Recent Podcasts about Data Analytics

My students recently assembled a list of podcasts about data analytics that are a click away if this is a topic of interest.

The show they pulled from the most was In Machines We Trust produced by the MIT Technology Review.

Attention Shoppers, You’re Being Tracked

Hired by an Algorithm” (“I would recommend this podcast to anyone who will be applying for a job in the near future.”)

Encore: When an Algorithm Gets It Wrong

Can AI Keep Guns out of Schools

How retail is using AI to prevent fraud

Other episodes, not from In Machines We Trust:

More or Less Behind the Statistics: Can we use maths to beat the robots?  (Might be of interest to the folks who like to debate “new math” in schools.)

How Data Science Enables Better Decisions at Merck

Data Science at Home: State of Artificial Intelligence 2022

Emoji as a Predictor – Data skeptic

Data Skeptic: Data Science Hiring Process 

True Machine Intelligence just like the human brain” (Ep. 155)

How to Thrive as an Early-Career Data Scientist” – Super Data Science

No matter how you feel about intelligent machines, you’ll be talking to them soon.

They are delivering food already.

Patrick Henry Blog

I wrote about Patrick Henry for OLL this week.

Can [the President] not at the head of his army beat down every opposition? Away with your President, we shall have a King: The army will salute him Monarch; your militia will leave you and assist in making him King, and fight against you: And what have you to oppose this force? What will then become of you and your rights? Will not absolute despotism ensue?” It is noted in the manuscript that the stenographer could not keep up with the torrent of terrible possible consequences that Henry was shouting about concerning a chief executive.

Most of his apocalyptic scenarios have not happened … yet. What inspired me in his speech was his energy more than his arguments. As much as he praised the American spirit of the past that ousted British rule, he was not complacent. He models a kind of patriotism that embraces an American project without holding to any fantasies about the morality of particular American leaders or soundness of American institutions. He would not have been disillusioned by the scandals and crimes of the American political class. He anticipated it. 

Read the rest at The Reading Room.

Dog Cartoon Information Warfare for the 21st Century

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has generated a lot of attention. Many people care deeply about this unfolding crisis. I wondered back in March 2022 where all this energy would end up getting channeled?

What I had in mind was not an army of “cartoon dogs”, and yet here we are. Official coverage of the #NAFO dog memes this week has come from the Economist and Politico.

The North Atlantic Fella Organisation (spellings vary) is a tongue-in-cheek label adopted by a virtual army that champions Ukraine’s cause and harangues its foes on social media. Its members don the avatar of a cartoon shiba inu dog…

When your enemy is as humorless as Putin, there is an advantage to being funny. After circulating in internet backwaters for weeks, official Ukrainian accounts have acknowledged the help offered by the movement.

The effects of #NAFO are 1) to influence the flow of information/opinions and 2) raise money for Ukraine defense.

For example, you can buy a “ticket” to a “beach party” in Crimea: https://www.saintjavelin.com/products/crimea-beach-party-early-bird-ticket-sale-1-entry

Mike posted earlier about donating to the Kyiv department of Economics.

And this is a just an aid organization that is not very funny but helps refugees in Lviv.

An explainer of a different Very Online thing is https://www.slowboring.com/p/dark-brandon-explained. Dark Brandon and #NAFO are similar in the sense that supporters are made to feel like they are part of a brotherhood of winners who share fun jokes.

Balaji Srinivasan recently released a book called The Network State suggesting that online communities of likeminded people are so powerful that they could supplant what we have known as “countries” for a few centuries. From what I can tell, families want to live in a real place that has tangible services and security. The interesting thing about #NAFO is that it’s purpose is to support an old-fashioned country defending its physical borders.

Meanwhile, in the country of Russia, as reported by the WSJ, “The chairman of Russia’s second-largest oil-and-gas giant, Lukoil PJSC, died Thursday after falling from a hospital window in Moscow, according to Russian state media agency TASS.”

