MacGuffin in a paragraph


I presented a paper on non-linear empowerment at Berkley based on radical educational theory in 1999, which fuses scientific and folk world views, and applied that to my own work challenges, most recently resulting in 2013 in a fusion of corporate social analytics with online consumer behaviour I call #thinslicing. It was this #thinslicing tool which led to the creation of the movie review app concept, MacGuffin.

Your Friends Are More Interesting Than You On Average


The Friendship Paradox

Feld’s friendship paradox states that ‘your friends have more friends than you, on average’. This paradox arises because extremely popular people, despite being rare, are overrepresented when averaging over friends.

Using a sample of the Twitter firehose, we confirm that the friendship paradox holds for >98% of Twitter users. Because of the directed nature of the follower graph on Twitter, we are further able to confirm more detailed forms of the friendship paradox: everyone you follow or who follows you has more friends and followers than you.This is likely caused by a correlation we demonstrate between Twitter activity, number of friends, and number of followers.

But wait, there’s more..

In addition, we discover two new paradoxes: the virality paradox that states ‘your friends receive more viral content than you, on average’, and the activity paradox, which states ‘your friends are more active than you, on average’. The latter paradox is important in regulating online communication. It may result in users having difficulty maintaining optimal incoming information rates, because following additional users causes the volume of incoming tweets to increase super-linearly. (And this also may relate to why in large complex communities personalized moderation works better than community moderation, as explored in my last blog post).

While users may compensate for increased information flow by increasing their own activity, users become information overloaded when they receive more information than they are able or willing to process. We compare the average size of cascades that are sent and received by overloaded and underloaded users. And we show that overloaded users post and receive larger cascades and they are poor detector of small cascades.

What are the dangers of overload?

Those users who become overloaded, measured by receiving far more incoming messages than they send out, are contending with more tweets than they can handle. Controlling for activity, they are more likely to participate in viral cascades, likely due to receiving the popular cascades multiple times. Any individual tweet’s visibility is greatly diluted for overloaded users, because overloaded users receive so many more tweets than they can handle. Because of the connection between cognitive load and managing information overload, the present results suggest that users will dynamically adjust their social network to maintain some optimal individual level of information flux. (What does this mean for Facebook’s growth?)

Friendship Paradox Redux: Your Friends Are More Interesting Than You – Nathan O. Hodas, Farshad Kooti, Kristina Lerman (PDF of the paper)

Do British Gas employees all sing from the same hymn book?


I used the British Gas contact form to email to ask for my electricity direct debit to be retained at £38 on Friday.

I received a reply saying why British Gas was recommended that I increase to £76, but noted that the retention at £38 debit was an option.

I replied asking to retain the £38 debit.

The reply from the same customer service rep then rejected my request and stated that the new level was to be implemented at £76.

I then called customer service from a pub round the corner from Old Bond Street on Saturday afternoon, round the corner from where Margaret Thatcher was staying at the Ritz, and spoke to a new rep and asked for the £38 rate, and this was agreed.

I then received an email from confirming the £38 debit on my request. I followed a link asking for my experience of customer service, and included this account and noted that there appeared to be an issue, that the system for fixing direct debits is inconsistently understood by British Gas customer service representatives.just before midnight on Sunday a new email popped into my Inbox.

This one said that now British Gas was fixing the rate at £65. I emailed back a complaint this time and asked for compensation, explained all the previous again, and went to sleep. I awoke to a new email confirming the complaint had been received.

Then Tuesday morning, a new email from customer services to say while they really preferred the £65 direct debit that they would fix my monthly rate at £38, and credited my account with £10! I checked my account page and this was confirmed, though it also included a handy graphic in bright red which showed how much I would be in debit if I consumed at the rate of the previous bill.

Yes, I thought, but I immediately paid the previous debit balance on presentation of the bill. This fact obviously does not register, as it’s not part of the ‘system’, even though you can in theory fix your direct debit at whatever rate you like, this is not taken into account.

Because at the end of the day, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a customer-centric system, it’s a direct debit system, and it’s set up for British Gas’s benefit, not yours.

PS: A few days later someone from British Gas rang me asking for ‘Roy’. I asked what number, and they gave my mobile number. I said there was no ‘Roy’ on this number. Hey, so I can take a hint. So time to switch back to E.ON who had the good grace to send me a small cheque a couple of months ago.

Burning money?



Fuel poverty and health campaigners today called on the newly launched Public Health England to address the devastating impact of cold homes on the health of the nation.

