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Saturday, 15 July 2017

On the Course

In several of my coursebooks from previous years I have doodled block letter words: power, freedom and knowledge being the typical three. Sometimes I think this is odd but now I can't see why... all the X is Y pairs are common tropes. In fact, "knowledge is freedom" is one that you see quite a lot. At least, that's a sentiment I often think underlies a lot of the "what is the point of university?" discourse. But is that true, in terms of university courses, I mean?

Before we get to that, let's back track a bit. Knowledge isn't freedom in a sense. In my experience, up until the back end of college it's possible to get away with saying stuff. The notion of research is... well, it's something that kind of happens rather than an integral part of the process. Integration of research is the reason the notion of history without footnotes is ridiculous: it's not history at all. But this is a terrible drag for me as a writer of blog posts. I'm not, say, the late Stephen Jay Gould writing essays informed by research or learning from behind the scenes. I'm some bloke down the pub spouting the same old bollocks I always have... except I've learnt for it to really matter, it's got to be done right. It doesn't even matter if it's fact-consistent... to be true, it has to be done right. Four walls and a roof doesn't make a house. If it did physics probably wouldn't exist. And, in principle, this means if I say something I should have something saying where it comes from. Even if it's as vague as APA.

I think this is a vital context to remember in terms of the university course. It's not just an education in content and it certainly isn't any "find your place in the world" nonsense (on account of lacking, well, the world)... education and learning happen in all sorts of ways, which is where one finds:
The fact of the matter is colleges trade on brand. Harvard is a brand. Stanford is a brand. MIT is a brand. The education part is being democratised and commoditised by the internet. [i.e. it is being made free ~ H. East]
That's from a post on Medium by a dude who's making the case that maybe a prospective entrepreneur isn't best suited by going to university. Yet, I think it is a sentiment that you'll find in standard critiques of going to university... which is probably one reason why the author is rightly at pains to stress that this was not the point of that piece. It's also something that is true. Sure, there are plenty of truths but it's still a truth. Think about it. Harvard doesn't just trade on brand, for example, it trades on reputation. That might not strike you as a big difference, and they're certainly related, but Harvard is a good university with good academics who do things the right way (which is really lots of different ways, of course). The brand is definitely important, though. Being able to say you went to a place like Harvard makes people sit up even if they have no real idea about what Harvard is like and who teaches there... or, for that matter, what is taught there. Which is what we're about today.

University Courses are like teeth. It's all very well to say that a tiger is a formidable predator or a university is a good place to attend, but without decent teeth a tiger's dead and without worthwhile courses, why would you go to a university? In fact, one might even say that you can get the content knowledge from books, videos and other things that don't require enrolling. And does a university course even teach you the good stuff, anyway? Take Steve Jobs. One of the videos we watched in, I think, Business 102 about Jobs was one where he talked about being a drop-in student. That is, someone who'd given up on what he was supposed to be doing in order to attend lectures in courses that he was actually fascinated by. It's a bit like how I'd love to take a Public Economics course but it didn't work out for me last year and my last chance was this year... when it wasn't offered. But, you see, it's not just the subject matter that's interesting.

Assessment is an integral part of the university course but it's rarely something you get from a book. Sure, you might get a list of questions and some answers elsewhere in a book or in a video but that's not assessment. You see, knowledge is collaborative and whilst it is a poor collaboration to be forced to sit an MCQ exam, it's still player versus examiner in a battle of wits. With research essays and the like the student actually gets to contribute some original thoughts. Well, not original in the PhD sense, but original in the "not plagiarism" sense. Knowledge is always subject to review, and it is assessment that one pays for... not knowledge.

Look, I'm not here to say that everyone should always go to university if they want true knowledge. What I am trying to say here is that having the syllabus and reading all the same things or even also attending all the same lectures isn't the same as having taken the course. Knowledge is also the experience of doing the assessment so if you answered the essay questions too, even if the lecturer never marks them, you get a bit closer... but if you knew the lecturer was marking your work, would it be the same? But this would still be a worthwhile thing... reading all the readings for a course... the content knowledge is still good. And it is something I want to do myself for some syllabi I have on my computer, but it's not the same. And if I have any ability to prevent falsely constructed denigrations of the education offered by universities, I should take that chance. Or something. This seems oddly written. Perhaps I am trying too hard to say this matters. That is is intriguing is enough for me. It was always enough. So what paragraphs aren't why this blog exists.

Some points for further consideration. Firstly, that a syllabus is something an expert has put together in order to overview or examine a subject matter. It is another kind of tailored treatment of a subject... perhaps just like a book, but with the addendum it is specifically designed for education. Secondly, assessment's relationship with knowledge is problematic, but it is still an experience. I'm just not sure I have enough motive to consider these further aspects properly.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Arsenal

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'm quite keen on soccer. Indeed, I even brought up the notion that I was a fan of Arsenal. But I've never really ever written anything about soccer per se. Nor, for that matter, any of the other sports which I follow.

The thing with being a fan of any European club when you're not from Europe or, in fact, the cities they're based in is that your dynamic, as a fan, is quite different. Some will, for instance, choose to dislike, say, Tottenham because they like Arsenal and you're meant to do this, but from thousands of kilometres away and the opposite side of the world you really need to question why you're doing this. And if it happens that Spurs play an interesting brand of soccer, then it should happen that one can have a soft spot for Spurs and Arsenal. But if it happens that a side, e.g. Chelsea, do not, then one's impression should reflect that. I mention this because I think the distance also means peripheral fans can be less blinkered about the teams they actually do like.

I've generally had more than a soft spot for Arsenal for three reasons. One, when they're playing well, they look better than any of the other teams in England's top tier. Two, they line up with my personality in the sense that when I started paying attention to soccer, Arsenal were good but not bullies (a la Bayern Munich). Three, my grandfather is actually from the Arsenal supporting part of North London. I also have to say that I dislike fair weather fans: the point of being a fan is that you support the team regardless of the results... if Spurs stopped playing well, I would stop liking them. (Note I am an anti-fan of Chelsea... they're never going to play well enough for me to like them.)

Now, as it happens Arsenal have had an indifferent campaign in the season just finished, finishing fifth. If you listened to certain media pundits, you'd think this was a complete disaster and while it is not a good thing, it's not that. A disaster would be relegation. A disaster would be being left completely out of touch with the rest of the teams competing for where you want to be... which in Arsenal's case is first and the other teams of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. Sure, Manchester United are into the Champion's League and Arsenal are not but they spent an entire season not playing as well, have a propensity to buy players rather than team-members and raised expectations that will be let down by the style... the forgiveness period for Mourinho is over. Manchester United are the sixth club that is in the running for the "tolerable" spots of 2, 3 and 4.

The simple reality is that Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City were separated by a single goal... a goal that was scored in the first ever game of the season in Arsenal's 3-4 loss to Liverpool. If Arsenal scored that goal, the whole dynamic of the season would have been different... but even if it had played out otherwise identically, it would have put more pressure on City and Arsenal would have pipped Liverpool to fourth. United wasn't in the last ditch run for fourth, even before giving up... and Spurs and Chelsea were too far ahead. So, the question is: how much will these teams improve and/or worsen?

United have the most ground to make up. Even if they play better and actually add to the team, they can reasonably only expect to be about where Arsenal-City-Liverpool were this season... so I'm suggesting Arsenal only need to not worsen to be at least this good. Liverpool's problems are complex: they're reliant on scoring goals but break down against teams they should smash. Again, expect this season to represent basically where they are now. City are more interesting. They were unlucky, like United, but are really just a slightly better performing version of Arsenal... the issue is that they were unlucky in a game which Chelsea won during their "getting out of touch psychologically dominating" run. Had they been more lucky in that match the entire season would have played out differently. Luck is hard to fix but is not so intractable as Liverpool's oscillation. The corollary of City is that Chelsea have the most work to stay where they are. They were better than teams this season, but will be known quantities next time around... and won't have the psychological weight of that winning run unless they make another one. Spurs have probably topped out and will ultimately look better and/or worse dependent on how well the other teams play... they have to be favourites, followed by Chelsea and City. But what about Arsenal? Will they get better? Or will they get worse?

