Quarantine Diaries (Part 4)
Short and sweet
Monday (4/20): Functional programming
I watched a computer science lecture on functional programming today. I admit my mind was pretty blown upon learning about this whole new way to approach programming! It also hit me how useful these concepts are for data analysis. Two summers ago, I had a research advisor who sang the praises of functional programming techniques in R, so much that she’d write impassioned rants on Twitter about how for loops and R programming shouldn’t mix. Now I know what she’s talking about ❤
I spent the evening joyously reading through some advanced R manuals. I’m excited to get my hands dirty with a new analysis project so that I can practice more with these sleek techniques — it’s like I’m in on a cool new secret or something.
Tuesday (4/21): “My body, my choice”
Over dinner, my family discussed a bit about the growing right-wing anti-shutdown protests that have been sweeping around several states. Considering how tough lockdown mandates are on local economies and struggling populations, I can see how some people are desperate to get back to work, even if it means putting themselves at risk. But the part that I couldn’t get over is their ironic use of the pro-choice slogan “My body, my choice” in their protests. Either these protesters are blind to their own hypocrisy, or they’re doing this to bitterly mock left-wingers about theirs.
Ideological role reversals between the left and right happen in other domains too:
In theory, people on the left represent forward-thinking progressivism and are generally the go-getting proponents of change, while those on the conservative side of the spectrum are the strict defenders of the institutions and traditions of the past. That sounds roughly right, except when it comes to nature conservation: on environmental issues, liberals sit on the side of conserve-preserve-protect and conservatives snarl back with develop-grow-expand.
During our current COVID-19 crisis, the right-dominated government is pumping fiscal dollars into the economy and flexing government rescue muscles like nobody’s business. Cover your eyes and squint a little, and you might’ve mistaken the government to be operating under FDR. These are special times, I guess.
It seems to me that people’s political preferences depend less on different ideological orientations, but more so on the antagonisms and loyalties of group identity. These days, rooting for your political party feels a lot like rooting for your favorite football team.
Put this way, it’s becoming apparent that democratic politics today has drifted pretty damn far from its gleaming philosophical roots.
Wednesday (4/22): Python Script for Whole Foods Online Checkouts
Amidst all the chaos around panic buying and produce hoarding, I laughed when a friend told me about this new Python script that has been circulating the internet.
Data scientist Pooja Ahuja (GitHub) wrote a Python script that automatically sends you a verbal notification when a Whole Foods or Amazon delivery spot is open. The way it works is that you use a chrome driver to open up the checkout screen in Amazon: as you leave it open, it refreshes the page constantly and as soon as a delivery slot opens, it makes your laptop yell “SLOTS FOR DELIVERY OPENED.”
I went ahead and tried to implement the script on my computer — it took me about 30 minutes, and when the voice prompt went I nearly fell out of my chair ( I recommend you lower your volume a bit).
In theory, you keep the script running so that you’re better able to focus on other work, as the script handles all the stressful page refreshing for you. In practice, the protracted stress of being startled at any random moment by a robot voice negates most of the practical good it does for me.
Thursday (4/23): Politeness Theory
While I was deep in a rabbit hole watching a linguistics video about Japanese Pragmatics, I learned about this socio-linguistic theory proposed by Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson called Politeness Theory. At the core of the theory is the concept of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ face, where positive face represents the natural need for belonging and admiration, and negative face represents the natural need for autonomy or freedom from imposition.
Within this framework, politeness is the delicate practice of communicating one’s intent while minimizing affronts to people’s faces.
Consider the following examples of positive vs. negative politeness:
“Hey mate, can you lend me some cash?” <- positive politeness (emphasizing friendliness, trying to enhance good will with the listener)
“I’m sorry; it’s a lot to ask, but can you lend me some money?” <- negative politeness (minimizing imposition on the hearer, sometimes by being apologetic or formal)
The Wikipedia article then delves into analyses of communication styles, their accompanying pros and cons, sociological variables, and real-world applications of the theory.
I had an absolute blast reading through all of these examples — It was like reading a book about chocolate and eating my way through the whole thing. In the same way that seeing relatable memes or reading my Myers Briggs type description fills me with an indulgent sense of curiosity and validation, my foray into Politeness theory brought to my attention aspects of social etiquette that were so hilariously accurate and interesting that I highly encourage others to read it too :)
Friday (4/24) — My first academic conference, and thoughts about awkward zoom moments
I attended my first academic conference today! This was the Society for Affective Science’s (SAS) annual conference — since it has gone virtual this year, I was able to snag a spot. The theme of the conference was about examining the role of affect in politics and partisanship, featuring talks by Paula Niedenthal, Morteza Dehghani, Nathan Kalmoe, Robb Willer, and more :D
However, I couldn’t help but think to myself what a shame it was that the whole event had to take place over Zoom. Virtual communication is a hollow-shell substitute for the real thing, and I guess for now, everybody in the world is forced to endure this with grumbling acceptance.
Communication (and especially schooling) over video is beginning to take on its own culture, rife with its own set of unspoken rules, faux pas, and awkward moments.
Here’s a short list of awkward moments that our glorious new age of zooming has brought to us:
- Saying goodbye to someone at the conclusion of a meeting, and then struggling for a few horrifying seconds to find the ‘Exit Meeting’ button while you stare at each other. Reminds me of the real-life situation when you say your goodbyes to a colleague and then realize you both have to walk home in the same direction.
- Getting cold-called over zoom if you haven’t been paying attention in class. Embarrassment multiplies by ten if it takes several seconds to fly through all of your open windows to get back to the classroom window on zoom
- Reading something really funny while on video, and being unable to suppress a dumb grin on your face at an inappropriate moment during class
- Listening to a big lecture and there are two people breathing heavily and another person eating chips loudly into the microphone
- Forgetting to mute or off-video yourself…