Economics in Wedding Season

You watch a romantic comedy to feel good. I was tired at the end of last week, so “Wedding Season” Netflix looked like it might be funny. I was not expecting that the protagonist would be an economist.

First, how was the movie? The first half was somewhat entertaining. The second half is too sappy and long for me.

This movie is one of the few movies I know that is just unironically set in New Jersey. There were no jokes about Jersey or Shore folk. New Jersey is where immigrant families from India are making dreams come true. The dialogue about immigrant Indian culture, including arranged marriages, was interesting.

You know the trope about a character becoming rich because they inherited money from an estranged uncle? In Wedding Season, the guy becomes unexpectedly rich from Facebook stock.

Second, how was economics portrayed?

Here is the plot summarized by Wikipedia

Asha is an economist working in microfinance who has recently broken off her engagement and left a Wall Street banking career behind to work for a microfinance startup in New Jersey. Asha’s mother Suneeta, concerned for her future and against the advice of her husband Vijay, sets up a dating profile through which Asha meets Ravi.

In the beginning of the movie, Asha pitches microfinance to investors from Singapore. Asha tries to convince them using graphs and statistics. The investors turn her project down.

Microfinance was hyped in the 2000’s. I believed, so became a Campus Kiva Representative as an undergraduate. I convinced teens in my dorm to pool our dollars to sponsor a loan for a woman in a poor country. Since then, economists have done empirical work to show that microfinance is not as effective as we hoped (see work by 2019 Nobel Prize Winners Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee). The filmmakers either do not know the latest research or they don’t care. The pitch is still as emotionally appealing as it was when I heard if for the first time 15 years ago, so it makes for good movie scenes.

The irony in Wedding Season is not only that Asha succeeds in getting bankers from Singapore to invest in microfinance but also how she goes about it.

Continue reading

Ambitious Parenting

Things go by online about moms and kids that bother me. Here I will Be Like Pete and try to articulate a positive vision. We could talk more about parenting small children.

Ambitious people, both men and women, might want to be parents. Time spent on parenting takes away from other projects, so the earlier you start planning the better. Hearing about the experiences of other parents is both instructive and inspiring.

Parenting, like modern creative careers, is an unpredictable enterprise. Maybe one reason people are not encouraged more to plan is because the disappointments can be so devastating in this arena. There is a risk that I will sound insensitive if I am too positive. That said, I feel like discussions I see in public miss the point too often and fail to use the “billboard space” we have effectively. There is an ocean of thoughtful honest free content for How to Achieve Your Writing Goals, but there is very little on how to achieve your parenting goals that resonates with ambitious young people. The writing advice can be ignored by those who don’t want to write; parenting advice can be ignored by those who don’t want kids.

Economists talk a lot about parents and children, especially now that the US is near population decline. One particular point I have heard is: “Data shows that piano lessons do not have a causal impact on lifetime earnings, so your problems are solved. Everyone sit back and enjoy your kids.”

This message may be helpful to some people, but it seems like primarily a lie to me. “Enjoy your kids” assumes a lot. I’d prefer an honest approach about the sacrifice involved, or the “opportunity cost”. I think that the benefits of parenting outweigh the cost, but it’s not inspirational to say “selfish lazy people will enjoy parenting.” Raising kids who you enjoy being around is not easy, but there are tricks and proven methods to help.

The economist who gets it is Emily Oster. Her books go more like this: “You probably aspire to having family meals that you can enjoy. Sit down with your co-parent 6 months ahead of time and plan out how you are going to achieve such a wonderful ambitious goal while also being able to schedule other events and pursuits.”

Emily Oster books/newsletter is a great place to start. She’s not for everyone, but if you are reading an econ blog then she might be for you. The good news for ambitious parents is that many books have been written that explain how to achieve certain results. Ambitious smart people can figure out good techniques, although as I said earlier be prepared for things not to go as planned. It helps to start on the learning process before you have kid to care for. Once you become a primary caregiver, you will have less time to read, so read widely and often whenever you can.  We have a /Parenting category in this blog, to curate some of the good stuff.

