The Shortest Path to Happiness


By Daniele Quercia

We all know how busy the world is today. People race around from place to place trying to shave off minutes from their commutes in order to squeeze in more time for other things. But what if you had a happier, more pleasant journey?

In a previous Tumblr post called “Can Cities Make us Happy?”, we summarized our preliminary work on which urban elements make people happy. We found that in London, for example, people associate public gardens and Victorian and red brick houses with beauty and happiness, and that cars and fortress-like buildings are associated with sadness.

In our latest research we put those insights to practical use in the form of maps and routes. Consider that existing mapping technologies return shortest directions. Now, imagine a new mapping tool that, instead of suggesting the shortest walking course from A to B, is able to suggest a route that is both short and pleasant. Based on our previous work, we were able to design algorithms that automatically map out the most beautiful, quiet, and happy routes between two points. Taking into account an average of the results of the three algorithms, our study showed that despite being 12% longer in length and roughly 7 and a half minutes longer in time, respondents preferred the option of taking more scenic, quiet, and happy routes.

More interestingly perhaps, our study participants in London and Boston loved to attach memories to places: both personal memories (e.g., “This is the street I gave my first kiss.”) and shared memories (e.g., “That’s where the old BBC building was.”) In “Remembrance of Things Past,” French novelist Marcel Proust described how a small bite of a madeleine cake unleashed a cascade of memories from childhood. In a similar way, our participants found places to be pleasant (or not) and memorable depending on the way they smelled and sounded. It turns out that these smells and sounds also play a role in the paths people take from one place to another. This point begs a new question with fascinating implications for the research community: What if we had a mapping tool that suggested pleasant routes based not only on aesthetics, but also on memories, smells, and sounds?

Our study produced one other compelling point worth mentioning — participants pointed out that the experience of a place changes during the course of a day. For example, one of our London participants commented, “Fleet street is beautiful because of its history. However, depending on the time of day, it can be colorless and busy leading to the opposite results.” The idea that the pleasantness of routes differs depending on the daily course of the sun, variance in temperature, and noise level is extremely insightful and nuanced.

As we continue to research the shortest path to happiness, we’re thinking about all these questions. If you find this concept as interesting as we do and live in Berlin, Boston, London, or Turin, then we’d love for you to share your memories around a few paths in your city here. You’ll be helping us with our research, and hopefully making people’s paths happier.

Goalr! The Science of Predicting the World Cup on Tumblr

By Mihajlo Grbovic, Vladan Radosavljevic, Nemanja Djuric, and Narayan Bhamidipati

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicking off on June 12, billions of fans across the world are turning their attention toward host country Brazil to root for their favorite teams. Soccer (or, if you prefer, football) fans are loud; you need only remember the last World Cup’s infamous vuvuzelas for a demonstration. But fans aren’t only loud in stadiums. They also make their voices heard across social media. And though you may assume these fans are just blowing their vuvuzelas into the social abyss, if you listen closely, you’ll discover a treasure trove of data — including possibly an answer to the most important question of all: Who will win?

As soccer fans and Yahoo Labs scientists with access to Tumblr data, we wanted to find out if we could take advantage of our unique insight to comb through an ocean of posts to predict a World Cup winner. And we have! But before we share our prediction on which nation will get to revel in World Cup glory, we’ll tell you how we figured it out.

Sifting through 188.9 million Tumblr blogs comprising 83.1 billion posts to find World Cup-related content wasn’t easy. To begin, we used two main parameters to determine which content was relevant: posts with hashtags referencing #WorldCup, #World Cup, #Copa do mundo (or other variants outlined in our technical report), and posts with hashtags referencing #soccer, #football, #futbol, etc.

However, using these parameters alone proved too broad. So once we isolated #WorldCup-related posts, we checked the bodies of the posts for mentions of country names. Then we did the same for #soccer-related posts (for Team USA, we counted only mentions in #soccer posts to avoid confusion with American football. For Team Brazil, we discounted a percentage of posts due the country hosting the event and thus receiving extra mentions — this was a percentage calculated based on an editorial evaluation on a sample of posts).

To get even more representative results, we checked the bodies of posts in both hashtag categories for mentions of any national team player according to FIFA’s official list of players for each nation.

Upon completion of our filtering, we were left with 27.3 million relevant posts from February through May. The fun (read: science-y) part came next.

In order to figure out how each country will stack up against each other, we needed to assign values of strength to each team. These values were calculated according to each matchup and provided a representative game score. More specifically, when two teams are positioned to play against each other, we estimated the number of goals scored by each team using a Poisson distribution with four differently-weighted parameters learned using the Maximum Likelihood algorithm on prior games (qualifications, friendlies, etc.). The four parameters included these: 1. Team mentions in #WorldCup-related posts, 2. Team mentions in #soccer-related posts, 3. The average number of player mentions per team, and 4. The standard deviation of player mentions per team.