Campaigners welcomed the shift in responsibility for public health to local authorities and the opportunity this creates to address a major root cause of health problems in the UK – the woeful levels of insulation in the nation’s homes.

Mostly as a result of poor insulation levels, fuel poverty now affects over 5 million households in the UK. Living in cold homes doubles the likelihood of a respiratory illness such as asthma in children and quadruples the risk of mental health problems for teenagers. Fuel poverty is estimated to cost the NHS over £1bn every year.

The Energy Bill Revolution campaign estimates that on average over 7,000 people die every year from living in cold homes.  The big freeze that has affected the UK in recent weeks almost certainly means that more people have died because they cannot keep their homes warm.

The Energy Bill Revolution is calling for carbon tax to be used to fund an ambitious energy efficiency programme to super-insulate the homes of the fuel poor. The Government will collect over £60 billion in carbon tax over the next 15 years which is enough to make every fuel poor home highly energy efficient and slash their energy bill by over £300 ever year.

Carbon Tax can provide a massive financial boost for Public Health England and local authorities to support the delivery of such a programme.  This would help improve the health of some of the UK’s most vulnerable citizens, keeping them out of hospital and easing the burden on the NHS.

The Department of Health’s new ‘Public Health Outcomes Framework for England, 2013-2016’ identifies reducing fuel poverty as one of its key indicators for addressing the wider determinants of heath. Reducing mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and excess winter deaths are also identified as indicators against which the whole public health system should deliver improvements. It is vital that local authorities, in partnership with health and well-being boards, prioritise these indicators in local strategies if they are to fulfil their responsibilities to protect the health of their local population.

 Jo Butcher, Public Health Adviser for Friends of the Earth, said:

“As energy bills continue to soar and another cold snap hits the UK, millions of fuel poor households face difficult ‘heat or eat’ choices. It is a national disgrace that so many die each year due to cold, damp and poorly insulated housing. Public Health England must prioritise action to tackle fuel poverty and the Government must use carbon tax to fund a much bigger programme to insulate UK homes. Energy efficiency is commonly perceived to be the domain of the environment sector but I hope the new public health service will demonstrate it has a central role to play. The transfer of public health to local authorities is good news – they are used to managing housing and environmental health issues and are well placed to bring together the range of services that need to be involved in tackling the cold homes crisis.”

Jane Landon, Deputy Chief Executive at the National Heart Forum, commented:

“Cold, damp homes are responsible for avoidable deaths and needless health problems for many people in this country. The Government has committed to reducing avoidable mortality and action to tackle fuel poverty and its effects must be a priority to help achieve this. We welcome the establishment of Public Health England. Its role in the delivery of public health nationally and locally and its focus on reducing inequalities is a new opportunity to tackle fuel poverty.”

Energy Bill Revolution, the largest fuel poverty alliance ever assembled, is backed by 120 organisations representing the children’s, health, environmental, housing, disability and consumer sectors, businesses, academia, politicians, local councils and the public. The Energy Bill Revolution is asking Government to recycle the substantial funds it receives from carbon tax revenues (an average of £4bn annually over the next 15 years) into energy efficiency programmes to eradicate fuel poverty

A quick example of thinslicing – to find the data and to act on the data


1. Consider this excerpt from Wikipedia on the Friendship paradox, as way of a quick mathematical -based example of ‘thinslicing’, that helps predict disease epidemics:

The analysis of the friendship paradox implies that the friends of randomly selected individuals are likely to have higher than average centrality. This observation has been used as a way to forecast and slow the course of epidemics, by using this random selection process to choose individuals to immunize or monitor for infection while avoiding the need for a complex computation of the centrality of all nodes in the network.[5][6][7]

2. Then consider that this is probably what happened in one New York community, prior to the full impact of HIV, to quote one study from Dr Sam Friedman:

In the period from 1976 to the early 1980’s, seroprevalence in New York rose from zero to about 50%…The epidemic then entered a period of dynamic stabilization…Although mathematical models have suggested network saturation may have been an important part of the stabilization process (Blower, 1991), the sociometric analysis of drug injectors’ networks conducted during the research for this volume suggest that the extent of network saturation may have been quite limited.