There's a popular theory that Alexis Sanchez is Arsenal's main man. This isn't true. Far too often he runs no-where and does nothing. What he is good at is running, and has sufficient an aura of quality that he is allowed to do this... although unlike Eden Hazard, because his strength is running, not possession running, running at Sanchez yourself doesn't nullify him. Apparently, Sanchez is also a bad influence behind the scenes and in this sense, it doesn't matter so much if Sanchez is allowed to leave (after this season) or sold (this season). If that isn't true, then Sanchez is sufficiently good as part of the machine that losing him would be a problem. He may be wasteful in attacking runs, but in a sport where 1 goal can make all the difference, this is less important (in cricket, for instance, a wasteful bowler is a disaster) and he's not a glaring defensive liability all the time. But it wouldn't be a disaster to lose Sanchez either... he's not Cazorla... and if there is one issue with Arsenal is that they have spent two seasons now wondering how to play when Cazorla is injured and may only just have figured it out (i.e. 3 at the back, a la "tolerable-to-watch" Chelsea).

When people talk about Sanchez it's often in terms of "grab games by the scruff of the neck". I don't believe that... this seems to be more the function of Olivier Giroud. Wait, what? The much maligned striker? You mean the one who was criticised for failing to turn a 3-1 defeat into a 3-4 win after having dragged it kicking and screaming to its 3-3 ending? That guy? Yes, that guy. He is the only Arsenal player at the moment who actually changes the machine. When Arsenal don't play Giroud they play in three ways. They kick balls into the air for no-one to head, they run around and create space and win comfortably or they run around and make you wonder how Bayern and Dortmund never seem to run out of space. When Giroud is on they don't play like this. Whether because they have one of the best target men in England (if not the best) or because Giroud is actually rather good at releasing the ball and rather good enough that giving him rope (as a defensive team) is just as likely to hang you as him. He also works well with Oezil and Cazorla, to the extent that you'd need someone who is essentially a better version of Giroud rather than a better striker to improve Cazorla-ball.

Losing Giroud would be a big problem for Arsenal. Losing Sanchez would require using probably worse, but not bad, alternatives to him that are already in the team. The issue is that both Giroud and Sanchez are in "transfer sagas" and that losing Sanchez, without the Champion's League, is a credibility issue. As I said, he has an aura of quality... so if he goes, then you need to bring in some people who will make players like Mbappe (but not Mbappe himself) who are young and know they're thought to be that good, think: yes, Arsenal would work for me. The counter-argument is that what is needed is a new Cazorla, but such a player probably doesn't exist and if he does then he's sufficiently obscure that Sanchez's presence isn't going to change the appeal of Arsenal. Finding another Giroud could possibly be easier, but why would you do that? You have Giroud.

There's one thing that has to be said in Sanchez's favour versus Giroud: it matters to Giroud's performance if he has to do it all alone. When Leicester won two seasons ago, they probably shouldn't have. For one, Spurs were clearly the better side. For another, Arsenal were in prime position but Giroud was the only fit striker for the extant system... and Giroud does a lot better when he has some sort of competition and isn't the guy. Sanchez has shown he can be the guy... although, obviously, he didn't kick it up a notch when Giroud and Oezil needed him to?

Expect Arsenal to be about as good as they were this season: better than Manchester United and a "lucky" result or two (either for or against) away from Manchester City and Liverpool. If Cazorla's fit for the entire season, then it's legitimately like bringing in a big new signing whose place in the team is already clear. I don't think that will happen, so Arsenal need a striker to be signed (for credibility), Giroud to stay (to preserve the flexibility of the team*), Sanchez to be seen to not be in control (i.e. that wherever he is this season, it is because Arsenal willed it so) and some other players... another left back, someone Cazorla-like and a versatile mid-fielder who can fit in Cazorla systems as well as the Ramsey-Xhaka-back three system in multiple positions.

Oh, and I'll do a pre-season, too early to possibly be able to tell, top six prediction:

Spurs (1-3)
Chelsea (1-3)
Manchester City (2-5)
Liverpool (4-5)
Arsenal (3-5)
Manchester United (4-6)
Everton (6-8)

I will give myself 1000 internets if the above is exactly correct, 500 internets if the final results are consistent with the brackets and 250 internets if the half-way table is consistent with the brackets... which means no other teams. So, I can get 0, 250, 500, 750, 1000 and 1250 internets altogether. Any other teams at any of these points means 0 points. Unless it's Newcastle, just to troll. If Newcastle are in it, I get the points.

Oh, and if you're wondering, I am suggesting that Arsenal have a negative/left skewed shot at places 3-5 and Liverpool a right skew. Manchester City are more varied than the others because luck is hard to fix and I said Chelsea will have difficulty staying where they are... United end up where they are because one part of fixing one's luck is making your own luck, and they're not good at that this last half-decade. Basically, I think 4-6 will stay as they were with respect to each other, but entertain the possibility of City breaking out.

*If the new striker fits in and multiple Giroud-less systems develop, Giroud would no longer be critical.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Plagiarism in NCEA Exemplars?

One of the biggest differences that I remember noticing as a first year at uni with the way things are done in NCEA is the absence of exemplars. For externals, these are omnipresent. Well, truthfully, they weren't for my cohort because very few of the standards we sat were old: I was one of the guinea pigs who made the realigned standards safe for everyone else. What we got, as far as I can tell, was either candidates whose answers were adapted from old standards or actual guinea pigs who were told to sit papers they weren't taught. I'm not sure, exactly.

Anyway, one of the really useful things that NZQA does is put up exemplars from the previous year's externals and annotate them so that current candidates better understand what it is they are to do. A philosophical "backronym" for this might be that exams aim to assess learning, but what they often will end up doing is just assessing who is able to put their answers together better. If you put up resources, everyone knows what exactly it is that an answer ought to resemble... it's a bit like being told that your parents have bought you a Camaro because you don't know the colour of the car (answer) but you know the shape of the model beforehand (in theory... I had to do a Google search, I'm not sure why Camaro popped into my head). Exemplars are also useful for understanding what it is that makes an answer as good as it is.

Strictly speaking, merely possessing an exemplar doesn't just give a candidate either of these advantages. After all one still needs to think about what is generic and specific about any given exemplar. At the most basic level: what is present because of the specific question and context and what features transcend these base necessities? Salience matters. One might go as far to argue that the university student is sufficiently experienced at doing this, that they need only the question to be able to figure it out.

On the other hand, it may be the case that possessing a bunch of exemplars is really handy because it turns out that the questions hardly ever change. Therefore, one can just memorise an exemplar and write that down: no learning required. Hell, one knows from English that it doesn't necessarily matter that the question is different: people try to shoe-horn in answers. Many (most?) people aren't like me... in year thirteen classical studies the "religion and ideology" question included "ideology" so I changed tack completely rather than trying to stick with my "religion"-centred preparation.* Teachers know about the shoehorn issue, which is why they always advise preparing for multiple different question typologies (e.g. in English you might prepare for character, symbol and event questions rather than being ready to attack every, i.e. any, question typology... this might be an interesting discussion in itself).

The trouble is that with NCEA history externals, there is only so much scope for changing the questions with the essay standards: they're very narrowly conceived. Observe the level one "essays" and level three essays in their first and most recent years of offering:


91005Describe the causes and consequences of an historical event
What were the causes of an historical event you have studied this year? How did this event affect people, or groups, in society? (2011)

Identify and describe the causes of your chosen historical event. What were the short-term and long-term consequences of the event for people and / or groups? (2016)


91006Describe how a significant historical event affected New Zealand society
Describe what happened in your chosen historical event.

Describe how TWO of the people OR groups in society that you identified on page 3 were affected by the historical event.

Explain why your chosen historical event was of significance to New Zealanders. In your answer, you could discuss aspects such as: • the importance of the event to people alive at the time • how deeply people’s lives were affected at the time • the extent to which the event continues to affect New Zealand society. (2011)

Describe what happened in your chosen historical event.

