Bowie

BowieBowie by Simon Critchley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a Bowie fan, you will definitely enjoy this. If you are curious why other people are so into Bowie you will enjoy this. If you’ve never read any Critchley and are interested in something quick and accessible by him you will enjoy this. I fell into the first and third categories so I guess I’m guessing about the second. But I suspect it’s true.

I finished the book feeling like I understand the why and how of my own fascination with Bowie’s work much better. I also want to revisit some of his albums like Diamond Dogs, Heathen and Outside which I didn’t quite connect with at first. I would’ve enjoyed a continued discussion of Bowie’s use of the cutup technique, but I guess that fell out of the scope of the book.

I also want to read some more Critchley too — so if you have any recommendations please let me know. The sketches at the beginning of each chapter are wonderful. OR Books continues to impress.

Languages on Twitter.

There have been some interesting visualizations of languages in use on Twitter, like this one done by Gnip and published in the New York Times. Recently I’ve been involved in some research on particular a topical collection of tweets. One angle that’s been particularly relevant for this dataset is language. When perusing some of the tweet data we retrieved from Twitter’s API we noticed that there were two lang properties in the JSON. One was attached to the embedded user profile stanza, and the other was a top level property of the tweet itself.

We presumed that the user profile language was the language the user (who submitted the tweet) had selected, and that the second language on the tweet was the language of the tweet itself. The first is what Gnip used in its visualization. Interestingly, Twitter’s own documentation for the /get/statuses/:id API call only shows the user profile language.

When you send a tweet you don’t indicate what language it is in. For example you might indicate in your profile that you speak primarily English, but send some tweets in French. I can only imagine that detecting language for each tweet isn’t a cheap operation for the scale that Twitter operates at. Milliseconds count when you are sending 500 million tweets a day, in real time. So at the time I was skeptical that we were right…but I added a mental note to do a little experiment.

This morning I noticed my friend Dan had posted a tweet in Hebrew, and figured now was as a good a time as any.

I downloaded the JSON for the Tweet from the Twitter API and sure enough, the user profile had language en and the tweet itself had language iw which is the deprecated ISO 639-1 code for Hebrew (current is he. Here’s the raw JSON for the tweet, search for lang:

{
  "contributors": null,
  "truncated": false,
  "text": "\u05d0\u05e0\u05d7\u05e0\u05d5 \u05e0\u05ea\u05d2\u05d1\u05e8",
  "in_reply_to_status_id": null,
  "id": 540623422469185537,
  "favorite_count": 2,
  "source": "<a href=\"http://tapbots.com/software/tweetbot/mac\" rel=\"nofollow\">Tweetbot for Mac</a>",
  "retweeted": false,
  "coordinates": null,
  "entities": {
    "symbols": [],
    "user_mentions": [],
    "hashtags": [],
    "urls": []
  },
  "in_reply_to_screen_name": null,
  "id_str": "540623422469185537",
  "retweet_count": 0,
  "in_reply_to_user_id": null,
  "favorited": true,
  "user": {
    "follow_request_sent": false,
    "profile_use_background_image": true,
    "profile_text_color": "333333",
    "default_profile_image": false,
    "id": 17981917,
    "profile_background_image_url_https": "https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_background_images/3725850/woods.jpg",
    "verified": false,
    "profile_location": null,
    "profile_image_url_https": "https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/524709964905218048/-CuYZQQY_normal.jpeg",
    "profile_sidebar_fill_color": "DDFFCC",
    "entities": {
      "description": {
        "urls": []
      }
    },
    "followers_count": 1841,
    "profile_sidebar_border_color": "BDDCAD",
    "id_str": "17981917",
    "profile_background_color": "9AE4E8",
    "listed_count": 179,
    "is_translation_enabled": false,
    "utc_offset": -18000,
    "statuses_count": 14852,
    "description": "",
    "friends_count": 670,
    "location": "Washington DC",
    "profile_link_color": "0084B4",
    "profile_image_url": "http://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/524709964905218048/-CuYZQQY_normal.jpeg",
    "following": true,
    "geo_enabled": false,
    "profile_banner_url": "https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_banners/17981917/1354047961",
    "profile_background_image_url": "http://pbs.twimg.com/profile_background_images/3725850/woods.jpg",
    "name": "Dan Chudnov",
    "lang": "en",
    "profile_background_tile": true,
    "favourites_count": 1212,
    "screen_name": "dchud",
    "notifications": false,
    "url": null,
    "created_at": "Tue Dec 09 02:56:15 +0000 2008",
    "contributors_enabled": false,
    "time_zone": "Eastern Time (US & Canada)",
    "protected": false,
    "default_profile": false,
    "is_translator": false
  },
  "geo": null,
  "in_reply_to_user_id_str": null,
  "lang": "iw",
  "created_at": "Thu Dec 04 21:47:22 +0000 2014",
  "in_reply_to_status_id_str": null,
  "place": null
}

Although tweets are short they certainly can contain multiple languages. I was curious what would happen if I tweeted two words, one in English and one in French.

When I fetched the JSON data for this tweet the language of the tweet was indicated to be pt or Portuguese! As far as I know neither testing nor essai are Portuguese.

This made me think perhaps the tweet was a bit short so I tried something a bit longer, with the number of words in each language being equal.

This one came across with lang fr. So having the text be a bit longer helped in this case. Admittedly this isn’t a very sound experiment, but it seems interesting and useful to see that Twitter is detecting language in tweets. It isn’t perfect, but that shouldn’t be surprising at all given the nature of human language. It might be useful to try a more exhaustive test using a more complete list of languages to see how it fairs. I’m adding another mental note…

Removing Bias