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This blog post uses 2011 census data to produce visualisations of where in Cambridge you can find the highest concentrations of Christians, atheists, Muslims, and Jedi.

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Alex and I both use plural "guys" to refer to a group of whatever gender, as in "you guys" or "those guys". Bethany has picked up this usage, and seems to have, reasonably but non-standardly, generalised it to the singular: today I heard her playing with her toys and saying "And that guy is a girl..."

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I'm amazed at how well Zoe is talking. We're getting one or more new words a week. Most of them are even fairly clear. In general she says them when she sees the thing or a picture of the thing, or if she hears us say the word when the thing's not visible.

Cat - of course.
Dog - she has now learned to distinguish dogs and not just call them cats. She has a soft toy dog she's very attached to, and she excitedly exclaims "Doggydoggydog!" at it. She also makes an "ufff" noise at dogs (as in "woof"); and a tongue-clicking clip-clop sound for horses.
Baby - this is more like "bebbeh", very cute.
Mama and Dada
Cup - this is one of her favourite words, and pronounced very clearly. She says it excitedly and repeatedly when she sees one of her cups, or an adult mug or glass, or a toy stacking cup, or a similar container like a tub or bottle. We think she also says it to communicate that she wants a drink. She was also saying it today when pointing to some water she'd spilled on the floor.
Shoes - she says this on seeing her shoes or Bethany's, and when going to look for her shoes ready to go out.
Coat - she says this when bringing me a coat, which I think means she wants to put it on, although I'm not sure if that's because she's cold or because she wants to go out.
...and, with scarily early brand recognition, Peppa (as in Peppa Pig). She says it when Bethany's watching the cartoon, or when she sees the plastic toys from it, or even once when I was idly humming the theme tune! She seems to have generalised it to mean any pig, though, and will say it at pictures of real farm pigs (which don't look much like Peppa and family).

She also says "bbb" for any of Bethany, ball, and banana; and she has a "muh" sound that might be "more", and a "guh" sound that might be "gone".

(This was Bethany, at a couple of months older.)

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Why do people groan at puns? Why are puns called bad, and the most clever and skilled puns called awful and terrible?

My natural reaction to a clever pun is to grin with delight. If it's in a text-based conversation I might type *groan* because that's how I've been socialised to respond, but I'm actually experiencing pleasure.

There is artistry in a clever pun, just as in other forms of art which it's acceptable to appreciate openly. I tend to assume that the louder the groans, the more appreciation; it's just that that appreciation has to be expressed invertedly. Like in some subcultures (e.g. teenage boys?) where it's taboo to express affection, so the more you insult and rough-house with your friends, the more you like them.

There was a fascinating thread (OK, several) on Slate Star Codex about the typical mind fallacy, and which of your experiences you falsely assume are human universals. A subthread on there revealed that several people experience actual physical pain on hearing puns. This seems really odd to me - how could such a response evolve? I wonder what proportion of people this applies to. I'd have thought that they're a minority, and people like me who enjoy puns are a minority, and perhaps most people find puns mentally annoying but not physically painful. But if they're a majority, maybe their groaning at puns has set the pattern for How One Reacts To Puns, and the rest of us follow along with it.

But if good puns are called bad, and excellent puns are called terrible, we have no vocabulary to describe puns which are actually bad. Some puns fail because they are too contrived or stretched, and don't really sound like the second meaning. Some fail because the second meaning is far too obscure. And then there are the ones everyone's already heard, where someone has clearly read and memorised 1001 Jokes for Kids and tries to shoehorn ready-made puns into real-life conversation, like if you mention tap dancing and they say "Oh, I tried tap dancing once, but I fell in the sink." This sort of thing tends to elicit neither grins nor groans, just flat non-reaction, which risks the perpetrator thinking nobody got it, and trying to explain it. My experience of that sort of actually-bad pun is the same as my experience of any bad art: kind of irritation and disappointment.


If you take any piece of music, and ignore rhythm, and just look at when the melody goes up or down or repeats a note - and even ignore the size of the intervals up and down - you get a pattern that is pretty much unique and can be used to identify the music. This is how name-that-tune apps work.


Bethany's school is holding a sponsored Christmas Jumper Day for Save the Children. The kids come in wearing a Christmas jumper - bought or made - and make a donation to the charity.

Why not a normal non-uniform day? Why Christmas jumpers? Bethany doesn't have one, she doesn't need any new jumpers at the moment, and I object to going out and buying one just for this event. I'm more than happy to give £2 to Save the Children, but it seems silly that to do so I have to also give £10 to Primark or £30 to Marks and Spencer, dwarfing the actual charity donation. And what about people who can't afford to buy one (or to make one, which I think these days would be significantly more expensive), or people (e.g. internationals) who don't know what a "Christmas jumper" is in the first place? (Actually I don't think I did until a few years ago.)

I thought this was the school's silly idea, but it turns out it's actually Save the Children's. The clothes shops must really love them. Looks like George at Asda is sponsoring them.

I think I'll just send her in her choice of ordinary jumper, and hope enough other people do the same.


Things Bethany has been singing around the house lately:

Fee fi fo farting, say the bells of St Martin's

Angels, angels, blighting up the sky
From her school Nativity play. I think "to blight something up" sounds like a novel and clean variation on the many expressions along the lines of "to screw something up".

Through your stuffing, I'm forgiven
From a worship song she's heard in church - it should be "through your suffering".