Describe a specific action taken by a person or group during your chosen historical event.
Describe the reaction / response of another person or group to the action you described in (a), and the reason(s) for the reaction / response

Explain why your chosen historical event was of significance to New Zealand society at the time, and / or how it continues to be significant. Support your answer with relevant evidence. (2016)

91438Analyse the causes and consequences of a significant historical event
Analyse the various causes of a significant historical event, and the consequences of that event on people’s lives. (2013)

Analyse the extent to which particular factors caused a significant historical event, and the different ways this event changed people’s lives over an extended period of time. (2016)

91439Analyse a significant historical trend and the force(s) that influenced it
Analyse the different forces that influenced a significant historical trend, and the extent to which this trend impacted on people's lives. (2013)

Analyse the important forces that impacted on a significant historical trend, and the extent to which change and continuity were reflected in people’s lives. (2016)
_________________________________________________________________________________

Okay, so the non-"causes and consequences" standards seem a bit more different, even giving themselves scope for the religion and ideology issue. That is, NZQA could keep candidates on their toes by mixing it up between questions just about, e.g. "reactions" or "responses" or "reactions and responses" even if what exactly the difference between reaction (physical) and response (mental) are arguable. It's even clearer cut in the trend essay because you could force more narrowly tailored responses on "change" or "continuity" or more generalised treatment of "change and continuity". But I think these examples generally back up the notion that the standards themselves have forced NZQA into a corner... they either don't offer exemplars or greatly facilitate plagiarism because the standards are too narrow for variety. On the other hand, the assessment report for the 2015 version of this last standard did have this to say:
 Some candidates struggled to respond to the question, preferring to write a response to a question from a previous exam. Candidates who approach an examination with a prepared response will always be at a disadvantage.
Now, given why this post exists, that remark is frankly hilarious. You see, I'm talking about this because apparently some candidates have, in fact, noticed plagiarism... the ultimate prepared response. That's right: not NZQA, not markers, not even teachers... pupils. At least, that's what the Herald is saying (NZQA have helpfully removed the exemplars in question). The thing is, this plagiarism happened in 2012... five years ago. I was still at school in 2012. In fact, I would have, probably, looked at both of these exemplars out of interest in the past (I got a merit in 2011 in this standard... and while NZQA did, without asking but I don't care, put two of my merit standards up as exemplars in 2012 they were the only standards I ever had turned into exemplars). The point is: this is a long time for no one to have noticed.

Working from the assumption that no-one is lying (because I cannot check), I imagine that the people who choose the exemplars are drawn from the marking committees. I similarly imagine that these committees undergo some kind of change in personnel from year to year and certainly would see a great many different scripts (and, surely, a great many shortlisted exemplar scripts). I also imagine that there is some kind of checklist like thing which is used to determine what makes a good exemplar (legible handwriting is apparently not one of them... as a friend noted, one of our pseudo-exemplars when we were doing Level Three history was indecipherable chicken scratchings). In this sense, it is quite obvious that something which is exemplar material in 2011 would be pulled up as exemplar material in 2012. Still, there should have been one person, at least, who was there to check that they weren't essentially reposting an old exemplar. And markers really ought to be familiar with the exemplar standards, i.e. the 2012 answer should have been given an N0 right at the start... well before my hypothesised committees got a chance to look at it.

Basically, the minister has every right to want an investigation into this matter. That's one reason why ministers exist: to hold bureaucrats to account, just like any other boss. On the other hand, NZQA five years ago is not the NZQA of today, so to find remarks like the below makes me recall the still widespread scepticism of NCEA (generally by people who know little of it... or those with Freudian obsessions with "employability"):
The authority, which did not spot mistakes in three maths exams last year, has posted almost identical papers on the 1981 Springbok tour as exemplars of scripts that earned "excellence" grades in the 2011 and 2012 history exams.
That's probably more prejudicial than valid contextualisation, in other words. Yet, honestly, it is rather more interesting to look at:
But NZ History Teachers Association treasurer Greg Burnard said memorising previous years' exemplars was "reasonably widespread across the country".
"Memorising an exemplar is not going to be punished, essentially," he said. "It's not seen as cheating, it's just seen as being well prepared."
Compare and contrast what I said in "Listen to the Axe Grind":
Sometimes an exam is just plain useless... for instance, they're prone to creating regurgitation and brain dumps, and they also can't test the ability to research. Exams are, inherently, restricted in what they can assess. Assessment should meet the purpose, not the other way around. 
And Burnard again later on:
"The way forward is to reward analysis rather than just regurgitation," he said.
This, I think, is the real issue raised by this episode. Exemplars are somewhat problematic concepts... even if we disregard the plagiarism potential. Think about the University of Auckland's Comlaw department's critique of model answers: there isn't necessarily one particular way of answering a question, but that is invariably the implication of an exemplar. In terms of the language I used earlier in this post, exemplars make one think that all cars look like Camaros but, of course, we know that thing from Breaking Bad exists and we recognise it as a car. To make the metaphor work a bit harder, the functionality of the Aztek and Camaro is the same: getting from A to B. With every question, there is some function that an answer needs to perform... i.e. actually answering the question. Sometimes this looks like a Camaro... and an answer of this flavour might be red or it might be blue (i.e. is articulated differently)... and sometimes this looks like an Aztek... again of varying different colours.

There isn't too much we can do about the Camaro-Aztek critique. Offering multiple different genera (I should have used a biological metaphor, this ad not withstanding**) doesn't help. If one had several different conceptualisations of a question, the one implies that these represent the set of all conceptualisations. That may be true or it may not be true. Either way, one doesn't provide a structure that pushes the candidate towards open-minded thinking about the question. In this sense, one wants to impart abstract lessons but invariably requires concrete assessments to check this... an inherently flawed task. And possibly the teaching is through a concrete paradigm too. And then one has to remember that content knowledge matters as well.*** I can't think of any other solution that doesn't kick the exemplar out the window entirely. Perhaps annotating the exemplar... but then publishing only the annotations?**** Maybe what I've done with my exam resources works... answers but without questions?

That latter notion is interesting. On one hand, I suggested that exemplars are good things because having everyone know what an answer looks like means everyone is on a level field... and therefore that we provide the best environment for analysis (although God only knows what that looks like in our car metaphor). Just offering an answer gives the candidate this sense of shape. Yet, how meaningful is that shape robbed of context? You and I know what a car is, but show Ugg the Caveman either an Aztek or a Camaro and Ugg would be mystified. Certainly, one would not be able to tell which facets of an answer were specific to the question and which represented examples of what the answer is doing. A bit like how Ugg might think a car's roof is integral to its function, whereas we know it's just a comfort measure. What this would mean in practice isn't clear to me... the ideal case is that one would go, "Oh, so that's the feel of answer of X quality"... assuming the quality of the analysis is what generates the feel (realistically, its rhetorical quality is what probably does that).

Now, it should also be said that regurgitating an answer to an unknown question is ballsy or really, really stupid so perhaps it would help in this respect... but as a lecturer once put it, "[academic dishonesty] usually goes hand in hand with stupidity" (the point being doing silly things, rather than being a dunce). And, again, I find myself unsure of how to interpret this point. My inclination is that it wouldn't really help... even if the idea is useful... and what of the problems in not knowing to expect strangeness? You know, the solution that everyone already talks about because it seems to work: keeping the candidates on their toes with question variety.

I think I've lost the plot a bit here... regurgitation is bad, exemplars definitely encourage it, but we have to balance that against the arbitrary nature of exams and hence the need to ground candidates. In this philosophical context, the plagiarism case should be used to raise awareness of this dilemma primarily rather than being a "bad thing happened, you should know about it" story. That's basically what I've tried to say... with a little deliberation on the difficulties in applying the standard means of balancing. Oh, and let us not forget the grade inflation angle... which you can read about here.


*On the other hand, the only standard whose number I remember (91098) had, as the link shows, radically different questions to what we were used to (and unlike subsequent years we had no clue that they'd try to be funny with the questions). In that case, I am pretty sure I ended up answering a conflict question through conflicts. Sadly, they never turned any of the 2012 scripts into exemplars... I was rather hoping that they'd turn mine into one (I was very pleased with my E).

**I'm also a "call a car a car" kinda guy... I don't give two hoots for cars. I will, however, watch Fast and Furious movies... even the early ones when they were still vaguely about cars.

***A point raised in Not Our Problem... a fictional narrative based in NZ's 1990s "healthcare" reforms (another disastrous reminder that there is a reason why small government societies of the "Western past" left certain aspects of society to government).