Finally, we were left with a statistical model predicting the outcome of each successive matchup based on our calculations. Taking into account the 27.3 million relevant posts, we had a complete bracket and a winner: Team Brazil.

Do you agree with our prediction? Think some other team will win? Make sure to check back to see how well the World Cup social frenzy on Tumblr predicted the outcome.

Such a beautiful story of Ruby Robinson, Columbia University Engineering/Computer Science graduate didn’t expect her dad, an army captain deployed in Afghanistan to make it to her graduation. A last minute approval and help from the university allowed them to pull off this wonderful surprise. #blackgirlfly #bgfgrads #columbiauniversity #ivyleague #blackexcellence #achievement #classof2014 #blackgrads2k14 #computerscience #engineering #stem #blackgirlnerds #rubyrobinson

In my perspective … science and computer science is a liberal art, it’s something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life. It’s not something that should be relegated to 5 percent of the population over in the corner. It’s something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have mastery of to some extent, and that’s how we viewed computation and these computation devices.
5 things that Computer Science/Engineering students should focus on
  • The next billion customers: The IT revolution has probably reached a billion people of the world so far. In the next 5 years, it will reach the next billion. These will be a very different set of people. Many of them will be illiterate – so you need to focus on non-text, non-English interfaces – video, animations, voice recognition. Search for “English Seekho” to get an idea of what I mean. Most won’t have money or electricity for computers, so mobile devices will rule – so you need to start playing with mobile platforms like Android. In general, search for the “the next billion” and you’ll find some interesting material put together by the likes of Nokia, and MIT giving you ideas on what to focus on.

  • Usability: As IT touches the lives of more and more people, less and less of them will be “computer savvy”, and less and less of them will view computing devices as something that needs to be learnt. Consequently, the products that will succeed, will be the ones that are easy to use. And making something easy to use is rather difficult. It is a sub-discipline of computer science, and there is a lot of theory, and a bunch of well-defined algorithms and practices you can use to make things easy to use. The whole area is called HCI (Human Computer Interaction), and UCD (User Centered Design) is a part of it. It’s an area that you must be familiar with

  • Computer Science Fundamentals: This will never go out of fashion, and yes, when I look at students coming out of our colleges, this appears to be a rather neglected area. Far too much emphasis on specific programming languages, and specific “technologies” is a mistake. Whatever the future holds, you will be well served by knowing the basic theory of computer sciences. Learn data-structures and algorithms. If you don’t have a favourite data-structure, and an algorithm that you find beautiful, then your computer science education is incomplete. If, after seeing an algorithm, your first thought is not about the complexity of the algorithm (O(n), O(log n), etc.), then you need to hit your books again. If you’ve only learned Java and C#, and you don’t really understand pointers, heaps, stacks, you will sooner or later be at a disadvantage. Understand the basics. And while you’re at it, also learn mathematics and statistics.

  • Presentation skills: This is not a computer science skill, but this is one of the most important skills that computer science students are missing. You must treat presentation as equally important, or more important than your program, design, and algorithms. And you must spend as much time learning presentation (from books, in classes, and in practice) as you spent on programming languages, and computer science subjects. I’m sure you haven’t done that, hence this item in my list. You should know how to write well. Not just papers and documents, but much more importantly, emails, and blog posts, and facebook wall postings, and tweets. You must think about what the user/reader/client wants to know (instead of what you know and want to tell). And of course, you must know how to speak well. How to tell a story instead of listing some arcane facts about your work. How to leave out stuff that you find extremely interesting, but the listener doesn’t.

  • EconomicsScott Adams, the creator of Dilbert says: “When you have a working knowledge of economics, it’s like having a mild super power.” Basically, if you understand the fundamentals of economics, you can see and understand what drives people and technologies and success and failure a lot better than people who do not understand it. I hated the fact that I was made to study economics in IIT for my computer science course. It seemed like a complete waste of my time. Now, looking back, I think it was probably the most important course.


Quem vê cara não vê computação

Depois do olhar de assombro que as pessoas fazem quando digo que sou aluna da Computação, recebo a frase definitiva: “Nossa, mas você não tem cara de menina que faz computação!”. Quando eu contei sobre isso no debate “Mulheres na Engenharia”, na SECOMP (Semana de Computação da Unicamp), muitas outras congressistas se identificaram com o fato e me disseram que era comum ouvir esse tipo de resposta: “Você não tem cara de computeira!”.

O fato de essa abordagem ser tão frequente me motivou a conversar com outras pessoas e escrever sobre esse tema, a fim de que possamos continuar aqui no blog esse debate importante sobre estereótipos da mulher que estuda/trabalha com tecnologia.