This boy’s ambition was to dig a trench from a tidal pool all the way to the ocean.

Kids could come up in conversation about ambition more, as a possible complement not just as a substitute.

This Elon tweet has layers: “Being a Mom is just as important as any career” What do you think the subtext is? How would a college student would understand this?

Why use this hackneyed phrase when he could say something to actually inspire both his male and female Gen Z fans to become parents? If Elon is a good parent, then teach us how he combines it with an ambitious life. And if he’s a bad parent, he should say less about it. If he’s trying to elevate mothers, then retweet a mother.

Similarly, a male economist who writes books about how easy parenting is should explain how he got through the first 5 years. Either someone else raised his children or he worked hard to maintain a routine and boundaries. Did he create his own routine from scratch or did he borrow from someone else’s model? Were his children in daycare 40 hours a week?

It can be hard to write about these topics honestly, because of privacy issues. So, we are back to Emily Oster, because she has been willing to tell the world what really goes on in her own family. Elon should just tweet out her newsletter every week if he’s such an advocate for mothers.

Dr. Oster is not the only one. There are millions of mothers creating content who would value the exposure. What if Elon (or some other ambitious person with a large platform) retweeted a trick for getting children to try carrots. “Wow, genius technique. Follow this Mom for more…” Or, Elon could highlight a man who being a great parent.

Ambitious people just talking about their kids and their own honest personal experiences is a good way to achieve Elon’s stated goal of getting more people to have kids. If Elon wants to tell us that he loves his kids, then that’s inspirational, and I don’t think it’s a lie.

I will engage in some introspection here, not because I think I’m so interesting, but because I see pro-natalist men talking past everyone else on how to raise the birth rate. I had a parenting win this past week. I solved a behavioral problem in a creative way and I’d love to talk about it. I’d like to feel like I’m part of a community conversation. I’d like to be recognized for my expertise. That’s what most people want, right? More resources in the attention economy devoted to parents is a form of compensation that I have not heard discussed before.

I have heard advice to female professors to not put up pictures of their children at the office. If colleagues know you care about your children, then you might be ostracized from the intellectual community that you have spent your whole life trying to join. In my own small way, I have pushed back against this norm by occasionally talking about kids and babies, so that other people who want families can feel part of a bigger community online and in academia. My broader point in this post is that there is a kind of rhetoric about family life and parenting strategies that would make young ambitious people think that having kids will not prevent them from having a meaningful life.

It’s not bad to talk about a 14-hour workday or an organizational strategies for achieving professional goals. I wouldn’t want to censor anyone or stop them from sharing how they accomplished something valuable. On the margin, more conversations could also include a discussion of how life changes if you become a parent, so that ambitious young people can build mental categories for this.

The Freakonomics podcast provides examples:

Stephen Dubner brought the teen children of famous economists on his show to talk about what it was like to grow up with those weirdos. It’s funny. Listeners will not feel like they are being told what to do or judged. Dubner is simply lending his platform to parents and children. He’s using the billboard space. There is parenting content on the internet already, but if it’s all siloed over at parents.com then it may not make it to the young person who is trying to figure out what “the Good” is.

Birmingham AL Coffee Shop Crawl

There are lots of fun coffee shops in Birmingham. I’m going to limit this list geographically to make it a “crawl” that you could potentially bike around. I’ll list the cute places I know that are between Railroad Park downtown and Samford University south of Birmingham.

Starting at the North end, coffee shops that border Railroad Park:

Red Cat: Website | Instagram | Facebook

Honorable mention to Hero Doughnuts that operates two locations within the Crawl Area and serves great coffee.

Starbucks does operate here, although I assume that’s of less interest in terms of local color.