****This gives me an idea: I should type up my annotations of some History reading and post it here as a blog post.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Intellectual Honesty

In the past week I have been embroiled in or an observer of several different and rather heated internet conversations on internet forums. I use the term conversation because I contend that discussion or argument implies certain standards that are invariably not met. I'm sure that anyone reading this would be familiar with these kinds of exchanges, but if you're only familiar with the trope let me stop you right there. These are reasonably civil conversations in that they don't involve threats, gratuitous disregard for conventional English and occur in that kind of forum that still believes in the internet as a democratising force (cf a hot bed of memes and random viral crap hosted by "social media" giants). As it happens, these are the kinds of heated conversations where the participants believe the phrase "intellectual honesty" to have meaning/power.

The thing is, intellectual honesty is something of a problematic term. After all, I think pretty much everyone knows what they mean by "honesty" but will struggle to articulate it. I skip the problematic middle man and say, "Well, I think of it as telling the truth and not deceiving people" but then jump to the dictionary anyway to compare. (Or clearly, I don't.) But how does intellectual change this (4:16pm quote)? Is it now about avoiding deception in intellectual pursuits (whatever they are)? Is it about not lying to oneself? Is it really just as simply as "the pursuit of truth for the truth's sake" and hence pretty much "lacks conflicts of interest"? Actually, no, I don't think it is.

From a practical point of view, intellectual honesty is simply a rhetorical concept that you invoke in order to dismiss the validity of your opponent's conduct, whether or not it is true. (There are echoes of this here.) In this way it's an idea analogous to pseudo-intellectual... which is a pseudo-intellectual term. Yet, that it is used this way means that people understand something else by the term... which is the "real" meaning. In this way it is like SJW... it doesn't matter if there aren't any actual SJW's following a given definition of "SJW", as long as the definition one comes up with corresponds with the meanings that people who are using the acronym are trying to invoke. And the truth is, intellectual honesty is about completeness.

Basically, an argument can be considered intellectually honest if it is complete. This means, it is aware of its burdens, explicit in its meanings, formulated in context, considerate of its strengths (and therefore its weaknesses) and what it superficially appears to be. That means, that an intellectually honest argument is not deceptive in its expression or its construction and is viewed as a product of its author (i.e. is owned). It might be useful to use a checklist to see if an argument is whole:

  • statements are owned, i.e. one holds onself accountable for what one does
  • one does not obscure intellectual forebears, springboards and punching bags, i.e. ideological ancestry, what one is riffing off and what one is attacking/talking about is made clear
  • when one attributes opinions to others, one offers evidence
  • when one claims that statements have implications, substantive justifications are made
  • one respects the specific context of the conversation and the wider context it exists in
  • the bounds of one's claims are consistent and signposted, i.e. digressions, special cases and the like are made clear and differentiated from earlier points
  • statements are aware of their own burdens, i.e. what needs to be true for the statement to be true
  • one engages with responses as they are, e.g. no strawmen

This is a difficult task to achieve and rather scary when you look at it. But this doesn't actually say anything about being right, as such. Rather, if you are accountable, then you are approximating entirety because if someone comes along and says, "Actually you haven't considered..." or "Well, that point there isn't true..." then these sorts of responses are honestly appraised. That is, they're weighed against TRUTH, rather than any kind of attachment to one's earlier positions. Ownership and concern for the "owned material" means that adjustments are made, even if that means recanting. There is very much a suggestion of the dispassionate scholar here or the consummate professional (the doctor who saves the life of their mother's murderer or the rape victim collaborating with their rapist to build a house... note that these are unrealistic and unfair examples: dispassion is not a human condition, but that does not mean that it is worthless).

I'm not sure where I am going with this, I should mention one of the links I read talked about authenticity which I think matters, and I know that breaking up responses to posts or studies or whatever makes honesty more difficulty (seeing as it has problematic consequences for context) and one-liners are necessarily dishonest (they are incapable of doing all of the above) but no matter how long I make this sentence, I don't think I am going to get anywhere. So, um, basically I think I felt motivated to try my hand at defining a concept related to my earlier post Responsibility, Beliefs and Discussion. How to incorporate my scepticism of the notion that you cant't argue for view you disagree with honestly or talk about how I really shouldn't have quoted things I haven't read all of in this post remains unclear. I also don't have the will to engage with these afterthoughts properly. Perhaps it is honest to note that I have thought of such concerns and that I have not attended to them here?

Friday, 2 June 2017

Covfefe is Wumbo

I'm interested in words. Not in a linguistic or etymological sense, not really, because I lack the knowledge. More a "I'll go on a Wikipedia binge and complain about IPA" sense.

The meaning of words is generally more interesting. It's not just what a word, such as wumbo, means but also why use that particular word. One of the things about English is that one generally has multiple ways of expressing the same thing. Or, at least, essentially the same thing.

To take a concrete example, why might we refer to a methodological approach to history as being longue durée? After all, we could just say we're interested in the whole duration, the slow change or, simply, the long term. If all these different expressions mean the same thing, the meaning of the words (as found in a dictionary) cannot be the reason for the selection.

While I don't know for sure, I rather suspect using the terminology of the original, French, advocates is simply a useful means of establishing credibility. It's pretty much the same idea as sticking a heroin-addled witness in a suit: their underlying reliability doesn't change based on their clothing choices, but the appropriate sartorial style means the jury is more open minded. In academic circles, being original is a great thing (see: Evans on Goldhagen) but standing on the shoulders of giants is also awesome.

More generally, we have to think about the abundance of gratuitous French phrases in the academy. A lot of the time these words are justified on the basis that there is no direct translation. I have to take them at face value because I don't speak French. On the other hand, everyone knows that French does not distinguish between a house and a home. Makes you wonder, right?

Of course, being a NZer, I don't like France much. I am much happier to believe that we should carry on talking about gens or Volk or Sonderweg than I am when it comes to these French phrases I can't actually recall. It also may matter that I started thinking about this in the context of post-modernist histories.

Post-modernism in history might be essentialised as "History is impossible, but imma write a book anyway". Needless to say, it's a bit weird. The theoretical groundings I have encountered were also poorly written and very dense. Yet, apart from the gaps these explanations left behind, I feel the biggest issue is that I agree with many of their premises, but think they suggest quite different conclusions. Which brings us to covfefe.

The one thing that people agree on about cov-feh-feh is that it's not an actual word. Most people have described it as a typo rather than an alternative to "hakuna matata" or "don't worry" or "persevere" or, indeed, wumbo. But is it?

Now, I have to say that I am partial to funny typos. That is, I might type something and accidentally manage to create some kind of gem. That I can't think of any examples right now is exactly the point. And maybe if I was the US president and I was typing out a tweet and saw that I'd written covfefe I'd take the opportunity for some spirited trolling (in its original sense). Maybe. It is pretty funny. It may even be damn well hilarious. But I don't think the Orange-in-Chief shares my sense of humour (see: that's funny... I'm orange too).

The other immediate thing to note is that being the US president is a bit like being a heroin addicted witness: presentation and bearing matter and are fundamental to standard operation (hopefully they're not alike). Basically, this means that random crap like covfefe is rather a no-go. Except covfefe was up for hours.

When you consider how Trump has been running his operation, he's basically been compared to two people. The first is Nixon. That's both in terms of the Mad Man theory (I'm sympathetic*) and stuff like Comey. The second person is Candidate Trump, i.e. the persona he used in public during the US presidential campaign cycle. There are two major constants here: image and Twitter (the Mad Man theory is all about image).

Looking at the tweet itself, it's commonly understood as an attempt to start a rant about negative press. From this, I infer image. But if you then stick covfefe on the end of it... or even accidentally type it and decide to keep it around... you actually change the press narrative. Rather than talking about, I suppose, the Paris Climate spat, the press will focus on the nice clickbait "laugh at Trump" angle.

This isn't a new tactic, by the way. This is yet another sign that Trump is really just a morally dubious (personally I say immoral) version of the moral chameleon otherwise Teflon John known as John Key. Goofiness was a major part of Key's playbook, and no matter how much ridicule crap like the three-way handshake brings, it's ultimately just hot air, everyone knows it. But what people don't recognise is that it crowds out, for example,  discussion about the absence of progress on productivity improvements.**

It has to be said, we're talking about a very cynical or even conspirational interpretation of covfefe. But is it so unbelievable? Is it utterly nuts, really? Well, I have the answer:

De do do do de da da da
Is all I want to say to yo
Okay. Not me. But Still.


*My understanding is such: behave unpredictability and you'll force a conservative approach to interacting with you, this is more advantageous (big risks come with big rewards... and they're not taking even small risks). This makes sense, if actually really well modelled as a mad man.

