have been well past his days of romance and you-wave-my-wand-and-I'll-wave-yours. Maybe it's to show that the Potter books have a (liberal) moral undertone and will teach kids the importance of tolerance, and not just silly pseudo-Latin phrases. However, that does lead me to ask the question - where's the token black character? There are characters of Indian, Chinese, Eastern European and Elven descent but no blacks as far as I can tell. Is this because:
a) Ms. Rowling wanted to avoid the obvious jokes about 'black magic';
b) Black kids perhaps don't buy books about wizards because they'll be accused of 'acting white'; or
c) Snooty Public Schools in England, even those for wizards, rarely admit blacks?

This does make me wonder though, about whether the media would have gone after JRR Tolkien for a sound-bite, were he alive. After all, Merry and Pippin would have definitely provided fodder for speculation ('Mr. Tolkien, would you say that 'Merry' was not just his name, but also an allusion to his orientation?') and perhaps there would be rumours that Frodo's burden may not just have been the Ring, but his feelings for Sam...

Brokeback Mordor, anyone?

Batman gets into Microfinance

For those of you who want context, that's from Shadow of the Bat #075, part of the Cataclysm/Aftershock storyline...

For those of you who want to read Ben Bernanke's speech on microfinance in America, click here.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Brides and Prejudice

"...when parents are involved in mate choice, sons are significantly less likely to marry college-educated women and women engaged in the labor force, after controlling for individual and family characteristics. I show that these effects are driven, at least in part, by parental preferences and cannot entirely be attributed to correlation between arranged marriages and unobserved characteristics. These results suggest that lowering the incentive for parental control in mate choice may improve investments in women's human capital in India."

That's from the abstract to this paper by Divya Mathur,who's pursuing her PhD at the University of Chicago (link via Tyler Cowen at Reading through the paper makes me laugh for the most part. I can see how this would sound like a really cool paper for anyone based in the US with a limited knowledge of Indian society and culture.
I think she over-simplifies things when she states that "Parents prefer a daughter-in-law with inferior human capital attributes because this allows them to extract a larger share of household resources, even if the size of the “pie” is smaller than it would be if the daughter-in-law had higher human capital." I don't think extracting 'a larger share of household resources' would be the major motivating factor in middle and upper class households in Mumbai (which is the set of people she studied/surveyed). I would say it has more to do with maintaining social status. Perhaps a further analysis could be the preference for arranged marriages amongst families that regularly watch Ekta Kapoor's saas-bahu soaps versus families that watch(ed) Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin.
My favourite line from the article is the concluding sentence:

"This suggests that developing infrastructure for the care of the elderly, improving social security, encouraging retirement planning, and thereby lowering the incentive for parental control over son’s marital choices, may be an effective mechanism for increasing investment in women’s human capital."

Sounds like an extremely roundabout mechanism to bring about an increase investment in women's human capital.
Especially when you consider this:

"Women put greater weight on the intelligence and the race of partner, while men respond more to physical attractiveness. Moreover, men do not value women’s intelligence or ambition when it exceeds their own."

So we might see increased investments in women's grooming products in India instead...