Moving South to Five Points:

Domestique (operates in multiple locations on the Crawl)

Filter Coffee Parlor: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Moving South, crossing into Homewood:

Caveat: Website | Facebook | Instagram

O’Henry’s (multiple locations)

Santos: Website | Instagram | Facebook

Chocolate America is not a coffee shop but the caffeine levels are high enough to make the Crawl.

It’s just slightly out of the crawl zone to the West, but I can’t leave out:

Seeds: Website | Instagram | Facebook

From the Seeds Instagram

Business Analytics Textbook plus Discussion Book

Many undergraduates take at least one business analytics course at the 200 course level. A book that I and other professors at our business school have selected to teach business statistics is by Albright and Winston

Business Analytics: Data Analytics and Decision Making (Amazon link)

This book provides three essential ingredients to a successful course:

  1. Covering core concepts like descriptive statistics and optimization
  2. Providing relevant examples in a business context (e.g. how much inventory should a retail store order)
  3. Showing step-by-step instructions for how to do applications in a specific software which in this case is Excel

Microsoft Excel is essential for business school graduates (arguably all college graduates). No one is born knowing how to select cells or enter formulas. The book does not assume anything, so the professor does not have to require supplementary material on how to use Excel. There are lots of exercise and examples that teach proficiency in the tool while demonstrating the concepts. Analytics courses should be hands-on.

Sometimes statistics courses do not feel like they allow for critical thinking or discussions. There is only one correct formula for an average, and it is merely and exactly what the formula determines it to be. Therefore, an interesting addition to a technical class is the book by Muller

The Tyranny of Metrics (Amazon link)

Muller spends most of the book pointing out cases where measuring results backfired. He is not so much against “analytics” as he is skeptical of pay-for-performance management schemes. Many of these schemes were sold to the public as incredible technocratic improvements, such as No Child Left Behind. I do not always agree with Muller, but he gives students something to debate. Note that only select chapters should be assigned so that it does not take up too much time from the other course material.

Data Analytics with R Textbook

For an advanced undergraduate analytics class for business school students, I use a textbook by Saltz and Stanton called

Data Science for Business with R (Amazon link)

This textbook teaches R and analytics at the same time. The professor does not have to provide a separate R curriculum or require students to buy a second book.

The running example in the textbook is an airline business scenario that is interesting and builds with the complexity of the subject matter. The authors provide the dataset that students can work with for the airline case study. Many examples in the textbook use data that is available online and therefor can be imported to R with just a few lines of code.

One semester is not enough time to cover every chapter in the book. I emphasize predictive analytics, so I skip the chapters on maps and shiny apps.

I do some supplemental lectures on concepts in predictive analytics before students reach the chapters on regression and decision trees. For example, overfitting is a new concept to undergraduates. I want them to have a more intuitive grasp of that subject before learning the R code to separate data into training and validation sets.

Note that these students have already taken what has traditionally been called Business Statistics, so they already understand basic descriptive statistics and graphing. The book is no substitute for that primary class.

There are free supplementary materials online for learning R. Students find message boards especially helpful in pinpointing answers for questions that come up while coding.

Free download: If wages fell during a recession

You can download my full paper “If Wages Fell During a Recession” with Dan Houser from the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization (only free until September 24, 2022).

There is a simulated recession in our experiment. We ask what happens if employers cut wages in response. Although nominal wage cuts are rare in the outside world, some of our lab subjects cut the wages of their “employee”. Employees retaliated against nominal wage cuts by shirking, such that the employers probably would have been better off keeping wages rigid.

We also tried the same thing with an inflation shock that allowed the employer to institute a real wage cut without a nominal wage cut. The reaction to that real wage cut was muted compared to the retaliation against the obvious nominal wage cut.

Inflation was implemented after 3 rounds of the same wage to create a reference point.

I blogged about the experiment previously, so I won’t go into more detail here.

The Great Recession happened when I was an undergraduate. As I started my career in research, the issue of employment and recessions seemed like THE problem to work on. The economy of 2022 is so different from the years that inspired this experiment! Below I’ll highlight current events and work from others on this topic.