**This may have hurt John Key's shot at an actual historical legacy. As clear thinkers have always said, the housing problem is  not about foreigners. Key told us this. But why would we believe old Smile and Wave John?

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Big Short (2015): A Review

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Since I reviewed Whiplash a couple of months ago I must be some kind of dweeb who watches Oscar nominated films. And, I mean, maybe I am a dweeb (answer in the comments, this isn't rhetorical) and I do watch Oscar nominated films (for instance, I've also seen Birdman), but I'm not an Oscars dweeb. In fact, I can barely tell you what films won Oscars, let alone those that were merely nominated. But more to the point, I don't like critics.

Now, on one hand you might just say the reason I take issue with critics is because I am some kind of radical hipster. That is to say, you think I don't like things because they're popular. If so, you must be my brother... but since he has no self-generated opinions where did you read it first?? But while I can see the logic... critics exist simply to guide opinion... I am utterly contrary... people listen to critics... therefore I dislike critics and their criticisms (or dislike them because they function as opinion leaders and I'm mean like that)... the reality is that critics are like weathermen: they very rarely get it (right).

The thing is, what I see myself as doing is having independent opinions (this is important). I might do things a bit weirdly and prefix a review of a movie in a blog with a spiel all about me or I might offer an entirely conventional reading of the Bucky Barnes/Steve Rogers relationship. I think that I see things as they are, as much as anyone can do so. And, yes, this extends to my thinking that I am better at perceiving randomness than you. The point is that I back myself.

So, sure, it's true that I am sympathetic to the notion of "people are sheep" led by blind shepherds like critics. And, naturally, I'm one of those people who puts up barriers when something is raved about. And hell yeah I'm a believer in fatigue... that sense of "Every man and his dog is talking about this, choose something else, damn you!" But for every time I think that critics have missed a trick and are talking about something irrelevant (maybe the subpar cinematography... as if that matters... or the lack of artistic quality... as if critics know and as if that's what we want in an action flick), I think this is because there are valid reasons for this, not irrational heuristics like "a critic thinks it, they must be wrong." And I'm never going to suggest something I like is bad because others like it too, now. I don't care.

But the thing is... I read what critics have to say. I know they loved fake Avatar and hence fawned over Pocahontas in Space! when it came out (Pocahontas is also not a film I care for). I know they liked King Kong (2005) at the time, too. But I listen to critics, when I avoid weather reports like the plague, because they have something to say (the weather's just bollocks; I look out the window). And thus I can tell you fake Avatar is over-rated (and if this reassessment took hold it'd become under-rated) and that they were right about King Kong. To the best of our abilities, we need to take things, not at face value, but as they are. What something means isn't going to be found that way, but what something is and intends to be matters as well. It is possible to be wrong, That's the big message here.

As regular readers of this blog (please, please exist) know, I'm an economics student. In some respects, I'm not a particularly good one because I'm a stereotypical "I know it for the exam" kind of student (honestly, though, if you knew it once, when you relearn you really refresh but if you never knew it, you're learning... and this is a big difference). But I do know what economics is, and The Big Short is not about economics. The Big Short is a movie about applied finance. I can't tell you how that's different to finance or how that is different to financial economics as I have never know very much about these (indeed, I spent time actively avoiding studying the latter during my most recent timetabling season). If The Big Short makes you want to studying economics, power to you... but please don't interpret the film as being about what economics is.

What happens in The Big Short does rely on economics. That is, without macroeconomic (in particular) understanding, the real-life versions of the characters wouidn't have been able to do what they did. The point I am alluding to here is that economics is more than the study of money (and definitely isn't about the practice of making money from financial instruments, transactions and whatever other buzzwords I'm missing), which is a little dishonest. This movie is about people who do this. That is, hedge fund managers and would-be big traders. More specifically, it's about three sets of men who bothered to look into what was going on with the mortgage based practices of mid-noughties America.

Very simply (and with all suitable disclaimers), the Global Financial Crisis happened because there was a housing (as opposed to tulip or dot com) bubble in the USA. The thing with bubbles is that they generally rely on what everyone "knows" being true. Invariably, this isn't the case and housing is not a sure thing. (In NZ it's artificially made surer due to regulatory practices and policy settings.) Yet, reality does not guide people's behaviour, so what mattered was that people thought this way. As a result, lots of mortgages were made on the principle that the house values would make up for the inability to afford (in the everyday sense) the houses the loans related to. And these mortgages are known as sub-prime mortgages.

Once the sub-prime mortgages were created, they then got shifted around and changed hands so much anyone who might have known their "true" risk wouldn't have known where to look for their current owners to see how it panned out. And even if they had cared to do this (they didn't... the GFC's beginnings are also a case study in incentives and regulations), they very likely would have believed that the new ownership structure meant it was all A-OK. Chuck in some more big level cock-ups (ratings agencies and conflicts of interest) and a quick diatribe about American politics and, voila, millions of people without jobs, homes and that all important sense of security.... globally.

So... some dudes realised the world was about to end and decided to make some money. And you feel okay with this because, morally, they were the man sticking it to the man? Or, rather, it's okay to fiddle while Rome burns if you're not responsible for the arson, the procession of the flames or able to do anything to stop it. But it's still an interesting question: can you grow to like bankers enough to watch the film? After all, bankers have been scum since 2008. You know. I know this. Alex knows this.

In some sense, you wouldn't expect a movie about easily the most significant development of the last ten years to have spoilers. You especially wouldn't expect a movie made with hindsight about people with foresight to have spoilers. Well... you'd be wrong.

The Big Short isn't just an... idiosyncratically put together film, it's a film where the outcomes aren't all "already known" and I was legitimately curious about how it pans out. But I think the reason the critics liked it is because it is idiosyncratic. And that's ironic given how I started this alleged review, but it totally fits the characters. Remember, this is a film about people who looked at the prevailing sentiment and thought, "What is this based on? Is it real?" And they didn't change anything except how much money they made. And how much money they stopped their clients from losing. This was not a house of cards that stayed up based on beliefs... according to the film anyway.

Also, the characters just weren't cynics without reason. It's no respectable thing to be cynical if you can't explain why they're wrong. The fact of the matter is that the "wisdom of the crowd" is a real thing. The issue is that the crowd is meant to represent something quite different to a real crowd... that is many people with independent decision making processes. A real crowd, of course, is essentially a single organism. Similarly it is no respectable thing to be cynical, when your cynicism is the reason someone has to be cynical. And if that's you... at least the characters in this film wonder about what their ideas mean. Don't be you. Be them. If that's you.

I don't know if The Big Short is really going to appeal to people who didn't even bother with the soundbite. I don't know if it has the same resonance if you can't get over bankers. I don't know if it resonates. But I will say... if I picked up a graphic novel that looked as nuts as the film's construction, I'd read it. That's a ringing endorsement, dear reader. Certainly better than that rubbish Whiplash.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Problem with ACT

An Actually Quick Quick Take
We are a nation of immigrants and openness to newcomers is part of our national DNA.
~ The ACT Party on immigration
I have a lot of respect for David Seymour. He stands up for people and isn't afraid of biting the hand that feeds (i.e. National) when it does bad things. He's also well spoken and acquitted himself nobly in the Debating Society's Politician's Debate (I have not seen the Management Consulting Club's debate). He is also, at the moment, ACT. And ACT is right on the money when it looks at National's recent pronouncements about immigration and describes it as starting a "populist bidding war." I mean, just look at how Little immediately had to go BIGGER... as if more of a bad idea makes it better.

