The Aggregate Weekly Newsletter ✍ September 3rd, 2019

Happy Labor Day!

As last weekend was Labor Day weekend, and last week was my first week of senior classes, while I did some work on the weekly data visualization (on strikes in China), for this week I am not doing the full newsletter, as it’s a holiday.

However, did manage to get other things done…

  • I finished The Temple of the Golden Pavilion while I was travelling back to D.C. Very well written book, however, some of the scenes are rather horrifying, and are actually made worse because of how well written they were.

  • Three months worth of NYRB books appeared in my GWU mailbox, which was a pleasant surprise, because I thought they would have disposed of them. Heaven’s Breath A Natural History of the Wind looks like a particularly fascinating read out of the three.

  • Got to start working on my economics thesis, which will certainly be on open source technology. I hope to write about on the impact of Github on the open source ecosystem, and how this can be explained using economic terminology and some basic econometrics. (Lots of logistic regressions!)

  • For class I finally got my hands on Nils Gilman’s book Deviant Globalization. Fascinating read, albeit depressing. Reminds me why I want to use the tech skills I picked up, which is to combine it with my international affairs background to solve modern day problems.

  • The new Lana Del Rey album came out on the 30th of August, and it’s really, really good.

As a teaser for what I will send out next week, have this map of Chinese strikes I have been refining.

In practice it also functions as somewhat of a population distribution map, seen how Tibet, Outer Mongolia, Xinjiang and northern Manchuria are not represented much at all on the map.

Now, some links…

Kai Middlebrook & Kian Sheik (University of San Francisco): Song Hit Prediction: Predicting Billboard Hits Using Spotify Data

In this work, we attempt to solve the Hit Song Science problem, which aims to predict which songs will become chart-topping hits. We constructed a dataset with approximately 1.8 million hit and non-hit songs and extracted their audio features using the Spotify Web API. We test four models on our dataset. Our best model was random forest, which was able to predict Billboard song success with 88% accuracy.

Gilles Châtelet (Urbanomic): A Martial Art of Metaphor: Two Interviews with Gilles Châtelet

In these interviews dating from 1998, Gilles Châtelet amplifies the major themes of To Live and Think Like Pigs, discusses his method of dramatisation and the crucial importance of style; and touches on subjects from dialectics to dope smoking, from Yoplait to slavery, along the way introducing some of the book’s key concepts: cybercattle, the average man, the tapeworm-citizen, and of course the pitiful couple Cyber-Gideon and Turbo-Bécassine.

Feross Aboukhadijeh: Recap of the `funding` experiment

I’m ending the funding experiment I introduced a few days ago.

The idea was this: whenever users install open source software, the funding package would display a message from a company that supports open source. The sponsorship would pay directly for maintainer time. That is, writing new features, fixing bugs, answering user questions, and improving documentation.

David Robinson: The 'knight on an infinite chessboard' puzzle: efficient simulation in R:

I’ve recently been enjoying The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight, a wonderful book from 538’s Oliver Roeder. Many of the probability puzzles can be productively solved through Monte Carlo simulations in R.

Here’s one that caught my attention:

Suppose that a knight makes a “random walk” on an infinite chessboard. Specifically, every turn the knight follows standard chess rules and moves to one of its eight accessible squares, each with probability 1/8.

What is the probability that after the twentieth move the knight is back on its starting square?

In this post I’ll show how I’d answer this question through simulation in R, with an eye on keeping the simulation fast and interpretable. As in many of my posts, we’ll take a “tidy approach” that focuses on the dplyr, tidyr, and ggplot2 packages.

Nick Burns (American Affairs): The New Brazilian Right

These are central questions for understanding Bolsonaro’s Brazil, but as yet they have never been seriously asked, let alone answered. This article is a partial attempt to do so. Three writers in particular stand out in the history of the Brazilian Right since the 1990s who have influenced, directly or indirectly, the current administration: Bruno Tolentino, Olavo de Carvalho, and Ernesto Araújo. To dis­cover the roots of the ideology attached to the current administration, we are led back to the 1990s when, during the decade following the return of democracy to Brazil, a new conservative sensibility was born on the fringes of Brazilian letters.


Thanks for taking the time to read this, I will be back next Monday. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter or reach out via email.