Inflation used to be something Americans could almost ignore, and now it’s at the highest level I have seen in my lifetime. Suddenly, people are so mad about inflation that politicians named their bill the Inflation Reduction Act just to make it popular.  

The EWED crew has made lots of good posts on inflation. Although job openings and (nominal) wage increases are noticeable right now, Jeremy explored whether inflation has wiped out apparent wage growth.

More recently, the WSJ reports that real wages are down because inflation is so high. “Wage gains haven’t kept pace with inflation. Private-sector wages and salaries declined 3.1% in the second quarter from a year earlier, when accounting for inflation.”

Firms in 2022 did not just sit back and let real wages get eroded exactly proportional to inflation. But it is also not the case that Americans got a raise of 9% to exactly offset inflation. According to our experiment, there would be outrage if workers were experiencing a nominal wage cut in proportion to the real wage cut they are getting right now.

The high inflation combined with a hot job market makes this current economy hard to compare to anything in our recent history. Brian at Price Theory explained that inflation pressure is coming from both supply and demand factors.

Joey has a nice graph on inflation composition.

Did anyone see this coming? Watch Jim Doti of Chapman University predict high inflation based on the money supply in his forecast back in July 2021.

Lastly, our experiment on wage cuts has been cited in these papers:

Intentions rather than money illusion – Why nominal changes induce real effects

Economic stability promotes gift-exchange in the workplace

Wage bargaining in a matching market: Experimental evidence

Can reference points explain wage rigidity? Experimental evidence

Shocking gift exchange

Secret Fun Tech People

If you are trying to pick a career, it would help to know what the daily experience is like in various professions.

A friend of mine recently quit her old job and did a coding bootcamp. She worked hard, went through interviews and is now working in tech. She was correct in expecting that coding is more interesting and provides more opportunity than her old job.

She is not at a FAANG or grinding at a startup. She got hired in a remote position that requires an understanding of code. She’s starting at the bottom of the hierarchy in her 30’s, as someone with no experience.

Now that she has started work in the industry, she reported to me that, “I don’t think I could have predicted that the people would be this much fun.”

She is genuinely enjoying tech culture. She texts me obscure tech jokes now as if it’s an SNL skit that I would enjoy. (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHW58D-_O64 somewhat obscure YouTube channel) Her previous job was boring, and she never told me a positive thing about it. She is happy, not just with her financial return on investment but with her community.

If you read much about tech policy, you have heard about harassment in the workplace, especially for women. This is indeed an important issue. I’m not presenting my anecdote to imply that everything is fine everywhere. If people are trying to make important life decisions, then this is worth discussing.

One factor that might make people not want to learn to code is that they are afraid the work would be isolating and boring. It can be, but there is also a community aspect that can be positive.

I polled my Twitter friends and got this result (small, biased sample, albeit, and I suspect it’s mostly men who answered):

No one disputed that tech folk can be fun, although some people wanted to qualify the statement by saying that different companies have different cultures.

John Vandevier (@JohnVandivier) sent me a blog he wrote about a study on tech culture. “Analyzing ‘Resetting Tech Culture’ by Accenture and Girls Who Code” The study shows that the world is complex. Lots of women are happy in tech. At the same time there are people who face harassment. There is good news and bad news. Offenders should stop offending. There are also good opportunities out there for people who train for tech.

When I shared the story about my friend’s good news, it was mostly ignored on Twitter. Good news does not drive engagement. Happy people are not interesting and so no one hears about them. Tech is not the right choice for everyone, and some people have been mistreated at tech companies, but on the margin a few more people should probably go for it.

Here’s something to balance out my rosy report about all the laughing and LOLing among coders. Last year I had a miserable long day of coding. I wrote up a diary entry about how much I hated that day. I’m not trying to get sympathy for myself. I wanted to capture a modern experience that is shared by many.

Coding can be hard and frustrating and lonely. The jokes are funny because the pain is real.