The thing with ACT is that no matter how much it says the right things about some stuff, it says terrible things about other stuff. (Voting for ACT is also a tacit endorsement of the Rotten Borough system created by the Coat-tail's provision but we'll ignore that today.) One only has to think of what Seymour's said about the Grammar Zone, Charter Schools (although, of course, we all know that was really just a National policy we were told was an ACT one) or introducing interest to the student loan system. For every socially responsible thing Seymour-ACT comes out with, there's surely another daft or even harmful idea just waiting in the wings.
A nation that values personal responsibility, tolerance, civility and compassion
~ ACT, on its vision 
Look, I'm not saying that "personal responsibility" (which we might understand as the overarching concern of ACT's combination of social progressivism and economic conservatism) is a bad idea. I am saying that it is a bounded concept. It is true that one needs to take personal responsibility for, as an example, writing boring blog-posts or being addicted to smoking. It is also true that one of the reasons why I might think my blog post is boring is that university's restricted word counts make me look for the freedom to be verbose and at school (where habits are formed) I was quite literally told that flair can't be taught. That might well be true, but style definitely can be (and traditionally was one part of one of the foundations of education in the "Western" tradition). Similarly, cigarette addiction is a reflection of a societal concerns around smoking, of the peer environment (smokers have friends who smoke) and of the nature of addiction (over-rides personal will). We are all not entirely our own. It follows that policies derived from a view that we are personally responsible will probably just as often be bad as they are good.
If anyone, no matter who, were given the opportunity of choosing from amongst all the nations in the world the set of beliefs which he thought best, he would inevitably—after careful considerations of their relative merits—choose that of his own country. Everyone without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best.
~ Herodotus, The Histories
David Seymour has a task on his hands to build up ACT and while ACT's dubious ideological grounding is one of its problems, insofar as it means Seymour will continue to stand against the xenophobia, racism and scaremongering put about by Little, Peters and whoever else, it just may attract people attuned to "New Zealand's Values." And if that did happen and if ACT realised their mandate was thus derived? Well, that just seems like a very good thing indeed. But it's an if. Probably a very big If.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Immigration: Quick Take

Look, it's often really difficult to avoid calling people morons, dickheads, racists or xenophobic weeds. It's apparently even harder to avoid blaming immigrants for all the problems that people face. But both of these are immensely counter-productive activities. The one just makes people put up barriers to what you're saying and serves to entrench views. The other just obfuscates the issues and thus the solutions. 

The trouble is that the popularity of the latter makes the former really hard to avoid. And it makes for a massive problem in the current election because National's ideas are really quite awful but it's reached a point where the stances Labour is taking on immigration are beginning to become sufficiently bad. I don't want to have to make an electorate decision that sacrifices positive policies in order to try and halt the Labour-led march into a world where what NZ stands for is not any NZ I recognise.

What's worse about all this is that you cannot talk about this bind. Just mentioning that there are people I want to call xenophobic weeds (that this sentiment is not limited to Andrew Little) has pretty much the same effect as saying it. People aren't stupid: they know they're the targets of my anger, of my rational rage, or if they're not. And if you want to make an actual case about immigration's troublesome aspects, you're invariably excluded from certain circles and end up self-radicalising. There's a line in, I think, Jingo (which would be really useful because it deals with immigration) which makes the point that Colon had been to the university of "Some bloke down the pub." The internet is a great tool, but we're still people... and that doesn't change just because you're not talking around a pint. (And just because this is the internet and that I can therefore find a link confirming my suspicions about the quote, doesn't mean that I should... I feel like I lose authenticity.) 

Look, I feel strongly about immigration. My father naturalised and three of my grandparents were born overseas (all of my aunts and uncles were... my mother was born here, moved to the UK immediately, and then emigrated back "home" and developed a new, local accent) so it is a bit personal. Most of my friends have either similar backgrounds or were themselves born overseas (if not all). Like many New Zealanders I share our culture's Wanderlust but I still believe in the fair shot, in our indoctrination at school into the "treat others how you wish to be treated" (actually, I believe we instinctively move to respond to such norms)... and if you want the OE, you need to accept that your country will be a destination for someone else's OE. Is that not fair? Is that not right?

But, still, maybe you want to talk about the downsides of immigration. Maybe you have some model that proves new immigrants don't bring new demand and, hence, new jobs (there is no such thing as either job creators or "trickle down" economics and if you think there is, this is one reason why National needs to go). But, even allowing for the momentary period before anything can respond to "more people" what's going on? You're asking me to believe in several things:
  • That you want a career in the type of job suited to people on OE's and working holidays, i.e. high-turnover, customer-oriented. I don't believe you because the reason why these jobs are high turnover is that people view them as stepping stones... maybe even just experience before applying to supposedly low-skilled retail positions.
  • That employers don't prefer long-term employees because constantly hiring new staff doesn't increase their training costs. That is, if you're applying for a job that students might often go for, you really should be preferred because you're available for more hours and because you're not going to bugger off at the end of the year when you move back home. I don't believe you applied. And if you did apply, you really should have mentioned this stuff. If you did and you still weren't hired, maybe it was because...
  • That the job really is open for everyone. Now, I don't believe that people are generally munters and spend every spare moment getting high like some not-to-be-named politicians. I do believe that people don't look into immigration and don't realise that we're restrictive, that points do exist. And even when people talk about tightening the points, what they're talking about is often just as much looking at whether employers are over-selling jobs (i.e. requiring superfluous qualifications) as employees self-aggrandising (notice that pay thresholds catch both out).
But this the robot view of the world. What if the issue is that you're arguing that someone who doesn't need to worry about being kicked out of the country they call home just for having the luck of being born here or having parents who were ought to be prioritised always over and above someone who is trying desperately to avoid being forced to leave? What if the issue is that you're not after a career, just want a little bit of cash to effectively have a working holiday whilst not being on holiday (maybe while you're trying to find some more permanent accommodation than your mate's couch)? Why is it fairer to privilege you? You who, at least, can fall back on established networks of support? You whose parents,grandparents, cousins and whatnot are here? You who can rock up to WINZ? Why you with all these options? Why? Are you more human? Do you feel more real? Have you given up more?

At the moment, people are trying to talk about immigration in NZ as though we're suddenly overwhelmed by some sort of mass immigration. Context matters. What counted as mass in 1840 in a country devoid of all of the infrastructure we take for granted, is not mass now. We're living in an era where the government isn't willing to do what it takes. Back then the government took action and made stands. Sure, now we think that invading and evicting lawful landowners is an act of war or, at least, theft, but at least the colonial government did that. It still left everyone in the lurch, but it made the land available. The equivalent today would look like superior urban  (allowing greater densification) and tax (capital gains, anti-land banking measures, disfavouring "flipping" and incentivising new developments) policy... and the ideal would involve the government stepping in and building houses too. Tower blocks even. But this isn't what is happening. And it isn't what is being talked about because we can just go, "Lol, immigrants r bad".

When we look at what is happening it's a sad picture. All the opposition parties seem to blame immigrants for everything... even making it their centre-piece against a government that has actively opposed the interests and voices of a third of the population for nearly ten years. Surely there is something else to criticise them for! They haven't exactly done anything substantive outside of Auckland either! Even the government, lacking John Key's keen eye for making sure nothing was done, has got in the act. Somehow people who have been here for years are among the villains responsible for the mass immigration! Let's put that in perspective. If you've been in New Zealand for five years, you have been here for two elections. Five years is a long time. Would you want to be in jail for five years? Would being sent down for such a stretch make you into a hardened criminal? Why is that not long enough to be recognised as a New Zealander? Not necessarily a citizen, but a permanent resident. They haven't taken your job. You got back from Australia two years after they landed it.

We had great fun laughing at the US and all the people who said they'd move here if Trump was elected. What will we do? Where will we tell ourselves we should go? Madagascar?

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Zombie's Guide to Installing R on Ubuntu

There is a how-to in this post, scroll down until the other bolded heading or ctrl-F for guide. If you're wondering what the rest of this blog is like, read the whole thing.

Paperweights : Misadventures in Consuming and "Computing"

Just after we moved house at the end of 2015 I decided that I should get another laptop. Not a new laptop but another laptop.

You see, the major issue with the laptop that I had at the time was that it was fairly big and heavy, i.e. impractical when I wanted (on those rare occasions) to bring it in with me to uni. (Incidentally, this was why my granfather had given me the laptop in the first place.) Thus, what was needed was something pretty small and lightweight. It would also need to have an hdmi port so we could use it to watch television (this was envisioned as the primary function).

Now, you might remember that I have taken a couple of marketing papers and one of the big things in marketing is the notion of involvement. Specifically, with high involvement purchasing* like what happens when buying a laptop is that you do some research. Basically this involves shopping around and trying to find the best product-as-solution to a perceived problem. The thing is that I am a very price conscious consumer and I had the terrible luck to start my search on the same day as a one-off sale. And like the dweebish consumer I am, the one-off sale convinced me into making a decision I should have deferred. I bought an HP Stream pre-loaded with Windows 10. (Apple was never in the running.) We got it a few days later.