A primeira coisa que precisamos considerar é que há um perfil consolidado e um estereótipo pré-determinado sobre mulheres da computação. De acordo com algumas respostas que recolhi entre colegas, trata-se de um perfil bem alinhado com o típico nerd (outro estereótipo que pode facilmente ser desconstruído a partir de exemplos do mundo real), com alguém que é introvertido e, muitas vezes, antissocial e sem vaidade.

Um depoimento que me chamou atenção foi “Computeira é um ser assexuado. Menina que usa maquiagem e vestido não faz muito o estilo da computação”. Deve ser por isso que eu não tenho a tal cara certa; gosto de maquiagem e de arduíno, gosto de programar e de pintar as unhas - essa mescla de coisas que servem à triste dicotomia coisas de menina versus coisas de menino. Após o debate na SECOMP, vi que não estava sozinha, e mais: eu fazia parte da maioria, pelo menos dentre as congressistas presentes, que discutiram também o apagamento do lado feminino quando se trabalha com tecnologia.

Acredito que, cada vez mais, o perfil das mulheres na computação dialoga com o moderno, com a intervenção social, com o lado cool de ser um maker na tecnologia, e menos com a figura tímida que gosta de ficar sozinha com computadores. Pior do que o pré-conceito é o fato de que muitas meninas, não se identificando com tal perfil enviesado compartilhado socialmente, preferem se afastar da computação e áreas de tecnologia, na dúvida se vão conseguir se integrar ao grupo, ou se de fato têm algo em comum com a Amy Fowler, ou se já têm horas suficientes no Dota - eu nunca joguei Dota, só estou usando de exemplo porque ouço muito disso nos corredores.

Eu sei que existem e conheço meninas que fazem mais esse estilo gamer girl, geek e nerd; elas são realmente espetaculares e definitivamente não estou sendo contrária a esse perfil. Mas precisamos reforçar, principalmente para as pessoas fora do campo das áreas STEM, que a computação não serve apenas para um tipo particular de personalidade ou pertence a um grupo cultural específico.

Uma campanha promovida pela procura encorajar mais pessoas a se aplicarem nas áreas STEM, mostrando os escritórios descolados das grandes empresas de tecnologia, estampando a profissão como uma atividade criativa e apresentando personagens que, por atuarem (estudarem, se interessarem, trabalharem etc.) na computação, são providos de “superpoderes”: Ashton Kutcher e Cris Bosh são exemplos de pessoas famosas que programam; mas, principalmente, pessoas estão ficando famosas por saber programar.

Sendo uma profissão com excelente carreira e com um défice alto de mulheres no mercado de trabalho, iniciativas como essa são super bem-vindas. Gostaria de ler comentários de outras meninas sobre esse assunto.

[texto escrito especialmente para o blog Mulheres na Computação]

CS is not for me

Eugene Wallingford:

Of course, using a powerful, fun language in CS1 creates a new set of problems for us. A while back, a CS educator on the SIGCSE mailing list pointed out one:

Starting in Python postpones the discovery that “CS is not for me”.

After years of languages such as C++, Java, and Ada in CS1, which hastened the exit of many a potential CS major, it’s ironic that our new problem might be students succeeding too long for their own good. When they do discover that CS isn’t for them, they will be stuck with the ability to write scripts and analyze data.

With all due concern for not wasting students’ time, this is a problem we in CS should willingly accept.

(via Jens Ohlig)

When I was seven years old I took group swimming lessons.

I didn’t learn to swim.

When I was eleven years old my family joined a local health club and went nearly every morning for years. They had a pool which I would horse around in.

After many months in the pool I taught myself to swim, quite by accident.

※ ※ ※

My first programming course was BASIC on an IBM PC. While not full-blown computer-sciencey is was structured.

I hated it and didn’t want anything to do with programming after the first lesson.

Years later we bought a used Mac Plus with this thing called HyperCard. I explored it intensely and taught myself to program, again quite by accident.

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I came to computer science from the wrong side of the tracks. Other have before me, and others will after me.

Attempting to weed out entrants is a disservice to the whole of computer science: its teachers, students and practitioners.

Weeding out entrants has a noble intent to help students discover that computer science isn’t for them at an early stage, however it is insular and conceited.

Many — perhaps most — entrants will do well to jump directly into the deep end of the computer science pool. However room should be allowed for those who want to splash around in the shallow end first.

#feministhackerbarbie is my favourite thing on the internet right now :) Lucky I have just the T-Shirt for it!

#sondersky #fashion #design #redbubble #tshirt #printedtshirt #instafashion #helloworld #cplusplus #coding #programming #computerscience #computer #hacker #feminist #barbie #girlsintech #sheplusplus #geekygirl #geek #womeninstem #womenintech #girlswhocode #geekfashion