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In the couple of days since my previous post I've coincidentally come across a couple of things that play with people's harvested data in interesting ways.

First, someone on ToothyChat posted a link to the YouGov profiler. You type in any interest - a hobby, TV show, celebrity, etc - and it returns demographic information and personality type for a typical fan of that interest, plus some of their other likely interests (specifically, the things they are more likely to be interested in than the general population). Here's the profile for a board gamer. Surprisingly, it seems to match me better than it matches my idea of a stereotypical board gamer.

I find this fun and interesting, and I think I'd have quite enjoyed creating it or something like it. But it's also a good example of the moral ambiguity of this kind of project: I think its main purpose is for advertisers to know which TV shows and websites they should advertise their products on. Which isn't actively evil, but it's a little bit grubby and there are better things I'd ideally like to work on.

Secondly, this was linked from Slate Star Codex - it's a tool that shows how strongly Republican or Democratic (in the US, obviously) any first name is. Rachael, Alex and Bethany are all fairly middle-of-the-road. (I might have expected "Bethany" to be more Republican, as it seems to be popular in Christian circles, which in the US means Republican.) Zoe is nearly 2/3 Democrat.

This one seems to be from a Democratic campaigning organisation which lent the power of analytics to Obama's presidential campaign. Which, specifically, I'm broadly in favour of (I think I overreacted the other week); but political campaigning as a general category is an example of how this stuff could have great potential to be used for both good and evil.

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Zoe is now a toddler, in the sense that walking is her primary way of getting around. She only really crawls if, say, she's sitting on the floor and wants something a few feet away.

She has two fully visible bottom teeth, and two top ones just starting to come through. She is slightly less fussy than Bethany when it comes to food. But they would both be happy to live on Dairylea and tinned macaroni cheese.

She has an incredible level of understanding. When people start putting their coats and shoes on, she waves bye-bye. She even does it when someone says "Right!" in a decisive tone, which is about 95% accurate. When she wants to go out, she communicates this by going and fetching her own shoes. Today, astonishingly, she communicated to me that she wanted a nap, by fetching the teddy from her crib. She recognises lots of words for body parts, and responds correctly to questions like "Where's your ear?" She also recognises several animals and food items in picture books. When anyone mentions teeth or tooth brushing, she points to her own teeth, and mimes brushing them. If you give her anything vaguely brush-shaped she will brush her teeth and/or hair with it.

She loves books, and keeps bringing them to us to read to her. She also loves any toy she can cuddle.

She seems, finally, to have adapted to the clock change, and has been getting up the right side of 6am for the last week, sometimes even 7. She sleeps through the night about once or twice a week.

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I'm currently reading Dataclysm by Christian Rudder. (Rudder writes the OK Cupid blog, which reports on interesting and surprising findings from OK Cupid's large collection of records of people's online dating behaviour.) The book is about how behavioural science usually relies on surveys of small sample sizes, drawn from the unrepresentative population of students at the researcher's university, and often self-reported; but Big Data, as amassed by tech giants like Facebook and Google, can reveal all sorts of things about the actual behaviour of really big and representative groups of people.

I've previously mused about getting into something like behavioural science or social psychology. But now I'm wondering if what I want to be, when I grow up when the kids have both started school, is some kind of (big) data analyst. I'm an introvert; I work better with information than with people. Although the results of traditional social psych are fascinating, the actual research methods sound quite tedious, especially from the POV of an entry-level research assistant dogsbody such as I would be: conduct this experiment fifty times with fifty people, making sure you say the words exactly the same each time with the same facial expression because Controlled Experiment; then realise that a data set big enough to bore you to tears when gathering the data isn't big enough to do much meaningful analysis on.

Also, going from programming to data analysis would look like less of a career jump than going from programming to social psych, and thus might be easier to achieve, and require fewer (perhaps even zero) additional degrees. And I might even be able to bring in the linguistics. A lot of the data out there is text. Dataclysm even cites the "Breakfast Experiments" they do on Language Log, where they analyse the Google Books corpus to settle some question about changing language usage.

Whatever field I end up in, I care about doing something worthwhile: if I became a behavioural scientist I'd rather discover some "nudge" that had a positive impact on public health or debt or individual motivation or something, than study a behavioural effect only of interest to myself, the other six readers of the Journal of Pointless Trivia, and people looking for titbits to quote at dinner parties. Data analysis is an interesting one in this regard: it seems more able to be used for good, neutral or actively evil purposes. Many, perhaps most, of the opportunities will be outside academia, in the corporations actually accumulating the large data sets. It depends on the company: I expect Facebook would be like "How can we exploit these data pointspeople to milk more advertising revenue from them?" whereas Google would be more like "How can we use these people's data to better give them what they want and thereby make our advertising platform more valuable?"

(I did wonder if I'm being a bit hypocritical, wanting to get into Big Data as a career, when I refuse to be on Facebook or anything similar, and tend to keep privacy settings relatively high on other web services, and tend not to contribute much to things like Amazon or Google Play reviews. Is that a culpable refusal to eat one's own dogfood? But then I thought actually it's just a refusal to be the dogfood.)

Also, to some extent the internet has democratised this sort of endeavour, so that you don't really need to be either a researcher or a corporate data analyst to dabble in it. A lot of the data will be proprietary, but things like Google Books and Google N-grams are available. If I can think of some questions to investigate from those, and find the time to actually do so, that could be quite fun, and also give me a headstart for if I do want to make a career of it.

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