These laptops are pretty small (11" or thereabouts) and come in bright colours. They also have next to no hard-drive space (like 28 GB) and are thus designed entirely for the Cloud. This stuff is all fine although I didn't really appreciate it until after I bought it. After all, what I wanted was something that I could use occasionally for uni work (i.e. just needed enough space for Word and R/RStudio) and which could use the internet to watch stuff. And so life was good, for a time. I even called the computer Light Blue, which I thought was hilarious. (And it was.)

After a few months or whatever I started getting memory warnings. Somehow there was less than a GB of space left? It didn't make any sense. But it turns out to be a pretty common issue. Whether or not I would have thought to check for known memory issues prior to my experiences with Light Blue is definitely a question to ask, but I feel like maybe I could have saved myself the memory trouble if I had started the search even a day later. Anyway, I found a solution... but I forget what it was.

Life went on and Light Blue was pretty much used exclusively to watch the great many different things we watch on things like TVNZ On Demand or play Youtube videos when we've been cooking. But then, after some months, I became aware that the memory was filling up again. And this time I couldn't find a way out of the fix. This was, I guess, when I resolved to install Ubuntu.

I've been aware of Linux generally and Ubuntu specifically for some years now. This is because on some of the websites I visit some of the other users are Ubuntu-ites and they talk about this in OS threads. However, I had never really met anyone who used Linux except this one dude who I don't know very well and who I haven't seen for over a year anyway. So, I decided to do some research about Christmas-time last year (I think I had finally decided to actually go ahead with my plan rather than having conceived it then). The results were clear. I needed to get two USB sticks and I should use them to install Ubuntu (as opposed to a different Linux system).

The idea was pretty simple. I would back up Light Blue as a Windows system on one of the data sticks and the other would be used to install Ubuntu. But I didn't do anything. That is, until today... the first weekend of the holidays and a few days after persistent crashes related to memory shortages. But it turned out that installing Ubuntu was the easy part (although I did have to do it twice, but this took like thirty minutes).

The truth is that I haven't changed what I need from a computer much in the last two years. Basically, LinuxBlue (I changed the name) needs to do exactly the same stuff as before. Luckily, Libre Office comes with Ubuntu and doesn't seem to have any major compatibility issues with Word (and if it does... copy and paste, am I right?). R doesn't come with Ubuntu as such, though. And installing it was a bit complex.

If you don't know what R is, you should find out. But basically, it's a statistical computing language (think like Python or Fortran but just for stats) based on S Plus, developed at the University of Auckland that is completely free. It represents the sum total of all my "coding" knowledge... and obviously I am a newbie when it comes to Ubuntu to Linux. Sadly, I think most people who want to use R on a Linux system aren't as end-usery as me... which meant it wasn't really clear how to get R onto the machine (RStudio was no problem, though). In fact, it was more troublesome than getting Ubuntu in the first place! Which brings me to the useful part of this blog:

A Beginner's Guide to Installing R on Ubuntu, by A Noob

Basically, we'll be following exactly what I did. So, start by following this link. All the stuff we'll be mindlessly typing was sourced from that helpful page.

The second thing is to go here and install RStudio. Don't try and open it because we haven't installed R yet so it won't work. Actually, you probably should try and open it (from "files") because that's what I did and this is a zombie's guide so we should probably follow the formula I used even if it is illogical. This is also your caution. Imagine that I am a moron. That's the level of expertise that went into the process you're about to follow (or read).

Next, go to the "search your computer" thing and find the terminal. Open it and type in, from the link:

sudo echo "deb http://cran.rstudio.com/bin/linux/ubuntu xenial/" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list
Now, you can probably change the url but, as I said, I'm a noob, so I wouldn't try when I can tell you for a fact that just mindlessly typing the stuff in works.

That being said, you need to type in your password at this point. If nothing shows up and you're randomly bashing keys, just press enter and then type your password and imagine that asterisks are popping up.  Then hit enter and mindlessly type the following:

 gpg --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-key E084DAB9
then:

 gpg -a --export E084DAB9 | sudo apt-key add -

At this point I got a warning message. I ignored it.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install r-base r-base-dev

After the first one I got a bunch of prompts so just read those and always go with the yes option.

After the second one I wasn't sure if it had actually finished working or not, so I decided to open RStudio... which worked this time. I then installed s20x and R330 because they're packages I remember using from courses I have taken.

Hope this helps!

(And I am hopeful my decision to explore Ubuntu resolves the memory issue that looked as if it was creating a $300 paperweight.)

*See my recent blog post here for why this is a problematic concept . If you're wondering why it seems so much more pro than my usual stuff that's because it is actually just an essay I handed in last year that I couldn't be bothered copying from to explain involvement properly for readers of this post.

Involvement, Motivation and Marketing

The following is an essay I wrote last year. I have put it on this blog as an alternative to explaining what involvement is all over again. This essay is on Turnitin so if you try and parade it as your own work, you will be caught.

