The Role of Statistics

English: Hydrogen Density Plots for n up to 4.
Image via Wikipedia

In the Narrative Statistics series of posts, I’m exploring different ways to characterize fiction using statistics. I’m recovering from a flu or cold as well as a nasty cough that followed, so instead of delving into deep math, I want to review what I see as the role of statistics, at least for this series. Many people consider statistics to be magical formulae that give questionable answers. In the humanities, there seems to be a lot of mistrust for statistics because people don’t understand them. 

I’ve been in the audience when someone has presented some statistical results and someone else comments that because the outliers obviously don’t agree with what they already believe to be true, the outliers must be mistakes and thus the statistical method must be suspect. They then turn around and ask what statistics can provide other than reinforcing what they already know. They first throw out any new information and then ask what new information the methods can provide. The profound lack of logic mystifies me.

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Trying out Project Wonderful

I’ve added a Project Wonderful ad to the sidebar. I’m not doing this to make any kind of significant money. Most sites with my traffic might get a penny a day in advertising if they’re lucky. I’m doing an experiment to see how Project Wonderful works, both as a publisher and as an advertiser. Advertising will come later. I have a few projects I’m working on that I’ll advertise as they mature.

There are two main reasons I’m trying Project Wonderful: funds are usable, and the system is more community oriented than other advertising networks that I’ve looked at. 

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The Publisher's Dilemma

If you haven’t been reading A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, you should. As with any blog, read it with a critical mind, but Konrath does address a lot of good points about publishing and the effect that e-books are having on the industry.

I’ve been reading The Innovator’s Dilemma recently. I’m about two-thirds of the way through, but I’m feeling resonance with literature as well as the academic world of digital humanities. For this blog post, I want to address how I see it playing in the publishing world. If you haven’t yet, read “At Home With the Sixes,” a post on Konrath’s blog. He covers some of the same ideas, but in a humorous story.

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The login screen from Genesis, the first LPMud
Image via Wikipedia

I began the month intending to write 50,000 words. I got a bit past 5,000 and then got sidetracked by another project. I shouldn’t be surprised. This is how it’s been in the past.

From the title, you might guess that the distraction was a game, and you’d be right. But I didn’t get sidetracked playing a game. Instead, I’ve been sidetracked creating a game. It’s one I’ve been working on now and again over the last few years, but I’m diving back in using my research day, evenings, and weekends to get enough stuff together that I can show it off at THATCamp Games near the end of January.

I might not be getting the 50,000 words done, but I am doing a lot of creating. At least I’m keeping within the spirit of the month.

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NaNoWriMo, Here I Come!

Green with Red and Clear Pens 12.1
Image by ? Crystal Writer ? via Flickr

Every November, I mean to buckle down and write 50,000 words. Every November, something comes up that keeps me from doing it. Last year, I taught an introductory course to creative writing at Texas A&M University. The year before, I probably got too busy with work. This year, I’m going to make it happen! I don’t have any trips planned except for Thanksgiving. I don’t have any activities after work or on the weekend that take up a large amount of time. Nothing is standing in my way.

For those who haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, hop over to the website and take a look. I’m raising money to help the nonprofit that runs it build communities in classrooms, coffee shops, libraries, and living rooms all over the world and help the inspiration flow for me and thousands of my fellow novelists. More importantly, your contribution will help The Office of Letters and Light build a more engaged and inspiring world.

For the rest of this post, I want to explore why NaNoWriMo works and touch a bit on what it could mean for digital humanities. Today is my research day, after all, so I need to tie this in with my work somehow.

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Narrative Statistics: Revisiting Sentence Length Statistics and What to Do Next

Last week, we explored the Poisson distribution as a possible distribution of sentence lengths. If you look at the figure for Hunter Crackdown, the Poisson seems reasonable, but it breaks down when looking at other works. In this post, I’d like to go back and try to derive a distribution that has the same qualitative features as the distributions we saw for each of the works. Then, I want to discuss a bit what we might want to do next.

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Narrative Statistics: Figuring Out a Distribution of Words in Sentences

Thursdays are my research days. I have a couple things cooking away that I’m not quite ready to write about yet, but I want to take a little time today to explore something that I plan on doing a lot more once my cooking is done.

I’m interested in studying narrative as a dynamic system. That is, there are several variables at play that determine the direction of a narrative. There are plot dynamics, character dynamics, and thematics that an author plays with to construct the story. They all interact in complex ways. A particular plot might require certain type of characters. A particular character might not fit certain types of plots. Some plots and characters don’t illustrate well certain themes. The author has to select the right plots, characters, and themes (and write well) for the reader to enjoy the story. 

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Available: Of Fish and Swimming Swords

Cover: Of Fish and Swimming Swords

I bit the bullet and pushed my novel out to the Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords stores. Feel free to download a copy and write a review! It’s only $2.99, but if you want it for less, comment here sometime in the next week (before August 4th, 2011) with a link to your blog and I’ll send you a coupon for Smashwords. The only thing I’ll ask in return is that you write a substantive and constructive review on your blog.

It will be two or three weeks before the novel is available in the iBookstore or other stores fed by Smashwords.  I’ll post when I see the novel show up in these other stores.

From the blurb:

In a world built around fours, where the trinity of the United States government has been replaced by the Cardinalities of the Muses, Barbara finds a hidden symbol in yet another investigation and suspects foul play. But who can she trust? As she and her family dive into the mystery and horror, they find that they are battling forces that reach to the very core of the world they believe in.

Follow the family of four as they unravel the mystery and discover more about each other.

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Fabulous Fabulator

The Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) is in a week.  I’ll be teaching a course on data discovery, management, and presentation using a platform I’ve been developing for the last couple years.  This will be the first time other people will try to use the platform to build a project.  I’ve been writing the workbook for the week-long course and I think we can do it.

For those who aren’t familiar with what I call the Fabulator, I’ve developed a compute engine as an extension to Radiant, an open source content management system.  The goal is to provide a platform for dynamic, data-driven digital humanities project sites that fill the role of the traditional monograph.  These sites make a scholarly argument using interactive web applications instead of static text.  The problem is that libraries don’t want to touch these projects.  No one wants to provide the long-term maintenance required to keep a web application running as the underlying languages and systems change.

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Player Piano: Mechanizing the Humanities

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) with the same title.  I’ve linked to the video here so you can see the slides along with my monotone voice.  In this talk, I use imagery and music along with mathematics to explore how we might approach taking ownership of computing in the humanities.

[vimeo 22954934]

The last slide is wrong.  It should be the following:

I’ll explore the implications of this code in another post.