Word Choice

Perhaps the most over-looked aspect of bots is their personality - or lack thereof. Said another way, text conversations have many components, and tone, word choice, and timing are everything. I learned a lot about how to phrase text messages for Gainful. How you word a text can make all the difference. For example, when we want to engage with students and encourage studying, we don't ask "Are you studying?" Instead, we ask "Where are you studying?" It's subtle, but our response data shows us that the former sounds like nagging and the latter, more like conversation. Plus the unexpected question causes students to pause and give it thought, thus starting the planning wheels turning.

The words used in responses are also just as important. Crisis Text Line has done a lot of work parsing what words indicate more at risk users.

More Pronoun Research

Dr. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, is on a roll lately.  

His research was picked up by WSJ:

"112 psychology students were assigned to same-sex groups of two. The pairs worked to solve a series of complex problems. All interaction took place online. No one was assigned to a leadership role, but participants were asked at the end of the experiment who they thought had power and status. Researchers found that the higher the person's perceived power, the less he or she used 'I.' "



Deep Learning

Google recently introduced a potentially very interesting open source tool called word2vec. It is software designed to understand the relationship between words without human intervention.  How? Through the use of "deep learning" - basically neural network models on steroids.  Essentially these models understand the features of an input (in this case words) and how those inputs relate to each other.


You don't have to understand the ins and outs to see how potentially useful software that can do this is.  One potential application is better understanding of tweets.  Typical sentiment analysis, for example, has a difficult time with tweets due to their short nature and the fact that they are often infused with symbols and sarcasm.  With deep learning techniques it may be possible to decipher the sentiment of tweets more accurately.  Can you imagine?

Now a Word

I love words. As a kid, I used to tear out pages from my word-of-the-day calendar and paste them to my bedroom walls. So you can imagine my love of word lists! Here's a recent one from Mental Floss that highlights words that are actually older (in usage) than they seem.


9. Funky

The application of “funky” to music came during the jazz age and started showing up in print in the 1950s, but the “strong smell” sense had been around long before that. Since the 1600s, “funk” was slang for the stale smell of tobacco smoke, and by extension, anything that stank. Cheeses, rooms, and especially ship’s quarters could be described as “funky.”



The N Word

I was out running in Los Angeles years ago when a man and woman in a Land Rover ran a stop sign and almost mowed me down. I’ll call them Ken and Barbie for two reasons (1) they looked like the iconic dolls and (2) it’s the most derogatory thing I can think to call them right now – note that my most derogatory term only conjures an industry that makes hundreds of millions of dollars. Facing death, I jumped like a jack rabbit and cried out at the same time – something on the order of “Aaaagh!”

Ken, clearly startled by his own negligence, leaned out of the window and yelled, “Get out of the way you _igger!” You know the word.

I am a dark-skinned Mexican-American (If you don’t know that by now please click on the home page link and get to some reading). So I was simultaneously offended and perplexed, “But I’m Mexican American!” I thought.

I yelled back, “I’m Mexican American!” like that somehow made his racial slur moot.

I looked at the girlfriend, thinking she would rein in her man, but she looked just as pissed and frankly, smug – like they were doing me a favor by not running me down with their car.  I ran off with tears in my eyes.

After my run, I reflected on the incident.  Ken was scared. He was afraid and because he was uncomfortable with that emotion he became angry and because his ego wouldn’t let him be angry at himself he projected his anger at me. In anger, his psyche called on the ugliest part of himself – his ingrained racial bias.

Did that make him a racist? Not necessarily, but it does mean, in my mind, that he’s got a problem. The way I see it, we all have racial bias. But if your knee jerk reaction in a heated moment is to use the N word then race plays a large role for you – one that requires serious reflection.

Now is it likely that Ken will ever do that sort of internal work? No. He’s Ken! No one, not even Barbie, holds him accountable to search the ugly parts of himself. That ugliness in him will continue to exist and it will manifest in all sorts of subtle ways – not just in calling a woman a nasty name, but in whom he associates with, who he hires, who he promotes, etc. Does that become racism? I’m not sure, but it certainly plants the seeds.

While no one probably held Ken accountable, I was glad to see Paula Deen was. Even if it was sad to see her try and shirk it with her gun to head comments. She still has work to do.

That process, for anyone, is painful. But if she doesn’t take this time to do some soul searching and learn, she will become entrenched and embattled and her world will get worse. Like her friend Oprah says, “your life is always speaking to you. First in whispers. ... It's subtle, those whispers. And if you don't pay attention to the whispers, it gets louder and louder. It's like getting thumped upside the head, like my grandmother used to do. ... You don't pay attention to that, it's like getting a brick upside your head [or a ham to the face]. You don't pay attention to that, the whole brick wall falls down.”



We make ourselves a place apart Behind light words that tease and flout, But oh, the agitated heart Till someone find us really out.
'Tis pity if the case require (Or so we say) that in the end We speak the literal to inspire The understanding of a friend.
But so with all, from babes that play At hide-and-seek to God afar, So all who hide too well away Must speak and tell us where they are.

~ Robert Frost

The Language of Love

There are many languages of love, but some words are difficult to translate. From the article:

"Koi No Yokan (Japanese): The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love.

This is different than “love at first sight,” since it implies that you might have a sense of imminent love, somewhere down the road, without yet feeling it. The term captures the intimation of inevitable love in the future, rather than the instant attraction implied by love at first sight."


According to Andrew Newberg and Robert Waldman in Why We Believe What We Believe, we form our beliefs using four methods. First, we use evidence. We have first hand experience of something.

Second, we use logic. If this, then that.

Third, we use emotion. A strong emotional reaction creates an association.

Finally, we use society. Social expectation and/or belief, influences our beliefs.

What beliefs are you holding onto? Can you see how they might have been created?

This is How Crazy I am

I have been playing Words with Friends on my iTouch - except with total strangers. I didn't want to hook into Facebook and spam my friends, etc. At first I didn't realize how to play for points and tried to be clever about my words. Wrong strategy. Finally, I started to hit my stride and was matched with a stranger in a very close high scoring game. In my mind, the stranger is a man. Of course, I have no idea, you just see a made-up screen name. Maybe that says something about my psychological state, but I digress.

This man beats me in a final, completely surprising move. By only a few points!

I immediately asked for a rematch and he accepted. And every day for almost a week I've been plotting my triumph.

Finally, I trounced him by 136 points and when the app told me I had won I jumped all around my living room pumping my fists in the air Jersey style and yelling "Victory! Victory!"

Okay, I'm not proud of it, but boy did it feel good. Clearly, I need to get out more.

Finding the Words

“Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. ”

― Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

The Price of Words

The company, WordStream, produces software to automate key word bidding, and as a result, has a lot of data on keywords. They recently announced the most expensive keyword categories. What was the most expensive one? Insurance. It makes sense. The companies that can pay the most to acquire a customer are also the companies who can pay the most for keywords. What the category also points to is that search is used primarily to solve problems and customers will pay a lot for solutions. How else to explain that "insurance" costs upwards of $55 per click?