Behaviour change probably made a major contribution to the stabilization of seroprevalence. In spite of a popular image that would suggest that either “slavery to their addiction” or “hedonistic, selfish personalities that ignore risks and social responsibility,” drug injectors in New York (and indeed, throughout the world) have acted both to protect themselves and others against the AIDS epidemic. Thus, by 1984, before there were any programs other than the mass media to inform them about AIDS or to help to protect themselves, drug injectors in New York were engaged in widespread risk reduction…Furthermore, observations on the street confirmed this by showing that drug dealers were competing with others for business by offering free sterile syringes along with their drugs as AIDS-prevention techniques.

BTW if you’ve stumbled on this post and wonder what it all means, join the club. I am still working on myself, but there’s something here about ‘thinslicing’ as an outsider – in this example finding who to immunize in an epidemic; and ‘thinslicing’ from an insider perspective, in this example, who with little information people figured out how to take precautionary measures.Hence the title addition – to find the data and to act on the data..

Thinslicing joke, otherwise lost to the world


Phew, just found my  joke I contributed to the xs4all Science Jokes site wayback in March 2001. Now it looks like a joke about #thinslicing, in part because it includes concepts borrowed from my travels – heterogeneous organisation of data – comes from talking to a group of computer scientists at a First Tuesday meeting in 2000:

Q: How do you find a needle in a haystack?

Scientist says: One draws up a research and development proposal for a new
and improved device, costing $100m in budget and just under $200m on final
completion. The device can harvest for needles in any given haystack in any
terrain at any time, and operated by remote or even hands-on control.

Chaotician says: Faced with such a heterogeneous organisation of data you
assemble a bunch of friends (say ten or less, or maybe more if there is free
alcohol) and hold a party on the haystack. Someone will be bound to find the
needle by stepping or sitting on it. Or if they don’t something much more
strange + interesting will appear, so that the needle is classified as a
variant hay-straw. And the new discovery classified as the strange attractor.


Want a practical complexity heuristic?


There you go, click on the pic for the three tweet answer, thanks.

Beware: this is not ‘top level’ thinking. This is a heuristic.

PS: I came up with all this a day after staring in to the sky whilst waiting for the morning minibus to Sony in Weybridge – and after tweeting about a strange line in the sky – by chance stumbled on the origin of the phrase ‘Occam’s Razor’ which is relevant to the design of heuristics: “One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.”

The answer to my question – ‘Ockham Stack’ (see Q & A below with @CoxeyLoxey) – is named after the village in Surrey where William of Ockham, the guy who coined the phrase Occam’s Razor, came from. So hope that didn’t increase beyond what’s necessary, the # entities required to explain it!

Influential people + influential friends = spread products


Identifying social influence in networks is critical to understanding how behaviors spread. We present a method for identifying influence and susceptibility in networks that avoids biases in traditional estimates of social contagion by leveraging in vivo randomized experimentation. Estimation in a representative sample of 1.3 million Facebook users showed that younger users are more susceptible than older users, men are more influential than women, women influence men more than they influence other women, and married individuals are the least susceptible to influence in the decision to adopt the product we studied. Analysis of influence and susceptibility together with network structure reveals that influential individuals are less susceptible to influence than non-influential individuals and that they cluster in the network, which suggests that influential people with influential friends help spread this product [red text highlighting added].

Identifying Influential and Susceptible Members of Social Networks
Sinan Aral, Dylan Walker


Social media have provided plentiful evidence of their capacity for information diffusion. Fads and rumors but also social unrest and riots travel fast and affect large fractions of the population participating in online social networks (OSNs). This has spurred much research regarding the mechanisms that underlie social contagion, and also who (if any) can unleash system-wide information dissemination. Access to real data, both regarding topology—the network of friendships—and dynamics—the actual way in which OSNs users interact, is crucial to decipher how the former facilitates the latter’s success, understood as efficiency in information spreading. With the quantitative analysis that stems from complex network theory, we discuss who (and why) has privileged spreading capabilities when it comes to information diffusion. This is done considering the evolution of an episode of political protest which took place in Spain, spanning one month in 2011

Locating privileged spreaders on an online social network

Javier Borge-Holthoefer, Alejandro Rivero, and Yamir Moreno

Phys. Rev. E 85, 066123 (2012)

Micro mistakes in an e-book


09:09 Just for fun today I am counting how many micro
organisational mistakes today to help improve my focus – up
to 9 (+/-1).

Or just download the e-book created with the help of, with my last 3,200 tweets since 31 March 2010 to date, and keyword search for other micro-humour within the Adobe pdf.

Dr Michael Fish is in the building

Dr Michael Fish is in the building