Monday, August 21, 2006

NewsForge Article

Just wanted to post a link to Tina Gasperson's article on FMM's Article 13 Initiative. Entitled, Promoting freedom of expression with OSS in Chad, here is the first part:

Budding young journalists in the African nation Chad now have access to open source tools, thanks to Five Minutes to Midnight, a organization "devoted to promoting human rights and international issues among the world's youth."

Rafigui is a youth organization in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, that gives young people the opportunity to publish news, features, and interviews about the political and social issues they face. The first two issues of the Rafigui newspaper were handwritten, because the journalists had no way to type or print their stories...

Read the rest here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Iraq and Fast Food

The first time I ever read about the political power of fast food was in Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree. His "Golden Archs Theory" stated that any two countries with McDonald's franchises have not gone to war because of, to keep things simple, globalization.

This thought returned to me today when I was waking up and thinking about the recent violence in Israel, Gaza, and Lebanon. I work in an area with a great deal of ethnic restaurants and always look forward to lunch. Today, I wondered, "How do large-scale political events affect ethnic restaurants?"

The best example, of course, is the War in Iraq, when French Fries became "Freedom Fries" and even French's Mustard brand suffered, though they're not actually French. I wonder - how will the recent violence in Middle East affect fast food chains or small restaurants? Unfortunately, Google Scholar had little to say on the subject, so I began to do my own (extremely limited) research.

Since data on small, ethnic restaurants is scarce, I had a look at the fast food chains' stock prices instead. While I will not theorize how they're related, their stock performance is, at the very least, a grim but very real look at two different parts of the world during major humanitarian crises.

The first event is a bit old - the Ethiopian Famine of 1984/1985. From the beginning of 1984 to the end of 1985, McDonald's and Wendy's stock prices rose by 81.61% and 64.76%, respectively (using adjusted closing prices due to stock splits). Good times for the fast food industry, I guess.

During the War in Iraq, investors would also be happy, if investing in some of the major fast food brands. If you invested on March 20, 2003 (the day the War in Iraq officially began with the Shock and Awe campaign), your returns a year later would be:
Heck, even short-term investors would be happy. If you invested on March 19, 2003 and sold on March 21, 2003, you'd get the following growth rates:
Pretty good, considering that's a two-day period. Everyone seems to have felt good during this time. From March 2003 to April 2003, consumer sentiment rose by 10.82%, while the entire first year of the War in Iraq saw sentiment increase by a total of 23.45% (according to the University of Michigan Survey of Consumers). Happy times.

By no means am I trying to say there's a serious connection between the fast food industry and the US military, but it's interesting to look at the above nonetheless.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Betting With Odds in Your Favour

Today, I was happy to read Michael Christie's Reuters article, "US hurricane outlook draws betting surge". According to the article, sites like Wager Web allow people to bet on things like hurricane seasons (for example, "Will there be a Category 5 Atlantic Hurricane in 2006?"). Other sites, including Trade Sports and Bet Royal, let you bet on political events.

Ethics, morals, and legal systems aside, my question is whether it is possible to bet in a way where the odds are in your favour?

If you're smart enough, the answer is "yes". I remember reading a Wired article a while back, The High Tech Trifecta, which describes some people's attempts to use computers and statistical tools in horse racing. Maybe the same can be done in other areas as well?

Neural networks are being applied to financial markets, but why not other systems as well? It's all a matter of knowing the independent variables, and making proper predictions. You may not even need neural networks - maybe multiple regressions and other analyses will shed enough light to raise the probablistic expectation in your favour.

I guess this brings on a whole new meaning to "If it's raining on the first Monday of June and you're at your local horse racing track..."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Quantitative Social Science - Follow Up

In my post on quantitative social science, I provided a link to Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Lately I've been finding quite a few of these, and so I must post them here for anyone interested (and my own personal memory).

The first is the International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies and the second is Harvard's Program on Networked Governance. Really interesting, and worth a check.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Social Networks and Policy

While working on my social networks research, I picked up a book called Social Networks and Social Exclusion: Sociological and Policy Perspectives. The book is a collection of papers written by various researchers, and the one that really stands out for me is called "Public Policy and Social Networks: Just How 'Socially Aware' is the Policy-making Process?" by Vicki Nash.

The paper is interesting in that it helps sum up the rest of the book nicely. The paper promotes the use of social networks and sociology as a whole within policy development. One of her examples is how sending people to jails helps them cultivate negative social networks that provide a negative influence on the people going to jail.

This is like the inverse of Ronald Burt's Structural Holes, where people are told to cultivate their networks to make themselves better targets for promotions, jobs, and other opportunities. Places like jails may do the opposite: create structural holes that make it more likely that people are offered opportunities to commit crime.

This is an interesting concept, and I enjoyed the paper. Perhaps social network analysis does have a place in local / urban / national policy development.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Neural Networks and Stocks

One of the projects I was working on during my (now-finished) Spring 2006 term at school was an independent research course focusing on using neural networks to make predictions about stock price fluctuations. I finished the paper, and have put it up on the I2R Articles page. Here is the abstract:

This research paper is the result of a three-month-long independent study focusing on the ability of feedforward and recurrent neural networks in predicting stock price fluctuations of companies within the "Consumer Discretionary" category of the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS). The paper focuses on predictions for Circuit City Stores Inc. (CC) for 1-, 5-, and 20-business day periods through the use of input patterns based on fundamental and technical indicators from the stock market and economy. The project is unique in its focus on companies selling to consumers. The results of the project are promising, with statistically significant results appearing for 1-day single-layer feedforward and Elman networks, as well as networks based on fundamental inputs and predicting for 20-day periods.

The paper goes through a great deal of basics, but also has some interesting results. Feel free to check it out, and let me know what you think by e-mailing me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

RSA Challenge Numbers and Charity

Quick, factor the following number:


Stuck? Here's the answer:

2967592699 *

16041159971726177 *

9683406594781834082081 *


Thanks to IBM and a mathematical tool called a "Quadratic Sieve", the above took my computer a few seconds. While the number was relatively easy because it had four factors, RSA Challenge Numbers are much tougher. So tough, in fact, that RSA is paying money to those able to factor some of these numbers.

I won't get into the math behind them, but the IBM software linked above is built for a grid computing environment, making it easy to split the task. So here's my idea: why not have people donate their computing time to solve these numbers and give the money to charity? People are not always interested in giving money, and through this method, people just donate their computing time. Programs like this exist, but none that I know of that directly result in a donation (all others lead to research).

Just a thought - might be worth looking into this summer.