Examining the Involvement-Motivation Relationship via the Crowded Marketplace
The contemporary consumer inhabits a world of variety. From common household necessities like toilet paper to luxuries like high-end fashion brands, there is an array of brand choices. Even in non-traditional products such online dating sites or tourist destinations, variety exists (Prebensen, Woo, Chen and Uysal, 2013). Indeed, it has been suggested that that consumers generally hold only a small selection of brands in mind at any one time (Conroy, 2014). To the organisation, such consumer choice represents a problem: how to attract custom, when any given consumer can select multiple alternatives? Yet, variety clearly does not prevent individuals from making consumption choices. Thus, the implication is clear: by understanding consumer behaviour a marketing strategy to solve this problem could emerge (Quester, Pettigrew, Kopanidis and Rao Hill, 2014). It is in doing this, that an organisation would come to realise that a consumer’s motivations are deeply intertwined with the involvement construct (e.g. Laczniak, Muehling and Grossbart, 1989; Prebensen et al, 2013). In particular, the organisation would recognise that by utilising involvement they could develop an understanding of how consumers differentiate between brands and products (e.g. Zaichkowsky, 1986; Kim and Sung, 2009).
At its heart, the involvement concept is about engagement. Thus, the literature has discussed message (e.g. Laczniak et al, 1989), purchase decision (e.g. Zaichkowsky, 1986) brand (Kim and Sung, 2009) and product (e.g. Richins and Bloch, 1986) involvement. Beyond this, no consensus has been reached in the past thirty years over exactly how to describe or characterise involvement (Zaichkowsky, 1986; Slater and Armstrong, 2010). However, several authors (Havitz and Howard, 1996; Slater and Armstrong 2010), have described involvement as “an unobservable state of motivation, arousal or interest, evoked by a particular stimulus or situation and has drive properties” (p. 95; p. 730), apparently following Rothschild (Slater and Armstrong, 2010). Among the many alternative conceptions, personal relevance is a frequent conception (Laczniak et al, 1989). Furthermore, it is apparent that involvement is recognised as a personal characteristic that varies with respect to a “baseline level” (Richins and Bloch, 1986, p. 280), given the situation of the individual (Richins and Bloch, 1986). This is the idea of enduring and situational involvement. Furthermore, it has been proposed that in addition to the individual and situational contexts of a person, the nature of the object itself contributes to their level of involvement (Zaichkowsky, 1986). In the context of art galleries, this has been empirically demonstrated (Slater and Armstrong, 2010). However, this does not mean that an object has an inherent level of involvement (e.g. Zaichkowsky, 1986; Richins and Bloch, 1986), nor that you'll notice this anti-cheating measure inserted here. In terms of cognitive and affective involvement, Kim and Sung’s conceptualisation expands the paradigm of involvement from simply considering the strength of connections to the type of connections: do parents select children’s pain-killers based on, say, efficacy or their bond with their offspring (2009)?
If one were to synthesise the literature, involvement appears as the extent and type of an individual’s engagement with an object, which varies situationally, given an object can be a situation, object or stimulus. As engagement is easily understood to depend on motivation, on ideas of the self (e.g. Prebensen et al, 2013), on risk (e.g. Richins and Bloch, 1986), on social webs (e.g. Prebensen et al., 2013) and other factors, this view of involvement captures much of the divergences in the literature. Importantly, it becomes obvious that patterns of involvement can exist, for instance that in general consumers are highly engaged with cars (Richins and Bloch, 1986) and that organisations can therefore operationalise involvement. In a definitional sense, then, it is clear that involvement and motivation are connected. After all, if one is motivated to organise a study space or replace a seasonal wardrobe, then one is engaged and, thus, involved with those activities and the ensuing purchases. In this sense, motivation is a cause of involvement (Prebensen et al, 2013). Yet, one might very well argue that if one is motivated to purchase a new computer, then that motivation exists only because one is already highly engaged with the problem. However, in much the same way that theory informs one that weight determines BMI, not the other way round, the nature of this relationship can be clarified.
Given that motivation is “the driving force behind all behaviour” (Prebensen et al., 2013, p. 253), academics have found it appropriate to develop models to explain motivation. One such model presents motivation as the result of push and pull factors, which drive behaviour in certain directions (Prebensen et al., 2013). Specifically, this means that the motives underpinning a given behaviour have causes external to an individual. As involvement is internal it must not be the cause of motivation. However, it seems reasonable that the aspects of an individual that influence the interpretation of these external forces are one in the same with those that inform the level of engagement. Hence, involvement and motivation are intertwined. If an alternative model of motivation, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, is followed, this could also be true. After all, in the Hierarchy belongingness and self-actualisation are recognised as core aspects of motivation (Quester et al, 2014). These ideas compare strongly with noted dimensions of involvement synthesised from scholarship (Prebensen et al., 2013). Significantly, a qualitative study of involvement in an art gallery context, found that it was difficult to distinguish between antecedents and consequences of involvement using, among others, “desire to learn” and “a sense of belonging and prestige” (Armstrong and Slater, 2010, p. 727) as antecedents. This seems to imply that the relationship of motivation and involvement is one of mutual influence: at least with respect to services, noted in that study to differ to goods. Certainly, the traditional conception of situational involvement posits that an individual can be motivated and, so, highly involved with a product in a situation but that this does not lead to a heightened level of enduring involvement: an idea demonstrated in an empirical study by Richins and Bloch (1986). I would imagine that your cheating is covered here as well, hence this further anti-cheating sentence. In any case, given the clear behavioural implications of motivation and its extremely close relationship with involvement, an organisation with an understanding of involvement would have knowledge that could be leveraged in the crowded contemporary market (Zaichkowsky, 1986).
To leverage involvement, an organisation would probably need to take into account the various kinds of involvement. As alluded to above, involvement is recognised to apply to a variety of objects: from products to messages to brands. It has also been established that there are different levels of engagement, typically referred to as high and low involvement, and that these can vary from a baseline dependent upon the situation. Zaichkowsky’s treatment of involvement (1986) implicitly discussed the potential of utilising involvement as a form of segmentation based on the high-low continuum. Intuitively, this makes sense. If patterns are identifiable and certain patterns are associated with different levels of engagement and if the level of involvement has implications for the interpretation of stimuli, it is fundamentally no different to gamers interpreting an advertisement distinctly to surfers. As noted, to an extent the relationship with motivation allows the inference that there are implications, as does the suggestion that goods and services, within product involvement, are distinguishable. Similarly, Zaichkowsky noted that consumers with different involvement levels interpret messages in different fashions (1986). Thus, another implication of involvement becomes apparent. This analysis can be taken further.
The enduring involvement of a particular consumer, with respect to a product, can be considered broadly equivalent to their relevant product involvement. However, if a situation arose, or was engendered, that altered their situational involvement, an individual’s involvement, at a given time, would be higher (Kim and Sung, 2009). For an organisation, customer contact can be considered an opportunity to engender a situation. Yet, consumers will also have involvement with the means of contact: hence, message involvement. This implies that an organisation can increase the involvement of a consumer with their product through manipulation of the message (Zaichkowsky, 1986). That this is a possibility follows naturally from the definition of involvement. Similarly, in the context of services, it is possible that communication with consumers is an aspect of the consumption of the service and thus altering the situational involvement leads to changes in enduring involvement (Slater and Armstrong, 2010). However, Slater and Armstrong cautioned that the nature of the specific service investigated, a world-famous art gallery, may have had further product characteristics which enabled this for many consumers (2010). The influence of involvement in consumer interpretation, the noted relationship between involvement and motivation, and the ability of organisations to manipulate both situational and, in some circumstances, enduring involvement are critical aspects of how involvement can be leveraged by firms. It is immediately apparent that an organisation that understands the predominant consumer involvement patterns relevant to their offerings has an improved ability to attract custom. However, cognitive and affective involvement are of particular relevance to consumer product and brand differentiation (Kim and Sung, 2009).
In cognitive involvement, the connections consumers form with products or brands are essentially rational (Kim and Sung, 2009). That is, they can be contrasted with the “emotional stakes evoked by an object” (Kim and Sung, 2009, p. 507). This classification of involvement functions like the previously discussed temporal and object class divisions in that high and low involvement states exist. Thus, it is possible to have purchase decision situations in which the consumer is highly involved but the involvement pattern is predominantly affective (Kim and Sung, 2009). A purchase decision situation refers to a moment of choice (Kim and Sung, 2009) and, as noted, the contemporary consumer generally faces a number of choices between brands. Yet, not all consumers are equally involved in brands (Kim and Sung, 2009), and there is evidence that in a low involvement situation, consumers do not assess the brand in communications (Laczniak et al, 1989). This naturally implies that some consumers, when they make choices, must favour product rather than brand features in their evaluations, whereas for others the reverse is true (Kim and Sung, 2009). To the firm, then, understanding whether the involvement patterns suggest predominance of product or brand characteristics in evaluation, and whether the connections are emotional or rational allows an accurate picture of the market to be built (Kim and Sung, 2009). Hence, strategy to preserve existing custom and gain more could be developed in a fashion aligned likely to influence behaviour (Kim and Sung, 2009).
This analysis has raised several points. Firstly, that involvement is essentially situational engagement with an object. Secondly, that involvement and motivation are so closely related that leveraging involvement is likely to affect consumer behaviours. Thirdly, that involvement can be leveraged and that leveraging involvement needs to account for the types of product and connections formed. Finally, it has been a running theme that understanding and leveraging involvement requires considering involvement patterns: that is, how involvement is generally manifested within the population. As a clear illustration, consider the beer industry. In New Zealand there are several firms and the product’s involvement pattern suggests predominance of low level affective engagement (Kim and Sung, 2009). Consequentially, one would expect messages intended to increase involvement, but also ones that emphasise the affective qualities of the brands. Simply recalling Tui billboards, Heineken soccer ads or Export Gold ‘thirst brigade’ campaigns demonstrates alignment of strategy in a crowded marketplace with the knowledge suggested by the involvement-motivation relation.
Reference List
Conroy, D. (Presenter). University of Auckland Business School (Producer). (2014) Effective Marketing Means Understanding Customers. [Webcast] New Zealand: University of Auckland Business School
Havitz, M., Howard, D. (1996).  How Enduring is Enduring Involvement in the Context of Tourist Motivation?. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, Vol.4(3), 95-99. 10.1300/J073v04n03_07
Jooyoung, K., & Yongjun, S. (2009). Dimensions of purchase-decision involvement: Affective and cognitive involvement in product and brand. Journal Of Brand Management, 16(8), 504-519. doi:10.1057/bm.2008.39
Laczniak, R. N., Muehling, D. D., & Grossbart, S. (1989). Manipulating Message Involvement in Advertising Research. Journal Of Advertising, 18(2), 28-38.
Prebensen, N.; Woo, E.; Chen, J.; Uysal, M. Motivation and Involvement as Antecedents of the Perceived Value of the Destination Experience. Journal of Travel Research, Vol.52(2), 253-264. 10.1177/0047287512461181
Quester P., Pettigrew S., Kopanidis F., Rao Hill, S. (2015) Consumer behaviour : implications for marketing strategy. North Ryde: McGraw-Hill Education Australia.
Richins, M. L., & Bloch, P. H. (1986). After the New Wears Off: The Temporal Context of Product Involvement. Journal Of Consumer Research, 13(2), 280-285.
Slater, A., & Armstrong, K. (2010). Involvement, Tate, and me. Journal Of Marketing Management, 26(7/8), 727-748. doi:10.1080/0267257X.2010.481868

Zaichkowsky, J. L. (1986). CONCEPTUALIZING INVOLVEMENT. Journal Of Advertising, 15(2), 4-34.